This article was first published in the Epoch Times on December 1, 2022.
“There it is, twelve o’clock!”
Excited passengers moved toward the bow to view a spouting humpback whale. Seeing a whale for the first time can be an awe-inspiring sight.
The Monterey Bay Whale Watch
Our adventure started at 9 am on the Blackfin, a 65’ Catamaran run by the Monterey Bay Whale Watch company. To begin our four-hour tour, some of us sat in the outdoor seating area up top. It wasn’t long however, till we learned that the best place to be was down below–in the more stable bow of the ship. Still, from up top we enjoyed a great view of the harbor, while hundreds of sea lions barked their goodbyes from the breakwater.
The morning was partly sunny and cold. Swells were up. The two marine-biologists onboard stayed busy pointing out wildlife, sharing facts, and checking on passengers. If anyone felt seasick, they were quickly on hand to give out ginger lozenges, bags, and an assist to a more stable area of the boat. They seemed genuinely happy to be onboard, sharing their knowledge and helping out.
The Best Place to See Whales
I learned from one marine biologist that Monterey Bay is one of the best places to see whales. Whether they migrate south for the winter, or north for the summer and fall, they must pass by Point Pinos, located just south of Monterey. Lots of prey congregate there–anchovies, krill, and sardines. Right now, he said, there are lots of sardines, 100 feet below us. They feed during the day and come out again at night to spawn.
The marine biologist also told me that whales have different feeding habits. “Some maximize their effort at night, waiting for everything to come up from the depths so they can get a little bit of an easier bite. Others will bite, take a nap, bite, take a nap–all day and all night.”
We couldn’t see the humpbacks feed, they do that underwater, but we did get to see them spout, swim, and dive. We saw two pods of humpback whales, 2 to 3 in a pod. The marine biologists are able to identify them by unique pigmentation on the underside of their flukes (tails), along with any visible scars.
Humpbacks don’t have teeth; instead, they have several hundred baleen plates (like the long bristles of a broom). They feed by taking in huge amounts of water and prey. Then they use their tongue to push the water back out through their baleen plates, leaving the prey, which they swallow whole. Humpback whales have small throats and can only eat tiny crustaceans and schooling fish.
Other Wildlife Sightings
Besides Humpback whales, we also got to see Risso’s Dolphins. Risso’s are common year-round in Monterey. They are easier to recognize because of the scars present on most of the adults’ bodies. The scars are caused from teeth raking between dolphins, and struggling prey–usually squid.
A black-footed albatross made a rare appearance. They usually forage far out over the open ocean, but this one flew close by our boat, even though we were only twelve miles offshore. They are an impressive bird with a seven-foot wingspan.
Most of the whale-watching trip on this particular day was spent gazing out to sea and trying to avoid seasickness. Yet it is quite an adventure feeling the cold fresh air on your face, realizing the immensity of the ocean, and spotting amazing wildlife. On the way back, a pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins surrounded our boat. They love to swim alongside the bows of ships. They are one of the most playful animals of the Pacific, and it was wonderful to see their white sides flash as they speedily swam and dove beneath our Blackfin vessel.
Unfortunately, there were likely a few people who didn’t enjoy the journey. They were the ones sitting miserably, making good use of their barf-bags. Others slept it off. But fear not, there are techniques that can help one avoid seasickness:
- Stay well-hydrated, starting the day before. Drink plenty of water aboard the ship.
- Don’t arrive on an empty stomach, but do avoid acidic foods.
- Take a “less-drowsy” dramamine the night before. Take one more 30-60 minutes before embarking. (I only took one the night before because they can make you sleepy.)
- Take ginger lozenges to soothe your stomach.
- Saltine crackers really do help.
- Keep your eyes on the horizon.
- Don’t go inside or to the stern (back) of the boat where you might smell exhaust.
- Breathe in the fresh air–standing in the bow is great for this.
Despite the ever-present threat of seasickness, our whale-watching trip was a success. We spotted lots of wildlife, and breathed in an abundance of fresh clean air. It was a great experience being out on the ocean.
There are several whale-watching companies at Fisherman’s Wharf, but I enjoyed the Monterey Bay Whale Watch. They offer three, four, and eight-hour trips; always have a marine biologist onboard; and stay a respectful distance from the whales. The close encounters (benign) that sometimes occur are completely initiated by the whales themselves.
For more information, see their website: https://montereybaywhalewatch.com/