Whale Soup

by Hanae Armitage

Oct. 16, 2013—With the unbelievable number of whales congregating in Monterey Bay these days, calling it “whale soup” isn’t far off the mark. But while they’re the main attraction, whales are really just a fraction of this magnificent marine showcase. On a recent trip I took with Monterey Bay Whale Watch, we were floored by sightings of more than 100 dolphins (Risso’s and Pacific White-sided), at least 30 humpback whales and a rare but exquisite look at the ocean’s top predator: the orca.

Why the party? Last month, the anchovy population in Monterey Bay exploded, drawing in marine life in unheard-of numbers. It’s a feeding frenzy for the masses.

Even in the shelter of the harbor, marine life teems. Otters, harbor seals and sea lions lounge and play along the docks and buoys. Sea lions tend to amass along the breakwater of local harbors, a noisy, not to mention smelly, send-off. I’ll admit that in that part of the harbor, I’m a mouth-breather.

As we left the Monterey harbor and ventured closer to the whale hot-spots, pods of Risso’s and Pacific White-sided dolphins began to appear, and after a few minutes we were surrounded by a herd of more than 100 dolphins. Even more incredibly, 50-foot humpback whales started to surface.

Read The Humpy Dance
Read The Anchovy vs. The Whale
Read The Outdoor Poet: David Swanger

But then we got the call. A neighboring whale watching boat had spotted Fat Fin, a favored killer whale. Because this black-and-white beauty is only seen every two to three weeks, we seized the opportunity and adjusted our boat, killer whale-bound. Each one has a huge dorsal fin, up to 6 feet tall, and that’s exactly what first caught our eye. After an hour of trailing His Majesty, we set back to find our humpback friends and were not disappointed.

We happened upon a cow and calf cruising to dinner. Full of energy, this calf showed off for us with three spectacular breaches while its mother casually swam alongside the boat. There’s not a whole lot to fear when you weigh up to 45 tons, so the whales don’t mind getting pretty close—some boats even get bumped. It was quite a spectacle, especially as the sun dipped below the mountains, coloring the residual clouds brilliant shades of pink and orange.

About to dock, we found an unexpected welcome-back party. Well, less of a welcome-back party than a snoozing blob of sea lion, smack in the middle of our disembark area. Needless to say, both parties were surprised upon arrival.

The hours we spent alongside the whales, dolphins and killer whale were irreplaceable. Don’t wait to get your marine life on! Tours run every day until Dec. 13. Learn more at Monterey Bay Whale Watch.