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!
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…
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!