Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive!

Vol. VII No. 3 July 1998

Whale Watching and Research

by William Rossiter, CSI President

CSI and many other discerning enthusiasts consider the Dolphin Fleet of Provincetown, Massachusetts the standard by which all other whale watch operations should be judged, but we have never seen their equal. This was reinforced in several ways this June. Because of the way the Dolphin boats act around the whales, because of the superb experience and caring of all the Captains, every trip had whales so close you could hear water sloshing off their backs. Great for the watchers but simply necessary because of a dense fog that hung around for days. Just finding whales in those conditions seemed a miracle, but it was done by getting to an appropriate spot and listening for them. Close approaches to Dolphin boats are almost trademarked; the whales don't do this with just anyone! Almost all humpbacks sighted were known to the experienced naturalists associated with the Center for Coastal Studies who narrate every trip, and a fascinating flow of life histories and scientific facts about individual whales made every trip a learning experience. The data the CCS observers collect continue the decades of effort that have made this population of humpbacks perhaps the best understood in the world. Along with that, in a subtle, entertaining and sophisticated way, the realities of the ocean environment and human impact were introduced by these scientists, extending the collaboration between CCS and the Dolphin Fleet. The Dolphin Fleet also uses CCS posters, videos, and fact sheets to ensure a reality based experience for visitors, and promotes the Center with fund-raising, and the whales with petitions. We'll keep coming back, and can't recommend them enough.

CCS Whale Rescue Team

Speaking of the Center for Coastal Studies, we would like to commend this remarkable research facility for their Whale Rescue Team. Beginning with the 1984 Thanksgiving Day rescue of a beloved humpback named Ibis, the Center has developed a sophisticated array of techniques and tools that serve as the standard for rescuing whales entangled in nets or lines. The core of the team are Dr. "Stormy" Mayo, Dave Matilla, and Ed Lyman; their personal sacrifice on behalf of whales is legendary. This is such dangerous work that the National Marine Fisheries Service authorizes only the Center's response team for the entire East coast. To watch them work is an honor. Unable to be everywhere at once CCS is eager to train other teams to operate in specific regions, but high standards must be met. The entanglement problem is significant; in the well-studied cetacean populations of the Gulf of Maine, most juvenile humpbacks and over half of all right whales show scars from entanglements, and those are the survivors! The problem is worldwide, but not well documented. Our commendation goes to the U.S. Coast Guard as well, which supports the CCS team with readiness space in Provincetown, and a practiced capacity to deploy the gear and team far at sea, by vessel or helicopter.

The only disappointment is that, in spite of some very heroic and high profile rescue successes, the Center has seen little positive response from the public. These people risk their lives to truly save whales and deserve a great deal of thanks from all of us who care about whales. For information about CCS, their Whale Rescue Team or many other projects see: http://www.coastalstudies.org/, call (508) 487-3622, or write CCS, POB 1036, Provincetown, MA 02657 USA.

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