Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Whale Watching, or, An Epic (EPIC!) Encounter With A Pod of Orca

Putting the money shot shamelessly up front.  We sighted a pod of orca, also known as killer whales, during our whale watching trip.
Kudos to Michael for capturing this.  Quick trigger finger and good reflexes.  Unbelievable!
I strongly believe that seeing animals in the wild always trumps seeing them in zoos or even on HDTV.  Yes, in real life you are farther away (most of the time), but the "I can't believe this is real life and it is HAPPENING right NOW" and the "this is a wild animal, in the wild!" realizations deliver a zap of adrenaline and wonder that is just incomparable.  

This experience proved no different, although we were so lucky and the orca were so cooperative that I nearly had to pinch myself.  We went with Island Packers, which seemed like a reputable company that departed from Ventura twice daily. 

The afternoon was, surprise surprise, sunny and bright.  It never gets old.  California weather has completely stolen my heart.
However, even our crew commented that the weather was incredible and that they had never seen the ocean so calm.
At times, water seemed like a glass surface, with barely any ripples or waves. 
Until we got some visitors, that is….Dolphins!
They were incredibly playful and just adorable.  They also move disarmingly fast.

Even though the water was very calm, we were certainly chugging along at a fast clip, chasing the abundant and assorted wildlife.  Hence my hair...
Don't we look so hip?  Michael looks very good in his hat, methinks
And then!  Behold!  A most amazing encounter.  Our crew sighted a pod of transient orca whales, consisting of seven or eight members, one clearly the male and one clearly the baby.  I wonder where they were coming from, and where they were headed? 

We began to chase and stalk them (in a non-threatening manner, of course) and wait with bated breath for them to take their breaths.
The absolute highlight was when the orca got really close to our boat.  They were playful and did not seem worried or threatened at all.  I can see how Shamu was so well trained.  These animals are natural acrobats and clowns. 

There were two other boats that were also observing them, and the whales were very diplomatic, taking their time to play with and pay attention to all three boats equally.

I actually saw all of them swim under our boat (we could see their distinct black and white pattern very clearly) and emerge directly in front of us.  They performed quite a series of flips and dives for us.

These animals move really fast but they are incredibly graceful.  I loved looking for the baby orca's fin.  It was so wee compared to the papa orca that I felt there was no response more fitting than squealing and cooing.

I do not want to put too much of a cute spin on it, though, because at one point near the end we thought the orca were going to go on a hunt.  We could not be sure except for the fact that suddenly the ocean seemed full of frenetic activity.

It was one of the most spectacular sights, watching a huge school of dolphins racing, helter skelter, to clear out of danger's way.  These dolphins were moving so fast that from a distance, it appeared as though they were skipping across the surface of the ocean.   Ultimately, though, no kill or hunt occurred.  The orca got tired of entertaining us.  We were also likely completely messing up their dinner plans.

As much as the bloodthirsty part of me hoped to witness a strategic and brilliant kill by the orca (make no mistake, they deserve their moniker), I was already more than satisfied with the day's fortuitous encounters.
Giddy and content from our viewing high
On our way back to port, we were visited by yet another huge school of friendly dolphins.  Guess they no longer felt threatened!  These dolphins were significantly smaller than the dolphins we saw when we were heading out, but they were no less graceful or delightful.

 Look how much air this one got!
We pulled into port as the sun set, splashing pinks and oranges across a movie set-worthy sky.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful and marvelous. I was left stunned when I did whale watching oban. It was a very great thing to witness... those creatures in there natural habitat.