Great Lakes Whale Migration begins on the Old Mission Peninsula; April 1, 2024| Jane Boursaw Photo for Old Mission Gazette
Great Lakes Whale Migration begins on the Old Mission Peninsula; April 1, 2024| Jane Boursaw Photo for Old Mission Gazette
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Well, it’s that time of year again. The time of year when we all start scanning the bays for whale sightings. I can officially report that the Great Lakes Whale Migration has begun for 2024. Funny how it always happens around April 1st every year.

At one time, the migration began much later in the spring — later in April or even May or June. But the whales have gotten earlier and earlier the past few years, so I guess this is their new normal.

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Remember those four minutes of sunshine we got over the weekend? I happened to be tooling around the Old Mission Peninsula and stopped to take a photo of the sunset over Power Island in West Bay. Lo and behold, a huge whale jumped out of the water, and I managed to get a photo of the tail just as he went back into the water. What a sight!

As mentioned, the whales always show up right around April 1st each year — check out previous Great Lakes Whale Migration photos here. Last year, I spotted two whales frolicking around Old Mission Harbor, and it was quite a thrill to see two at once.

Still, to see this one right at sunset was nothing short of spectacular. A few OMP residents over on Peninsula Drive emailed me that night to let me know they’d seen the whale, too.

Great Lakes Whale Migration begins on the Old Mission Peninsula; April 1, 2024| Jane Boursaw Photo for Old Mission Gazette
Great Lakes Whale Migration begins on the Old Mission Peninsula; April 1, 2024| Jane Boursaw Photo for Old Mission Gazette

It’s a little hard to see what kind of whale this is, but if you look close, it has a blue-ish tinge, so maybe a Blue Whale…? This description notes, “The blue whale’s long and slender body can be of various shades of greyish-blue dorsally and somewhat lighter underneath.” Since it’s right at sunset, hard to tell colors from a distance.

The description also notes that, in general, “blue whale populations migrate between their summer feeding areas near the poles and their winter breeding grounds near the tropics,” but “there is also evidence of year-round residencies…”

Hmm… could we be looking at whales living around the Old Mission Peninsula year-round? I’m guessing they’d have to travel elsewhere if the bay freezes over (which hasn’t happened in a few years).

Great Lakes Whale Migration – The Beginning

As always with my annual report on the Great Lakes Whale Migration, I have to give a shout-out to Merlin “Zeke” Dumbrille, who began tracking the migration years ago on WTCM Newstalk Radio. Merlin, a beloved radio announcer for decades (and host of the popular “Farm and Orchard Time,” which I’m also continuing here on Old Mission Gazette with my farm reports), has since passed away, but I am happy to continue his “Whale Watch” legacy here.

Along with reporting on the whale migration each year, 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. I sure do miss Merlin.

To celebrate the Great Lakes Whale Migration, I’ve started a new group called the “Great Lakes Whale Watchers Club.” Last year, a few of us got together and hiked out at the north end, and we were delighted to see a Humpback in East Bay just off the Ridgewood Trail. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for them now.

If you’d like to be part of the “Great Lakes Whale Watchers Club,” all you need to do is purchase an item with the Club logo over on our sister site, Old Mission Peninsula Store. Here’s a few (you can just click through the image to get there)…

Great Lakes Whale Watchers Club on
Great Lakes Whale Watchers Club on

Have you seen any whales around the Old Mission Peninsula or northern Michigan? Let us know in the comments below!

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.

To keep the Gazette going, click here to make a donation. Thank you so much for your support. -jb

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  1. My wife and I always plan our vacation for around this time of the year for this event. We think the warmer waters have caused the earlier migration lately. Prob global warming. The Marine Biology department at U of M sends a busload of undergrad students after they are first sighted for research. My Wife and I have been lucky enough to capture the whale-cries as we use sonar from our kayaks near Haserot beach. It’s a breathtaking sight if you are lucky and patient enough to observe them.

    • I didn’t know that about the Marine Biology department at U of M, John! Thanks for that intel. You know, I did see a U of M logo on a bus out here the first part of this week, and I wondered what was going on. That makes perfect sense. I’ll be sure and publish their reports when they’re available.

      Amazing about hearing the whales on sonar off Haserot Beach. I’ll have to haul my kayak down there and check that out.

  2. Thanks for the update Jane. Patti and I always look forward to the whale migration in the spring as well. In fact we start scanning the waters immediately after the vernal equinox, just in case. This year the first sighting for us was a whale spouting off the Old Mission Point Lighthouse at 6:37 am Monday, April 1st. Couldn’t make out what species it was though. Always a treat, and we really appreciate your reporting of this amazing annual event.

    • Thanks for the report, Rudy! I wonder if the whale you saw by the lighthouse was the same one I saw over the weekend out by the island. I’ve been getting reports of whale sightings in both East Bay and West Bay, which is unusual for the beginnings of the migration, but also very exciting! Good idea to start scanning the waters after the vernal equinox.


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