Watching for a whale

Young Chang

Sometimes they'll slide up to the side of a boat and scratch their

backs on the walls.

Sometimes they'll breach -- make a missile of themselves, launching

almost half of their weight out of the water.

Sometimes they'll just be, which is spectacular enough.

At 60- to 70-feet long and 45 tons, it's no wonder writer Herman

Melville humanized them in his whale of an epic, "Moby Dick."

They get special mention in some versions of the Bible, which

translate Genesis 1:21 as "And God created great whales, and every living

creature that moveth . . ."

And around this time of year, humans venture out by the charter load

just to see them.

Newport-Mesa's experts agree, there's something about whales.

Whale-watching season opened this month in Newport Beach. Locals and

visitors alike have been venturing out to spot the California gray whale

on its way down from the Arctic feeding grounds to the lagoons of Baja,

Mexico. There, they give birth after migrating more than 5,000 miles.

From now until March, Newport Beach-based companies including the Fun

Zone Boat Co. and Davey's Locker will offer whale-watching excursions as

many as three times a day. Agencies like the Orca Yacht Charters will

offer trips for private parties.

"It's a unique experience," said Capt. Norris Tatt of Davey's Locker

in Newport Beach. "I'd hate to estimate the number of people that have

never seen a whale in the wild. People go down to Sea World, where [the

whales] are in captivity, and none of the greater whales live well in


The Marine Mammal Protection Act mandates that all boats must stay at

least 100 yards away from whales. The great mammal was hunted almost to

extinction twice and taken off the endangered-species list just six years


Today, about 27,000 gray whales swim the coasts of Alaska, Canada,

California, Oregon, Washington and Mexico.

"It's very impressive to see a 60- to 70-foot long, something alive

swimming through the water," said Captain Bob Burns of Orca Yacht


Dennis Kelly, professor of marine science at Orange Coast College,

gawks at their size.

"It's wondrous," he said. "It kinda puts human life into perspective

and I think that's amazing to people."

John Monahan, a Costa Mesan who goes whale watching, says that the joy

in going out to see the creatures is about knowing what lies beneath the

voluptuous waves that disclose almost nothing.


Monahan and his friend Suzanne Schoefer made a picnic of their recent

whale-watching trip aboard the Reveilles, which left from the Fun Zone

Boat Co. on Balboa Peninsula.

Their menu included roast beef sandwiches stacked with hot peppers and

Monterey jack cheese, and trays of celery, pickles and carrots to munch.

Monahan and Schoefer understood that they might not spot a whale. So

far this season, captains say the spottings have been extremely rare

because the whales are only just making it to Newport Beach.

But the two passengers agreed, whale-watching trips are about way more

than seeing the gigantic creatures.

"It's getting out on the water, away from work," said Monahan, a

hairstylist. "There's no bills to be paid out here. The captain is taking

care of the boat, the boat is taking care of me, all I can do is drink my

drink, eat my food."

Schoefer added that other attractions include dolphins (a very common

sight), the water itself and even other boats.

Monahan, who has taken marine classes at OCC, suggests the following

to make the most of your time at sea.

Bring warm clothes. The temperatures tend to drop as you travel

further out and winds blow.

Bring snacks and drinks.

Bring binoculars and a camera.

Look far away. Never just look straight down at the stretch of water

immediately before you.

"Look as far away as you can because then you're looking for spurts

and your peripheral vision captures what's right near you too," Monahan


Finally, if you're wearing a cap and don't want it to blow away, wear

it backward.

"People forget that boats are out here," Monahan said. "There are

animals living and dying and swimming. We just can't see it."


Monahan's recent excursion didn't turn up any whales. But he and his

fellow mates got their fill of spectacles.

At mid-run, about 100 dolphins swarmed the boat for a feeding and

jumping frenzy.

"Sometimes the dolphins put on a much better show than the whales,"

Tatt said. "They love to surf in front of the bow of the boat. They're

very animated, doing flips and coming completely out of the water.

They're just so acrobatic. It's almost like the dolphins love to watch

the passengers watch them."

Other performers included sea lions sunning on buoys and pelicans

swooping down to tease the water.

For those who've never seen a whale in real life, local captains paint

this picture:

They're a mottled, gray color and have colonies of barnacles that

attach onto the back as the whale moves at a leisurely 4 to 5 miles an


They have discolored spots from feeding on the ocean floor and

suffering various scrapes and scars.

They have flukes with marks and patterns of coloration as unique as

every human's fingerprints.

They're usually as large as the boats looking for them, with brains

the size of people.

"These things have been here for ages, longer than we have," Tatt

said. "They just go about their business, they don't harm anybody. And

it's just interesting to see that there's this mammal, some other

creature than a human, that lives on this planet."

-- Young Chang writes features. She may be reached at (949) 574-4268

or by e-mail at o7 young.chang@latimes.comf7 .


WHERE: Fun Zone Boat Co.

CALL: (949) 673-0240

WHERE: Davey's Locker

CALL: (949) 673-1434

WHERE: Orca Yacht Charters

CALL: (949) 650-6722

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World