A Fin Slapping Finale

Our incredible day out on the water was coming to an end. I didn’t want to go back into port. I wanted to stay out there forever. We had seen so many animals; a mola mola sunfish, multiple whales, and some white sharks! I was really just being greedy at this point, but I couldn’t help it. Now that I had seen these amazing animals, all I wanted was to see more.

Like all good things though, this day had to come to an end. So we got ready to head back to Plymouth. But the ocean had other plans for us.

Off in the distance, something exciting was happening. A humpback whale was fin slapping, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like, the whale was lifting its pectoral fin out of the water and slapping it back down, creating a splash. That splash is what caught the attention of Regina Asmutis-Silvia, the Senior Biologist and Executive Director for the Whale and Dolphin Conservation’s North American Office, and the woman leading the whale watching portion of our trip. She excitedly told us that this was very interesting behavior, and worth checking out. So our Captain changed direction and we headed away from shore, out towards the whale.

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Once again the boat’s railings were lined with people, standing elbow to elbow, cameras out, waiting to see what this whale would do. And that could be anything, including stopping, according to Regina. As is the case with many of the ocean animals that scientists attempt to study, there is a lot we just don’t know about them. There are many possible theories that explain why whales do this, but they are theories. Even if we had known exactly what the whale was doing and why, who’s to say it would still be doing it by the time we got to it.

Anticipation hung in the air. The whale could stop at any minute. It could dive and swim off, and then we’d have to turn around and once again begin our trip home, a little disappointed because we were so close to being able to see something like this up close.

We were not disappointed. As we approached the humpback whale it continued to raise and drop its flipper, swimming on its side in a small circle. Then it turned and went the other way. It almost appeared to be showing off.

As soon as we began to think this was all the whale was going to do, and believe me, it was more than enough, the whale breached. The boat erupted in “awes” and cheers. All around me people were excitedly talking about the breach.

Photo by Wayne Davis

Photo by Wayne Davis

Most of us had never seen something like that before. Just to be that close to an animal of that size and majesty was humbling. To see it breach, was thrilling. And then, as if it really was showing off for the cheering crowd, the whale breached again. It seemed almost too incredible to be real. It was a beyond perfect end to such an amazing day. We could go back now.

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