It seems like once a summer we have a whale incident that brings out all kinds of crazy myths on social media. It can make your head spin. Last year it was the humpback whale inadvertently mouthing Mike Packard and spitting him out essentially unharmed.
It seems to take a while for the wrongheaded ideas about whales attacking humans to eventually be squelched by people who know the truth and can set the record straight. But people don’t seem to mind. As the saying goes, never let the facts get in the way of a good story.
This year it was a nasty collision between a humpback whale and a boat off Plymouth. Immediately, social media platforms, fed by news media outlets that thrive on sensationalism, began talking about whales being angry with boaters and attacking the boat. Here we go again.
I would like to attempt to inject some facts into the Plymouth incident so people who aren’t in the know can get a better understanding of whale-boater dynamics.
Those humpback whales off Plymouth were feeding. When humpbacks feed, they blow massive bubbles that make the fish they are preparing to consume panic, and the entire school of fish forms a tight ball. The whale then lunges through the bubble cloud, which theoretically has a tight ball of fish in it, and, if it all works out, the whale gets a big mouthful of food. It’s a brilliant plan that works out well for the whale.
Boaters watching feeding whales should give them plenty of space — at least 100 feet — and should never run their boat over a green bubble cloud on the surface of the water. Every day we see small private boats crowding the whales when they’re feeding and running over bubble clouds. Commercial whale watch captains know the guidelines and follow them scrupulously.
The thing is, when a 40-ton humpback whale decides to lunge through a bubble cloud while feeding, it cannot suddenly change its mind and stop or change direction. And that, my friends, is how a feeding whale ends up colliding with a boat that has gotten much too close to begin with.
No, the incident off Plymouth wasn’t a case of a whale gone mad and attacking the boat, even though that’s what I read about all week on social media. It simply was an accident caused by reckless boating around feeding whales.
Speaking of whales, we have a tremendous number of fin whales around Race Point at the moment. One day I counted 12 different whales. They can easily be seen from Herring Cove Beach and Race Point Beach as well as from the local whale watch boats.
Fishing this past week for striped bass and bluefish has been up and down, as our north winds have cooled the water considerably. Race Point waters, which were in the mid-70s, were down to 66 degrees last Sunday. As a result, the fish are all moving around, not feeding much, and not settled into any particular area right now. Stay tuned.