A few weeks ago, a small pod of right whales was spotted off the southern shore of the Vineyard. Since there are only about 450 Northern Atlantic right whales left in the world, this was a pretty rare (and pretty awesome, in the literal sense of the word) sight. Pete wrote a story about the sighting, and while making his calls, got in touch with the Provincetown Center for Costal Studies, who offered to give him a spot on one of their research trips.

So yesterday we drove up to Provincetown, which is at the very tip of Cape Cod, and spent four hours offshore as the PCCS researchers photographed whales (for IDing later) and collected copepod samples. I know we all learn in elementary school how baleen whales eat zooplankton, but seeing the samples of teeny copepods and thinking about how a many-tonned animal could possibly survive on those along was just mind-boggling.

It was also a little surreal just to see whales. I’ve never seen what I consider “real” whales–whales in the wild; the closest I’ve come were belugas and orcas at zoos and aquariums. And to see three species on my first trip out—there were also fin whales and minke whales in the same feeding grounds—was incredible. The right whales were a little smaller than I expected them to be, but fin whales are about 80 (!!!!) feet long. When they submerged, their bodies just kept going—no wonder people used to think they were sea monsters.

I watermarked these because it’s against the law to be within 500 feet of a right whale (they’re federally protected) unless you have a permit (which we did).

The dark blot in the background is a whale.

But they came a lot closer to the boat.

The white stuff is sea lice living in the calcifications on the whale’s head and body. I remain a little icked out by that fact.

Dolphins swimming around a submerging fin whale. It’s, um, big.

I wrote earlier that the whales were smaller than I expected. I didn’t get a sense for their actual size until I saw them breaching.

All in all, a very excellent assignment. It might be time to go re-watch Blue Planet…



One Year Anniversary

It seemed liked it was time to update the blog layout.

Also, last Thursday was my one-year anniversary of moving to Martha’s Vineyard!

This has been, to put it mildly, a very good year.

So I went through the assignments I’ve shot in the past twelve months and found the ones that I liked best and that I thought best represented a year on Martha’s Vineyard (hence there are no town meeting photos in here, despite being VERY representational, because I didn’t like the images as much). And when I finished, I realized that, in spite of all the summer events I cover, none of the photos were of tourists—they’re all of the year-round Vineyarders. Which is fitting, because it’s this group of people that I like covering the most. The well-known people visit here in the summer, but they get written about all the time. The people who gut out the offseason, when half the island shuts down and the population goes from 100,000 to 16,000—I think they’re much more interesting.

In the true spirit of the Vineyard Gazette, I’m publishing these in black-and-white, just like they appeared in print. The gallery is here:

I also went through the articles I wrote last year and found my favorites. The Harry Potter story features tourists, but otherwise, same deal. Most of the pieces are sports-related, since that’s my beat (it basically fell into my lap. I am a lucky, lucky person). The Island Cup remains my favorite assignment ever–thirteen hours–most of them spent on Nantucket–shooting and reporting, all made worth it when the Vineyard football team won and I finally got to write a victory story. Usually, the high-stakes sports stories start out on a positive note, like the winter teams advancing to the postseason, only to then end on a brutal heartbreaker.* Sometimes I write about ex-Olympians recovering from hockey injuries; sometimes I spend the entire day at the hockey arena (PDF). I get to cover field hockey coaches (PDF) and get crash courses in high school sailing (PDF).

And sometimes I just go knock on random people’s doors and ask them about Halloween on William Street.

But I use the word ‘get,’ not ‘have’ in all these cases because I really do feel so fortunate that I can help cover this community and give it its due. There’s so much more to Martha’s Vineyard than presidential visits and summer homes.

At the Northern Short Course workshop I attended last weekend, photographers were constantly driving home the point that you don’t have to travel the world to find a good story. They’re everywhere. Small stories from the small towns still matter, because they do what journalism is supposed to do: give a voice to people who might not otherwise get one.

This is a fantastic island, and this has been a fantastic year.








*To be fair, this piece won first place in the sports division (for weekly papers) at the New England Press Association awards, so the story ended up being not-so-brutal for me. But I really hope that this season I get to write a “We are [finally] the champions” piece about the tennis team.