Today I saw blue whales. They are the largest mammals on earth. The closest I’ve ever come to one was the fiberglass replica looming overhead in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. With over-hunting of the species in the 20’s and 30’s, there are “only around 3-4,000 in the Northern Hemisphere” (remaining of the estimated 350,000 pre-whaling). I feel incredibly lucky to have gotten to see one.
The nice owners of this house I’m sitting in Aliso Viejo, California left me a voucher for a whale-watching tour through Newport Landing Tours. With only a little more than a week to go I figured I better get my tour in now since next week a lot of people might be on vacation for Labor Day and last minute getaways before school starts again.
I arrived at Davey’s Locker shortly after 9 for my 10am tour and got my boarding pass. The staff was friendly, especially a nice fella named Eden who I talked with after the trip.
Standing at the dock, I was wary to see so many kids show up to board the boat. Some were with families, but there was also a large group of them and they were bouncing around like it was a Chuck E. Cheese birthday party.
I like kids…by the ones or twos. By the dozen usually makes me turn and run the other direction. But the expedition was bought and paid for, and though I didn’t really expect to see whales, part of me was jumping up and down with excitement too. What if we did see a real, live whale? What if we did?
Within a mile offshore, Cap’n Larry steered us toward a pod of dolphins. These were common dolphins.
One of these blogs I’ll have to tell you about a trip to Anacapa Island with Kurt a couple years ago when a pod launched themselves toward us and began playing in the waves of the boat. These were not those dolphins. They lingered only a moment and moved on. Still, it was cool to see some of them frolicking as they made their way on past us, and better still were the screams of glee that came from the group of Mission Viejo Kids Club children at the bow.
This wasn’t the first time they got excited on the boat. It began before we even left the harbor of Newport Beach, as we passed many sea lions milling about on boats and docks.
The squeals continued as we encountered another pod—this one numbering in the thousands according to Cap’n Larry. But my favorite part of the trip was the conversations of the children after we spotted the first blue whale, saw its tailfin in the dive, and waited for it to resurface. The captain took a moment to explain that it would probably be at least a five minute wait, and some facts about the blue whales, which have become more prominent here due to the increase in their food supply: krill.Child 1: “What’s the greatest thing that you’ve ever saw a whale do?” Child 2: “I saw one do flips at Seaworld.” [pause as they all look over the side of the boat for a minute] Child 3: “Look! A krill!” [pause as they look around hopefully for the whale to resurface] Child 1: “We maybe have to wait for twenty minutes I guess.” [Silence on the deck] Child 2: “I see a jellyfish!” Child 4: “They call ’em jellyfish but they really call ’em sea jellies instead.” Child 3: “What if there was a pink jellyfish?” “What if a jellyfish zapped the boat?” [pause while everyone looks for the whale to resurface] Child 3: “What if this is how slow we went the whole time? I would SWIM to the whale.” Child 4: “You wouldn’t be able to ride it because you would die. You would go under the sea and a shark would eat you.” [Child 5 sneezes and wipes his nose] [9 minutes have passed] Child 1: “Seems like it’s been an hour.” Child 2: “I hope that wasn’t a whale out there that pulled that ship down.” “If this boat got pulled down, I would just get onto a piece of wood.” Child 3: “What if I put my hand right here and shark jumped up and bit it off? If it bit the arm off, I would just, I would ask someone to give me something to just cover it, and then the blood would be splattered all over, but I would still have some blood. I would die. Yeah. If my arm were bit off I would just jump in the water for the sharks because I would just die anyway.” Child 4: “No. You might not die. But the blood would attract sharks…” Child 3: “I know.” Child 2: “And splashing. Splashing attracts sharks.” Child 3: [grinning] “I know. I would be splashing and blood. I would have blood everywhere.” [silence. Other kids staring at him.] Child 6: “Can the whale drown down there?” [captain announces we are heading for another pair of whales instead, but it’ll be a little while.] Child 1: “What?” Child 3: “He said it’s a narwhal. We’re going to see a narwhal!”
We never found our first blue whale again, but the captain spotted two more ahead of us and we made for them. We had a volunteer from the American Cetacean Societyonboard who confirmed much of the captain’s information and that these were blue whales. We learned that these whales were sleeping. They can tell a whale is sleeping by how slowly it moves in the water. It closes one eye and shuts down half of its brain (the half opposite its closed eye). It needs to keep half of its brain awake because whales can only breathe consciously.
Desi Green is the name of the ACS volunteer, and she gave great analogies to help us understand the size of blue whales.Two school buses = the length of a blue whale. A volkswagon bug = the size of its heart. A minicooper = the size of its lungs. And its arteries? Well, they are large enough that a grown man could swim through them.
We were due for our return to shore, so this second sighting would be our last. I snapped as many photos as I could over the heads of the adults who never rotated out from the bow of the ship in the hour and a half since we left shore. I returned to the side of the boat as most of the people dispersed to the interior cabin or back of the boat, where the wind and spray wouldn’t bother them.
I held onto the railing like one of the 10-year-olds and rode the choppy water at super speed back to shore. It was like a ride at an amusement park, only you knew you were going to get to enjoy it for the next 6-8 miles of open ocean. I put my camera away and leaned out, letting the salt water soak me and the boat cruise beneath my feet.
As we broke our speed for the jetty and return to the dock, I found myself wishing we would turn back around, and thinking:“What if this is how slow we went the whole time? I would SWIM to the whale.”
Have a beautiful weekend, friends!