Midshipman's log. Hour No. 1:
"There's something primal about finding things."
Churning through Jamaica Bay on a 95-foot aluminum cruising vessel named the American Princess, we set a course not down on any map. True places never are. Unless of course, Captain Tom Paladino is at the helm.
"He came up and he ate that turtle," Captain Tom said of a big shark he saw earlier this summer. "And that's something I've never ever seen in all the years I've been out here."
We hoped our leader would prove more Odysseus than Ahab, but soon learned that he too had spent a lifetime chasing whales.
"I've been doing it since I was five year's old," Captain Tom said.
"My father started the business in 1945."
Mad captain or not, the weather gods smiled upon us and the crew's morale remained high.
"It's one of the most exciting things I've ever done on my entire life," naturalist Catherine Granton said of watching whales.
Chasing reports relayed in from an informal network of Captain Tom's fellow mariners, we scanned the horizon for whale spouts.
You've heard of a whale of a tale? Well, at this point, we begin to spin a tale of a whale: not a Blue, Right, Minke or Fin whale, but a Humpback.
In hour No. 2 of our three-hour tour, we found three different Humpbacks feeding just a half mile off the Rockaways.
This year, so many whales so late in the season represents the norm for the group of naturalists onboard the American Princess, but this also marks the longest and busiest season they've ever encountered in this location.
"It takes some luck too," Captain Tom said.
It's also potentially a sign of a healthier ocean, say the naturalists, and thus happier hunting for whale watchers like Captain Tom -- hopefully, for years to come.