Great Lakes Whale Migration Begins; Humpback spotted in East Bay off Bluff Road | Jane Boursaw Photo
Great Lakes Whale Migration Begins; Humpback spotted in East Bay off Bluff Road | Jane Boursaw Photo
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Well, it’s about that time again. We spotted our first whale in East Bay this morning – just off The Bluffs – which means the Great Lakes Whale Migration has officially begun. As in previous years, it’s a bit early for the migration to start, but I’m guessing the mild winter might have something to do with it.

Remember that photo I posted last week of the fishermen anchored off Bluff Road? Well, on my way to town this morning, I noticed they were back, so I stopped to grab a few more photos. So, I’m standing near the Eagle’s Landing pavilion taking photos, and suddenly, this mammoth Humpback whale breaches out of the water not far from the boat.

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Honestly, I was worried the boat might tip over, and since it’s early for the whales, I’m sure the fishermen didn’t have their sonar whale gear with them. But as luck would have it, the whale breached a couple of times and then swam north towards Old Mission Harbor, steering clear of the boat.

After today’s sighting, I talked with Monnie Peters, our resident OMP lake levels expert, and she speculates that the higher water levels over the past year might be one reason why the whales are showing up earlier than normal this year. I’m hoping we’ll see a steady stream of whales throughout the season and into the fall.

Interestingly, the first whale of the season was spotted on this exact same day of the year last year (West Bay) and also the previous year (Old Mission Harbor). A few minutes ago, I was chatting with Nancy Davy in the Mapleton parking lot, and we both remarked that we can’t really call the whale migration “early” if they keep showing up on the same day year after year.

Since Nancy is on Peninsula Community Library‘s Board of Trustees, I mentioned that maybe we could talk to library director Vicki Shurly about setting up a Great Lakes Whale Migration section at the library. Nancy said she’d talk to Vicki about it, so we’ll keep you posted on that.

What’s particularly interesting about today’s sighting is that you don’t normally see the whales in East Bay. For some reason, they generally swim up the western coast of Michigan and will veer into West Bay to rest and feed on the perch around Power Island before heading north towards Mackinac.

That’s why I was kind of surprised to see the whale in East Bay today. Last year’s sighting, as mentioned, was in West Bay off Peninsula Drive.

Also, that whale I saw today was really close to shore! Then again, a while back, local diver Chris Roxburgh mentioned on Facebook that there’s a steep drop-off just off Bluff Road there. Evidently, it’s deep enough that the whale didn’t have any qualms about swimming there. I’ll have to ask Chris if he’s ever encountered any whales in his dives around the Great Lakes.

I wanted to give a shout-out to Merlin “Zeke” Dumbrille, who began tracking the Great Lakes Whale Migration years ago on WTCM radio. Merlin, a beloved radio announcer for decades (and host of the popular “Farm and Orchard Time”), has since passed away, but we are happy to continue the “Whale Watch” here on Old Mission Gazette.

Along with reporting on the whale migration, I’ll never forget how Merlin would hook a long cord to his microphone and walk out on the ice to Power Island to see if he could officially announce that the bay was frozen over, giving up-to-the-minute reports back to Ron Jolly in the radio studio. Those were some good times there.

Have you seen any whales around the Old Mission Peninsula or northern Michigan? Does it seem early to you, or have you been seeing them around the OMP shores lately? Let us know in the comments below!

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A NOTE FROM JANE: I started Old Mission Gazette in 2015 because I felt a calling to provide the Old Mission Peninsula community with local news. After decades of writing for newspapers and magazines like the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Family Circle and Ladies' Home Journal, I really just wanted to write about my own community where I grew up on a cherry farm and raised my own family. So I started my own newspaper.

Because Old Mission Gazette is a "Reader Supported Newspaper" -- meaning it exists because of your financial support -- I hope you'll consider tossing a few bucks our way if I mention your event, your business, your organization or your news item, or if you simply love reading about what's happening on the OMP. In a time when local news is becoming a thing of the past, supporting an independent community newspaper is more important now than ever.

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  1. Wonderful sighting! Every fall you should see them heading upstream in the mighty St. joe River here in northern Indiana. The DNR here has developed some huge ladders to help them on their way.

  2. This is so cool. I had no idea whales migrated through the Great Lakes! What is their migratory and seasonal pattern. I’d like to know more. Where can I find out.


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