Rachel and I went on a whale watch yesterday -- Rachel's first ever and my second, though the first was long enough ago that I don't remember much about it. It was one of the best experiences of my life.
This morning, though, I was going about my business, getting ready for work as normal, when I got suddenly very sick. I'll spare you the gruesome details, but I think it was due to dehydration (it was pretty hot yesterday, even though I tried to drink a lot of water on the boat). So I stayed home and slept until noon. I feel worlds better now but exhausted, so I'm writing up our adventure.
I don't have very many pictures because I was too entranced, too captivated by the whales to try looking at them through a viewfinder. But I do have one or two :)
The whale watch was out of Rye, NH and was organized by Granite State Whale Watch
. Rye is one of the prettiest towns in New Hampshire: it's located on our teeny tiny inch of coastline and is home to Odiorne Point State Park, the Seacoast Science Center, rolling dunes, bird-filled estuaries, really nice beaches, and about a hundred eye-popping mansions. The sun was out bright as we drove down the shore road past all of these and made our way to Rye Harbor.
We got there about a half hour before the ship was going to depart, so we got a pretty good seat on the starboard side near the bow. It was HOT waiting for the ship to leave; there was a bit of a breeze but it didn't do much against the sweltering sun. Once we started moving out, though, the wind picked up and it was utterly perfect.
Rachel bought me a hat at the ticket counter, and I was very glad I had it!
I was pretty much exploding with excitement, and as soon as we started moving, Rachel was too <3
We chugged out past the harbor walls and caught a glimpse of some harbor seals on the port side of the ship. As we passed the Isles of Shoals, the captain told us a bit about the islands (although I could scarcely hear him over the sounds of the engine).
It was such a gorgeous day, with the sun blazing above and the horizon swathed in haze, creating a pale shimmering curtain against the blue sky. I always expect the energy of the ocean to be this deep, heavy, mysterious thing, imposing and powerful, and that's how it is with your legs in it on the beach... but out there on the water with the wind and sun and the sparkle of the waves, it just felt free
. Light and floaty and untethered.
The first whale we sighted was a fin whale
, the second largest creature to ever live on earth. They're the most commonly sighted whale near Jeffery's Ledge, the bountiful feeding area we were exploring. This one was identified as Dingle, a whale they see pretty often. It was so, so huge
. Its black back with its small curved fin kept sliding up out of the water and in again as it sent plumes of breath up. The ship turned to keep it in our vision, so we watched it long enough to recognize the extra-arched back that signaled a deep dive. It came up again for several more breaths every five or ten minutes.
After we spent some time with this whale (and a couple of minke whales
that we could just see in the distance), we moved along to explore some more.
The next thing we came upon was a surprise: a basking shark
. We could see its dorsal fin puttering along (the naturalist narrating the whale watch said that they normally can only see basking sharks on calm days because their fins aren't visible in choppy water). It didn't notice us for a while and so it swam quite close to the boat, and we could see its huge, grey bulk just beneath the surface. Basking sharks are the second largest shark in the world (and they only eat plankton!). It was pretty amazing because the fin whale hadn't gotten close enough to really see any of it except the parts that came out of the water.
Next we encountered another fin whale, Crow. This one came closer and closer, finally close enough that we could see the swoop of paler grey coloring just behind its blowhole. The whale's skin shone a gunmetal color in the sunlight. Then, as we all watched spellbound, it sunk under and resurfaced again right next to the ship
. Its fin breaking the surface was incredible to behold. It lifted its head slightly out of the water -- something neither it nor the other fin whale had done -- and the naturalist pointed out its white lower jaw. Fin whales are asymmetrically colored and only the right side of their lower jaw is white. It was so beautiful, so amazing, that it took my breath away. I think it raised its head to get a look at the ship, because it was so close by.
The next whales we saw were both humpbacks
<3 And I got a couple of pictures of the first one! This is Patches, a humpback that Granite State Whale Watch sees frequently but hadn't encountered yet this season, so they were really happy to see him.
Here's Patches' back as he started curving for a deep dive.
And here's his beautiful tail!
We got to watch him dive over and over, displaying the unique pattern on his fluke as he went down. When he was at the surface, we could see the most remarkable thing -- his white pectoral fins shone an incandescent green underneath the water. The next one we saw was called Quill, and gave us an equally impressive show. Humpbacks are so lovely -- I would love to see one a little closer <3
Eventually our time was up and we had to turn back. But on the way back, just past the Isles of Shoals, we saw a bunch of harbor porpoises
! They were splashing around, feeding, and a flock of gannets were gathered around them. Once or twice we saw their dark silvery backs arch above the water.
Back in Rye Harbor, we talked to the naturalist and some of the interns and adopted a humpback whale, Owl (for Athena).
It was such an experience, full of wonder and amazement. Whales are such beautiful, otherworldly creatures. I want to go on another soon <3