SPOUTING OFF ABOUT WHALES
We watch the spout break the calm water, followed by a curve of quick, dark back, and even the children aboard the Ocean Mariner fall silent. It's our first whale, a 40-foot humpback, which surfaces again and again, exhaling little geysers of spray and gathering oxygen for a dive that will begin with a flip of its powerful, black-and-white flukes.
And as the whale performs, 60 or so passengers who have specifically sailed out on this mist-wrapped morning to what looks like a Nowhere place along the northern tip of Stellwagen Bank, hold their collective human breath while the giant, fellow mammal takes its easy, 250-gallon breaths, and disappears. It is one of those rare moments when our species seems less securely superior.
Eye to eye, whales are fascinating and from a human perspective, paradoxical: mammals, yet ocean-dwellers; giants, yet gentle. As enemies, humans know the great whales intimately having hunted and dissected them into near-extinction. As friends, we know them little.
Yet whale watch voyages, whale models and exhibits, whale films and whale protection efforts based in Massachusetts can make even casual whale trailers feel familiar with these majestic animals.
In 1975, amid general skepticism, Capt. Al Avellar of Provincetown launched the first whale watch trips on the East Coast. Their popularity has grown each year. Avellar's fleet now makes five trips a day in August, four a day in September. According to figures provided by the Mass. Department of Commerce, an estimated 6000 seats are available on 26 whale watch boats departing from Massachusetts ports during the summer months.
Boston Globe, August 23, 1984.