A whale-watching adventure in Monterey Bay

Whale watching. It’s been something I was kind-of interested in until I accidentally saw a video from a whale watching trip. I don’t even know where the video was...
Whale watching

Whale watching. It’s been something I was kind-of interested in until I accidentally saw a video from a whale watching trip. I don’t even know where the video was shot; even if I had read the few lines that preceded the video clip, the place mentioned moved to the back of my head as the video unfolded. It was a nail-biting few minutes as I watched something come out of the water amidst squeals of excitement and fear. The whale was dangerously close to the boat; or so I thought. Transfixed by the happenings in the clip, I almost didn’t see the whale disappear from the frame. A few seconds later, what brought me to my senses was the voice of a panicky lady exclaiming that the whale must be below the boat. She went on to ask someone on the other side of the boat if anything was visible yet on that side. That very moment the camera panned to the left and began its wait for the whale to make an appearance on the other side and then I heard some guffawing; I think. By then my mind had made its way to JAWS. I know that was about sharks and here we are talking whales. But it was the boat attack that came to the forefront of my thoughts. I don’t even recall what I saw — or didn’t see — in the rest of that amateur video. To me, there was only one thing that was clear and that was the fact that I had just subconsciously aborted the idea of going whale watching.

Now that whale watching was a closed chapter and long forgotten, I was trying to plan something for a weekend. Fall was here and I thought it would be a great idea to look for a place that was brimming with fall colour, when hubby’s reading told him that it was whale watching season; the right time to catch sight of  Humpback whales and maybe even Blue whales, off the coast of California. Hubby jumped at the idea and I…I was not sure, anymore. It had been a long-time wish of his to go whale watching, so although I did express my not-so-good feeling about it, I decided to kick aside the fear of the big sea creature and more importantly that of sea waters (This poor soul, knows no swimming, hence the phobia).

Two days later, we found ourselves driving towards a place that promises to show you some whales. Experts say you are sure to see whales here, thanks to a submarine canyon that lies in the middle of Monterey Bay ensuring depth so close to shore.

Having reached Monterey we had just enough time to have a quick lunch of Clam Chowder and a Shrimp Sandwich before we rushed to Monterey Bay Whale Watch Center. When hubby went in to pick up the tickets, my eyes fell on a note that said something to the tune of: whale-spotting guaranteed or your money back or next trip is free. That was a lot of confidence, I thought. I had, by then read up a little on why whales were visible there and was suddenly so keen on actually getting out there. Don’t ask me where all that fear went. It never showed its face to me that day.

Whale watching

Soon we were on Pt. Sur Clipper and sailing off the Monterey harbour and into the deep blue waters. As the 55-foot vessel dashed its way through the huge watery mass that kept ballooning up on the sides of the boat, the water felt like a tarpaulin that had air trapped beneath it. It suddenly hit me that this time on the boat was different — I wasn’t out on a lagoon or even the vast Lake Tahoe. This time I was in what you could call waters of the great Pacific. I felt excitement — the good kind.

We were out sailing for an hour to be precise, when the captain thought the boat should be stalled for a while. I looked around and saw that we had come a long way yet land was visible not too far away.  The time was proof that we had covered a good distance and I saw how big Monterey Bay really was. I found out a little later, from the Marine Biologist on board that were around 12-13 miles of the coast that we had left a little over 60 minutes ago but were just about 4 miles away from Moss Landing.

We were into few minutes of what seemed like an endless wait when a voice came over the microphone, asking us to turn our attention to about 2 o’clock (the front of the boat; a little to the right) All the people on the iron benches behind me were all on the right side of the boat. I couldn’t make my way to that side as Mr. toddler had fallen asleep on a bench after a brief bout of sea sickness and somebody had to make sure he didn’t fall off as the boat continued to rock. As I looked at the abandoned seats, I tried to be patient for hubby to have his moment with the creature he longed to see.

Whale watching

In a while it was my turn. I think I heard a whoosh; what I saw was a little fountain sprouting out of the water, then a huge stretched out triangular structure rose up and stayed for a few seconds and then the middle of the mammal came out like a bow out of water. As it curved its way back into the water, the hump made itself visible too. And then, there was the best part –the huge tail fin stood out like a fan. What a sight it was!

Soon there was another and yet another. One of them might have come up twice; there was no way to know that. There’s nothing quite like watching whales. For the major part of the next hour there was absolutely no getting bored. There was action on all sides of the boat and both hubby and I got to whale-watch at the same time. A little later the napping cutie too woke up and had his chance to see the Humpback Whale.

Several times, hubby and I frantically took pictures, both still and moving ones, to record as much as we could. However, I remember one time when there were two of those large mammals together, both just about a few feet away from the boat. That was when we got to see them best. Something made me put away the little machine in my hand and just take in the awe-inspiring sight. They were as close to the boat as the ones in the video that I spoke of earlier. What was different was that these whales were bigger. It was definitely not the Humpback Whale that I saw in that footage. I must say it was a minute of mesmerism when I got to see these Humpback Whales up close. It might have been my best chance at capturing them on a memory card but I decided against it and have no regrets at all.What I have now is a close-up image that is etched in my own memory.

After a few more sightings, there came the hour to head back to where we had come from and so toward Monterey Harbour we went. The day was coming to a close and the sea was getting rough. The boat was going against the tide and we began to see spray on the deck and by the second, it was getting colder and colder till we were helped out of the docked boat. My fingers froze and came to life only when I picked up a tall cup of Latte from a Starbucks outlet on the wharf. All the while, the images of the huge Humpback whales just refused to pale.

Whale watching

If you are going whale watching —

  •  Make sure you have some warm clothes on you or with you.
  • If you think you might be sea sick, carry some medication and a sickness bag or two. You might even want to try one of those acupressure wrist bands that arrest motion sickness/sea sickness.
  • Make sure to take your camera’s neck straps if you don’t want to lose them to the sea waters.
  • Taking your binoculars wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Other attractions in the vicinity:

Monterey Bay Aquarium – A vicarious dive into the sea
17 Mile Drive – Much more than a seaside drive

Where can you watch a Killer Whale show?
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom – A kingdom that will beckon again

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California Central CoastFamily FunFauna and FloraNature
18 Comments on this post.
  • Dee……..
    27 January 2012 at 5:33 am

    wow it must be a great experience !
    Have seen such fountain thing in CARTOONS 😛

    • dNambiar
      27 January 2012 at 7:08 am

      It was. Now you've seen photographs of the real thing :). Make a trip to CA and see it for yourself.

  • Kirklops
    28 January 2012 at 7:40 am

    Now this is something I must do sometime.

    • dNambiar
      29 January 2012 at 1:44 am

      You must 🙂

  • Santa
    9 March 2012 at 2:03 am

    Nice post and GREAT Pics…. tried to do this when I visited New Zealand, but the weather was bad and no whales were seen, but it was great fun anyway….

    • dNambiar
      9 March 2012 at 2:49 am

      Thanks Santosh. That was an awesome experience.
      I've heard that off the coast of New Zealand you get to watch whales. It's sad you didn't to see them. You should do it again in some place that assures you this sight.

      If you ever have California plans, you should try the Monterey Bay. Here the submarine canyon that I talk of in the post is one of the reasons we get to see these humpbacks.

      I look forward to seeing your whale pics now. 🙂 Those Pelican shots are superb.

  • Rahul Bhatia
    20 June 2012 at 5:21 am

    A lovely description which I could now relate so well, Divya:)

    • dNambiar
      20 June 2012 at 5:21 pm

      I'm sure you can relate to it. You had fun watching those Sperm Whales, didn't you. We're hoping to catch sight of some gray whales later this year. Since these whales swim close to the shore, we can actually see them from land itself. I'll put up some pictures when I get to see them.

  • Indrani
    8 November 2013 at 3:17 am

    What a thrilling experience!

    • dNambiar
      9 November 2013 at 1:06 am

      It was Indrani. The video I happened to watch a little before the whale-watching expedition added to the thrill. 🙂

  • Rajesh
    8 November 2013 at 3:52 am

    Wonderful shots.
    Even I have experienced this in USA. I don't remember exactly which place in USA.

    • dNambiar
      9 November 2013 at 1:17 am

      You've visited California, right? I remember seeing some posts on your blog. It just might have been in the Monterey Bay if it was Humpback Whales that you watched. However Gray whales can be seen from many locations in the Bay Area and central coast of California. A lot of the time, they can be seen from the coast.

      I happened to see a Humpback Whale from the Mendocino Coast, one time. And I wasn't even on a whale -watching trip. I'm sure there are several places where you can see these whales. They say Monterey Bay is a place where you are sure to see Humpback Whales as they travel north and south — the reason being the submarine canyon there — it is also a place where they get to attack those Gray whales. 🙂

    • dNambiar
      9 November 2013 at 1:23 am

      'coz when the Gray Whales reach this part of the CA coast, they'll have to get into deeper parts (read Canyon) as they cross the Central Coast.

  • Paresh Kale
    8 November 2013 at 5:18 am

    NIce tips and experience !

    • dNambiar
      9 November 2013 at 1:20 am

      Thank you. 🙂

  • umashankar
    16 November 2013 at 6:25 pm

    I can almost smell the surf. Thanks for sharing, Divya.

    • dNambiar
      20 November 2013 at 12:15 am

      My pleasure, USP. It's an honour to have you read my posts. 🙂
      Thank YOU.
      I hope you are having a good week.

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