Incredible Encounter in Monterey! – 22/7/03

Here we go again!
Am I a glutton for punishment?
Or am I just an acute ‘Whale Nut?!’
I headed down to the Whale Watch on the Wharf, to get on board the Sea Wolf II again for today’s next installment of marine wonder!
It was foggy again so I wondered if we would be able to sail? And yes we were! We all boarded and Nancy again was taking this tour in her usual professional manner. As we sailed slowly out of the bay, she gave the usual ‘orientation’ and we caught sight of a lone Sea Otter to the right. I took my binoculars in hand and as I came upon it (I was getting better at finding the object of my interest the more I used these), I saw that this otter was holding a huge, bright red crab that it had just caught for breakfast. It had it rested on its belly and the crab looked like a huge spider. Yuk! I recoiled a bit at this sight, a bit too early for creepy crawlies for me. I watched as the Otter turned a few times in the water to stop the crab from escaping (or maybe it was playing with its food?) and then watched it take a bite of one of its legs as it was still alive! That’s what I call fresh fish caught daily!
It was really foggy but not as inshore as yesterday. Visibility was limited to start with but the ocean was pretty calm. It was not quite like glass but it was very still and mirror looking, a bit eerie this early but still awesome!
I saw another Sea Otter as we passed by the bay, this one seemed to be smashing a clam against a rock that it had placed on its belly as they are known to do and as I have seen in Canada previously and on many a nature programme on TV. Now I watched my own live broadcast. Fascinating! How do they learn this really neat trick?
The swells started to pick up as we got further out. I still could not see the land or the horizon through the thick foggy coat to my right but could make out the shore to the left – just visible under a thinner coat of mist!
A flock of birds flew past my right, in a line. Follow my leader or even a conga of wild fliers!
The sea had slight ripples over it and the sun was just managing to poke through the cloud cover. Where it shone it looked like it was chasing us! Shiny patterns formed on the current and twinkled in my early morning eyes.
There were lots of birds on the water this morning, which is a good sign that there is plenty of food. Good for whales to come and chase.
In some places, the surface of the pacific looks like rippled glass, like the old pattern glass you used to find in London in many bathroom windows or doors!
Then the swells go down to small regular waves that mesmerize you with its power! It all looks so harmless…?
Black and white birds called ‘common Derrs’ dived under the sea next to the boat and I watched their small bodies disappear in a deep dive for krill or small fish, whatever was on offer for the taking. It looked like we were going to hit them but they were fast movers!
I looked ahead and a flock of larger birds, again in a line, flew across and through the fog which made some of them disappear for a second, then reappear out of the other side as if they had come through a tunnel from nowhere!
The crew spotted 2 whales ahead! Blues? Yes! Two Blues! Coming up for air, showing off their huge multi speckled bodies! One shows its fluke but I miss it! Wake up missy, or miss the best show on earth. One was bigger so it could be a mother and her older calf?

One ‘Lunge feeds’ beside us! As explained in my trip out on 15th July, this meant the whale was on its side, showing a flipper, opening its huge mouth to engulf the krill patch! I wasn’t able to see its throat extend but it has huge plates called baleen, sometimes nicknamed its beard, that open to make it easier to catch bigger feeds! It looks like an oversized accordion, specially designed for fishing.

They came up right next to us! So close that I could see the vertebrae of their spines, rippled like the waves themselves and quite prominent and detailed! I did see the tip of a tail! This Blue was teasing us!!!
We watched them for at least 40 minutes and they were close by for all that time! They seemed to have a lot of food in the vicinity so we were blessed with their prolonged presence. They appeared to like having us there to watch this morning’s intake of energy, what posers they are turning out to be!

They were so big and their colouring so clear. We could even see their blue illuminated shadow under the surface! Then they left their normal ‘fluke print’, made by their huge tails and were gone! Only a smooth, huge circle left as a reminder of their visit. Fluke prints are like giant fingerprints and seem to linger on the surface for ages, changing the pattern of the ocean where they are formed.

The adult was estimated at around 80 feet long!
Blues only have a small dorsal fin on their back in comparison to their huge bodies! It does look a little out of place for such an immense body.
We had gone round in a big circle near the shore, came back to Point Pinos from where we had passed a short time ago. We hadn’t even reached the underwater canyon yet!
The fog that had covered most of Point Pinos was lifting slightly. I could see the shore more clearly, except for the mountains which were still hidden and shrouded!
We may find Dolphins here? Or more Blues or Humpbacks!!!
We got a quick glimpse of the back of a Harbour Porpoise! Very quick and agile, these mammals are sometimes difficult to spot. I was in the loo when Nancy called out their presence. A very unstable, wonky, moving loo!!! That was a very unnerving experience, one not to be repeated too often.
The swells were picking up again in places but the ocean in general still looked very calm and more glass-like than before. The sea changes constantly and instantaneously and I was amazed to see that some of it looked flat, whilst other parts had ripples on the surface and was quite patterned, then another part was clear and glass-like again. With the fog hanging on it, this was an even more beautiful sight for sore eyes!
We sailed for ages but saw nothing? I was convinced that the two Blues we had seen earlier were all that today’s wild show would consist of as if the ocean had been emptied out of all other life! But of course not…
All at once and as suddenly as water comes out of a tap, we were surrounded by hundreds of Dolphins! They were everywhere! No, there were thousands! And three different species were confirmed – Rissos Dolphins, White Sided Dolphins and Northern Right Whale Dolphins! This was a rare treat to have them socialize like this in such big numbers. Nancy’s enthusiasm for such a marvel only enhanced my excitement to boiling point and reaffirmed my passion for all things cetacean. I was straight away hanging over the railings at the front of the boat, the position I had put myself in right from the start. This was a sight I was not prepared to miss!!

Northern Right Whale Dolphins are jet black and could be mistaken for mere shadows! They do however have a distinct symmetrical white pattern on their bellies and this I was able to see as they rode the bow, rolling over as they swam at great speeds to keep up with ease. I could see their yellow eyes as they turned to look up at us as they went, so curious and wild! They looked like they were flying and I so wish I could do that. I got a kiss from one too, as it came up and blew air out of its blowhole. Wonderful! I felt part of them and could not take my eyes off of the glorious movements!

Then we saw a Humpback Whale! Very close! Sometimes a group of Dolphins that size has been known to annoy a whale enough to scare it off. They never harm each other though which is proof of their interspecies communication and their mutual respect of each other.
The Humpback came up three times then showed us its tail. I took a photo! Fingers crossed? It came right towards us. There were two, or was it another two, making three? However many, they were magnificent and we didn’t smell them once!!!
We headed back as time was running out! And we headed straight back into the Dolphins again!
A White-Sided Dolphin rode the bow! So graceful, with its white stripes down its flank. More Northern Rights too, who stole the show for me!
Rissos are spotted with huge bent dorsal fins that make them look like sharks when most of their bodies are underwater! Very slow, graceful animals that do not ride bows of boats. But they were putting on a show of their own and were having fun. Coming up in groups, I could see some calves!
The White-Sided dolphins are slightly smaller but have enormous characters!
Lots of Dolphins jumping, leaping, tail lobbing, rolling through the jumps so that some looked like eels! Continuously jumping like one long animal, like a real-life Loch Ness Monster!
We picked up speed and the Dolphins kept up with the front of the boat! They made it look easy, with minimum effort required. There were some behind us that were riding the waves and jumping over our wake that we left. Cetacean playtime on the Pacific, what joy! I watched them for what seemed like an eternity. Never boring, never missing a beat, always just in front of the bow, always turning and coming up for regular breaths! Incredible! How do they not get giddy?
Surrounded by thousands of Dolphins! A dream come true! What a finish!
As we got nearer to base, the fog cleared and we were in crystal blue water near to the shore, with a hot sun beating down on my memories! It was like we had just appeared out of nowhere, like the way a certain wizard and his friends walk through a wall to catch a train!
The fog was behind us, thick and mysterious, like a secret chamber to another world! The other world where I had just been!
The world of the Blue Planet!!!!


All photos credited and copyrighted to Anita Johnson

This post was adapted from the book “Whales and Tales

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