Another aim of the trip is much simpler, but proves far more elusive: snapping a photo of one of the whales. A report that Mayo sends to a variety of agencies notes between five and seven whale sightings for the day, and those few seconds when the whale slithers out of the water were the longest sustained glimpse of the trip. Very likely, Stormy says, the whales spent the day feasting some 80 feet below the surface.
It turns out that the biggest obstacles to understanding right whales are the whales themselves. “In a sense, they’re about as odd in personality as they are odd in appearance,” Mayo says. Some days they’ll swim right alongside the boat. (Without a permit, it is illegal to approach within 500 meters of a right whale.) Sometimes, visitors to Race Point or Herring Cove in Provincetown can even watch them feeding from the shore. On other days, they are tough to spot from both the boat and the aerial survey planes that circle the skies above.
But just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they aren’t there. At their peak, Mayo says as many as 75 right whales might be in the bay at one time. “Cape Cod is such a rich place for people,” Mayo says. “And apparently, it’s a rich place for right whales.”