New England whale watching and research
The other England - the US's New England - is also blessed with wonderful whales and dolphins to see, as Ben Mallion reports.Has there ever been a species that embodies all the wonders of the natural world better than the humpback whale? Watching the 40-foot mammals breach, flipper slap and fluke (lift their tails) as they dive, is a truly exhilarating experience. For WDCS researchers it's a daily occurrence, and for a few days every year they share this spectacle with visitors travelling with the WDCS endorsed whale watching company, Out of the Blue.
Setting out from the historic harbour town of Plymouth, Massachusetts, Out of the Blue visitors this summer will join WDCS biologists, Regina Asmutis-Silvia and Sue Rocca for what promises to be a trip of a life time. With three boat trips planned aboard whale watching vessels, sightings are expected to be spectacular.
The excursions typically take place in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, off the coast of Massachusetts. There is a reason why Cape Cod always appears in people's top ten places to go whale watching: this area is a huge feeding ground for whales and it's not impossible to see a variety of species in one trip. The cold, nutrient rich waters attract whales in search of prey like sand lance, capelin, herring and mackerel. The whales feed all spring, summer and autumn in Massachusetts Bay, accumulating a blubber layer that will serve as an energy supply in their winter breeding grounds.
How to join this trip
Fri 29 Jul - Mon 01 Aug
Fri 12 Aug - Mon 15 Aug
Fri 19 Aug - Mon 22 Aug
Prices start from £999 land only, including a £100 donation to WDCS. Flights from London start from £650.
Of the many species which frequent the area, perhaps the best known are the enormous Fin whales (second only to Blue whales in size), Minke whales, Humpback whales and the critically endangered North Atlantic right whales. There is also the possibility of seeing an astonishing variety of other spectacular wildlife, including dolphins, porpoises, sea turtles, basking sharks, ocean sunfish and myriad sea birds.
Should you spot Humpbacks, you might be lucky enough to witness some fascinating behaviour, including the incredible acrobatic displays for which these animals are famous; breaching, lobtailing, flipper slapping and spyhopping, as well as their spectacular bubblenet feeding. Unique amongst Humpback whales, bubblenet feeding is a process whereby whales will circle beneath shoals of prey and exhale through their blow holes in an ever enclosing circle in order to trap the prey closer to the surface where they make an easy meal.
No trip would be successful without people who know where to go and what to look for. Between them, Regina and Sue have almost three decades' experience working with these animals.
A major highlight will be our time spent in the Stellwagen Sanctuary (home to the WDCS adopted Humpbacks). The average depth here is 100 feet and is a favourite place for the whales to congregate allowing for some unforgettable encounters.
Time spent ashore is just as exciting. The base for the trip is the picturesque, history-rich coastal town of Plymouth, home to a number of famous historic sites such as the Mayflower II , a reproduction of the ship which carried the pilgrims to North America and Plymouth Rock. It is also possible to learn what life was like for the early pilgrims and their neighbours, the Wampanoag Native Americans at the living history museum, Plymouth Plantation, which includes a 1627 Pilgrim Village and a Hobbamocks (Wampanoag) Homesite.
Ben Mallion is a volunteer with the Out of the Blue programme.
For more information on the work of WDCS go to http://www.wdcs.org/