Humpbacks can be feisty

As I may have mentioned before, I have had my fair share of adventures.

One of the more life changing ones was my participation in the Sea Education Association (S.E.A.). In this program, we spent half a semester at Woods Hole, MA learning sailing technique and various oceanographic related studies. The second half of the semester we spent aboard a  125 foot schooner (The Westward), as students and crew. There are probably many stories to tell from this period, but seeing as this is part of the A to Z Challenge, I will focus on one whale of a tale.

Depending on the time of the year of the program, SEA goes on different routes. Our path took us from Woods Hole to Bermuda, up to Nova Scotia, and Back to Woods Hole. Following this path , we were fortunate enough to visit the humpback whale breeding “grounds” (seeing as it is ocean there was not too much ground involved). One of the instructors was a cetologist. Scary as that word may sound, it just meant she studies whales and the like. So of course we decided to play among the whales for a bit.

Photo by Steve Kramer

There were quite a few whales about. Many calfs. Several of the crew went out on a long-boat to get as close as they could to some whales. I was not one of the lucky ones, but it was wild seeing a bull whale surface mere feet in front of the long-boat. They were out there for a bit. But after a while it became apparent that the whales resented our presence, so the captain called back the long-boat and we began preparations to move on.

This is where it really got interesting. Guess the whales were getting a little annoyed, seeing as they began circling us. I was up near the bow (front of the ship for you landlubbers), preparing to raise a sail, and one other was further up in the bow doing the same. He had to lean over the gunwale (the “railing” of the ship) to see what he was doing. Suddenly he starts shouting .

Photo by Steve Kramer

“No! Go back! Go back!”

Wondering what he was on about, I leaned over the gunwale to see what he was looking at. I just caught a glimpse of the back of a whale swimming towards the ship when …


The whole ship shook as it was knocked back several feet. Keep in mind, this is a 125 foot, STEEL hulled craft. Some serious mass to that. Several people were knocked flat on their arse. Those who had night watch that night, especially the ones sleeping in the fo’c’sle  (forecastle for the non-elite, the below decks area in the front of the ship where crew often sleeps for landlubbers), found themselves at the very least awake, in some case knocked right out of there bunks.

The captain and senior crew came running forward shouting “What the !@#$ was that!?” Tough word to pronounce by the way. He seemed to think we had hit a rock or something, a rather disturbing thought since we were in the middle of the Atlantic. After my crew mate’s and my testimony, combined with a bit of investigation from the cetologist, it was decided that a cow thought we were a threat to her calf, and deemed it a good idea to ram the ship.

As far as we could tell, she had nothing more than a headache for the effort.

Just goes to show you never piss a mom off!