Few things can open our eyes to the incredible enormity (or enormous incredibility) of our world as seeing a whale up close. For the last several weeks my son and I have told each other a series of bed-time stories about aliens on other worlds–you know what I’m talking about, ‘Slime-oids’ on Jellyworld and Glow-people on planet Lite, etc. But nothing that we could dream up even came close to how amazing a Blue Whale really is–the largest animal on earth ever (yes, bigger than Brontosaurus), a mammal who nurses its young, travels huge distances, communicates via sound and is apparently quite social and intelligent.
We had several encounters with whales on our vacation to the Cape. First was with the whales of the past at the Whaling Museum of New Bedford. Whales were once a critical part of the economy of the Northeast coast. Millions of whales were killed and whaling ships traveled all over the world to kill them. The museum focuses mainly on this bloody human interaction with whales but it is impossible not also to get a sense of these amazing creatures. Oh, and they are BIG. Skeletons of several whales are suspended overhead in the museum foyer and even individual bones–including a massive vertebrae–give the sense of the tremendous size of these creatures.
Of course, it’s even more astounding to encounter a live whale. Up close. We were very fortunate to have that experience on a tour with the Dolphin Fleet of Provincetown. It took only half an hour to reach the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary which is teeming with the plankton that support so many other marine creatures–from the little sand eels to fat gray seals to giant humpback whales. Immediately we were surrounded by the ‘little’ minke whales, in pairs and trios. Then we in the midst of a dozen feeding humpbacks. These included ‘Salt’ (like all the humpbacks there, recognized by the distinctive coloring on her fluke), who has been visiting the Sanctuary annually since 1975! The whales gave us quite a show–surrounding the boat, diving below it, flapping their tales and flippers, breaching (jumping completely out of the water, flipping backward). Who knows why? Does it matter? Ever wonder if the whales are watching us watch them? After all, who are the ones doing the real nonsense on our planet Earth?