While staring at green bubbles forming on the surface of the water, a huge black form suddenly shoots up, arches its back in mid-air, then dives back into the sea, its glowing white fins making a huge splash as they hit the water.
“A whale; it’s a whale,” screams a curly brown-haired toddler, his high-pitched voice rising above the euphoric sounds of the crowd aboard the Seven Seas’ Privateer IV after witnessing the breaching humback whale mother. Moments later, two humpback calves appear, swimming in tandem while their mothers feed on plankton a distance away. They rise to the surface, shoot huge sprays of water from their noseholes and circle about playfully.
This is a pastoral moment, unlike the terrifying scenes with blood-thirsty sperm whales that Ishmael created in Melville’s Moby Dick. “In winter, the females swim to the Caribbean to mate, get pregnant and give birth to their calves, but there is no food for them there,” says Michelle, the naturalist guide. “Now they have come back to feed.”
After departing Gloucester Harbor two hours earlier beneath clear blue skies, we are now in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary with Cape Cod visible in the distance. It’s chilly in the sea breeze on the lower deck where my dad and I are chatting with a grammar school teacher and former commercial fisherman from Anchorage, Alaska, originally from Boston.
When one calf descends into the water, its two-pronged tail emerges, then gently curls before slapping the surface of the water, leaving a trail of saltwater spray. Beside me a boy of about six wearing a Red Sox cap stares intently at the spot where the calf has disappeared into the mysterious depths. Soon a round footprint of smooth, still water forms where its tail hit the water.
“That looks like an elephant footprint,” I quip, looking at the smooth round spot from the lower deck of the boat. “That would be a really big elephant,” he says throwing his hands up toward the sky.
“Yeah, that would be one scary elephant.”
Moments later, one of the calves circles around and captures a sand lance in its mouth. At that instant, a snow-white seagull flies down, snatches the fish with its beak and flys off victoriously, as the crowd lets out a collective sigh.
On our five-hour Seven Seas Whale Watch, we saw eight whales, including two finback whales (the second longest animal in the world), two minke whales, two humpback mother whales, two humpback calves and a basking shark (harmless to humans) that glided by the boat, its fin visible above the water. I’d say it was a good day!