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Naturalist’s Notebook: October 24 to October 26

* Again today, October 24, the seas prevented whalewatching from Provincetown.
* Finally, after four days of wind and rain and cancelled trips, October 25 was a beautiful, sunny day. The Dolphin 10 left its slip at noon and spiralled her way out of Cape Cod Bay. Gannets and shearwaters were everywhere, setting the stage for an interaction with nature that many of the passengers had never experienced before. Imagine that you are one of them. You have never been on a boat before. You come down the ramp and feel, maybe for the first time, the float beneath you moving with the surface of the water. Then you climb onto the boat. It is also bobbing with the surface of the water and straining its lines, waiting to go. The engines come on. The naturalist says, “Ready on the spring,” and you watch as the mate hauls the thick, yellow line back into the boat. Now she’s backing up, away from the float, and the bobbing begins to feel different as she turns on the surface of the water and begins to head between the two piers of Provincetown Harbor. Past the marker on the end of the breakwater, at the base of which you notice the common eiders floating about. And on top, the double-crested cormorants that, were they larger, you think might have looked very much like dragons with their wings spread out. Then into the channel and toward Long Point. A manx shearwater crisscrosses in front of the bow. At Wood End, now, and the sand bar that is the cape is beginning to rise. You have turned again so the seas are coming at you an altogether different way. Now there are gulls and gannets and more shearwaters. Ahead, you can see the lighthouse at Race Point and, beyond that, the open atlantic ocean.
* Add now to that adventure brief looks at two minke whales. Small compared to the other baleen whales, but, as you noticed when it surfaced next to the boat, still a large animal. The crewmember tells you that, at 25 feet long and weighing approximately 9 tons, it is several tons larger that even the largest elephant. (P. T. Barnum’s “Jumbo” weighed a mere 7 tons.)
* After experiencing nature’s rollercoaster for a short time more, you see three feather-like plumes rising from the water ahead of you. You see them recur several times before three broad shapes rise up from the surface and appear to slip beneath it once more. The naturalist tells you to be patient while the Dolphin 10 gets closer. The minutes seem like decades while you and the other passengers wait. The deck continues to shift beneath your feet and occasionally you feel a brief splash from the sea.
* You hear it before you see it. It almost sounds like the burst of gas you heard when you opened the soda can, but louder. Turning quickly, you see a small island surfacing a short distance from the boat. It gently drops again beneath the water, but a second one begins to appear. This time, you see the feather-plume emerging geyser-like from behind the highest ridge. This is no minke whale. It is huge. Two or more times as long. And round in the middle. The naturalist says that it is a humpback whale, or rather that it is three humpback whales. Not a pod, but a social group of humpback whales.
* Sometimes, when you have been whalewatching for twenty years, as this naturalist has, an experience like this might become clouded by other adventures, but when this was your first experience with the sea, or with a minke whale, or with a humpback whale,
*it is something you will always remember.
* October 26, the last day of the season, consisted of stong NW winds and rough sea. The Dolphin 10 had to tack to the west to ride with the seas to the Race, where a whale was sighted. Further off shore, the spouts of two humpbackw were seen, but it took 20 minutes to get there because of the seas. Calanus and Habenero were sighted travelling, alas, to the northeast.