This morn we headed east of port aboard the M/V Aurora, carrying promise of nature sightings into the brume of dense morning fog.
Just 27 nautical miles over the steely mirror of the glassy Atlantic we admired at least 13 different minke whales, all driving their rostrums through the surface brine to clutch the cold air. Further to the west by a mile were two North Atlantic right whales skim feeding in the company of researchers aboard the R/V Auk. These endangered species were best admired through magnified lenses, but the creatures we were yet to behold on returning home required only natural senses to detect.
8 miles west of the Stellwagen Bank plateau shimmered seas that crinkled as if windswept foil, but a curious pass revealed a fishy broil. A curtain of herring, thousands of feet across, had materialized as the morning fog lifted. In an instant a cloud of fish erupted from the seas in silver upheaval. This veritable flash of lightning was preceded by the thunder of three humpback whales, crashing through the curtain of prey in a feeding foray!
A familiar whale fluke, of Tornado, was cast into the wind as the triptych descended. The fish reformed their roiling colony atop the surface, but would recoil in a burst of life with each ambush by the three carnivorous titans. The humpback whales were lunge feeding between submarine intervals of 3-5 minute dives, snuffing out hundreds or even thousands of denizens with each eruption.
A second association of two humpback whales arose in a lunge feeding display, mirroring the combustion and timing of Tornado’s tribe. A sixth humpback whale, Shuffleboard, propelled herself in a similar predatory display. What seemed an action film to a human audience may have felt more of a horror novel to the hapless fish absorbed without relent. This ballistic battery of baleen and brine lasted for 30 minutes, until we made home for the harbor. A second array of two humpback whales was briefly seen lobbing their tail masts, not 6 miles from Grave’s Light in Boston Harbor!
With Captain Chip at the helm we were overwhelmed by otherworldly encounters not easily quantified by terrestrial vocabulary. And so we share images in hopes of conveying the righteous power of the Humpback whale.