By Paul Frontiero, Owner, Seven Seas Whale Watch
Only one whale swam the waters off Gloucester Harbor at the beginning of the whale watching season this summer. A tourist from Ohio was in awe.
“I can’t believe I got that close to the whale,” he said after a humpback sidled up alongside a Gloucester-based whale watching vessel. The man was thrilled. His dream had come true.
Imagine if this visitor saw as many as 40 whales in one trip. Thanks to a rare “feeding frenzy” cycle that takes place every eight to 10 years, guests at the city’s fleet of Whale Watching ships continue to be treated to sights beyond compare during the summer of 2014.
Gloucester’s whale watch industry has benefited from a population explosion of whales that is the result of an influx of their favorite snack—the sand lance fish—in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. The roughly 850-square mile shallow waterway between Cape Cod and Cape Ann is a prime feeding area for whales migrating from the Caribbean, not to mention one of the best places in the world to watch whales.
When a fresh crop of the pencil-sized sand lance fish pops up on Stellwagen (there have been approximately five sand lance population explosions here since 1970), it is common for whale watchers to see as many as 10 whales during a three to three-and-a-half hour whale tour. That compares with two to three “close sightings” under normal conditions. On days when the sand lance fish are gathered in schools in a relatively small area, it’s not uncommon to see 20 whales or even 40 on a single watch.
The sight of dozens of whales undoubtedly blows people away.
Of course, it impossible to predict how many whales will appear in any given season or on a given day. You can’t put nature in a box. Every whale watching experience is unique and every whale season is different. Last year was unusual because of a shortage of sand lance. Only one whale camped out on Stellwagen Bank for the first half of the season. No whales could be found on the large glacial remnant known as Jefferys Ledge. Fortunately, some 10 to 12 whales popped up on Jefferys for the remainder of the summer.
As always, the Gloucester fleet will enjoy the whales when they are here. The good news for us is that the sand lance feeding phenomenon typically lasts anywhere between one and four years before tapering off. Life is a whole lot easier when you don’t have worry about searching for humpbacks! And while it’s hard to know how big of a boon the whale spike is for the local economy, the once-in-a-decade whale watch paradise is great for Gloucester. Local residents, ‘stay-cation’ folks and and tourists from around the world flock to daily tours that are offered in the city and, we hope, pump money into our shops and restaurants while they are here. And share the excitement of the man from Ohio who fulfilled a lifelong dream by experiencing the sight of whales at sea.
Gloucester Whale Watch Information
Seven Seas Whale Watch
63 Rogers Street
Captain Bill & Sons Whale Watch
24 Harbor Loop
Cape Ann Whale Watch
415 Main Street