Could it be pilot whales?
What was Clara Gouin’s surmise as she made quick assessment of the marine pod swimming beneath the Chesapeake Bay Bridge just as she and Bay Gardener Dr. Francis Gouin crossed by truck above.
“Driving over the Bay Bridge at 50 miles an hour, you don’t have a lot of time,” she said. “But looking straight down, I saw these large, dark shapes, at least 10 feet long, maybe more, with big blunt heads like whales, very dark, all under water. I saw their outlines, their shadows.”
One was particularly well defined. “It was quite large and had huge pectoral flippers on each side, and it was paddling, using them in synchrony, at right angles.”
Awed at a sight “I’ve never been privileged to see,” Gouin checked out the possibilities.
Researching whales, she learned that pilots are a type of dolphin, thus cousins to the bottlenose dolphins that frequented the Chesapeake this year. Just this weekend — two days after Gouin’s sighting — two separate dolphin sightings were reported in the Rhode River, reports West-Rhode Riverkeeper Jeff Holland.
Pilot whales leap like the now familiar bottlenose dolphins. But Gouin saw no leaping or dorsal fin showing.
“I thought it could be dolphins,” Gouin said, but the silhouette was wrong, “too big and too dark.
“I thought it could be manatees,” she said, but they, too, are smaller and usually solitary when they visit the Chesapeake.
Whales seemed to fit the bill.
Nonetheless, Gouin doubted herself. “I didn’t recall any visits by pilot whales,” she said, “but I noted online that they occasional do go into shallow bays as far north as Cape Cod.”
Gouin also knew that humpbacks may be seen into the mouth of the Chesapeake
Turning to experts at Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Marine Mammal Stranding Network got Gouin no closer to a reliable identification. But her report has passed up the ladder to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, which manages live sighting reports, as a possible sighting.
Could there be pilot whales in the Chesapeake?
“It could be,” said the Network’s Amanda Weschler, but no sightings had been reported.
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