One of the great things about living off the coast of California, aside from the impeccable year-round weather and proximity to the Happiest Place on Earth, is the annual migration of gray whales as they make their way down to the breeding grounds in Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. For years, I’ve been wanting to witness these mammals in their natural habitat and a few weeks ago, thanks to a Living Social deal and a willing friend, I made it happen.
Now, this wasn’t my first whale watching adventure. No, that would be the 5th grade field trip in Mrs. Wilson’s class where we saw dolphins, whale tails, and I froze to the bone with not enough layers to wrap up in. It was still remarkable and my love of sea life blossomed from there. I went a few other times as a kid and never saw any spectacular action from these ocean giants. There were backs and there were tails and that was pretty much it. Nothing like what you see on Animal Planet.
But that all changed when I went to Alaska.
In one of the ports we stopped at on our cruise, my mom and I booked an excursion with a captain known for his killer insight when it came to finding whales. In a smaller boat than I was used to, we soon spotted a pod of orcas that decided to swim alongside the boat. Having been to SeaWorld (not that I have any desire to go again thanks to Blackfish), I had seen killer whales up close before, but nothing could compare to seeing them in their natural habitat. I can picture it like it was yesterday, large black and white bodies staying next to the boat as we cruised in the Alaskan waters, as if they were our new friends just eager to keep up.
If that weren’t enough, on the way back to port, we spotted a young humpback whale breaching. He (or she) lunged out of the water over and over again, creating a huge splash each time. In our small craft, I was a little worried about the size of the animal, but I couldn’t look away. I got an amazing picture mid-breach, but the photo was lost in the early digital camera days.
Needless to say, I was eager to return to the sea and check out how the gray whales were doing off the local coast. In recent weeks, the whale watching company had spotted grays, humpbacks, orcas, and even the largest mammal on Earth, blue whales on their tours. I was looking forward to revisiting these animals and though we had to reschedule our trip due to the rain, we had a phenomenal time.
I suggested the idea to my good friend Buffy and she was game to go and bring her munchkins, Xander and Willow. We do a lot of stuff with her kids because I totally enjoy being around these little people and they keep me young. I lovingly, but not Mary Kay Letourneau-y, refer to Xander as my “boyfriend” and Willow is a mini version of her mama. We have fun together and I was eager to be a part of their first whale watching experience.
We didn’t tell the kids until we were at the harbor waiting for the boat. They were so excited! We spotted pelicans and sea lions before we even got onto the boat so the kiddos were ready to start looking for whales in the big ocean.
Unfortunately, they were both a little scared as we sped out of the harbor and into the open water. The speed and the bumps were a little more than they were expecting and they wanted it to stop. Luckily, the whales made early appearances and they quickly forgot about their fears and we were soon showing off our whale dialects.
For several hours, we trailed small groups of gray whales and even caught the splash of a breaching humpback far off in the distance. The weather was perfectly clear and warm. It was the kind of day that reminds me why I live in Southern California.
And then history repeated itself.
As we hugged the coast, we found a gray whale breaching. It is a common misconception that gray whales don’t breach, but I can tell you for a fact that they do. Though maybe not as much as their acrobatic humpback cousins, we found a gray that breached four times in a matter of minutes. Luckily, I was able to capture this one for all eternity.
Nature is such a wonderful thing to witness. Though the kids eventually started playing with the other children on the boat and Buffy got a case of sea sickness, I remained at the bow of the ship determined to take in every moment. Before we knew it, we were back in the harbor leaving the whales to continue their migration down to Mexico.
In the meantime, we went for pancakes.