Glossary of terms:
Humpback whale – whale belonging to the baleen family of whales, growing up to 50 tons in weight and 16 metres in length
Fluke – tail of the whale that is lifted high when a whale dives
Lob-tailing – a whale swinging its fluke out of the water and slapping it down on the surface
Breaching – a whale leaping out of the water
A couple of weeks ago we went on one of the last whale-watch excursions of this season with Dolphin Whale Watch , Provincetown. On board there was a truly international group of Cape Cod visitors; Americans, Dutch, Italians, Canadians, The British, Chinese, Irish and, last but not least, a busload of noisy German teenagers (well at least they’d come in handy if any sacrifices were needed to placate the whale gods). As it turned out the weather was perfect and no sacrifices were needed.
By the end of the trip we’d notched up twelve humpback whales providing ample photo opportunities to digitally capture flukes as the whales dived. We’d also spotted a whale “lobtailing”, but the best was yet to come when the last whale of the day treated us to some out-sized aquatic gymnastics.
Breath-taking, stunning, mesmerizing, and humbling – all would describe the experience of seeing close-up the power of a 40 ton whale “breaching”. Remarkably this whale breached not once but fourteen times! Highly unusual and rather fortuitous as it wasn’t until the eighth one that Annabelle managed to time the click of her camera with the breaching. Even the German kids were impressed; “Was für ein riesiger Wal, sicher sie würden eine menge Chips dabei brauchen!“
The whale’s large bulk rose majestically out of the water, almost completely clearing the waves, before rolling on its side in a mid-air pirouette and crashing back down with a resounding smack and an explosion of white water – magnificent. Scientists believe this behavior may be a sign of a whale asserting authority, or a method of stripping parasites from their skin or maybe even a way of courting – Attractive though our whale boat was I’d be inclined to believe the first two ideas are more likely.
However, I’d like to think he was simply happy as the end of the season meant he would soon be heading south with his family to winter in the Caribbean!
Most of the humpbacks we saw return every year to the warm Cape waters and as they live up to 50 years of age (provided they don’t swim too close to Japan), there is a feeling that you’re meeting up with old friends.
The World Wildlife Fund listed Cape Cod in its top-ten world locations for whale-watching so if you’re planning a visit to a Cape Cod Bed and Breakfast please give us a call at The Platinum Pebble Boutique Inn. Our Lower Cape location gives easy access along route 28 and route 6 to Provincetown. Our concierge service can also arrange discounted tickets for you at some whale tour companies.
The whale-watching season starts up again the first week of April 2011 and runs through to the start of November.
(All photographs courtesy of A M Hunton)