March 19, 2006 — Captain Glen Hodge had a $10 bet Sunday with a crewmate aboard The Dancing Dolphin. Hodge lost.
Unfortunately for the 40-plus people aboard, that meant another Environmental Association of St. Thomas-St. John (EAST) whale watch without a whale sighting.
"The possibility of us seeing a whale is not guaranteed," EAST President Carla Joseph said as the boat left St. Thomas early Sunday morning. "We're out in the wild, this is not Sea World."
Becky Dayhuff, an EAST member and certified diving instructor, told boat guests to watch the horizon for the blow from a whale's spout. Blows, which appear when whales surface for air, last about 30 seconds and reach a height of about eight feet above the water. Whales stay underwater for about 10 minutes per breath, she said.
"It's going to look like a gray cloud above the water," Dayhuff said.
There was also a chance that boat guests would see a pectoral fin, which are 13 to 15 feet in length, or a fluke [tail], which can be 15 to 18 feet wide on an adult humpback, Dayhuff said.
The 50-foot catamaran, normally docked in Charlotte-Amalie Harbor, picked up EAST members and others at the National Park Dock in Red Hook just after 8 a.m. Sunday and returned around 4 p.m.
Last year EAST hosted four whale watches on a different boat. The owner of that boat sold it, leaving EAST officials in a scramble to organize this year's only trip.
On last year's four trips, the closest EAST members came to seeing a whale was a dolphin.
On Sunday, The Dancing Dolphin traveled north of Hans Lollock and Lovango cays, then turned south after a few people thought they saw a spray on the horizon.
Around 11:30 a.m., Seaborne Airlines radioed in that they had seen whales from the air.
"You want the good news or the bad news first?" Hodge asked everyone.
The good news came first: Hodge knew where the whales were. The bad news? They whales were near St. Croix, about 50 miles south of The Dancing Dolphin.
That didn't mean there were no other whales around, but it dampened the hopes of many on board.
In the afternoon, the boat dropped anchor east of St. Thomas for snorkeling. Elizabeth Bann, a marine biologist with the University of the Virgin Islands, gave a briefing on the type of sea life snorkelers would see.
Bann said she was disappointed that they did not see a whale, but she knew it was getting late in the season.
EAST member Caroline Browne was also disappointed, she said, but being on a boat all day was consolation. "I'm out on the ocean. I'm happy."
At one point, the Atlantic humpback population was around 150,000, Dayhuff said. By the 1960s, the population had decreased to about 5,000 due to whale hunting. Marine biologists think there are around 10,000 humpback whales in Atlantic waters now. They are considered a "threatened" species but are not endangered. There is a movement, however, to return commercial whaling to the Caribbean, something that concerns some members of EAST.
Humpback whales and other types come to warmer waters to breed and calve, returning to cooler waters in the spring. Top whale-watching months in the Caribbean are February and March.
In addition to the whale watch, EAST hosts eco-camps for students in sixth and seventh grades. The group is also involved in beach access advocacy campaigns.
Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.