You never know what to expect from a whale. On a whale watch a long time ago off the coast of New England, an Atlantic right whale swam under our boat and took a long look at the humans on deck. It was a transcendent moment for me. I felt that at that instant, the whale really saw us. And down we gazed–all the time aware that we could be pitched into the Atlantic with one flip of his mighty tail.
Since then, it seems my life has led me to whales. The Natural History Museum in Washington DC, part of the Smithsonian, used to have a huge fiberglass model of a Blue Whale which hung from the ceiling of an exhibit called “Life in the Sea.” Our family visited that museum often, and all visitors walked under the model, which, quite simply, portrayed the largest creature on the planet poised to dive. That Blue Whale got to me.
Now, years later, when my husband and I started researching places we wanted to go, Baja California rose to the top. Both my husband and I instantly agreed that was the perfect destination. And for us, it was.
Naturally, a Blue Whale was the first whale we saw after we boarded our home for 11 days, Searcher (see my previous blog post “Things I Learned in Baja.”). The naturalist on board told us the whale was feeding on red pelagic crabs and krill. Gigantic and graceful, slow and deliberate, the whale rose to the surface and dove, showing us a tiny dorsal fin far back on its body.
Its tail was beautiful and almost seemed sculpted. When it began to surface again, which sometimes took up to 20 minutes, the water just beneath the surface turned a brilliant speckled turquoise in the sun…hence, a blue whale.
Old whale hands can tell all the whales by their distinctive spouts. The Blue Whale’s is tall, columnar and hangs in the air a long time. It’s unmistakeable.
On Searcher, the crew constantly scanned the water for spouts with high-powered binoculars, and we were often rewarded with whale viewing.
On our second day, south of the Island of San Benito, we encountered many Blue Whales, all busy feeding on crabs and krill. Art, the captain explained that his call would be as if we were on a clock–with the prow of the boat always at 12. He would, for instance, call out over the PA, “ 10 o’clock, “ and then, “2 o’clock, “ but pretty soon, on that special day, whales were all around us. We could hear the spouts, see the whales and it was wonderful. Everyone on the boat stood on deck in awe–we were tiny dots on a small boat in a big ocean in the Last Kingdom of the Whales. And at that moment we knew it.
Side note: The first night on Searcher, the captain asked what whale we most wanted to see and why. Several of the Brits on board mentioned the Blue Whale model in the British Museum. I, of course, was affected by the Blue Whale model in the Smithsonian. Come to find out, the Smithsonian’s Blue Whale, which was installed in 1963, was modeled on the British one. Ours is no longer in the Natural History Museum, but I think the British model is still in the British Museum. Here’s some interesting reading I discovered about the whale models that influenced many of us on our whale watch: http://www.mnh.si.edu/onehundredyears/profiles/whales_si.html