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June 29, 2012

How to have a whale of a time

Daily Star

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I've always been one to enjoy watching wildlife, so my wife and I did something out of the ordinary this week.

We drove to Hubbardston, Mass., on Tuesday and spent the evening with my cousins.

On Wednesday, we continued on into Boston and spent a couple of hours at the New England Aquarium while waiting to go out on a whale watch. It had some beautiful exhibits and a huge aquarium in the center that you could walk around on a spiral walkway from the floor to the high ceiling. Thousands of sharks, rays and fish swam throughout the different levels.

A little later, we boarded the Voyager III. This high-speed catamaran took us out to the southern part of the Stellwagan Bank Marine Sanctuary, about 30 miles east of Boston. That area _ just north of the tip of Cape Cod _ is a rich feeding ground for whales, dolphins and other marine wildlife.

Even though it was sunny and very pleasant in downtown Boston, the ocean was entirely different. Luckily, I grabbed a sweatshirt from the car before boarding. If I hadn't, you might not be reading this right now because I'd still be frozen.

It was windy and very cold out on the sea. Before long, one of the mates spotted some humpback whales _ a mother and her calf _ blowing in the distance. It only took a few minutes to get in close. The crew seemed pretty sure it was the same pair from the day before, but we never got to see their flukes to make a positive identification.

After a while, the boat headed north and soon encountered a pod of finback whales. The finback is the world's second-largest whale.

They were blowing bubbles, which confuse and surround small fish. This technique allows the whales to feed more easily on the large, dense schools of fish.

Not long after that, we encountered another humpy. She was easily recognized by the fluke markings on her tail. Her name was Hancock.

We had a wonderful cruise. Because of the warm winter and early spring, schools of mackerel and herring were more plentiful. That brought whales into the New England waters several weeks earlier than in past years.

So we saw a lot of whales Wednesday during what should be the best whale-watching season in many, many years. We also saw a few dolphins, several gray seals and numerous sea birds. What a great way to spend an afternoon.

The only thing I regret is leaving my camera in the car. But I guess that gives me an excuse to go back and do it again.

What's Happening?

The Dave Brandt Chapter of Trout Unlimited is sponsoring an Introduction to Fly Fishing Course at the Hanford Mills Museum in East Meredith from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. July 7. Cost is $40, which will be collected at the event. Participants should bring a lunch and a fly rod, but loaners are available. To sign up, call Marge Harris at 607-263-5767 (10 a.m.-6 p.m.) or Dave Plummer at 607-563-1978.

Rick Brockway writes a weekly outdoors column for The Daily Star. Email him at