Jul 23, 2014
Update: Whaling Ship Morgan in Cape Cod for Last Major Stop of Historic Voyage
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The frequency of whale sightings within the sanctuary depends on the year, Cowie-Haskell says. In recent years sightings were few and far between, but this year they have been frequent as there is an abundance of lance eels (which whales feed on) in the sanctuary. Still, there was no guarantee the Morgan would come within sight of any whales. However, the stars aligned for the ship and its crew, which spotted several humpback whales and sailed in safe but close proximity to them.
“I could hear the oohs and aahs and excitement,” Cowie-Haskell says. “Everyone was absolutely stunned by the fact that this was even happening. It was a wonderful reunion between the former hunter of whales and now ambassador to the whales, and thankfully the whales didn't seem at all concerned about her past and they just went about their way.”
It was a particularly moving moment for the Morgan’s crew and Mystic Seaport staff members who have spent years planning the details of this voyage.
“It has been hard for all of us to describe the feeling at that moment we started sailing with humpback whales next to the ship,” says Dan McFadden, Mystic Seaport’s director of communications. “When it comes down to it, both the whales and the Morgan are survivors. Seeing them side-by-side made you think about the changes in how we view whales—in the Morgan’s day as creatures to be harvested; today as fellow inhabitants of the earth to be studied and preserved.”
After sighting the whales the Morgan lowered a whaleboat in a symbolic gesture.
“”We lowered a whaleboat on two of the days we were on Stellwagen Bank,” explains McFadden. “We did that to illustrate how times have changed. We towed with no harpoon or other hunting gear on board, just a camera.”
Cowie-Haskell says the Morgan’s voyage helps highlight “how our activities as humans can significantly impair whales’ ability to thrive as a species. These days that is through noise pollution [which inhibits whales' abilities to communicate with one another through sound] and through entanglement in fishing nets and through large ships hitting these whales as they traverse the oceans.”
The Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary works to address those three areas in a variety of ways, including supporting efforts to build quieter ships, encouraging lobstermen to use sinking lines between their traps instead of floating lines (which can help prevent whales from getting entangled), and working to have ships slow down to 10 knots or less when traversing areas where whales are known to congregate (in that regard in 2009, the sanctuary was successful in shifting the commercial shipping lane into Boston which has reduced the risk to whales by 80 percent).
He says these efforts are helping to increase the numbers of whales swimming our oceans.
“In general whale populations around the world are recovering. In our neck of the woods in the Northeast, the New England area, our most critically endangered is the North Atlantic right whale that is a sub species of right whale, and there are 450 to 500 left. When I started here at the Stellwagen sanctuary the number was 350, so that population has been slowly improving.”
He adds that the attention the Morgan’s voyage is bringing to whaling truly helps preservation efforts.
“Like others have said in the past, we only protect and save what we love and understand. The Morgan has helped highlight some of the ongoing threats to whales as well as highlighting the intelligence and the majesty of the whales themselves.”