ANNAPOLIS -- A 35-foot whale feasted on fish and Chesapeake Bay hospitality yesterday as it cruised the waters near the Bay Bridge.
Watermen and pleasure boaters gathered and watched until dark as the jet black whale swam in waters ranging from 40 to 60 feet deep near the bridge.
The mammal apparently was first spotted about 10 a.m. near the mouth of the Potomac River, but wasn't reported until three hours later when it was sighted by the crew of the Widener, a state Department of Natural Resources buoy tender, according to Robert Gould, a department spokesman.
"He's feeding, and you can see that he's not lost or anything," said Natural Resources Police Cpl. Wayne Jones, who saw the whale from a police boat. "He seems to be doing pretty well."
Scientists were baffled as to what prompted the whale's appearance.
"I imagine he just started chasing some fish up the bay, found a good food supply and kept going," said Dr. Cindy Driscoll, a DNR veterinarian.
The scientists could not identify the species, but they said it was not the first whale to enter the bay. Most come into the bay during the summer months, they said.
Whatever its motives, the whale chose a picture-perfect day to make its appearance -- and then put on quite a show in calm, sun-drenched waters.
Watermen cheered at each appearance of its dorsal fin, and pleasure boaters exchanged high-fives when the whale chose to surface within 20 or 30 yards of them.
"It was really beautiful," said Eddie Cantler, a 31-year-old waterman from St.Margarets.
Mr. Cantler said he was finishing a day of oyster tonging about 3:30 p.m. when he went to investigate a small cluster of boats around the Bay Bridge supports.
"We watched it feed on fish, and could see the fish jump out of the water ahead of it, as it approached. Then you could see the fish in the whale's mouth," Mr. Cantler said. "It was something."
The whale was last seen early yesterday evening about a mile south of the Bay Bridge near the mouth of the Severn River.
Dr. Driscoll, state coordinator for the national Marine Mammal Stranding Network, said the last whale reported in the Chesapeake was spotted near Rock Hall last September.