July 25, 2010

The Checks In The Whale

Good morning and greetings, Moby Dick fans. Last week, I wrote of a massive convergence of blue whales in Monterey Bay. My ever-curious, gluten-free, snowboard blogging brother Brad, who himself just returned from the Galapagos Islands on a sales call, wondered if we’d ever see any of these whales. My immediate reaction was probably not, as I haven’t been down to the Point Lobos area since my runway modeling days were cut short because of a growth spurt.

But then, before you could say the Humpback of Notre Dame, I received an email from one of the top basketball stats keepers in the county, who reminded me that her pal Bruce had taken some amazing whale shots out on the bay. Actually, Bruce had told me he’d been out on the water shooting, but due my to undercover work for the EPA and the fact that my dendrites are vanishing faster than the two-toed sloth and the blue-tongued skink, I failed to put two and two together. But all was not lost, as although we are not singing the blues ,it’s humpback Monday here at Sunrise Santa Cruz.

So what do we know about humpback whales? Well, thanks to www.acsonline.org and sailhawaii.com, here are some fun facts. Much like myself before I discovered TiVo, humpbacks are active, acrobatic creatures who can throw themselves completely out of the water (breaching) and swim on their backs with both flippers in the air. They also engage in “tail lobbing” (raising their huge flukes out of the water and then slapping it on the surface,) “flipper slapping” (using their flippers to slap the water) and “whippersnapping”, which is when the young calves act really presumptuous .

Perhaps the most interesting behavior of humpback whales is their singing and guitar playing. Scientists have discovered that humpback whales sing long, complex, seductive ballads, much like Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” Whales in the North American Atlantic population sing the same song (“Free Bird”), while all the whales in the North American Pacific population sing the same song (“Highway to Hell.”)

A typical song lasts from 10-20 minutes, and is repeated continuously for hours at a time, much the same way I play Hootie and the Blowfish’s “Can’t Find The Time To Tell You,” on the CD player in my car. The songs, like my hair color and basketball stats from my playing days, change gradually from year to year. Singing whales are males and mostly baritones, as the songs may be a part of mating behavior or just a way to attract really hot-looking dolphins.

To Hawaiians and a couple of guys from Jersey, the whale is a representation of the Hawaiian god, Kanaloa, the god of animals in the ocean. A large percentage of the North Pacific humpbacks, big wave surfers, and t-shirt vendors migrate to the Hawaiian islands during the winter months each year. During their stay they do not feed, but rely upon stored energy and take out plate lunches. The whales devote most of their time to mating, giving birth to their calves and working as extras in the new CBS series “Hawaii Five-O.”

So it was back on July 9th that artist, photographer and zone trap designer Bruce Stahl boarded the Stagnaro family boat “Velocity” for some whale watching on Monterey Bay. The Stagnaros, who’ve been serving fish n’ ships since 1879, proclaim that here you can see seven different species of whales, seven different species of dolphin and porpoises and seven different species of mankind experiencing seasickness on these trips.

But Bruce was out there to shoot jumpers and the humpbacks, which is not an easy task. The first shot shows that massive size and girth of these incredible creatures. Shot number two is what the humpback experience is all about. With just a head fake and a few pumps of its tail, the humpback can propel its entire body into the air, landing back onto the surface with a resounding splash that can soak half of Moss Landing.

Much like my drives to the hoop, breaching is a true leap where a whale generates enough upward force with its powerful flukes to lift approximately two-thirds of its body out of the water. Researchers and four out of five dentists are not certain why whales breach, but believe that it may be related to courtship, play activity or their recommendation of sugarless gum.

Shots five and six showcase the tail slap, not to be confused with the NFL head slap, which consists of a whale raising its tail flukes out of water and slapping them forcefully on the surface of the water. When the flukes hit the water, a loud resonant noise can be heard from Phil’s Fish House to the Crow’s Nest, where I recommend the calamari appetizer. Humpback whales are known to repeat this behavior over and over, the same way I like tapping people on the opposite shoulder when approaching them from behind.

Of the experience, Bruce, who is also my son Jason’s basketball coach, said, “it was pretty amazing out there. It was tough to anticipate where they were going to surface so that made it challenging. The whales are so huge and the splashes and water displacement were stunning. I’ve never seen anything like it, except for the time you showed up to run with us at open gym.”

One final whale note. Last week, a South African couple was out sailing off the coast of Captetown when a 40-ton whale breached and crash-landed on their yacht. I can relate, as I’m pissed off when a bug lands on my windshield. No one was hurt although bits of black whale blubber, barnacles and a Shamu sweatshirt were strewn on the boat deck. So all’s whale that ends whale.

On to the late night. “We have some wonderful news. BP announced it successfully capped the oil leak. The oil leak has stopped. I am so glad they were able to nip this thing in the bud. Before they capped it, BP had to test the integrity of the well, which I believe is the first time BP and integrity have ever been used in the same sentence.” –Jay Leno “Apparently BP’s containment cap is leaking. When asked if the rumors are true, a BP spokesman said, ‘Aren’t there any more Mel Gibson tapes?’” –Craig Ferguson “The CEO of British Petroleum is leaving his job. It’s not official, it just leaked out.” –David Letterman

“Well, this week, Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston revealed exclusively to Us Weekly, my bible, that they are getting married. Sarah Palin allegedly not happy about this, because she feels they barely know each other and they are making a big commitment. You know, kind of like when John McCain picked her for vice president.” –Jay Leno Bristol Palin is getting married to Levi Johnston. Sarah Palin is so excited that she can’t even make up words to express how thrilled she is.” –David Letterman Bristol Palin wants Levi Johnston to wear a camouflage vest at their wedding next month. When she heard that, Sarah Palin was like, ‘That’s fine, I wasn’t planning on aiming that high anyway.’” –Jimmy Fallon

“According to a study by the Brookings institution, Washington D.C. has the highest concentration of smart people in the United States. Lets see; we have a mess in the Gulf, we have a dysfunctional Homeland Security, and we are $13 trillion in debt. Imagine how bad it would be if these people weren’t geniuses. Dick Cheney is recovering from heart surgery in the hospital. I understand Fox sent flowers, and MSNBC sent a large pepperoni pizza with extra cheese. Newspaper circulation has fallen to a new low and they say they are becoming obsolete. To give you an idea of how bad it is, today I saw a guy sleeping on a park bench with an iPad on his face.” –Jay Leno

“You remember Bill Clinton? Bill and Hillary went out and bought a brand-new house in upstate New York. It’s one of those houses that has a name. I believe it’s called Rancho Impeacho. It’s so hot in New York City that conservatives have started the ‘Iced Tea Party.’ David Letterman’s Top Ten Things Overheard on President Obama’s Vacation 10. “Please, Mr. President, don’t throw your butts in the pool” 5. “Any interest in pardoning Lindsay Lohan?” 1. “A 48-hour vacation? Bush took naps longer than that”

So that’s it for our last blast for July 2010. I don’t want to say the summer is flying by, but I already have my clothes picked out for the first day of school. So enjoy those summer picnics and be ever grateful for the plentiful food around us because believe me, it’s not that way for everyone, including too many families across this country. We’ll catch you down the third base line. Aloha, mahalo and later, Jorge Posada fans.


  1. Wow – I asked for whale shots and you delivered – nicely done – can’t decide what to ask for next…

    Comment by Robinson Cano — July 26, 2010 @ 7:27 am

  2. Love it! You are one funny man. (Robinson, ask for sun in Santa Cruz. )

    Comment by former stats girl — July 26, 2010 @ 8:39 am

  3. Fantastic whale photos… They are candidates for Natgeo. Bruce really caught great moments out on the bay.
    Many smiles reading your blog this morning.

    Comment by Babs — July 27, 2010 @ 8:10 am

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