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Close Encounters of the Whale Kind

Having circled the globe by boat, I’ve been treated to many a whale sighting. These include following humpbacks in Alaska by kayak and having full breaches be a part of our daily experience to visiting the greys in Scammons Lagoon, to swimming with humpbacks off of Silver Bank near the Dominican Republic to surfing with them out in Honolua Bay, Maui -where, if one were to dive beneatht the surface of the water, you’d be treated to the songs of hundreds of whales to being towed along and through a pod of melon headed whales off of Christmas Island. A Brydes whale was even the impetus for me hooking and handlining the biggest tuna I’ve ever caught. These stories aside, today was one of those magical moments and it was in my backyard er…front yard.

On my morning walk, I stopped by West Cliff to check the surf conditions and, although dismayed by the dismal surf, I could see a gathering of boats about a half mile off shore and immediately knew that the whales were still here. So I grabbed a board and paddled out to have a look and was treated to a breathtaking scene of whales feeding.

Approaching under my own power, it’s easy for the anticipation to build as it takes a while to get there and I could see the whales as their mouths breach the surface agape catching anchovies. Paddle harder. As I get there and find my space, the temptation to make chase was overridden by prudence and just wanting to let them come to me. They were circling lazily and blowing their bubble nets to raise anchovies afterwhich they’d come up beneath them and collapse their open mouths around them. I wondered what I’d do if it came up beneath me, but figured I’d just sit tight. Whales aren’t stupid and can definitely see where they’re going.

Well, pretty quickly, I got a chance to test my theory as a swarm of anchovies came to the surface all around me covering my board. Pelicans and seagulls are now diving all around me and bird shit rains out of the sky. I know what’s next but am not sure where to look or whether to move or what. The noise, the smell… all of it is unmistakeable… and now next to me – 10 feet away is the agape mouth of a whale. In the confusion and chaos I have nothing to do but sit with my mouth agape too and hope that bird shit doesn’t land in it.

And then it’s gone and we wait in anticipation to where it will come up next. Monterey Bay is sometimes referred to as the Serengeti of the Pacific and it’s clear why as the bay is teeming with life. Big rafted herds of elephant seals swim about, whales abound, and birds rain down from above. On the long paddle back, my face sore with smile, I realize that magic exists everywhere and I don’t always have to chase it. I just have to let it expose itself to me wherever I am.

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