July 7, 2013

Here’s To The Red, White And Blue Whales

Good morning and greetings, marine life fans. Let’s face it, life is good if you live on Monterey Bay. When I walk along West Cliff Drive, I’m always fascinated by the waves, the changing skies and the people who pass by who don’t make eye contact. I see seals, dolphins, broncos, sea otters, sea lions, sea biscuits and the passing whales. I always stop in my tracks and watch them glide through the water, surface and then go back under as I await their next appearance. That’s the view you get from being a land bound creature. However, offshore is where the real action is, and that’s where we’re headed today.

You may have missed this story from back in mid June written by Jason Hoppin in the Santa Cruz Sentinel. The description of the events in our front yard called Monterey Bay blew what little is left of my mind, as it described a kind of excitement unseen by yours truly.

It seems on this late spring day the bay was teeming with a lunch special for a variety of whales. This brought about a sight seen by a few but missed by the masses. The action was so spectacular that I wanted to bring it back into the July light.

The date was June 15, and giants of the deep were putting on an unbelievable show. Boat captains and calamari lovers estimated that at least 30 blue whales, which, next to the cast of “Baywatch,” are some of the most spectacular creatures ever to grace the ocean’s water, were involved in a feeding frenzy seven miles off shore in a place called Soquel Canyon. I have extensively researched these so-called “frenzies” at various all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets. It’s a world where mu shu pancakes meets Animal Planet and anything can happen, especially if there’s any sweet and sour sauce lurking in the area.

Now on a good day, blue whales measure about 90 feet. If you are thinking in terms of sports, this is the length of a basketball court, or almost a third of a football field, which means you’d need three first downs to just go end to end with these giants. Their tails alone are as wide as a Greyhound bus. Just imagine the earth’s largest dinosaurs swimming in the ocean. Now imagine them all jacked up and feeding on krill like a Yom Kippur fast had just ended.

If you could find a scale big enough, these big boys and girls would weigh in between 100 and 150 tons. Don’t bother them with Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig as much like myself, they’re not interested. Their tongues are the size of a Buick and get better mileage. And I don’t want to say that whale calves are big, but after a year of formulating inside their mother’s womb, these cute little babies emerge weighing three tons and measuring 25 feet. Try fitting that into a car seat.

And if you think your baby was a big eater, listen to this. For the first year, a whale calf dines on nothing but mother’s milk and cookies and gains 200 pounds a day, which leads to body issues during the teenage years. And in case you were planning a vacation, you can fit about 100 people inside a blue whale’s mouth. And these mammals have no need for cell phones, as they can communicate with relatives and other whales over a thousand miles away.

So what happened on this day all came about because of the wind. The spring breezes shoved the warmer surface water aside, which allowed much cooler water, which was filled with more nutrients than a Jamba Juice Peach Pleasure smoothie, to come up from the ocean floor. This process is called upwelling, which is great for hungry whales but not so good for family members of the lower species like krill, squid or members of the NRA, because on this day, they were the “blue plate special,” with a pun definitely intended.

Let’s just say that blue whales have a large appetite. How large? At one meal they can down four tons of krill along with a dinner salad and small dessert. According to Ken Stagnaro of Stagnaro Charters, on this Saturday, the ruckus out at Soquel Canyon was put in play by the krill getting trapped against the canyon walls by the tides with no way out. This led to “side by side, dozens of blue and humpback whales continually surface lunging (which is also my favorite way of eating) at the massive schools of krill, sometimes swimming within yards of the boat. We sat nearly motionless for nearly 90 minutes as the largest animals in the world gorged on the sea surface for everyone to see.” And all meals include an 18% gratuity added to the total before any discounts.

What made this day even more remarkable was that the blues don’t usually make an appearance until the NFL preseason, making this open sea dining experience that much more remarkable. There are usually humpback whales in the bay, but the blues were an unexpected late spring treat. Also on display were the orcas, the killer whales who like to dine on seals, dolphins and baby gray whales, and who along with Japanese and Norwegian whalers and Sarah Palin are the only natural predators of the blues.

It was nature gone wild this June day on Monterey Bay, which was first discovered by the Spanish explorer Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo back in 1542 while searching for a junior college. And it was all made possible by the wind, which brought to the surface more culinary riches than could be found at all the Red Lobsters, Long John Silvers and Bubba Gump Shrimp Companies in America. Monterey Bay, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. Stop by, admission is free.

For today’s photo entree, we are going back to March 15. This day started on a fabulous note, as I photographed a beautiful sunrise down at Lighthouse Point. And then that evening, color returned to the sky, as I started my photographic trek at Stockton Avenue before moving up to Natural Bridges to complete the daily double sunrise/sunset experience. Any time you can get two for the price of one is a good day on the photography front.

There’s no late night action this week so I’ll throw in a joke. A woman stormed up to the front desk of the library and said, “I have a complaint.” “Yes, ma’am?” “I borrowed a book and it was horrible!” “What was wrong with it?” “It had too many characters and there was no plot whatsoever.” The librarian nodded and said, ‘Ah. So you must be the person who took our phone book.”

So that’s our first blast for July. Hope you enjoyed the holiday week as now the summer of 2013 is in full swing.

We’ll catch you surprising the NBA world by turning down more money and signing a free agent contract with the Golden State Warriors. Aloha, mahalo and later, Andre Iguadola fans.

3 Comments »

  1. I was a little confused and depressed after I got my ‘Dear John’ letter, so I feel bad that these whales are blue. Can’t they mix in some meds with their krill?

    Comment by Elliot Spitzer — July 8, 2013 @ 8:18 am

  2. Did anyone capture this feeding frenzy on video? If so, how about putting up the link in a special post script blast?

    Comment by Howard Wales — July 8, 2013 @ 8:24 am

  3. I have to get out on the bay more often… You sparked the interest! Great blog!

    Comment by Babs — July 8, 2013 @ 9:39 am

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