Whale Watching in Upstate New York

It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that came out of nowhere.

I was recently in Boston for a weekend with the family and a Monday morning meeting at WGBH. We were supposed to take the kids to the aquarium on Sunday. But then I heard about the whales.

An exceptionally large gathering of endangered right whales was apparently feasting on plankton in Cape Cod Bay. Despite my husband's objections - all valid and practical - I spent several hours on Saturday afternoon trying to find a way out on to the water. I was unsuccessful, but tenacious (a character trait valued by journalists, but not necessarily by husbands.) I woke up Sunday and called Captain John in Plymouth at 7:30 a.m. A woman answered the phone and told me to be at the dock by 11:30 a.m.

Captain John warned us the boat could not, by law, get any closer than 500 yards to a right whale. These very rare giants eat lunch near the surface. In addition, they are buoyant and actually struggle to go deep if they hear a boat coming. More than a few have been killed by ships.

I had no idea how hard it would be to adhere to this rule.

We were literally surrounded by them. Everywhere we looked there was a blow spout, a tail, a head. I lost count, but there were dozens. Some were swimming past, others were gathered in groups. We spotted two humpbacks, a half dozen fin backs, seals, and porpoises. Then we were spotted - by a huge school of dolphins. There must have been 100 of them swimming around and under the boat, leaping out of the water, spinning and twisting. Three babies swam right next to the bow.

Little did I know the boat, and any wildlife we spotted, would be under surveillance 500 miles away, in a laboratory at Cornell University.

I'll tell you that part of the story on Need to Know this week. But if you just cannot wait - here's a link for you to check out.


Then join me on Friday night as we take you down to Cornell University to look around. Again, that's Need to Know, Friday night at 9 p.m. on WXXI-TV.