Dorothy and I went whale watching with Sanctuary Cruises out of Moss Landing on Friday, March 11, 2005 -- a perfect abnormally warm spring day.
It was my first whale watching trip with the digital video camera I bought last fall. It normally does up to 12x zoom, and I put on the 2x telephoto lens to beef that up to 24x. I also put it in progressive mode so every frame could potentially be a still, since that was my primary desire.
The good news is that it was a bright sunny day, there was very little wind, and the swells, while large at about 6-8 feet, were half the size of the previous 2 days when the boats couldn't go out at all.
The bad news is that we went out on their small original boat because there were very few people. The larger boat, the Princess of Whales, is not only a lot more stable, its upper deck also makes it much easier to spot, track and photograph whales and dolphins because of the angle it gives you.
The combination of the swells, the rolling small boat, the inability to see the LCD viewfinder in the bright sun, and the inherent difficulty in preventing a 24x zoomed image from jumping around -- well, let's just say that I hope you'll understand if some of these frame grabs are not in the most perfect of focus.
But enough of that; on to the pictures.
As I said, we went out on the small boat, Sanctuary, with co-owner and captain Steph, deckhand and spotter Noel, and their new dog, six-month-old lab mix Sea Biscuit. What a nice cute dog!
As usual, within moments of leaving the dock we started seeing lots of sea birds, although I never could manage a good picture of one of the many cormorants around. Within a hundred yards or so, we saw both sleeping and sunning California sea lions. The pictures on the buoy were further out.
Then, as we neared the entrance to Elkhorn Slough (one of the largest estuaries in the country), we encountered quite a few of the ~50 sea otters that live there.
We then motored out across the ocean trench off the coast of Monterey; the water depth is typically about 180' on either side of the trench, but in the trench it can be over 5000' deep. The trench is larger than the Grand Canyon.
Once out, we had little luck for a while, but then Noel detected a disturbance towards Santa Cruz, so we headed over to check it out. The captain went through several guesses as to what it was -- mother gray whale and calf being attacked by orcas; two gray whales mating with Risso's dolphins looking on; etc. -- but once we got close enough they figured out that it was two grays of indeterminant sex just frolicking around. This is very unusual, because they should be hauling ass up to Alaska to feed after months of fasting. Here are some pictures. The top picture is a spy hop, something humpbacks do all the time, but which migrating grays in particular seldom do.
They were moving very fast towards shore, and we kept pace for a while, but then they gave us the slip and we went in search of Risso's dolphins. Someone got an excellent picture of one 3 days before we went out. We found some of these very large dolphins soon enough, and found a larger group later. Some pictures.
The best guess by biologists is that the many scars on them are caused not primarily by dominance fights, as is typical with other dolphins, but primarily by the giant squid on which they feed. Those squid have razor-sharp beaks that are twice the size of a large eagle's beak.
You'll notice that some are dark and some are almost white. Risso's dolphins are born so dark gray as to be almost black, and then they turn more and more white as they age.
As always, we had a great time. I can't wait until the humpbacks show up in force! Next time I'm going to use my normal wide-angle lens and eschew the extra zoom -- it really isn't worth the terrible jitters that ensue. It is sort of like trying to paint by the numbers in a comic book with a 60-foot-long paintbrush...