Wednesday, September 22, 2010


It was 9/11 all day long and far better than considering that THE 9/11 would have been my 25th wedding anniversary had I still been married and all the sadness that goes with that, far better was looking for BOWHEAD WHALES in Isabella Bay Preserve, a bowhead whale sanctuary just south of Cape Raper on the east coast of Baffin Island.
And this is what I learned: How to Look for a Bowhead Whale.
• Stand on deck in the freezing cold (it’s snowing and we are plowing through the Arctic Ocean) and scan the horizon both with and without binoculars
• Discuss the merits of using binoculars or not for whale watching; people can feel very strongly about this. There are those who favor the Scan-the-horizon-with your-bare-eyes technique vs. those who favor Magnified-examination-of-a-limited-area.
• Finally at long last see a blow – this is a bowhead surfacing and expelling warm air; the visible (fan or heart shaped depending on your informant) mist is a result of warm air from the whale’s lungs making contact with the cold atmosphere
• Discuss how much a bowhead’s blow looks like a whitecap (to you, the uninitiated) and then with time learn to distinguish between them, a skill that may have ramifications in later life
• Listen as knowledgeable/seasoned whale watchers count the seconds from the first blow in the certainty that the second blow will come in ten seconds, and then feel stupid when you cannot see the expected blow. And later, upon learning that bowheads can stay underwater for up to an hour, feel even stupider for having thought that second-counting made any sense at all
• Once you have mastered the sighting and identifying of the blow, you begin to see the whale’s body, the black back, the fluke and then the grail of whale watching, the photographable breach –living proof of your cetacean worthiness.

Look very carefully and you may see the blow of a bowhead whale. Or you may not.

Since I cannot produce a picture of a whale, I offer an iceberg and a glacier.

Unless otherwise noted, all Arctic photos are by Brigitte Kingsbury.

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