For lovers of marine life, the whale is a must. Humpback whales, whales, blue whales…. This has been our goal for this California coast. The majority of these whale species are classified as endangered by IUCN. So in order to have a chance to observe them, we chose the Bay of Monterey!
In the Bay of Monterey, there is a huge marine protected reserve of almost 15,700 km 2. Due to its freshness and abundance of food, the more than 1600 m deep underwater canyon hosts an exceptional biodiversity: more than 26 species of marine mammals, 94 birds and 345 fish. This wealth promises us exceptional encounters!
Marine otters, the first to meet at the port
Several means of transport are available to us: small boats, very small boats, zodiacs… Not having the most marine foot in the world, our choice is for a company that offers an accompaniment by a biologist and respects distances with animals, so as not to disturb them too much.After a quick reservation a few days earlier, we take off on a cool and hazy morning. As we leave the harbour, we meet some sea otters.
The latter had been hunted for their fur almost until extinction. Thinking the species extinct, the hunters were gone. The existence of a few individuals has been kept secret by unrelenting otter lovers. From now on, the bay is home to just over 2000 individuals and the otter has become the emblem of the city. Ironic, no?
After having glimpsed the otters’ snack, we leave the harbour by crossing a colony of sea lions perched on the rocks or for a few solitaries hidden under the pontoons.
Whales and dolphins are invited to the festival
This time, it’s gone for four hours of boat in the open sea. We are clinging to the staring bridge both to look for the whales, and to avoid the seasickness that is gaining us. We scan the waves with frenzy to try to spot a jet of water, a bump or a fin. The first cries of the passengers were heard – a series of fins were seen in the distance. Our boat was heading in their direction. We are greeted by dolphins. A group of 5 individuals swim peacefully towards the coast. In the bay, several species of dolphins cross: Pacific white-sided dolphins, Risso dolphins and Dall porpoises.
After a moment of contemplation, we return to the sea in search of our whales. A fine drizzle begins to fall and the size of the waves increases. We fold our eyes and cling to the boat even more firmly. Sea sickness and rain do not lessen our desire to see these majestic mammals. Most of the threats to them stem from human activity: fishing, drift nets, collisions, etc. For some species, such as humpback whales, there are some encouraging signs as their numbers in the Antarctic increase slightly. For others like the common whale, which we can also see in the Mediterranean, the species is still in danger of extinction.
Our first whale appears in the distance. It’s actually, according to our biologist, a common whale. Solitary, he swims easily not far from our boat, now stationary. We watch him advance in the dark waters of the Pacific, subjugated by this first encounter. We let him go on his way, all moved that we are. The crew then heard that a large group of whales had been seen not far from the sides. So we went to meet them.
The feast of humpback whales
Arriving in a bay where the river flows into the ocean, half a dozen whales are in the midst of a feast. We see their bodies gradually come out of the water to catch their breath and slide back under the waters in search of krill. Each individual can be identified according to his tail, which is unique in the number and layout of white marks. In the bay, the fishermen are on their small boats. There seems to be a sort of tacit agreement between them and the whales, a respectful, almost familiar closeness. We watch from every angle these magnificent creatures plunge and plunge. These hours of boating and light seasickness do not taint this majestic spectacle. Once again, nature surprises us and fills us with childlike joy.
Unfortunately, it’s time to leave. Regrettably, we let them continue their feast and return to the land, to the delight of some whose complexion is as grey as time. Like a last wink, a group of sea lions have gathered on a buoy and are trying to pile up on this tiny space at all costs.
This trip to the sea was epic, eventful, full of emotions and encounters. Dolphins, sea lions, whales, whales and otters made this moment unique. They made us realize the richness of marine life and the importance of preserving our oceans. So to contribute a few simple gestures are possible: no plastic straw – we say no! -, a mineral-based sunscreen that pollutes less and more single-use plastics.
A small gesture by us and a great breath of air for the marine flora and fauna!