Monday, September 1, 2008

Whale Tale

On a clear day in early March I set out from La Jolla Shores westward towards the outer kelp bed northwest of The Children’s Pool. The sea is glassy smooth and the swell is almost non-existent. A gentle breeze occasionally brushes my face as I paddle past the ankle-slappers. It is overcast; typical for this time of the morning so the sea is a slate gray color, reflecting the clouds. One of those days when the quiet of the ocean makes you want to sit still and enjoy a bit of solitude.

I probably took a side tour over towards the Caves prior to heading west out to sea. I typically do this on calm days as it is fun to travel in and out of the coves and caves. When I am about one half to a quarter mile away from the kelp beds I start to see the many kayak fishermen that often congregate there. I also spot a few small motor craft at least one of which is displaying a dive flag. A couple of commercial Urchin fishermen are also out this morning.

Searching the horizon I spot a small geyser of water vapor break the flat ocean surface. Only one animal can make such a large spout of water. It must be a Gray Whale that has just surfaced for a breath of air. I watch the area to spot it again and see if I can determine its direction and aspect. A short time later it surfaces and blows once more. This time it is a little more to left of where I first saw it . It must be headed south. I point my kayak in a southwesterly heading, hoping that I will be able to head it off and get a good look. I probably have about a quarter mile to go. I start my drive towards it picking up as much speed as I can muster. In the seven months I have been kayaking this is the first sighting I have had of anything bigger than Sea Lions or Dolphins.

The Whale continues to surface at regular intervals allowing me to adjust course and speed to intercept it. I continue to paddle for a few more minutes. I should be very close now. But the whale has not surfaced for some time. I stop my kayak and listen. There is not a sound to be heard except a couple of kayak fishermen that also spotted the whale and are wondering where it has gone. Suddenly, behind me I hear the unmistakable sound of a whale breaking the surface and expelling a breath and taking in another. Quickly, I turn my kayak, a little nervous that a Gray Whale has just surfaced an unknown distance behind my small craft. And there, not more than a bus length over my shoulder is a 25 to 30 foot Gray Whale. He has not dived but is sitting on the edge of the kelp, eyeing me. His head is just above the water and the rest of his body lies just below the surface. He is on his side and floating in one place, as curious about me as I am about him. The dive boat that was nearby has also seen him and is motoring slowly in my direction. He stays just long enough for them to get a glimpse and he dives.

He did not surface again within sight of any of us. The dive boat approached me and I chatted with them a bit about our close encounter with this leviathan of the deep. To be this close to something that could swat you out of the water but is obviously so gentle and curious about you is really an exceptional experience.

It a Whale of a tale, but it's all true. I swear by my tattoo.

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