This could have ended up as another episode in my WTDGAP series of posts, but at the end of the day it was a glorious, educational, emotional and humbling experience aboard a Whale and Dolphin Watch excursion in the NY Bight. First a little background on the Atlantic Ocean area we explored with definitions supplied by Wikipedia and several NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) sites:
The NY Bight is the Atlantic Ocean region that ranges from Cape Cod, MA, to Cape May, NJ, and includes Long Island Sound, New York Harbor and the New Jersey shore. The sea floor of the Bight consists of a continental shelf and includes the Hudson Canyon, an undersea submarine canyon that was formed during the Ice age when the sea level was much lower:
HUDSON CANYON – It begins at the mouth of the Hudson River and extends out over 100 miles seaward across the continental shelf, finally connecting to the deep Atlantic Ocean Basin at a depth of 3 to 4 km. Its walls rise three-quarters of a mile from the canyon floor making it comparable to the Grand Canyon, whose cliffs are over a mile deep and 270 miles (430 km) long. It is the largest known ocean canyon off the East Coast of the United States, and one of the largest submarine canyons in the world.
SUBMARINE CANYON – A submarine canyon is a steep-sided valley cut into the sea floor of the continental slope, sometimes extending well onto the continental shelf.
CONTINENTAL SHELF – The continental shelf is an underwater landmass which extends from a continent, resulting in an area of relatively shallow water known as a shelf sea. Much of the shelves were exposed during glacial periods and interglacial periods.
Okay – geography lesson concluded – I just wanted to give you a sense of the enormity, breadth and a bit intimidating water mass that we spent many hours upon – at some times – I couldn’t count the different blue colors all around me and you could literally see for miles and miles with just sky and ocean staring back:
I also had a mesmerizing fascination with the white water foam that the boat kicked up:
But staring at the water was not the reason we took this excursion – we were on the hunt for humpback whales and bottlenose dolphins who swim through the Bight in pursuit of food:
If you look hard you can see lots of tiny fish just below the surface – unfortunately I didn’t have a polarized lens on my camera – but hopefully you get the idea.
Large swimming mammals are plentiful in this area – literally hundreds of dolphins can be seen at a time – and while humpbacks are solitary – they too are seen frequently.
Ah, but not today. It appears that Hurricane Arthur, which blew in last week, lowered the ocean temperature a good twenty degrees and that drastically lowered temperature caused the whales and dolphins to, as our guide described it, “bizarrely alter their behavior.”
But our staunch crew didn’t give up – after that brief glimpse of a humpback’s tail (see above) they radioed to other ships in the region to see where possible sightings had occurred. I began to feel as though we were part of a Jacque Cousteau expedition – we were asked to pick different vantage points on the ship – forward, aft, starboard, leeward (yes, learned a little sea jargon as well) to increase our chances of a sighting.
We visited a number of areas of the Bight where succesful sightings had occurred previously – after an allotted time if nothing was happening we would take off to another point in the Atlantic. It was a bit ironic – how could looking for a mammoth animal like a humpback whale or even a fair-sized one like a dolphin be likened to looking for a needle in a haystack? Yep – that’s how BIG the Atlantic is.
It was a beautiful, sunny non-humid day so we were enjoying ourselves – nonetheless remember WTDGAP you just roll with it and often surprises ensue. We were not disappointed:
Suddenly the ocean began to roil and people started pointing and yelling: 11 o’clock from the bow sighting! I just happened to have positioned myself at bow’s head – and got these:
Cool!!! Not to be outdone – my friend Lenore scored video:
Being with nature at IT’S beck and call – was both exhilarating and humbling – and totally unforgettable!
To cap off a perfect day, Lenore and I went back to a favorite old neighborhood restaurant, toasted and feasted and talked about the next adventure!