This was a trip taken back in the day when I used to call California home, a bright and early morning in October 2007 when Nalin and I headed out to see some Blue Whales (the largest animal that has ever existed) off the coast of Santa Barbara. Fingers crossed if March goes as planned I should have a Sri Lankan version of this up soon!
There she blows again…
It may have been a side effect of waking up so early on a Saturday morning that a decidedly odd version of that infamous Sixpence none the Richer was playing in my head. It’s been awfully long time since I’ve woken up late on a Saturday in my own bed…and in fact it looks like it’s going to be awhile until I get to in the near future.
The throaty growl outside indicated Nalin had turned up in his Z, about 15 minutes early which was very un-Sri Lankan off him. We scarfed down some McDees breakfast while I gave my camera equipment a final look see.
4 gig card (would prove to be horrendously slow)…check
1 gig card (high speed)…check
1 gig card (high speed)…at Praveen’s…I reckon I should start renting him rental for that.
2 gig card (high speed)…forget…dammit
zip lock bag jury rig (necessary to keep spray off my lovely L lens)…check
batteries (useless performance for some reason)…check
And it was off to Santa Barbara to meet Suma, and two other people whose names escape me. The Condor Express which was to take us out into the Channel and traverse Santa Cruz island was an impressive sight in the early morning light. I yawned, chewed on 10 altoids to keep my sore throat at bay and climbed on board. We all, being the chandyias that we are decided to go to the bow and stand in the full might of the wind as the high speed Express tried to prove exactly how high speed it was.
L-R: Early morning pelican; Hold on tight; Sailboats in the harbour; Buoy; Extra from Saving Nemo
It was exhilarating, if a bit chilly. The boat bounced for a few kilometers through some moderate chop and the back kicking spray somehow miraculously missed us and drenched a rather surprised girl next to us to the bone. Laughing at her (discreetly) and sympathizing with our friends, who almost immediately felt dizzy and had to sit down, Nalin and I enjoyed clearing our lungs and lowering our core body temperatures. After awhile we were both a bit cold and bored, but neither of course wanted to admit this to the other. So we stood and froze until finally the guide yelled out “there she blows.”
L-R: Kids enjoying the spray; Guide giving us the low down on the whales
Now if I was a blue whale and I heard that yelled out, I would most probably lift my skirts around my ankles and skooted (or the whale equivalent of that) and with good cause because for the last couple of decades that cry was usually followed by a booming sound and a curious burning itch followed I’m going to guess by incomprehensible pain as the harpoon grenade exploded in the whale. It is somewhat scary to think that we puny humans almost managed to wipe out the largest creature that has ever lived on the planet in the course of a few score years, from around 300,000 prewhaling to less than 5,000 now.
There she blows!
The first whale we saw was a pretty young though, and thankfully must not have experienced the niceties of the whaling industry. The experience of watching a whale is almost like that of elephants in Yala. The whale breathes on the surface for awhile, entertaining us with its spouts and then with a graceful arch of its back and a goodbye wave of its tailfins goes down deep. We would then wait out the whale until he surfaces anywhere from a few 100 feet to half a mile yonder. The sort of like the safari jeeps in Yala the boat is gunned to where the whale is languishing and the cycle is repeated….well…maybe in hindsight it not very similar to watching elephants in Yala.
Leaving the young female behind we moved on as a bunch of Dall’s porpoises came by to check the boat out and left without posing for my camera and then we did a perambulation around the island of Santa Cruz. I’m not sure if anybody out there is as geeky as me, but I was quietly excited to see this island close up because of a book I loved as kid, the Island of the Blue Dolphins in which the main character was marooned on one of the Channel Islands. The book was actually based on a true story and looking at that island I could only think that being marooned on such a god forsaken place would suck…there was not a single tree to be seen. I personally like palm trees to be present if I get marooned on an island.
L-R: Forbidding islands; Kelp in the shallows; bird crap spattered rocks
The trip back to shore was dramatic to say the least. We were initially joined by what seemed like a couple of hundred dolphins which took a break from lunching on some bait fish to come leaping over to play with the boat. I’ve decided to petition whoever is in charge of reincarnations that once I die, I want to be reborn as a dolphin. Seriously it just looks like they have so much fun. The speed at which they flew through and out of the water was breathtaking and with such little body movement. Nalin and I couldn’t keep our cameras straight and I almost beamed a little kid in the head taking what seemed like a couple of hundred pictures of the dolphins.
Dolphins at play
As if that wasn’t enough excitement there turned up not one, not two but three blue whales. And these guys were not juveniles. That was one of the few times that I have felt true awe in my life. The majesty was just unexplainable, all we could see was the grey backs as they came up to breath but the sheer size was inescapable. Their bodies were so huge their backs formed light blue pools as they were a meter or so below sea level. In fact the light blue appearance of their backs due to these mobile 'pools' is what gave the whale their 'Blue' name.
Two males cruising
There were two males fighting over a female, the female leading and the males following (thus proving that even with a brain the size of a small car, common sense does not prevail). All three gave us a fascinating show with their habit of arching their backs excessively during their preliminary breaths and then on their penultimate breath heading down with a languorous wave of their huge flippers. It truly was a sight I felt privileged to see and that’s no hyperbole.
As the boat turned around and started heading back to shore, one of the giant males gave a langorous wave with its huge fins as it sounded, water pouring off the fins as it went down into the depths of the Pacific.Wave Goodbye