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Having a whale of a good time

A humpback whale's flipper above the surface of the North Atlantic Ocean. (Norah Springborn/YJI)

Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Gloucester, Massachusetts, U.S.A. – I wasn’t expecting to see and learn much about whales that day.

On a recent family vacation to the United States East Coast, we took a whale watching trip with 7 Seas Whale Watching in Gloucester, Massachusetts. 

Whales have always appeared nothing more than a big fish in the sea to me. Sure, they are the biggest mammals on this planet, but that just always struck me as a fact.

Whales have been out of my grasp, given that I’m from the landlocked Midwest.

But all my lifelong conceptions about whales changed the moment I stepped onto that boat.

After an hour and 45 minute boat ride out into the Atlantic Ocean, I spotted it from the corner of my eye. I saw a tail, a flipper, and then water coming out of the blowhole. 

A humpback whale tail in the North Atlantic Ocean, spotted from a whalewatching boat. (Norah Springborn/YJI)

To my amazement, I spotted a whale. With my own eyes, I saw the biggest mammal on the planet. Then, I spotted another one.

They were two humpback whales ⎯ Spoon and Chromosome. Yes, they have been given names!

I was in awe.

Spoon was the bigger of the two and very playful. She liked to come close to the boat and swim back and forth under it.

Chromosome was very active, too. She liked to follow whatever Spoon did.

At one point, Chromosome – named for a chromosome-like figure on her tail – lifted her head out of the water and made eye contact with the people on the boat. 

The weirdest thing was that the whales got so close to the boat that we could smell them. Let me tell you, they did not smell the best.

The whales followed a pattern. They came up for air for a few minutes, then dove deep into the ocean for five minutes. You could always tell when a whale dove deep because you would see it do a deep dive with its tail. 

The boat then proceeded to follow the two whales for about an hour. I continued to run to each side of the boat to watch the whales in action while attempting to snap a photo at the right moment. 

Two whales just beneath the surface. (Norah Springborn/YJI)

Not many people can say that they have witnessed two whales. The ocean is what connects us all. Yet, out of the size of our oceans, two whales out of many had made their presence known to me that day. 

The whale specialist, Amanda Johnston, was great at explaining what we witnessed with the whales every step of the way. The passion she had for helping whales while teaching about them inspired me. Passion is contagious! She made me want to learn so much more about whales, and I was honored to be able to interview her.

Johnston, the lead marine naturalist at 7 Seas Whale Watch, knows she has the coolest job in the world.

“I’ve loved whales my whole life and this is my dream job I’ve always wanted. I’m so glad we could experience those whales today.”

Amanda Johnston (Norah Springborn/YJI)

“Seeing whales is always special,” Johnston said.

She explained Spoon and Chromosome’s names.

“Here in the Gulf of Maine, we’re able to identify these whales on an individual basis based on the markings and scars on their bodies and tails.”

Johnston described one of the whales to me.

“Spoon, the whale we saw today, was first seen out here [the Gulf of Maine] in 1977, making her one of the oldest whales in our population. She is a favorite over all whale watchers. We think she is well over 50 feet long.”

According to Johnson, the whale watching trip we took was extra exciting.

“Every summer, we can’t wait to see Spoon, and today was the first day we got to see her.”

Johnston shared with me her favorite quote about our wildlife: “We conserve only what he love, love only what we understand, and understand only what we’re taught.” 

She explained.

“We tend to care only about the things we know about. Our goal on this whale watch is to get people out here to see whales. Then, teach them so by the end of the trip, they want to protect the whales for future generations,” Johnston said.

I recommend a whale watching experience to absolutely everyone who can go. It is an awe inspiring experience to see the world’s greatest mammals in action. 

Though I wasn’t even expecting to see a whale, catching a glimpse of one changed my perception of the world. It might do the same for you.

Norah Springborn is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

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