Bring the family

A whale of a great time with the kids

Liam and Aidan Greenlee observe a humpback whale. Liam and Aidan Greenlee observe a humpback whale. (Kelly Greenlee for The Boston Globe)
By Steve Greenlee
Globe Staff / July 10, 2010

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WHO: Globe editor Steve Greenlee; his wife, Kelly; and their three children, ages 8 to 11

WHAT: Watching whales

WHERE: Stellwagen Bank

It had been a long time since I’d gone on a whale watch. My foggy recollection contained frustrations over near-sightings, with tips of flukes disappearing below the surface just as I began to catch a glimpse. So let’s just say I wasn’t overly enthusiastic when my 8-year-old daughter, Amelia, asked if we could go on a whale watch. She’d been studying whales in school and wanted to see the real thing.

Acquiescing to this wish was perhaps the greatest decision I’ll make all year. The majesty of what we witnessed was stunning.

We bought tickets for a four-hour trip with Capt. John Boats out of Plymouth. Our naturalist/guide, Joanne, gave us a quick tour of Plymouth Harbor before we headed for Stellwagen Bank, where the humpbacks and minkes gather and swim. When we reached the bank, we caught site of three humpbacks “logging’’ — sleeping and floating at the surface. Soon a fourth whale came along, and the dynamic changed. They became active, diving and displaying their flukes, just 20 yards or so from our boat. Cameras went to work.

Joanne knows these whales well. The naturalists who study the humpbacks have been tracking them for decades. The markings on a humpback’s fluke are akin to human fingerprints; no two whales have the same markings. So Joanne could tell us the names of the whales we saw and even their relationships to the other whales.

The next group of whales we saw provided the money shots. These humpbacks seemed as though they were showing off for the whale watchers. Though Capt. John’s vessels avoid getting too close to the whales, one humpback actually approached our port side, floating right at the surface. It was only 10 yards away — then 5, then right at the boat. The great beast lifted its head and looked right at us, and we stared back, awed.

Capt. John Boats, 10 Town Wharf, Plymouth. 1-800-242-2469. Tickets $40 for adults, $28 for children age 12 and younger, $34 for seniors 62 and older.