Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Whales of April
Tuesday was another beautiful day on Cape Cod. Our temperatures remain in the mid-40s, but the presence of golden sunshine forgives much.
As I was listening to this song sparrow (can you find him camoflagued above?)this afternoon, I was thinking a little about context. To be clear, he wasn't providing context, or even inspiration. But perhaps his song distracted me enough to think more clearly.
I know the names and the names of the locations of the bloggers I follow regularly...but names aren't everything and not always that helpful in sorting out a person's proper context, in our geographically-challenged culture. And I figure that's where maps come in.
So before we go further, I marked up this satellite photo of Cape Cod to give you a little better sense of where we are, and what we're talking about. The numbers indicate locations I'll be discussing later in this post. But as a point of reference, I've also included a pink splot over the site of our most recent former home, in Eastham, and a white one more or less indicating the site of Not Wisteria Lane (our current home).
Before you reach for the specs, this photo should embiggen reasonably.
Yah, the Cape is that odd looking arm appendage-thing that sticks out from Massachusetts about 50 miles into the Atlantic Ocean (the dark blue or black, in this image). To the north of the Cape (in the water) is something called the Stellwagen Bank. Geologically-speaking, it's an underwater plateau formed by glaciers long ago, but for our purposes today, it is also a marine mammal sanctuary and provides a feeding and play ground each summer to over 17 species of marine mammal.
As I've been mentioning, this past week all the local media have been a-buzz with the news that the whales had arrived in the area for the season. Of particular interest are the estimated 100 right whales various authorities are suggesting are in Cape Cod Bay right now.
Since this represents about one third of their total population, it's significant. Sort of like an Elks Convention, I suppose, except we can't see them wearing lampshades on their heads and goosing one another down there under the water.
So, at the end of the work day, I rendez voused with Mom and Dad and we headed out to the Outer Cape, to see if we could see anything from shore (local whale watch boats don't begin their season until next week...).
Our first stop was Head of the Meadow beach (1) in Truro. This is always a favorite of mine, as the parking lot offers some nice views of the ocean, without necessarily having to get out of the car...although I almost always do.
Right away, we spotted a tale-tell group of seabirds clustered offshore (they often follow the feeding whales around for scraps...and because the whales know the best restaurants) and we did spot one whale off-shore, a finback, I believe. "He" was moving away from us, though, so after a few moments of just enjoying the sweeping view, we moved on.
Our next stop was Race Point Beach (2)outside of Provincetown, looking north over Stellwagen Bank. To our delight, the moment we'd crested the dune that seperates the ocean from the beach, we could hear them.
The tide had been on the rise, but was then at that balance point where it is briefly still and makes almost no sound. What we could hear was the deep resonant wet blowing sound that accompanies the spout of a whale who's just come to the surface for a breath...and we could see the chrysanthemum sprouts blossoming here and there on the calm ocean surface.
We were not alone on the beach, as we are not the only ones to have heard the news of the whales' return. Although there were moments of quiet concentration, as the surf sounds renewed, you could also hear the babble of assorted conversations, peppered with exclamations or shouts at the latest spout siting, or fluke (tail) slap.
Of course, we'd all have offered a standing ovation for the whale who offered us a full-on breach out of the water...but our marine mammal friends are apparently saving such hi-jinks for warmer days. Still, it's somewhat rare to be able to see them so easily from the shore and we enjoyed what show there was.
I'll offer minor apologies here for the "Loch Ness" quality of the photos; for those of you who tune in to the Midnight Garden to see those up-close-and-personal flower shots, these may seem disappointing. Even on a whale watch boat, it's not always possible to get a good look at these gentle giants, and considering the quality of our camera, I thought they came out pretty well.
Out in the general vicinity of the whales were a few boats, a fishing vessel or two, and also, I'm sure, a boat from the Center for Coastal Studies.
Accompanying one of the fishing boats was a huge mass of northern gannets, who created a sort of flying white conveyor belt, and offered some side entertainment as they dove into the water after a fish dinner.
The gannets make a nice splash as they hit the water, diving below the surface, which was briefly a distraction for those of us spout-hunting. But then one of the whales would surface and send a plume much higher into the air, to show us the difference.
After a while, we saw that two of the whales (probably humpbacks) were making their way around Race Point and down the western shoreline, so we moved on to Herring Cove Beach(3), where we got to enjoy some more distant whale action not far off shore of Race Point Light. The setting sun played a little havoc with getting more pics of them...and really, the best views were had with binoculars.
Still, there's nothing like a Cape Cod Bay sunset to finish off your day and we enjoyed most of it from Herring Cove, before deciding to pursue our own late dinner further up-Cape.
This image of the sunset's afterglow was captured as we made our way through Eastham.