Environmental Songbook

Whale Watch

By Sarah Pirtle

Recorded by A Gentle Wind on “Heart of the World.”

©2002 Discovery Center Music, BMI

The melody is a 19th century Irish-American ballad of the Great Lakes called “The Cruise of the Bigler.” John and Alan Lomax collected this song, and I learned it from Pete Seeger.

As portrayed in the song, researchers come together yearly to create names based upon the natural markings on the body of a humpback. Al Avellar from Provincetown started the idea of whale-watching in the 1970’s. He invited Stormy Mayo, one of the three founders of the Center for Coastal Studies. to be on board as a scientist.

Al’s son Aaron, figured out that by noting dorsal patterns he could re-recognize the same whale and distinguish it from other whales. Aaron named Salt from her white encrusted dorsal fin and named the whale who traveled with Salt the name of Pepper.

Reading a scrapbook of names given to humpback whales, I began the song. I’ve gone on over fifteen whale watches along Stellwagan Bank off Cape Cod and Gloucester, MA.
I like to imagine a child who actually gets to name one of the humpbacks.


1. When I was the age of ten, I went to watch the whales.
They know ‘em by their flukes. They know ‘em by their tales.
All the flukes are different. The patterns aren’t the same.
If you see a humpback tail, then you can learn their name.
Our boat goes into Stellwagen where the whales swim free.
I’ve been there so many times, that the crew knows me.
I’ve seen the whale called Cat’s Paw. You know, she has no fleas.
And I’ve met the Cyclone who’s as gentle as a breeze.

Whale Watch! We’re rolling! To starboard look about.
Did you say that rise of spray could be a whale spout?
With cameras at the ready, the scientists proclaim,
We can track each humpback from the tail that tells their name.
2. Watch out for the Drip, a Drip that’s sixty-five feet long.
And you may see Salsa dancing to the ocean’s song.
There’s Lance and there’s Torpedo. But they won’t make us halt.
And Crystal is the baby whose mother’s name is Salt.
Well, some names are so corny, that you gotta cringe.
One baby is named Thread. The mother’s name is Fringe.
The first were Salt and Pepper. Now there’s Pinstripe and there’s Moss.
With all the gunk in their baleen, I’d like to call one Floss.   


3. Our captain shouts out, “Six o’clock,” that means rush to the back,
And there’s a sight of lacy flukes completely shiny black.
That means that this is Falco, and when we see her calf,
They know her name is Epaulet. Her leaping makes me laugh.
Well, Falco she is feeding. Her giant mouth I see.
Scooping up the sand eels with great frivolity.
She weaves a net of bubbles. Her baby watches proud
as she rises up with open mouth and lunges through that cloud.  


4. We’re looking out for more whales and I can feel the splash
Of giant waves a rolling as the rainy winds they blast.
I’m leaning from the railing and screaming as I see
Two great heads a-rising up and looking straight at me.
One is just a baby, and its flopping on its back.
They say this is a new calf who gives those waves a crack.
And I would like to name that calf a name we won’t forget.
With all those white dots on its flukes, I’ll call it Bubble Net.


5. And so when it turned autumn, the crew did congregate
for the naming of that new whale. Raise glasses, fill your plate.
I went there and I told them what I thought the name should be.
They laughed and then they shouted, Bubble Net it’s gonna be.
Whale Watch! Watch out! To starboard look about.
Did you say that rise of spray could be a whale spout.
And if you see a black tail with dotted alphabet.
It it has white polka dots, it’s probably Bubble Net.

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