Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Whale of a Good Time

I was watching Whale Wars last night. Have y'all seen this show? Basically take a boat full of highly UNtrained hippie volunteers that want to save the whales and set them loose in the Antarctic Sea. Then add a fleet of Japanese whalers to the mix and let the fun begin. There are all sorts of legal and moral issues in the mix that I won't get into, but as far as reality tv goes...this one is at the top of the charts in terms of entertainment. These hippies may have big hearts but they are obviously missing the big brains needed to pull this off. So as I'm enjoying this weekly reality-tv "treat" I start thinking about a great whale watching trip the hubby and I took during one of our vacations last year. It was in New England and it was amazing, but you can hop on a whale watching boat anywhere from Long Island to Canada or from Catalina Island to Juneau Alaska. So are you still looking for something fun to do this summer, and don't mind the smell of fish breath? This might be right up your alley.

Whale watching. It sounds pretty boring huh? Sort of like watching paint dry or grass grow. But it's quite the experience. You pay your money. You climb aboard a boat with a bunch of other people, and you're all thinking to yourselves as you head out into the open water, "Did I just pay money to go on a long boat ride to the middle of nowhere and not even get a guarantee that I'll see more than a sea gull or two?". I think that unknown factor is half the fun.

We took our tour out of Rye Beach New Hampshire. It was the second day of the whale watching season and although the sun was warm (and strong) the temperature out on the water was less than balmy. It was the beginning of June in New England and there was still snow on the ground in the mountains (this picture of Nick in the snow was taken the next day). But it was worth some shivers. I promise you. We climbed on our whale watching boat and were shocked at how full it was. I guess some people just can't wait for whale watching season to begin. Our guide was a very pregnant and very nice marine biologist, but the entire crew was pretty knowledgeable in the whale department and you could tell they loved their job. As we got ready to push off we heard that yesterday, the first day of the season, they got lucky and saw a few whales so we pushed off in that direction. Now here comes the boring part. You do, unfortunately, have to go pretty far out into the middle of the ocean to see any whales. So the trip out and the trip back get rather tiring. Sure, they tell you a bit about the area and point out things like these crazy little islands (that just look like big rocks honestly) that are inhabited by people whom I suppose like to be left alone. I sort of wish I took a book. But like I said about the chilly weather...this too was worth it for the experience.

We got out into the open water and started seeing some whales. At first you just see the water plume from their blow holes and then as you get closer you see them coming up for air and sometimes you get lucky and see a big tail and then a big splash. Apparently their tails come out of the water when they're preparing to dive deep. Although it doesn't sound exciting it really is quite amazing to watch. Now, this is what you can expect on a NORMAL trip out to see some whales. I've been on a few of these trips and that's been the highlight on all of them. But not this trip.

On this trip we got lucky. A curious adolescent Minke Whale decided to pay us a visit. And stay a while. A long while. It was beyond description how cool this was. He got close to the boat so we had to turn the engine off and just float and enjoy his company. He was quite good company I might say. He would come up and nose one side of the boat..then he would dive under and come up on the other side...then he would just hang out at the surface and stare at us for a while...then he would discharge air from his blow hole (about 5 feet from your face) and give you a little fish flavored spit bath (as weird as it sounds this was my favorite part). If I wouldn't have been breaking any rules I could have leaned over the side of the boat and touched him...and trust me...I thought about it. So about an hour goes by and we're all still enthralled by this close encounter. The marine biologist is in heaven. All the kids on the boat can't wait to get covered in whale spit again. It's fun. Then we realize that it's getting late in the day and that we really should be getting back to the dock....except our little Minke friend is still next to or UNDER the boat so we can't exactly turn that propeller on and get going. We were trapped. Trapped by a cute, curious, large aquatic mammal. Eventually we got moving and returned to the dock about 4 hours after we should have, but long story not so short we had a great time. I'm talking an experience I'll never forget. And we didn't miss dinner. We drove up the coast to Maine for some lobsters. And we came out with an unforgettable experience, these amazing pictures and a whale-spit facial. So although you may not get quite this lucky (our guides told us, "come on out and join us again folks....THIS will never happen again....but we'd love to have you back"), you most certainly will see some amazing wildlife that makes you realize that even though we may be the smartest mammals....we're certainly not the largest.

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