Editors Note: Dr. Kopelman had a busy week of Whale Watching last week with a two-day trip to the Great South Channel (a deepwater passage between Nantucket and Georges Bank) and the local Montauk trip.  We will highlight the Great South channel trip on page 1 followed by the local Montauk trip on page 2 to avoid confusion.

By Dr. Artie Kopelman

Monday, July 17, 2017 Great South Channel

Our 18th trip to the Great South Channel in the past 17 years was another amazing adventure. In fact, it was one of the best of all time.

Our  morning began with fog, humpbacks, and minke whales. We often heard whales but couldn’t see them. Every once in a while, the fog would lift to 1/2 mile of visibility and we would find feeding humpbacks.  Bubble-ring open-mouth feeding on tremendous quantities of sand eels.  We could see the sand eels in the bubbles as they rose to the surface.

Humpback whale open-mouth bubble-mist feeding on sand eels.

The patchy fog continued for about 5 hours. As it began to lift, 2 humpback whales began an encounter that nobody on board could ever forget.  The two whales engaged in what is called a “curious approach.” For one hour then swam up to the Viking Starship and watched us.  They swam on our side, next to each other, their heads facing the vessel and their long flippers out fully on the sides, almost touching.  They would remain on the side, logging, then dive under the vessel to come up on the other side and do the same thing.  Sometimes they would transit from the sides to the bow or stern, then back.  Sometimes each would swim parallel to the vessel and look at us (we could see that their eyes were open), they often would roll over to get a better look. That was the first 1/2 hour.

The next 1/2 hour was even more magical. Both whales, individually and in tandem spent the last half hour spy hopping almost within arms length of the Viking Starship. Not one of us, including those with 30 years of experience have ever seen this kind of prolonged “whales watching whale watcher” interactions.

Humpback named Dory

Humpback whale, sideways open-mouth bubble-mist feeding on sand eels.

Tandem spy-hop from whales involved in an hour-long “curious approach.”

Whale’s eye is open checking us out.

Humpback whale coming in for a close look at the whale watchers

Look into the mouth of humpback

Highlights from the local Montauk Trip on page 2