Friday, April 1, 2011

Who doesn't love a parade?

My wife and I are going to spend a couple days on Cape Cod next weekend in an effort to see one of the world’s rarest mammals, the North Atlantic right whale, which feed in Cape Cod Bay in early spring each year.  In conducting research for a book several years ago, I had lots of great views of the whales from aboard a research vessel operated by the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies.  And the most amazing thing I saw was what I described in my book as a right whale parade as the animals repeatedly swam back and forth in front of me while skim-feeding copepods from the water with their mouths wide open and their heads above the surface.  I’ll never forget it.
            But right whales aren’t the only whales that can put on a parade.  During my time camping last summer in Tremblay Sound, on Baffin Island, Canada, the narwhal research team and I had a chance to watch a narwhal parade almost every six or eight or ten hours.  And it’s hard to describe the spectacular feeling it gave me every time I saw it.
            We would usually hear the whales well before they arrived, with their repeated surfacing for air making little splashing noises and their breathing making somewhat similar sounds.  On several occasions, the narwhals announced their appearance with a wide variety of vocalizations that sounded like farm animals, squeaky doors, whistles and clicks.  As you can see in this video, they paid little attention to us as they swam by, but a pod of 200 narwhals certainly attracts attention from the human population, and I couldn’t get enough of them.
            The only downside was that the researchers were trying to capture several narwhals during our three-week encampment, but every time the animals approached the nets set out in the water, they easily maneuvered around or under them and they continued casually on their way. As frustrating as it was for the scientists, it also made us admire the whales even more.

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