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Humpback Whale Recollection – 08/26/2016

a whale jumping out of the water

On August 26, 2016 at 1pm, we left the dock at Utsch’s Marina and headed through the Cape May harbor towards the Cold Spring inlet. I was hoping to see many dolphins and whales because it was my last day interning at the Cape May Whale Watch and Research Center for the season. We proceeded out of the inlet and I began to search for dolphins, they can sometimes be found around the mouth of the inlet. As we left the inlet, we spotted a pod of dolphins on the left side of the boat towards Wildwood, and proceeded towards them to get a closer look.

Photo credit: CMWWRC database; Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin

Photo credit: CMWWRC database; Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin

As we got closer I began to take photos of the pod, trying to capture photos of their dorsal fins. We look at the dorsal fins for dolphins and whales in order to properly identify them and catalogue them because each dolphin will have a different looking dorsal fin. Dorsal fins are the fins on their backs, some may have notches/indentations; some may also have scars or rake marks. So, after observing the pod and following them for a substantial amount of time we continued on our way to the other side of the inlet towards Cape May. As we traveled to the other side we spotted another pod of dolphins. However, we did not follow them for very long as Captain Matt Remuzzi thought he had spotted a humpback whale. I didn’t know at the time and I became confused why we were leaving the pod of dolphins so early and heading further out. I went inside the wheel house and asked if we were moving on and I was told we were because a whale had been spotted.

I became very excited because I had seen a humpback whale the day before, and was happy I would get to see another one on my last day. As we made our way to the location where the whale was spotted, I could see the Atlantic Star, our sister ship out of Wildwood, also heading out. I kept thinking over in my head what I would get to see when we found the whale. I kept wondering if I would get to see lunge feeding, breaching, lob tailing, or perhaps blow spouts. I became overwhelmed with excitement and curiosity and kept looking to see where the whale was. 

We changed course to the right looking for the blow spout. I continued to look for the whale’s blow spout to see where it was but couldn’t find it. Moments later the naturalist, Kathy McDuell said over the microphone she saw a blow spout and I went into the wheel house to record the data for our sighting. Every whale and dolphin sighting we record many data parameters. Once I had written all this information I grabbed the camera and looked all around to capture as many pictures of the humpback as I could. As I was looking, Kathy said she also saw dolphins in the distance which is normal as whales and dolphins interact and help each other find food. Therefore, I also tried to capture pictures of the dolphin’s dorsal fins while attempting to look for blow spouts or any other kinds of whale behavior.

After a few minutes I spotted the blow spouts of the whale and tried to photograph its dorsal fin. The whale surfaced several times, and then, out of the blue, it breached! I remember I was frantically trying to photograph it as quick and best as I could, I was overwhelmed at the sight of seeing its body leap out of the water and fall back into the ocean. The entire boat began to cheer and scream with excitement and enthusiasm as we had just witness one of the largest animals in the world jump clear out of the water! I could hear passengers on the nearby vessels also cheering with excitement. I, myself was shocked at the image I had just seen, the sight of seeing this enormous animal jump out of the water and making as big of a splash as it did is a memory I will never forget.

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We stayed on the whale for well over an hour and it was time to head back to Utsch’s Marina. As we departed from the whale, we spotted more dolphins on the way back; we had passed several pods of many dolphins that were very active and jumping. For the rest of the day I was very happy and thrilled that I was given another opportunity to photograph and observe one of the most magnificent and majestic gentle giants of the sea. This was truly an extraordinary day for me and everyone else aboard the American Star, and just as I won’t, I’m sure it’s a day none of them will ever forget.

-Evan Woerner, intern at Cape May Whale Watch & Research Center,

Middlesex County College