Grab your coffee this is long!
Jersey Shore whale watch 12 hour trip report
First, I want to thank everyone who was able to take the day off from the treadmill of life, on Monday and make it to Pleasant Marina at 5:30 AM, thank you very much.
The morning started for me when I got up at the ungodly hour of 4:15 AM, grabbing together my camera gear and the T-shirts and sweatshirts I’d be selling on the boat. I had a quick breakfast and got together something for lunch, before packing up the phone chargers and batteries that would be needed to power people’s phones on the boat. Once we get out to sea there is no service anyway so it’s best just to put your phone on airplane mode, but I packed the chargers nonetheless.
We set sail at 6am sharp, heading away from the New Jersey coastline in the first light of dawn. It can feel a little bit daunting heading out into the vastness of the ocean before it is fully light, but it’s the best time to set sail for whale watching, as we knew we had quite a long voyage ahead of us. As we sailed out of the marina, lights were starting to come on in people’s windows, as the city awoke from its slumber. Little did we know what this day would have in store for us.
I began to meet some of the people on the boat, saying hello in a socially distant manner, reflecting this strange new world of COVID-19 we live in today. The boat is large and there was plenty of room to accommodate everybody. I can’t host as many people as I did before the pandemic due to the distancing rules, so I have had to raise my prices slightly, but it was as full a trip as the conditions currently allow, which was great to see. Our naturalist Danielle and her helpers was onboard, ready to identify the whales we hoped to see.
It took around 4 and a half hours to get into the deep water where Humpback, Fin, Pilot and even the critically endangered Northern Right whales live. Chugging along at around 15 miles per hour, there was plenty of time for people to enjoy a warm drink, have a chat and ready themselves for the incredible experience they were about to enjoy.
As we got closer to the whales, more boats began to appear, including some from Belmar, Point Pleasant and Barnegat Inlet. All were here for the different reason TUNA FISHING and it was nearly time for us to glimpse our first whale. Around 50 miles from shore, one of the guests named Trisha gave a cry to the captain from the back of the boat. He performed an elegant U-turn and there it was, a majestic Humpback breaching the waves right in front of us. It was only 11am and we’d already checked off one truly incredible animal. The whale was soon joined by another and we floated for some minutes, watching them swim slowly around the boat.
Leaving the two whales to enjoy their afternoon, we headed to where a large fleet of boats had gathered. There were whales everywhere, with water erupting from their blowholes in a rhythmic puffing sound, alerting us to their presence. The boats kept a safe distance so as to avoid disturbing the creatures, but many photographs were taken, and everyone was in a hushed silence as we watched, dumbfounded by how many whales were present at the same time. At a rough count, I believe we saw around 15 different individuals, of 3 separate species. This is a simply incredible number, sometimes we go weeks at a time without spotting a single whale, and here we were with 15 whales surrounding us all at once, not to mention the smaller but more playful dolphins which were also frolicking in the area.
It was vitally important to capture this moment, so cameras were quickly at the ready. Trying to photograph whales that don’t know to keep still, whilst you yourself are bobbing over fierce ocean waves is no easy task. I had to keep both hands on the camera to avoid dropping it overboard and was trying to balance against the railings of the boat in order to steady myself. There were several moments when I thought my $8000 digital camera would be lost to the gods of the sea, but it was worth it in the end for the incredible shots that I managed to capture of the whales.
After many hours of watching the whales, it was time to head back to port. We arrived back on land at around 6pm, a full 12 hours after we had set sail. Everyone was exhausted but had had plenty of time to look back at the images they had captured and there were high spirits all round after what we had just witnessed. Timing our return with the setting sun meant that cameras were whipped out once again to snap away at the beautiful sunset over Point Pleasant.
I’ve been on many whale watching trips over my lifetime, but this particular trip is one that I will never forget, I actually get quite emotional looking back at it. The water was so crystal clear that we could see the whales and smaller dolphins with amazing clarity. They seemed to be playing together, which our naturalist Danielle said was common behaviour in the Caribbean but much more unusual in these waters of ours.
I will let the photos of this Jersey Shore whale watch speak for themselves, but I think it is clear that this was a once in a lifetime experience and well worth all of the money and effort put into making it happen. I hope to head to the Caribbean before too long to continue whale watching, but I doubt I will ever experience anything like this again, a truly magical day at sea.
We saw Minke, Fin, and Humpback wales and many dolphins.
I will post more photos as i have time to go thru them.