The week went by rather quickly due to a busy work schedule and the numerous outings to watch the sea otters in the evenings. On Thursday, we were able to join the The Sea Goddess Whale Watching Tour and based on the past few days it looked like sightings were plentiful. After a late start getting on the road, we hurried over to Elkhorn Slough Harbor to catch the boat. They had clear rules stating they wouldn’t wait and would leave without you and we didn’t want to be those people. We quickly grabbed our tickets and scurried to the boat just as they were closing up. Only a minute or so after we got on, they began to push off and before long we were out of the harbor and out to sea. With luck, we almost immediately spotted a pair of humpback whales hunting just outside the harbor and rather close to the shore. Our captain was extremely adept at knowing where the whales would pop up next and successfully maneuvered the ship to give us the optimal views of them as they came to the surface, blowing spouts of water high into the air. For all their size, the whales were noticeably graceful creatures. They would come to the surface, take a few deep breaths, lift their tails in a fluke and dive back downwards to hunt for more food. The only trace left behind were small motionless wakes called fluke prints that were created by their massive size. We followed them for a good hour before the captain decided to do a quick exploration further out.
We made a wide sweeping arc across the Monterey Canyon hoping to scout additional whales but with limited luck. Despite the fact there was another ship following a pod of Orcas three miles out, the likelihood of getting there in time was minimal. The Sea Goddess’ speed couldn’t compare to that of an Orca, and we wouldn’t be able to catchup to them. As the sun came out we noticed thousands of Moon Jellies just beneath the surface as well as large schools of anchovies that glittered and shimmered as they swirled past. After some time, the captain decided it was best to turn back and stick with the two humpbacks discovered earlier.
As we neared the whales again, we noticed countless splashes around the whales. Very much like a pack of dogs, sea lions were moving in a large group along the surface and diving down in a synchronized routine as they hunted with the humpbacks. When they burst up to the surface again, it almost always meant that the whales were not far behind. The sea lions traced the movements of the whales which made easy pickings of the anchovies that the whales missed. This clearly proved to be a much easier method of hunting than trying to chase the schools themselves.
Every now and then, the Humpbacks would decide to stay at the surface a bit longer, turning on their sides and raising their fins up out of the water, as a dancer raises their arms in a slow circular arc, before turning and bringing it back down. A friendly wave of sorts to show off for the boat of onlookers. They had no fear of the boat, at one point swimming directly beneath it making everyone aboard seem to run from one end to the next in hopes of catching a closer glimpse of these gentle aquatic giants. Before long, the captain informed us that our tour was over and after watching them surface one last time, we made our way back to the harbor as the humpbacks turned and made their way further out to sea. Even if the tour was three hours long, it didn’t feel like long enough and I sorely wished that we could dedicate a full day to watching these beautiful water dancers.
The next day was our last in the area and due to the rainy weather we decided to spend the evening visiting the Monterey. When we arrived, the downtown area was packed with people hustling about in the drizzle. We made our way down the main street to the aquarium where we found numerous families enjoying their afternoon. Children squealed in delight as a scuba diver fed the multitude of fish and sharks behind one of the larger tanks simulating a kelp forest. The whole aquarium seemed to be geared towards getting younger children involved and interested in marine wildlife. One of my favorite parts was a section that had a variety of tanks full of jellyfish that were floating about, a slight current created to give them movement as they moved in everlasting circles. As much as they terrify and scare me, I can’t help but find them fascinating and beautiful in their own way. Although the whole aquarium is lovely, it seemed like it was had far more to do for kids than adults.
While we were sad to depart California, it was time for us to continue our journey ever northward. The drive from Moss Landing to Bandon Beach was something like out of a dream. When I was younger, I used to imagine rainforests to be a bit like what you see in the Jurassic Park movies. Rich ferns in the undergrowth of moss covered logs, mist seeming to float about between ancient trees. More so than anywhere else I have visited, the coast of northern California and Oregon fulfilled these picturesque imaginings. As we moved further north, we drove through what exists of the remaining stands of coastal redwood trees. Many of which were draped in thick moss and the ground surrounding them was covered a mix of gnarled roots and branches. Eventually, the trees gave way to coastal vistas and the rugged coastline. Waves smashed against giant sea stacks as we passed by craggy beaches littered with countless bleached logs. While it was a simple drive, it was definitely one of the better ones for scenery. When we arrived, the sky was overcast with seemingly ever present clouds to account for the moisture that gave so much life to the forests nearby. We will be spending the next few weeks working our way up the Oregon coast and enjoying the coastal life for a bit.