“There She Blows!

” Again
A Marine Biologist’s Journey on a Whale Ship

By: Anne M. DiMonti
July 30, 2014

As a sailor, marine biologist and environmental educator, I have always had an interest in the golden age
of sailing and how it has affected our knowledge of current ocean species and ecosystems.
As Director of the Audubon Society of Rhode Island Environmental Education Center, with over 25 years
of experience in the marine field, my goal has been to generate public awareness to find a balance
between the human need for the ocean’s many valuable natural resources and preservation of the
marine ecosystem for future generations.
On July 10 and 11, 2014, I was given a rare, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to gain a new perspective of
ocean conservation. I was honored to be chosen to travel aboard the historical whaling ship, the Charles
W. Morgan, as a visiting scientist on what has been coined by Mystic Seaport as the 38
th
Voyage.

The Charles W. Morgan is the
last of an American whaling
fleet that once numbered
more than 2,700 vessels.
Built and launched in 1841,
the Morgan is America’s
oldest commercial ship still
afloat and the only surviving
whale ship. Over an 80-year
whaling career,
the Morgan embarked on 37
voyages around the world
between 1841 and 1921.
After a five year renovation by Mystic Seaport, the Morgan’s current home, she set sail again in May
2014 for her 38
th
Voyage. (For more information please visit the Mystic Seaport’s website at
www.mysticseaport.org.)

As the last great lady of her time, the Charles W. Morgan represents all the beauty, adventure, hard
work and dedication of the great age of sail. Having travelled the world, the Morgan once hunted
whales for the products that were greatly valued for their benefits to mankind. As a modern day marine
biologist, I have great admiration for the whalers and merchants that sailed during the Morgan’s time. It
is thanks to the knowledge passed down from these men that my colleagues and I have a base of
knowledge and understanding of today’s oceans.
My voyage abroad the Morgan would take me and my
fellow 38
th
Voyagers from Provincetown, MA to
Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary and back to
Provincetown. My fellow Voyagers represented a mix
of talent and expertise which included a
photographer, artist, teacher, physical oceanographer,
marine archeologist, musician, writer and celestial
navigator, all with the same goal, to discover how the
past can improve the future. Upon boarding the
Morgan for our overnight stay, we were like kids on
Christmas morning, wide eyed and excited. Having
remained almost completely unchanged since 1841,
the Morgan gave us a unique opportunity to see how
those before us shaped our current career/life paths.
We felt honored, humbled and inspired to sail on this
amazing ship and to follow in the footsteps of the
mariners that came before us.
As the morning of July 11
th
began, we stumbled out of
our tiny bunks in the Morgan’s fos’c’le and prepared
to set sail for Stellwagen Bank. After a short tow by
tug to clear the harbor, the Morgan dropped her tow
lines and, for the first time since retiring in 1921, set
full sail in search of whales. Although harpoons still
hung from the rafters and the try-outs stood ready, it
was cameras and scientific equipment that had been
prepared for this voyage by modern day scientists. I had to wonder what the whalers would have
thought of us. I’m sure we would have been a puzzling mystery to them.
For the first time since 1921, after a short time at sail, a cry was heard from the Captain of the Charles
W. Morgan “There she blows! “ as a small minke whale was seen along the port rail. The excitement on
deck was hard to contain. For the first time in almost 100 years, the Morgan was on the whales. Shortly
after the minke whale was sighted, a small group of humpback whales was seen. These whales, which
included a mother/calf pair, were observed feeding and displaying surface behaviors. One approached
alongside of the Morgan with a fluke slap before diving. One of my fellow Voyagers commented that it
was a sign that all was forgiven for the mistakes of the past. Another historical, 100 year moment came
when the whaleboats where lowered and the crew rowed out after the whales, once again armed with
cameras instead of harpoons. Click on http://www.mysticseaport.org/news/2014/morgan-sails-among-
whales-on-stellwagen-bank/ to see a video of the whaleboat rowing out to the whales.
For many of us, it was a moment when time stood still. As scientists, we do not often get the
opportunity to travel back in time to observe the past and understand where it has led us today.
However, in this rare moment, we did. Observing the whaleboat rowing to the whales was an eye-
opening experience that allowed us to understand how difficult the job was for these 19
th
Century
whalers and how keen their understanding must have been of sailing, ocean currents and whale
behavior.

However, I could not help wonder if today we are having the same or possibly an even greater impact on
whale populations than 19
th
Century whaling did. In the 19
th
Century, whales faced the whalers’
harpoons, when and if the whalers could catch them. These whalers killed approximately 16-20 whales
per year per voyage, depending on the skill and luck of the ship’s crew. (Note that this should not be
confused with industrial whaling and the factory ships of the 20
th
Century which had a major impact on
whale populations.) Today, whales and other marine species face threats from entanglement in fishing
gear, ship strike, competition for natural resources, marine trash, chemical pollutants, noise pollutants,
habitat destruction, climate change and more. For instance, between November 2012 and October
2013, there were 7 recorded cases of North Atlantic right whales entangled in fishing gear, two of which
resulted in death. It is estimated that over 80% of all North Atlantic right whales show scars from
entanglement. There were also three new cases of right whales sighted with propeller wounds. These
figures are for only one species of whale, during one year along the eastern coast of the US, and
represent cases that were actually observed and recorded by scientists in the field. What effect are we
having on other species of whales around the world and what incidents are occurring that are not
observed or recorded?
Nineteenth Century whalers had little understanding that a species could be finite. During their time,
the ocean was thought to have a limitless bounty which provided much needed resources such as whale
oil to light homes and streets. What excuses can we offer today for our impact on marine species?
Today, thanks to modern technology, the world is a much smaller place. We have a greater knowledge
of the world around us and understand that the ocean’s resources are not boundless. Sadly, many
conservation efforts have faced great difficulty and have managed only marginal improvements over
time. Many feel this is the result of issues such as lack of funding and understanding by the general
public of marine threats.
What the Morgan has shown us is that we are still strongly connected to our past. For all of our
contemporary knowledge and technology, we are still, to this day, a people trying to find a balance
between our need for the ocean’s resources and preserving it for the future. In many ways, our
understanding of how to accomplish this goal is no better than when the Morgan first set sail in 1841.
We can learn from the Charles W. Morgan. She has sailed into the 21
st
Century as an ambassador for
change with hopes of benefiting mankind by generating awareness for the future. Let’s learn from her
example and work together to do the same. One hundred years from now what will people think of our
use of the oceans resources? What legacy will we leave behind?