11:30 AM EDT, June 30, 2011
The Privateer IV is docked in Gloucester, Massachusetts, one of the oldest seaports in the country. It is a high speed vessel, owned by 7 Seas Whale Watch and, every summer, visitors flock to it's decks to travel out into the open waters in hopes of meeting majestic creatures of the sea. Oftentimes, the boat heads for Jeffreys Ledge on the northern end of Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. "It's a very biologically rich area and it's been recognized that it is an important feeding area for different species of whales," said naturalist Jay Frontierro, who has worked for 7 Seas for 22 years. "Remember, this is a nature trip, so we're never sure what we're going to get," smiled Frontierro, noting that Humpbacks, Finbacks and Minke whales are the most common mammals to spy off the coast of the north shore during the warm weather. But, "we sometimes see sharks," he added.
Every season is different and, so far, this summer is shaping up to be a great one. During an afternoon cruise on June 20th, visitors were treated to some absolutely captivating sights and sounds. After about an hour on the water, a humpback whale surfaced, allowing the thrilled audience to hear the air rushing through his blowhole and see his flippers, glowing under the waves. "Humpbacks are definitely a favorite amongst whale watchers, for sure," said Frontierro. "They tend to be less shy around boats and other species. Sometimes they even take an interest in the boat." These mighty whales can grow to be 45 feet long. They spend the winters in the Caribbean, where they give birth to their young in the warm ocean. The humpback proudly displayed his impressive tail, showing white markings on the underside. No two whales have the same white pattern. "It's really an opportunity to see wild and endangered animals in their natural habitat doing exactly what they're supposed to be doing, not in a zoo or an aquarium," said Frontierro.
After a few minutes, Frontierro spotted something extraordinary on the horizon. "We have a pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins," Frontierro announced with excitement. "When we get the chance to see them in the summer, it's really special." Many of the 100 or so dolphins leaped in front of spectators, eliciting countless gasps and shouts of glee. "Right out of the air like that! Six to eight feet! That was amazing," says Scott Lambert of Maine. These dolphins can be found anywhere from Southern Greenland to Chesapeake Bay and are known for their social behavior, fast swimming and nomadic habits. The dolphins, which are slate gray with an incredibly striking white stripe across their sides, played in the Privateer's wake and glided alongside the boat. "It's so calm," exclaimed Frontierro. "It's like looking at them under a pane of glass."\
During the four hour trip, visitors spent quite a bit of time with two friendly humpbacks as well as being treated to the fabulous show, courtesy of the frisky dolphin pod. They also caught a quick glimpse of a Minke whale. "That's a great day!" said Frontierro. Many spectators were left spellbound yearning for more time visiting with these creatures from the mysterious deep. "We very much enjoy it. We're going out again tomorrow and the morning after," said Dan DuVall who travelled all the way from Florida.
Gloucester is an easy drive for most Connecticut residents and the rewards are worth the miles. "People who live in the North East, New England, have the opportunity to do a half-day trip and see things you'd normally have to travel a long distance to see," said Frontierro, adding that he absolutely loves his job. "Every trip is so different. It's easy to get excited when you come to work. You never know what to expect!"
7 Seas Whale Watch is located at 63 Rogers Street in Gloucester, MA. In July and August, tours leave at 8:30am and 1:30pm daily. The trip costs $45.00 for adults, $39.00 for seniors, and $29.00 for children between the ages of 4 to 16. Kids under 3 can ride for free. Check out 7seas-whalewatch.com for more information.