While we were following the orcas, we saw a sudden display of power combined with a lack of interest on the part of the whale. We had passed a number of different creatures on the way included a baby fur seal and a sea lion which, while one of them had freaked out and bolted for safety, the whales had shown no interest in. Then, there were some birds sitting on the surface. One of the orcas decided this was a training exercise. It was alongside us and then dropped below the surface. I could see the silhouette under the surface and the acceleration was scary. A couple of pumps of its tail and it shot off towards the bird. It knew something bad was coming and tried to get away. It fluttered violently to try and escape but was overtaken by the whale and then vanished below the surface.
Just as suddenly as it went away, it suddenly popped up again and started fluttering in the onsite direction. I guess the whale had a bit of a play with chasing it and then lost interest. The bird survived to live another day but the whale probably never really cared about it in the first place. I guess if the bird could comprehend how little the attack had meant to the whale, it might be a touch annoyed!
Tail slapping wasn’t the only thing that the humpbacks were doing a lot of. Waving with a flipper was also going on a lot. I don’t know what this means but it is cool to see because it makes it seem like the whales are waving at you. Since they are underwater when they do it and can’t see you, they obviously aren’t bothered by our presence but who cares? It feels like you are being waved at!
I have never heard of Risso’s dolphins before. There are so many species of dolphin, you would have to be an expert to know them all but you do hear of many of them. Not so with this one for me. Once you find yourself in the middle of a bunch of them, though, you suddenly are terribly familiar with them. They were not a terribly sociable bunch at first but we hung around for a while and they gradually got more relaxed with us nearby.
As they age, they apparently get a lot lighter in color. A few of the dolphins were very light and, with the water being so calm, we were able to see them even when they were submerged. The group was a decent size and we would have some of them visible most of the time. They weren’t as keen on getting well out of the water but we did have some that would pop out and breach every once in a while. Being pointing in the right direction with the camera when it happened, though, was another thing.
The focus of a trip like the one we took with Monterey Bay Whale Watch is to see the whales. However, you can always come across some other creatures as you go on your way. Heading back in to the marina, we passed a Sea Otter mother and her pup. She was diving on food and leaving the pup to bob up on the surface. She would bring some food and then dive down. I was up at the front of the boat when we saw them. The early evening light looked great on them. Of course, as we passed them, our shadow took the good light off them just when they were in the best location to get a shot. I did head to the back of the boat as we stopped to see if I could get some other shots. We soon left them to their thing, though.
While we did not get a lot of breaching from the humpbacks, there was a lot of tail slapping going on. We would see something off in the distance and head that way to see if we could get close before the whale got bored and decided to do something else. Thankfully, they often didn’t. Getting good shots of the slapping proved to be harder than I thought. The splash they cause is impressive but you don’t know why when you look at the shot. For all the viewer knows, it could just be a whale sticking its tail up in the air.
Fortunately, I did get lucky with some shots when close in with the whale really throwing its fluke around. The drama of watching all of this is hard to portray in the photos and sometimes it was one of those experiences when it was better to stop trying to get the photo, to put the camera down and to watch these huge creatures throwing themselves around in the ocean in front of you.
Spotting surfers along the Pacific coastline is not too tricky. Anywhere with beach access is likely to have someone who has gone in to the water with their board. However, an unmanned surfboard is not a common occurrence. As we were motoring across Monterey Bay, we came across this board. It is an unmanned research platform with a number of instruments to monitor the bay. Apparently it is powered and can cruise itself around the bay and radio back its readings to the researchers on land. A curious looking thing!
Orcas are cool. No avoiding it, they are a great looking whale. We spent a lot of time with this group on our tour with Monterey Bay Whale Watch. Because they kept offering up good opportunities to interact with them, we followed them a long way up the coast. We ended up off Davenport which meant, when we turned back, we had a long way to go to get back to Monterey. However, it was worth it. As we got further away from the normal whale watching boats and the group got more used to us, they got more relaxed.
We occasionally got ahead of them at which point they would swim towards us, sometimes crossing right behind the boat. At times like this, the team on the boat would drop a towed housing off the back with a GoPro mounted in it. They got some cracking footage as the whales got curious about the line and took a look at the camera. Meanwhile, we got to see them at very close quarters. It was so cool.
Getting good shots of the whales was trickier than I expected. They stay down for irregular times and predicting where they will pop up is hard. If you don’t get them coming out of the water, the head quickly dipped back under which makes for a far less impressive shot. You want to see the head and get the black and white patterns on display.
When you have a few hours with the whales, though, sooner or later you will get some good shots. This blog does not need to see the number of shots that are the same and only show the back of a whale as it heads back below the surface. The ones with the head visible and the ones that will be shared. Trust me, though. There are a lot of shots of the backs of whales with no visible head.
The boat team weren’t the only ones that took some video. I also shot a bunch of video as we went. Some of it was unusable as a result of the movement of the boat. Other clips were no use because I was looking in the wrong direction and the whales weren’t doing what I anticipated – don’t they know what I need? However, I still got a few clips that were what I was hoping for.
When you are looking for a dramatic view of a humpback whale, the coolest shot is of a breaching whale. Monterey Bay was full of whales while we were there. They really were everywhere you looked. Of course, being in a big area means that they may be visible but not necessarily good for photos. Actually, while a lot of them were pretty active, the numbers breaching versus slapping their tail flukes was relatively small.
However, we did come across a juvenile whale that was feeling a bit more into it and was breaching quite a few times. Maybe you wouldn’t immediately know it is a juvenile from the photos but it was with its mother and the size difference was obvious at the time. That said, who cares? It was really cool to watch.
Humpback whales do not use Listerine. If you are upwind or one (or more), you will know it by the smell. When they exhale through the blowhole, a very aquatic aroma is shared. This isn’t the only way to spot them of course, they are a pretty large beast so not the hardest thing to find – particularly if it is a calm day like it was for us. We saw so many humpbacks that we passed most of them by. We did end up pretty close to some, though. These guys seemed totally uninterested in us. I have to say I took it hard.
I have been on a few whale watching trips in the past. We took one out of Provincetown on Cape Cod that had a whale guarantee. No whales and you get a free second trip. 95% success rate. Guess what day we went on. No chance to go back and take the free trip. We did a trip in a RIB when staying on Pender Island and had more success on that occasion including a pretty close encounter with a humpback. Other than that it was a pretty quiet trip.
Consequently, I was cautious when we went on our trip out in Monterey Bay. This is an area with an abundance of marine life, particularly at this time of year. Dolphins, humpbacks, orcas and even blue whales have been about a lot recently. However, we went on a trip that had a lot better chances. It was an all day excursion. It was listed as eight hours but we ended up being gone for eleven. The map above shows where I took shots so you can see we went a long way up the coast. It is easy to see why they don’t let children under 13 or pregnant women on. Boredom or urgent needs are not realistic!
The day was very productive. Be ready for a stream of posts of aquatic wildlife!