July 25, 2011

A Whale of Fun in Monterey

I love any activity involving nature, & especially wildlife watching, because by definition, wildlife is unpredictable. It’s often like a treasure hunt, requiring me to listen & watch carefully in hopes of spotting an elusive creature. I feel privileged when I get to spy on their everyday mundane activities, amazed at how much time animals spend just trying to stay alive. My life seems so unnecessarily hectic in comparison.

So I was excited when we decided to take the kids to Monterey for a whale watching cruise with Princess Monterey. It’s one of those close to home touristy activities that we often overlook, and in fact my husband & I had not gone on one in at least 15 years. My 11 year old daughter was excited, but my teen son wasn’t particularly enthused, saying the whole thing sounded pretty boring.
So shortly after we parked our car, I was happy to see him perk up as we noticed two otters lounging on the walkway alongside the marina. How can anyone not enjoy these cuties? We stood there for several minutes, watching them rolling around on their backs, and jumping in & out of the water to cool off. We were used to seeing sea lions sprawled everywhere, but this was not typical behavior for otters. Our first wildlife surprise of the day, yay! We found the boat, and as we waited to board, the marine biologist who was accompanying us gave an orientation talk. Katherine was funny and enthusiastic, and I thought how great for someone to love her job this much. That she could be this excited about seeing whales and other marine wildlife day after day after day, with a bunch of tourists, no less.

As we headed out of the bay, she told us about the various kinds of wildlife we were likely to see, and how to spot the whales. Humpbacks were commonly sighted, but they had also been seeing a lot of blue whales during the week, including some just that morning. But because they are always moving, there is never a guarantee they’ll be in the same spot, even just an hour later. So I reconciled myself to being happy with seeing humpbacks and considering it a special treat if we saw a blue.
As we motored out to open waters, we enjoyed watching the marine birds swim & dive, and the funny looking “egg yolk” jellyfish floating in the sea. As we approached the mouth of Monterey Bay, we were able to see spouts in the distance, which was a thrill in and of itself. “Kids” young & old ooh’ed and aah’ed as they pointed excitedly towards the horizon. But these whales were far away, so our captain headed towards another boat that had located a something special: a mother humpback and her baby! This was a special because the babies are only obvious in their first year. Very quickly they become as large as their parents, making it almost impossible to recognize a mother/child pair. So even Katherine was excited for this unique opportunity.

We followed the momma and her baby for at least an hour, and kept an eye out for blues, but no luck. However the humpbacks gave us a nice show, frequently spouting and showing off their flukes as they dove.It was time to return to the dock, so we settled in to enjoy the views of the Carmel coastline on the way back. Suddenly, over the loudspeaker came Katherine's excited voice: “Left side, left side!" We jumped up just in time to see a spout only about 50 yards away, and a large, sleek mass rolling slowing through the water. A lone blue whale was cruising by in the opposite direction, moving so quickly we realized we were fortunate to have crossed paths with him. (They can travel at speeds of up to 30 mph!)

As we watched in awe, Katherine reminded us that this was the largest living creature on earth, and I was so happy that my kids had the chance to see one in the wild. The whale remained in sight only a few minutes, but the memory will remain much longer.

Once again, a wildlife outing created wonderful family memories for us, and we didn’t even have to travel far from home. And by the way, my teenager was all smiles from the moment we saw the otter, until we got back to our car after the cruise.

I love helping families create wonderful memories like this. For help planning your next family vacation, contact me at suzette@family-treks.com