A Whale of a Time

When it’s a hot, gross, sweltering August day in New York City one can find relief in an air conditioned movie theater. An even better option, in my opinion, is to get out of dodge completely and find yourself on a boat 15 miles out from Montauk harbor, where it’s a few degrees cooler, a lot breezier, and the whales are surfacing and putting on a show. Finally, after years of wanting to do so, I went whale watching, and it was everything I imagined it would be; a friendly group of fellow watchers, a great ship crew of hard working young people, and a brilliant expert marine biologist narrating our excursion. Throw in clear blue skies, passing pleasure boaters and fishermen, and the marvelous undulations of the rolling Atlantic waters, and you have a perfect summer experience.

Five finback whales and two minke whales graced us with their presence. Of the five finbacks, two were a mother and her calf. Love! The babies are born in the winter so the calf was approximately six months old. When momma surfaced and then took her deep terminal dive to search for food, the little one soon followed her lead. It was beautiful to see. Whales can stay underwater for around 7-10 minutes before coming back up for air. Amazing creatures.

Cresli (Coastal Research and Education Society of Long Island), which organizes the summer whale watches, posted the day’s report on its website:

I am an animal lover through and through. But I have always held a special place for marine wildlife, particularly marine mammals. I don’t really know why exactly, it’s not like I grew up around boats or spent time on the ocean other than sunbathing at Jones Beach. But on Sunday when I saw the dorsal fin of the first minke whale rise out of the water and then ease back underneath with such elegance and cool – sophistication almost – I was in complete awe. Their manner of movement is so distinct. There’s nothing else like it in the natural world. And when the fin whale, at a further distance from our boat, came up to breathe and spouted 30 feet into the air, I was doubly in awe. Our marine biologist explained that the spout may appear like a fountain of actual water but it isn’t. It’s warm air being expelled from the whale’s lungs. Unlike humans and all other mammals, cetaceans have to breathe through conscious effort. And that effort appears so effortless on observation. While the whales were certainly aware of our presence out there on the water, temporarily encroaching on their habitat, they just went about their business attending to the important matters of life in the wild; feeding, breathing, raising babies. Not trying to impress us, but impressing us anyway. I adore these animals. Big, strong, and intelligent, and also graceful and gentle.

Beautiful watercolors of cetaceans by Scottish wildlife painter and illustrator Archibald Thorburn:

The international commercial whaling ban went into effect in 1986, but some countries get around it through loopholes or just flat out defiance. Japan, Norway, and Iceland are the most guilty culprits. An exception to the whaling moratorium is supposed to be for “scientific” reasons, but that is pretty much a crock of shit, as the whale meat is still being sold on the market for consumption, and the scientific research claim is just BS. And Japan continues its horrific annual dolphin slaughter at Taiji by claiming that dolphins and other small cetaceans are not protected by the whaling ban. (If you haven’t seen the Oscar winning documentary “The Cove” please do see it.)

A seagull that hitched a ride on our boat:

So where are my photos of the whales? I don’t have any! I had planned to take pictures but I soon realized that, honestly, unless you’re a professional photographer with a serious camera and a gigantic lens, it isn’t worthwhile to try and snap crappy iPhone pictures of whales on a whale watch. The length of time in which they’re visible is a brief window – just a precious few seconds. And in those precious seconds I’d rather watch them with my own eyes and relish the experience and not deal with taking a picture.

But I do have a human photo for you. This lady had not only a great camera, but a great hat too!