We might be going out on a limb with this post, but according to the calendar, we are less than 3 weeks away from spring. This is in spite of the mountains of snow and our frozen harbors and inlets on Cape Cod. Winter-2015 has been one to remember and we are happy to make it a memory!
Springtime on Cape Cod is always bittersweet. We’ll be treated to beautiful days with mild temperatures accented by daffodils and crocuses in bloom. We’ll also be punished by cold, rainy, and raw days that keep us yearning for summer. With a little bit of planning though, early season whale watchers can enjoy a red carpet Cape Cod welcome. This includes prime seating on the boat and some of the most interesting sightings of our whale watch season. For 2015, Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises will begin running trips on April 19th, just in time for school vacation week!
Spring finds the ecology at Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary changing as longer days and the sun’s increasing angle warms the water and infuses the sea with stronger sunlight. Plant plankton explodes into life, fueling the start of the food chain that brings whales and other marine life to our waters.
Summer whales are arriving while winter species, uncommon the rest of the year, linger, before heading off to their summer haunts. We expect to encounter arriving humpback, finback, and minke whales, the species that dominate our summer sightings, but in the springtime, we may see some rarities such as sei whales, Atlantic white-sided, and common dolphins, and harbor porpoise.
Springtime also finds nearly half of the 450 remaining North Atlantic right whales feeding in and around Cape Cod Bay. This species almost went extinct in the early 20th century, and because of their tenuous hold on existence, Federal Law and good stewardship dictate that we never approach right whales, and maintain a minimum of 500 yards from them.
Some of the first humpback whales to arrive on the feeding grounds are mothers with their tiny, (though still enormous) calves in tow! The mothers or cows have been nursing their offspring and are famished having fasted on the breeding grounds. The calves are nursing from their mothers as she replenishes her reserves by feeding at every opportunity.
We always advise whale watchers that it will be ten degrees cooler offshore. In spring, expect that to be 20 degrees cooler when you are out on deck. The chilly winter ocean is a cold sink, so prepare for your whale watch by dressing in layers, lots of them. A rule of thumb is that if you look like the Michelin tire mascot, you’re good to go! Don’t forget hats, gloves and scarves. Also, those chemical hand warmers really do work, and they’ll help when you venture out of our heated cabins to watch the whales. Some people bring blankets and stadium seat cushions and simply embrace the elements outside, no matter the weather. You can always heat up inside, and yes we do have hot chocolate, and Irish coffee available at the galley!
Speaking of weather, study up! Watch the local forecast: http://www.capecodweather.net/. If you can, schedule your whale watch in front of bad weather rather than on the backside of it. It can take a couple of tide changes to settle things down after a good blow. Wind is our nemesis in the whale watch business. Wind causes waves, and waves make the boat move in odd ways, if you get my drift. For your comfort, look for days with the least amount of wind being forecast.
Whether you luck out with a sunny day or not, remember your polarized sunglasses. In any season, they are the most important aid to whale watching you can bring. Polarization cuts surface glare, and will bestow superhero-like powers enabling you to see INTO the water. Trust us, they will make an enormous difference in your viewing experience. Our crew never leave the dock without them. They are widely available and priced to suit any budget. Just make sure they are POLARIZED.
Of course, bring your cameras, along with charged/backup batteries. Try to keep your camera inside your layers, close to your skin. Cold weather drains batteries and nothing is worse than raising your camera for that shot of a lifetime only to be greeted by the infamous flashing red icon! If your camera accepts it, bring a polarizing filter, they’re cheap, and will greatly improve your photos.
If you have binoculars, bring them along. In the spring, the whales and other marine life are often spread out and binoculars will allow you to keep a look-out for distant blows and other signs of whales. Additionally, if you are a birdwatcher, bring a bird guide. The bird life can be incredible in the spring as tens of thousands of winter ducks and loons are heading north, while summer seabird species are just beginning to arrive. At this time of overlap, rare bird species are a very real possibility!
So there you have it, suggestions for sucessful springtime whale watching. After the winter we’ve endured here on Cape Cod, the 2015 whale watching season can’t come soon enough! So get off the couch, winter is almost over! Bundle up, and we hope to see you aboard!