Having a ‘Whale of a Time’!

Our local news here in the Bay Area reported last Wednesday that a large number of Blue Whales – the largest living organisms on this planet – had arrived along the Californian coast this year. The Californian coast usually sees Grey Whale migration in winter months and many Humpback Whales and Dolphins in summer. A few Blue Whales arrive towards July end but not as many as those that turned up this year. Though whale-watching in California is almost year-round, we had never before been on a tour as we didn’t think if would be worth the effort, to catch a glimpse of a few fins and tails. But after seeing the news reports, we decided that now if ever, would be one of the best times to visit the whales in our Californian backyard!

This year, there is a large amount of krill (organisms that Blue whales eat) along Monterey Bay in California. Favourable currents also contributed to the large number of Blue Whales this year. This is said to be a once in a decade event. Some whale watching tours reported seeing as many as 28 Blue Whales last week. The whales are likely to be here till the krill is all gone. A Blue Whale eats 4 tons of krill a day.

As the report was on the news, the tours were getting sold out fast. We managed to get reservations for a Saturday afternoon tour with Monterey Bay Whale Watch tours. The tour was about 4 hours long. We got to see many Humpback Whales, some Blue Whales and some Risso’s Dolphins.

Towards the end of the tour, 3 Humpback whales came right up to our boat and put up a great show. It was a humbling experience to see these giant creatures of the sea, so up close and personal! They were swimming under the boat from one side to the other. They were so close that you could hear their guttural noises and feel and smell the slimy spray through their blowhole, onto your face. It was a little scary to think of these giants swimming under and around your boat. But we were so engrossed in their show that I dont think we even noticed the boat rocking, if at all it did! Curious whales that follow the boat like these Humpbacks are called ‘Friendlies’.

Whales often come up for air. Some of them surface feed as well. That makes it easy to spot them. The pose that we most often saw was their dive, which ends in the tail fin sticking out of the water. ‘Lunging’ is when they break the surface of the water with their jaws wide open, lunging for food. Our guide pointed out some lunging whales. But we couldnt get that on camera. We also missed the ‘breach’ of a whale which is when they jump high up in air and does a back-flip back into the water.

My two cents: Reservations for tours are almost all sold out, but the operators are putting more boats into service. Need to keep an eye out for the new trips opening up. Mornings are best in terms of weather. As the day progresses, it tends to be more chilly and windy out at sea; but nothing warm clothing can’t handle. The chances of sighting whales remain the same any time of the day I think. What you see depends on your luck! The right side of the boat is best for viewing. Some boats don’t have seats along the sides though. So be prepared to stand all through the duration of the tour.

I certainly rate this one of the best experiences of my life. Nature is never predictable. Nature’s beautiful sights are never guaranteed. So when nature does put up such an amazing show for you and reveal its many wonders, feel blessed… be awed… and cherish the memory forever!

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