This is my “I’m going on a whale watch” face!
The sea was rough and the morning was cold and windy as the boat set sail for a three-hour tour, but I was layered and comfortable. I had been advised that it was a cold trip the day prior when I went to the dock to check on the details wearing shorts, sandals and tank top during the hot afternoon. The employee at Monterey Bay Whale Watch, said, “You’re going to have to wear more than that,” as she surveyed my outfit. I reassured her that I had brought plenty of warm clothes for the adventure. I signed up for the 9:00 a.m, tour the following day. I chose this particular tour company over the others that were available because it is operated by a marine biologist, Nancy Black, and the focus is studying and preserving marine life. I also had been following their page on Facebook. With daily posts, they documented many sightings of various types of whales and other marine life. While, no nature tour can guarantee sightings or a particular experience, it seemed that the tours I had followed online, were quite eventful.
I couldn’t help but have the “Gilligan’s Island” theme song as an earworm wriggling around in my brain as my shipmates and I were briefed on important safety information. They emphasized the importance of pre-medicating for seasickness or at least sucking on some ginger candy that was available for sale. Having never been a victim of seasickness, I really wasn’t that worried. They also described in detail what do and where to go on the boat if one became sick. The back of the boat on the lowest level was the place to throw up into the ocean without disturbing other passengers. We were also advised to maintain three points of contact with the boat at all times. At that moment I was glad that I had only brought my shorter lens, as it would be impossible to take photos with my long lens with one hand.
When it was time to board the vessel in preparation for setting sail, I headed to the top level of the boat, where I thought I would have the best view. I realized quickly, why three points of contact was critical (even when sitting). I had been on other whale watching and dolphin watching excursions in other location on much smaller vessels, but there were not nearly as rough. As marine life was spotted, it was necessary to move from one side of the boat to the other. This required care and grabbing on to poles, seats or counters to keep from being tossed about. Because of the weather conditions that morning, we didn’t get to head out as far as the trips typically go into the Monterey Bay, which is one of 14 federally protected areas of ocean that allows people to use and enjoy the water, but protects the natural and cultural features. Think of it as a national park, but in the ocean.
We saw Risso’s dolphins, mola mola, jellyfish, sea lions, California seals, porpoises and a humpback whale. We followed the whale for a long time and saw lunge feeding and many dives. In fact, until we returned to shore, I didn’t realize we had only seen one whale multiple times. I thought we had seen several.
Do you notice all the birds flying around the “blow”? I learned on this watch that one of the best ways to locate a whale in the distance was to watch the bird behavior. Flocks of sea birds tend to follow the whales around when they are near the surface, happily waiting for the spoils from the lunge feeding behavior. Although the whale consumes many sea creatures on a lunge, others are missed, left dazed and confused, making them easy prey for the sea birds.
Although the tour company has all-day trips available, the three hours was long enough for me, as I was ready to resume my usual landlubber status and get some lunch by the time the trip was coming to an end. Since I had headed downstairs to use the restroom, I decided to find a place to observe from the bottom instead of going back up. I went to the front of the boat and found it to be a delightful place to from which to observe. As we returned, we were greeted by California sea lions sunning on a large rock outcropping.
When I return to beautiful Monterey someday, I will head out on another whale watch. I will hope for a day with more sightings and more species like the many I read about on Facebook, but, of course, I am grateful for the animals I did get to see and understand that nature tours produce no guarantees. I have mentioned that the seas were very rough. It was particularly windy that day. During the trip, there was radio chatter about the wind speeds and possibly having to return early for safety. The marine biologist and crew were great and I felt like I was in good hands. The only time that personal safety crossed my mind was when another company’s similar vessel was nearby and I observed how much it was tossed and rocked by the waves. I realized that our boat was obviously doing the same thing, even though when I wasn’t looking at the other boat, it was not my perception. The afternoon excursion that day was cancelled due to the winds. If you’re wondering about seasickness, I was fine, but there were others on the trip who succumbed to the rocking waves almost immediately and found themselves at the stern leaning over the railings and were not well during the trip. So, thumbs up on the whale watch. Dress in warm layers (including gloves and a secure hat) and load up on Dramamine or ginger if you are prone to seasickness (or you’re not sure) for a whale of a time!