August 23, 2008

Finally we see the Grays.

In the early morning, a little groggy because it was a windy night and sleep didn't come easily, we go down to the beach where we meet the others who are also going to see the whales. The water is calm but I struggle with my lifesaver, which definitely is not made for women with a bosom. The two boats head out for open water calmly and we are all eagerly looking out for any movement in the warm, shallow waters of the laguna. Expecting a dot on the horizon, like you see when you go out on a boat in San Diego, we were totally unprepared for what we were about to see.
After staring into the placid waters for about 20 minutes as we slowly motored out to open water, we suddenly saw movement all around us. It was like being in a bucket of live eel. A massive back breaking the surface here; a magnificent breach 300 yards away and fluke in the distance. We all sit in the boat awestruck and silent, just watching the movement around us. If anyone was scared, I didn't notice it because our sheer excitement was almost tangible.
Once we had our cameras in our hands we didn't even make that many pictures. It was almost like watching fireworks, you don't want to be wasting time on making photos and miss one of the most spectacular sights you might experience.
Pictures, after all, are just pictures and I could show a whole series of them, as we of course did make quite a few because after a while you settle in and watch the breaches and spyhopping around you and shiver a little as a 16 meter whale dips down under your rather small vessel. You are always a little too late to make a photo because you never know where something is going to happen. This was more a time to just revel at being so close to the whales and wondering what they made of this. Considering that this was previously a whale-catching area where, because it was a nursery, the whaler would strike the calf first in order to lure the mother within killing range it is amazing that these gray whales now carefully dive under our little boat without rocking it and peek out at us curiously on the other side.
The calves especially seem to enjoy the connection with people as they sidle alongside the boat waiting to make friends, you think hopefully. You can reach out and slide your hand over a back which has a rubbery texture. The mother, however is never far away and the gray in the blue water intensifies as she dives under the boat, breaks the shimmering water on the other side and watches the activity with a steely eye. These mothers are 16 meters (52 feet), weigh around 36 tons and used to be called Devil Fish, for which there must have been a particularly good reason, I have no doubt. Gray whales are off the threatened species list which is good because they took about 30 million years to develop and who has that kind of time these days to devote to developing them again?


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