Humpback spotted near Mission Point Lighthouse; Great Lakes Whale Migration Begins | Jane Boursaw Photo
Humpback spotted near Mission Point Lighthouse; Great Lakes Whale Migration Begins | Jane Boursaw Photo

Even though we’ve just started our Third Winter here on the Old Mission Peninsula, we know that Spring is not too far off. How do we know this? Because I spotted a Humpback Whale out near Mission Point Lighthouse this morning. That means the Great Lakes Whale Migration has officially begun. As in previous years, it seems a bit early for the migration to start, but the whales must know something we don’t, because they are indeed in the bay as they migrate north.

They always catch me off guard, because I expect them to show up around here later, but as reader Dawn Burton commented on our story about the 2020 sighting, perhaps we should change the official date for the migration to April 1. “We were thinking about the fact that if they’ve continued to appear on the same date for over a decade, then the April 1st date really doesn’t qualify as being early, does it?”

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I quite agree, Dawn. Starting this year, we will assume that the whales will be swimming through East Bay and West Bay headed north towards Mackinac on or around April 1.

And as I mentioned after last year’s sighting, Neahtawanta resident Monnie Peters, our OMP lake levels expert, speculated that the higher water levels over the past few years might be one reason why the whales are showing up earlier than normal. It will be interesting to see how the fluctuating water levels affect the migration in the years to come. At any rate, we’ll likely see a steady stream of the beautiful mammals throughout this season and into the fall.

Nancy Davy, an OMP resident who lives on West Bay, said she’s been seeing them earlier and earlier each year, too. She sits on the Peninsula Community Library board and is still working out the details with library director Vicki Shurly to set up a Great Lakes Whale Migration section at the library, and perhaps bring in a guest speaker in the near future. We’ll keep you posted.

My neighbors, Pat and Deb, thought they’d seen one a few days ago not too far off the shore in East Bay. You’ll recall that last year’s sighting was indeed down at The Bluffs, and in 2019, I spotted my first whale in Old Mission Harbor off Haserot Beach. So they’re definitely in both bays.

I really wasn’t even looking for this year’s whale yet when I spotted this magnificent beauty by Mission Point Lighthouse. I was just circling back from a hike around Lighthouse Park and Old Mission Point Park, walking along the beach towards the lighthouse. As you can see in the photo at the top of this story, there’s still ice in the bay. But I heard a commotion out beyond the ice and sure enough, this Humpback breached right out of the water. What a thrill!

Humpback spotted near Mission Point Lighthouse; Great Lakes Whale Migration Begins | Jane Boursaw Photo
Humpback spotted near Mission Point Lighthouse; Great Lakes Whale Migration Begins | Jane Boursaw Photo

According to this story by Michelle Frey at the Ocean Conservancy website, whales breach in order to communicate with other whales. Well, that’s great news for us here on the Old Mission Peninsula, because it means there are indeed other whales diving around East Bay and West Bay.

As I watched the whale breach several times, it looked like it was starting to head south in West Bay. So I hopped in my car and drove down to the open space on Center Road before you get to the lighthouse. I was rewarded with a whale tail sighting just outside the ice zone, and as you can see, it’s pretty close to shore, so the water must be deep there. The same whale? Perhaps a different whale? Hmmm…

Humpback spotted near Mission Point Lighthouse; Great Lakes Whale Migration Begins | Jane Boursaw Photo
Humpback spotted near Mission Point Lighthouse; Great Lakes Whale Migration Begins | Jane Boursaw Photo

As always, I have to give a shout-out to Merlin “Zeke” Dumbrille, who began tracking the Great Lakes Whale Migration years ago on WTCM Newstalk 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.

To celebrate the Great Lakes Whale Migration, I’ve started a new group called the “Great Lakes Whale Watchers Club.” I’m thinking we’ll do some hikes in the near future out at the north end, and hopefully spot a whale or two in the bay. I’ll keep you posted on upcoming hikes.

In the meantime, check out the new “Whale Watchers” T-shirt I’ve added to the the OMP Store, our sister site to the Gazette where I sell tees, hats, mugs and other OMP items. Check out the new tee here.

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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26 COMMENTS

  1. I look forward to this story you do every year! I enjoy the quality of the photos, the work put into them & various nuances surrounding each April 1st’s story! Good Luck with setting up the whale watchers migration & thank you for this! I do do enjoy pointing this story out to different friends & neighbors each year & watching what surprises me to be different reactions! (wink) 😉 Leslie

  2. What a great story! I didn’t know Michigan had whale migration, if I had known that I would have taken my new to see them when he 3-5 he loves whales. I have learned something new about the wonderful state of Michigan lol. Now he lives in Arizona with his Mom and he will never be able to see them, unless he gets out of school and comes for a visit he’s only ten turning eleven this year. Thank you for this article and sharing some nice news!

  3. Folks!!! There is NO whale in Lake Michigan either anywhere in any 5 of the lakes between the Canada, Ohio to the Niagara Fall. It is prank and poor social media messages from business who are asking people for donations to support their companies. Whales ONLY live in salt waters…..period!!!
    The biggest lake creatures in the Lake of Michigan are lake sturgeons that you would never going to see it until you have proper tools and good luck to get them.
    The 2nd biggest creatures are the Land-locked Salmons and they do come into rivers spawning at fall.
    So if you are believed Michigan does have whales – you are definitely have lower IQ than 5th graders or all your 12 years Of Basic Educations are COMPLETELY failed.

      • More amazing to me? My gullibility. I was so shocked & thrilled at the same time. The chance to see such a majestic animal only 2 hours from my home. Reality hit hard, but thank you for that short-lived joy I had thinking of whale spotting

        • Don’t feel badly. You aren’t the only one. I fielded several calls pre-pandemic about arranging whale watching trips while volunteering at the T C Tourism Visitor Center. Many people took similar posts very seriously. I talked with one person who just wouldn’t believe Traverse City’s Bays don’t have whales.

      • You got me! Oh my gosh! I really laughed out loud when my boyfriend asked where the whales were migrating to or from. I said;”uhhh, ya know… They didn’t say!?!” As I guickly googled the article. I glanced over it and still didn’t catch on to the date, until I said; “See! Right here, on April 1,2022” …wait for it and DUH🙄APRIL FOOLS -.20 days late.
        Thanks for the laugh and the lesson in dupability 🤗

    • And amazingly every year someone doesn’t notice the significance of the date of this annual delightful article in the Gazette ! Sigh…..

  4. Obviously Xsmonders is the most taken by this story, so much that they have to tell us what we already know.. Great story, very believable and interesting.

  5. Years ago a fellow who had retired from Traverse City Tourism put out an announcement about whale watching trips in Traverse City. Somehow it stayed on the internet.
    When I volunteered at TC Tourism before the lobby closed, I actually answered calls from people wondering how to sign up for whale watching trips here.

  6. No, it’s not. But the author is misinformed. Everyone who studies this phenomenon knows the this is a migration of Narwhales. Narwhales are drawn to the Great Lakes, and specifically Lake Michigan because it’s calcium rich waters that help the Narwhales to strengthen their tusks.

  7. There are no Humpback whales In the great lakes they’re salt water mammals not fresh water and how would they get to the lakes through the locks and such I don’t Believe so better fact check your stories I was born In Traverse City and have family up there still

  8. Please play nicely everyone. Jane meant this as a way to bring a smile to your face, I’m sure. Honor her by being kind to each other.

  9. Nice April Fool’s joke. I was going to write to you and give you a heads up. but everyone beat me to it. Yes, I’ve seen the humpbacks In Mauai, and Kauai from November to April, and also in the Juneau area in August and September around Admirality Island. Yes, they live in salt water. They are a sight to see which you won’t forget.

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