Nothing makes everyone into a child better than a whale. That was evident on Sunday when I embarked with my wife and friend on a whale-watching voyage out of Provincetown. Of course Provincetown itself was once a minor whaling port, specializing in six-month plum pudding voyages hunting sperm whales in the North Atlantic. Today, we were pursuing whaling’s logical and preferable successor, whale watching.
“P-Town,” as the locals call it, is interesting to say the least. It’s evolved into a raucous tourist town favored by free spirits and eccentrics. Unlike some other whaling ports, such as New Bedford and New London, it never turned to manufacturing to compensate for the loss of whaling. It stuck with fishing and tourism and it’s quite a success.
I had heard that there were pods of North Atlantic right whales in abundance around Provincetown, and I wanted to add that particular view to my collection of whale-sights. I’d seen the minke, the beluga, the blue, the finback, and humpback—it was time for me to acquire a visual snapshot of the right for my private mental collection. Regrettably, although a threat to no one, the right is highly endangered: The old Yankees who hunted them to near oblivion over a century ago proved just how well they could do a job. Their skills built-or destroyed-a thing to last.
It was an ideal day to watch cetaceans. The weather was clear, bright and cool; the water inviting, but the breeze that kept gusting onshore made the notion of kayaking problematic, even in Provincetown’s sheltered harbor. We were fortunate to see a few rights feeding just off the bare golden beach near Race Point. If they were the right whale to kill (slow moving and able to float after being killed) they were the right whale to watch, too, hovering near the surface long so we could get a good view of them.
Further out towards Stellwagen Bank we saw more whales, 25 or so, humpback, feeding, diving, flukes up, gulls everywhere crying and looking to get their scraps. The awe of the whale—the hand of god, as it were—made mouths on board, children and open in wonder.
The sighs of the crowd, the way the passengers and viewers ran one side of the boat to the other to see whales—it made one feel humble and part of a large collaboration. If more people see whales, the less chance they’ll stand by to see them hunted to extinction.