A whale of an encounter off Sandy Neck Beach!
By: Town of Barnstable Natural Resource Officer, Amy Croteau
Seasonal shellfish enforcement officer Devon Harrington and myself were on the 13′ Whaler on Sunday August 30th, off tide patrolling Barnstable Harbor and Sandy Neck Beach Point. I had contacted officer Nappi about the bomb shelter near the point and mentioned we were in the area when he stated there was a minke whale sighting between Trails 1 and 2. As the tide was dropping, there were concerns that the whale would get stuck somewhere, and he asked if we had time if we could keep an eye on it.
Devon and I motored out in that direction, where we found the whale and quickly made an enthusiastic paddle boarder increase his/her distance from the animal (they were paddling almost on top of it). As the paddle boarder made his/her way back to shore, we were met by a Harbormaster patrol boat that had Tom Lincoln and Brian on board. We all kept eyes on the animal and began to realize that it did not look like a minke.
Devon, a whale enthusiast, was able to eventually determine that it was a right whale. This confirmation was also made by the Harbormaster boat, as the whale had come too close to comfort to the side of their vessel and they had taken a closer look at it. The basic giveaway, the V spray from the blowhole, and the white belly.
A call to IFAW had been made by officer Nappi, and he stated that they could not give any further protection to the animal until they had photo confirmation of it actually being a right whale.
While maintaining a safe border around the animal from other boats, we were able to get enough pictures to IFAW for them to agree that it was a right whale, and start the calls to the Coast Guard and EPOs for additional protective orders to be relayed to boats in the area. There are less than 400 of these whales on Earth, and boaters need to remain at least 500 feet away from these animals to be in compliance with federal regulations.
It was after that point that this whale, thought to be a juvenile that had been seen outside Boston Harbor the day before, really started putting on a show, breaching out of the water at least ten times through a heavily lobster potted area (extremely rare and cool to see, but nerve wracking at the same time).
Eventually the animal had moved at least 1.5 miles off shore, and because we were in such a small boat (and also because the EPO boat had arrived), Devon and I cleared the area and left the whale to continue on its way out to sea.
A once in a lifetime experience for sure and definitely a check off the bucket list!