Sunday, July 5, 2015

Leaping Humpbacks!

I got mad at Nicole when she told me she had no pants. She had come to visit me in Santa Cruz in July, and she brought no pants. No pants! What about our cool foggy mornings? And now, she had talked me into going on an 8am whale watching trip on the Monterey Bay, and she had no pants. I laughed at the flimsy dress she thought was appropriate boat wear and gave her a pair of tights, some wool socks, a pair of tennies, a beanie, and a wool coat to put on. As we drove south to Moss Landing, I regretted forgetting scarves and gloves. I work for Sanctuary Cruises Whale Watching, and part of my job is to explain appropriate boat wear to customers.

Moss Landing Harbor, Dock A, where the adventure begins

I probably shamed Nicole a bit too much for her lack of warm clothing, since she was visiting from Philadelphia, where it is currently hovering around 100 degrees, but I was cranky because we got up so early to catch the boat. Shortly into the trip on the foggy ocean we spotted Humpback Whales. Sometimes we could hear spouts from their blowholes, but not see them for the thick fog. Their giant dark grey humped backs sliced out of the ocean, we heard the sound of releasing air, then down for a moment, then, when we were lucky, the tail flukes lifted out of the water as they dove down for anchovies. Each whale has a distinctive white pattern under the tail fluke, which can be used to identify different whales, much like a human's fingerprint. The edges of the flukes are lined with barnacles that sometimes dangle like earrings as the whale propels itself down to the depths.

We were hanging with these whales, probably about three of them, and sometimes we'd lose them and have to listen for their blowholes and point in the direction of the sound so the captain could move the boat closer. Suddenly, one of the whales fully jumped out of the water, propelling itself vertically up out of the ocean, and twisting in the air as it splashed back in. We gasped in delight. It was the first time I'd seen a breaching whale!

Soon after, another whale jumped clear out of the water. Then one of them turned to its side, stuck its fin out of the water, as if it was waving to us, and slapped the fin down on the water, over and over again. Before we knew it, there was another breach. It was impossible to tell the whales apart, since we'd just met them, but I think two of the whales were alternating jumps, as if they were playing with each other.

The leaping went on and on! I counted 12 breaches before we had to motor back to the harbor. I have a feeling the whales kept putting on a show after we left too. I caught two breaches in a one minute video I shot, which you can see above. I still cannot believe my eyes when I watch the video.

With all the fog that morning, everything we saw felt like an ethereal dream. We couldn't see the shore or the horizon. The whales were close enough to see details, while mist shrouded the surrounding ocean. Nicole saw these amazing creatures for the first time, claiming, "You know Madeline, it really isn't that cold!" Meanwhile, I was reminded how magical whale watching can be, all the while wishing I'd brought my scarf and gloves.

Sanctuary Cruises Whale Watching

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