The Bit About Chasing Whales

(Clouds over Ketchikan!)

Okay, I’m kind of a daydreamer as it is. But over this last week, I’ve had my head in an extra cloud – THE cloud, actually, where my digital photos reside!

I haven’t marked or tagged them – which means when I need, say, pics for a post about whale watching (which this one will be – eventually), I have to review over 10,000 teeny tiny squares, keeping as sharp an eye out for whales as I did when I spotted them in the first place…

But even if I’d smartly labeled all the pics, the search results in this case would have been a surprise.

I got started on the topic because I’ve been watching a CNN series about Patagonia! I kinda first tuned in for the voice of narrator Pedro Pascal (perfectly good reason, I think!). I’ve gone back though for the footage of the region’s dynamic coast and great variety of sea creatures big and small – including some impressive whales!

Since I’ve had a fascination with these massive and majestic creatures and have done my own share of whale watching, I was inspired to see how many of them my cameras caught over the years! Thankfully, I could avoid searching through all 10,000 photos by focusing on trips I’ve taken up, down and around the western edge of the continent – a whale’s equivalent of Interstate 5!

I began in Alaska where my recreation hockey team went one year to play a tournament in Anchorage! We ladies of the LA Chill took our hockey seriously – but we covered the recreation aspect of the pastime pretty well too! The team worked out a pre-tourney side trip that included a visit to Alyeska Resort for snowmobiling and snowboarding, an animal sanctuary tour, and a stay in Seward (starting point for the Iditarod sled race) where we arranged for a boat ride along the rugged local coast!

(Clouds over Seward too!)

The skipper of our little vessel advised us that April (oh – the tournament was called ”Fools on Ice”) wasn’t the time of year to whale watch. But that didn’t matter to me. I mean, I wasn’t supposed to see any off the Oregon coast in summertime either – but I’d still spotted a ”resident whale”. This guy had largely given up the rigorous migrating ”thing” and just hung out where there was food enough that didn’t require as many Fitbit steps to get. I respected that.

Yeah, I felt like a pretty seasoned whale watcher. During a stretch of unemployment, I used to take my beach chair and notebook to Malibu’s Point Dume and spend many a marginally productive hour with my toes in the sand, writing and staring out to sea. Farther north in Cambria, I’d strolled the bluffs as often as I could manage the getaway, spotting whales as they migrated left or right depending on the season.

(Cambria coast!)

I learned in these places not to mistake the play of light on a wave for the undulating line of a whale’s back, or to confuse the splashy landing of a pelican out for fish with the spray from the blowhole of a surfacing whale. And I stopped being fooled by the rock just off Cambria’s Moonstone Beach Drive which, at a glance during certain times and tides, can look tantalizingly like a whale – albeit, an extremely slow-moving one…

(‘There it is!” Pause. ”There it is!” Pause. ”There it is!”)

So I was determined that day in Seward that if there were any sea life at all to be glimpsed, I’d be the one to glimpse it! I spent the entire voyage on the blustery deck, bracing myself against frigid winds and squinting across the choppy waters for any telltale signs of life.

Did my experience and determination pay off? Well, I got this pic:

(“Helloooo!”)

I took it at a nearby aquarium. Once I could feel my face again as I recall (and as I recounted in an earlier post). And now I remember too that plenty of fun was had that day – but the skipper had been right…

I’m certain though that I had better luck on a trip to Hawaii! My brother and I visited the Big Island one December when it was definitely the right time for hiking around Mauna Kea, jumping off a cliff into the ocean (a modest cliff, but still!), and ”flumin’ da ditch”! But after booking a whale watching tour, we were told they hadn’t actually spotted any whales yet that season. Again, being stubborn whale-wise (and not sure this wasn’t a tactic to keep expectations low), I remained on careful watch, and Jack did too – in his way.

(“Aloha!”)

We were enjoying the attention of a rambunctious pod of dolphins (maybe out to prove that, being neither tuna nor chopped liver, they deserved a tour of their own) – when along came a little group of humpback whales! Our host kept the boat at a respectful distance to let the new arrivals settle in, and he excitedly jumped on the radio to alert fellow tour boats of the Christmas gift of a sighting! Maybe it was because they were pretty far off – or maybe it was just so exciting to see them – but it seems I neglected to grab my camera and capture any of these guys on film…

So. Pretty much my last chance to find photographic evidence from any Cetacean vacation was an Alaskan cruise (a treat from the folks!) that included destinations like Skagway, Ketchikan and Glacier Bay. On the right place/right time scale, the timing was right on this trip – and the place itself was off-the-charts spectacular to see!

(Calving glaciers!)
(Natural and beautiful Alaska!)

Our cabin had a little veranda where it was so pleasant to sit outside and catch up while keeping watch on the waves. As our ship glided past enormous glaciers and through fjord-y type landscapes, we were treated to views of all kinds of sea life – including whales! They mesmerized us with their grace and size, until we’d see a fluke go upright in the water – sort of like a wave goodbye – and then they’d dive out of sight. It all made for the very best of times!

But once again, in scrolling through my cloud-full of photos, I wasn’t finding any trace of a whale…

And then – finally! I came across these:

(Orca!)
(Glad we were in the bigger boat…)

Now, some may raise an argument here. Because as I understand (sort of), orcas are considered in a category of dolphins. I also understand though (mostly) that dolphins are considered in a category of whales – however, I guess not everyone accepts the nuances of this family grouping. But since these killer whales – whatever their taxonomy – are all I have to offer in the end, well darn it I’m gonna count ’em!

And either way, I’m still trying to account for this count at all. I mean, I could give you seal and sea lion pics all day long! But where. Are. The whales?

I guess sometimes the encounters were so brief, I wasn’t quick enough to record them. On other occasions, I didn’t have a strong enough camera lens to bridge the photographic distance well enough. And I suppose I also have to fine-tune my recollections to allow that, despite my best efforts on some days (and what cherished days they were!), the whales just weren’t around for the watching. Whatever the case, I still have the memories – I even recall the searching for whales just as fondly as the finding!

And anyway, sometimes the warmest memory doesn’t spring from having captured a moment, but from having stayed in one. Yup – I’m gonna go with that.

Cheers!

13 comments

  1. I’ve been on several whale watch boats that depart from Provincetown, Cape Cod. Saw plenty of whales each time. For feeding reasons, they congregate in waters northeast of the Cape.

    1. Nice! Whale watching on the east coast is something I haven’t had the pleasure of doing yet, but I hope to one day! Thanks for the info!

  2. Good post Amy. We all need to enjoy the “moments”, even if we do not capture them. We have done whale watching in Canada and in NZ. Our best tour was in NZ at Kaikoura (before the last big earthquake). That day we saw 4 huge sperm whales, pods of dusky dolphins and Southern Albatross. It was magical. I got the photos but also took time to enjoy the moment. Happy Thursday. Allan

    1. Thanks very much! And “magical” is a great way to describe seeing them – it’s like falling under a spell! Would LOVE to try whale watching around New Zealand someday. Thanks again for reading and for your thoughts! And a Happy Thursday to you!

  3. This post is so rich and wonderful!
    Thanks a lot for sharing it

    1. Wow, thank YOU for reading and for the kind words – so glad you enjoyed!

      1. You’re more than welcome 🙏🙏🙏

  4. Love the post! Cheers

    1. Aw, many thanks – and cheers to you!

  5. Love the post! It reminded me when my dad lived in Crescent City, and he took us all to the seal rescue center where we sponsored a few seals. The next morning dad woke us all up to see a beached whale that over the night had washed ashore. As we arrive dad started messing with the grand kids about how whales can explode. Gotta love your brother. Oh remember Sammy the seal???

    1. Oh my goodness – Sammy the Seal! Haven’t thought of Sammy in a long time… So glad you enjoyed the post and that it brought back some memories of your one-of-a-kind dad! Lotsa love to you guys!

  6. Mike Bonomo · · Reply

    Thanks for sharing your warm reflections of bygone days and another picture of Jack. I can almost hear the whalesong.

    1. Thank YOU, Mike, as always for stopping by! All the best!

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