Saturday, September 6th was an incredible day, and a day the WDC North American staff will remember. As Expedition 2014: White Sharks and Whales left the dock, all 260 people on board the Hyannis Whale Watcher had high expectations. Everyone was hoping to see some exciting marine wildlife – specifically humpback whales and great white sharks.
This trip was the first of its kind on Cape Cod. The waters surrounding Stellwagen Bank have been renowned as one of the best places to see whales in their natural habitat for many, many years. Sharks, on the other hand, have only recently been getting the same kind of local attention. As white sharks are more visible and active near the coast, it is great to see people responding with curiosity and enthusiasm instead of fear and misinformation. WDC joined forces with the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy to host this exciting trip, and raise both money and awareness towards our mutual goal of ocean conservation. We had four experts onboard to narrate our trip: John Chisholm (who works with the white shark research team here in Massachusetts), Peter Trull (bird and whale researcher) and Monica Pepe and Michelle Collins from WDC’s North American team.
Passengers of Expedition 2014 traveled from far and wide for this opportunity: we had Guests from the New England area as well as people from as far as Arizona, Chicago, North Carolina and even Switzerland! As we traveled north out of Cape Cod Bay and around the coast of Provincetown, the skies were gray and the fog gave no indication of lifting. To give the weather more time to cooperate, we headed southeast in search of whales before moving down to “Shark Cove” off the coast of Chatham. We soon spotted several humpbacks, who were actively feeding and diving – we even saw two mothers, Reflection and Bounce, with their new calves. Three beautiful finback whales, the second largest animals on earth, also made an appearance and impressed everyone on board with their size, speed and grace. The biggest surprise of all was a small Kemps Ridley sea turtle that showed up right next to the boat – this was a first for many of us to see!
Heading closer to Shark Cove, we saw lots of seabirds – including several species of terns (even a black tern – which was on John Chisholm’s life-list of birds to see!), four species of shearwaters (manx, Cory’s, sooty and great) and northern gannets soaring above the rest.
As we eased into the shoals off of Monomoy, just south of Chatham, we could see hundreds of grey seals hauled out on the beaches and playing in the crashing surf. John announced that we had arrived in “Shark Cove”, where the research team completed most of their tagging operations, and where just two days before they had seen more than 15 white sharks. All eyes were actively scanning the water looking for any sign of sharks while we waited for our spotter pilot to join us. Unfortunately, instead of burning off as had been forecasted, the fog continued to settle in around us, and with heavy hearts we received the news that our spotter pilot was not able to get off the ground due to low visibility. We stayed attentive and hopeful that we would be able to catch a glimpse of a fin or the shadow of a shark through the water, but none appeared.
Such is the life of a wildlife researcher: so many hours and days of searching, scanning and waiting before good fortune turns your way and you are able to locate your subject of interest. Some days are luckier than others. We are thankful to everyone on board for making it such a wonderful day, despite the lack of shark sightings. So many new friends smiled as they disembarked, commented on the amazing display of whales and gave a little shrug, saying “We will just have to try again next year!”
Plans for Expedition 2015 are already in the works, and dates will be announced later this fall – stay tuned!
*Check out all the photos from the trip at https://www.flickr.com/photos/whales_org/sets/72157647363142206/