A Day on A Whale Watch


Karen Smyth

Photographs by
J. Michael Williamson and Karen Smyth

Chapter 1

August 11, 1997

The ocean is huge, covering most of our planet. It is also "home" to the great whales who spend their entire lives swimming, diving, playing, eating, sleeping, and even giving birth in the sea. They are far too big to be kept in an aquarium. To actually see a great whale we have to visit their home, and today we are sailing out in the Gulf of Maine in the Atlantic Ocean hoping to find some whales!

There will be one or two scientists onboard our boat taking pictures and writing down information about what they see. It is important for us to learn more about the great whales. Many of them are endangered because of pollution in the ocean, as well as over-hunting in the past. Whales need protection so that certain species will not be threatened with injury or extinction. In order to find out how to protect them, we must study their lives. We need to learn where they travel, what they eat, how often they give birth, and much more.

The scientists will be taking pictures of each whale we see. They will recognize some of the whales because they have seen certain markings on their bodies before. Other whales will be unfamiliar to them.

Whales are usually off our coast at this time of year. Most of them swim in this part of the ocean in the summer for only one reason - to eat. Some whales, like the humpbacks, have to travel thousands of miles south in the winter to the warm tropical waters to give birth. But there is so little food for whales in the warm water they are practically dieting all winter long! They lose hundreds and hundreds of pounds of body weight. In the spring they are so hungry the humpback whales swim north again to search for food.

The scientists will also put a plankton net in the water and tow it behind the boat for a few minutes. The net will collect the tiny microscopic life in the ocean. Looking at what is collected in the net will help them learn if the whales' home is healthy. This is important because these northern waters are a nursery area, where the mothers feed their calves, as well as the feeding ground for the adults.

Low Tide
This morning it is 23'Celsius (72 degrees Fahrenheit) at the dock and partly cloudy. The air temperature out on the ocean may be 5-7'C (10-15'F) degrees cooler because of the cooler water. The tide is very low, and we can see the huge pilings that hold up the pier.

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