Followed by a Finback

Author: Rebecca (Calliope) Rankin, 2nd Mate,  Maine Maritime Academy

A close-up of the whale.

Ship's Log

34 37.18"N 121 21.32’W


5 kts

Sail Plan
Main stays’l, fore stays’l, single-reefed mainsail

Clear skies, bright sun


Description of location
36 nm west of Point Arguello, California

Souls on Board

I hardly know how to begin.have you ever seen something happen and, while you're in the moment, while you're witnessing it, you know that this, this is a thing that many, many people have never seen before, that this, this is a thing that you imagine you may never see again in my lifetime? Maybe the little hairs on your arms stand up, maybe you shout or exclaim, does your jaw drop in wonder?  You tuck the memory away somewhere in the back of your mind, like a small miracle you've saved for later when you're feeling devoid of hope or wonder, when you're exhausted or doubting the grace of the world and you can draw that miracle card from the back of your mind and reflect on that which you saw before, the moment that made you gape and gasp. Counter the dullery with experienced awe and smile inside.

We, collectively, onboard the Robert C. Seamans, experienced one of those moments today. It lasted an entire hour.

The whale watching crew gathered on the quarter deck.

The whale watching crew gathered on the quarter deck.

Earlier this morning, lookouts at the bow sighted a finback whale very close to the ship.  Tadgh made a call down to the galley to alert us and, I admit, I was making my morning cup of tea and did not leap to the quarterdeck, as most of these sightings are brief, lasting just long enough for those who are there in the moment to treasure and hold. I made my tea and prepared for turnover of the watch. At 1300, B and A watch met on the deck, as we often do, to transition from morning to afternoon watch, and I noticed another whale near the stern of the ship. I said, "There's a whale," to someone nearby, apparently all too calmly, as this particular whale was, perhaps, 25 feet from our stern. We all gathered.

I do not pretend to know what this whale was doing, exactly, and I cannot research his (assuming the whale's gender) habits on the internet to affirm if this has, or has not, ever happened to anyone else. But I can tell you, with absolute sincerity and the proof of the 1,225 total photographs Emily Dailey took over the course of the next hour, that this particular whale followed us, we did not follow him.

A juvenile Finback whale, assumedly male as they are more playful, followed our ship for an entire hour. Nay, he did not just follow, he cavorted. He did barrel rolls, he showed us his belly, he surfaced at least 30 times and he swam from port to starboard, showing off to all the students and staff lining the rails, equally. He liked our wake, he liked us? He was close enough to see all the markings on his face, to see his eyes and striking double blow hole. When he dove beneath the water, only 10-15 feet, and rolled onto his back, his white belly reflected like a moon. When he blew out air, the mist from his blow fell on many of us, and we called this a blessing. For an entire hour, this Finback did not stray more than 50 feet from our stern.

It is difficult to describe. I have never experienced anything like it before. The best way I know to ascertain the magnitude of the experience is that our Captain, Rick Miller, who has been sailing longer, and farther, than most any person I am aware of, has likewise never seen anything like what we saw today. In his, and my, experience, whales approach vessels, sometimes seem to check them out, but only briefly, for a few minutes at most. And, for reasons that are not mine to decide, this young whale stayed with us.

He stayed long enough for me to make an announcement on the ship's PA system for all hands to come to watch. He stayed long enough for students to take "selfies with the whale." He stayed with us for an entire hour!

I was deeply honored by this experience today. I believe whales are some of the wisest creatures on this planet and I hope to create art based around our visit from this Finback, to illustrate the wonder. Today, all hands aboard the Robert C. Seamans were very, very lucky.

Thank you, beautiful Finback! Thank you for joining us.

- Rebecca (Calliope) Rankin, 2nd Mate,  Maine Maritime Academy

Contact: Douglas Karlson, Director of Communications, 508-444-1918 |

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