The adventure began when she said, “Scarback has been spotted south of here. The ocean looks good so I’m going after our last whale trip today.”
“That’s exciting!” I said
Would you like to come along?” She asked.
“Yes. The answer to that question will always be yes! Thank you so much!”
Two hours later, I am sitting bundled up with my life jacket on. My camera is around my neck and my binoculars are on my lap. The sun is low in the horizon as we cruise out of the harbor. The small channel leads us out and the great, ascending waves greet us. Within minutes, the safety of the protected channel is behind us.
Our captain and all things guru and knowledgable of whales, pushes on the throddle lever of the Zodiac. I feel and see everything around me. My cheeks chill as I smile, watching the light and water collide and splash at me. It is 58 degrees and the water is a cool, salty 55 degrees. I am one of a crew of 5. I am sitting between the five and where our captain stands behind me.
We are traveling Southward and it should take us 20 or so minutes to get to our first destination where Scarback might be.
To the West are small flocks of Cormorants, Pelican’s, Common Murre and Western Loons. Their underbellies glisten and their webbed feet, hang as they pass us. On the other side of us are white crested waves crashing against the rocky coast line. We pass a lighthouse and I automatically think of a postcard.
Until my move here, I’ve only seen them on postcards!
20 minutes pass and we have slowed to check out a whale. 11:00 on the port side.
“Let’s see who this is.” She says. She bends down and gets her camera out. The gray whale surfaces 15′ from us and it is a whale unknown to her and her crew. We watch as he spouts, surfaces and dives… Trying to catch any significant markings in which we can identify him in the future.
This year has been record breaking with so many new to our Summer Resident population. Unidentified, young and mature, male and female gray whales. Some alone and some are mothers and calves. There is so much mysid shrimp available for food, that you can look out onto the ocean from the bay and see 15 to 25 spouts!!
We stay for ten minutes and watch as the whale glides through the water. We look for identifying marks left by barnacles and whale lice. We are losing light so we must head south, quickly, toward the Jetties!
We arrive at 8:25 and as soon as we approach the are where she’s been seen feeding with her calf, there it is. One large spout followed by one little spout. “There they are!”
Excited as as seven year olds on a roller coaster, pure joy pours from us as we clap! Until this particular trip, I have gone out on whale watching trips with carries other captains. I have always observed before acting in a particular way on the boat, as to not do anything inappropriate that would potentially harm or scare off these beautiful leviathans.
So I am quiet until they scream. When Carrie says “Let’s call her over when she services next time.” I nod.
Carrie has learned over the past 20+ years that these whales respond to cheers and clapping. Like puppies, they will come to your boat if they are not focusing mainly on feeding. And if they want to. Carrie reminds us that they are wild animals. Something that they do not respond well to is pounding on the side of the boat. Carrie says that because whalers in how are not too distant past, would pound on their boats to get the whales to come near.
“We love you Scarback!” The 45 foot mother surfaces with her baby beside her. We watch as the calf moves away from the mom to feed on its own. Everyone taking pictures and video, but I just watch. I have spent two months chasing whales and using sub par equipment to take whatever pictures and videos I could. I was constantly left frustrated. So until I get the proper camera, I will focus on watching. 🙂
And before us is magic in motion. Our Zodiac bobbing in the water. Each of us having our own emotional outbursts but all glued together by our joy. Those minutes of waiting for mom and baby to resurface felt long and fast at the same time. The sun is now setting and Carrie says “Okay guys, one more surface then we gotta go.”
At that moment I put two and four together which added up to 53 degree water + we are 20 miles away from our harbor + we are in an inflatable boat + it’s dark. I could write it… ” they headed out to see defined a whale they hadn’t seen all summer sunset as they sat in there inflatable boat in the dark. Would they be able to withstand the cold temperatures of the water? Would the Coast Guard find them in time?”
We would travel safely home in silence only stopping to carefully watch for crab pot tops drifting atop the black water.
But right now, we are glued to these particular waters. The air around us become crisp and there comes a point when you look at the darkness and see a little bit of light in it ….and then when you look away and look back you cannot see any lightness at all! That was us, and our boat only had one small light up above for the captain stood.
“One more surface okay?” Then, like scripted, Scarback and her calf surface together in perfect sysinction. We are silent with tears streaming down our cold, red cheeks. We watch and follow their every movement. Every beautiful motion. Capturing every color and marking …just being there with them..
And so we left. It is colder and dark and the stars are lighting up above us.
Jenica, who was sitting in front of me turns around and says “Isn’t it like traveling through a painting?” And then she giggled, turned to sit in her seat and put her hand warmly into her husbands, sitting next to her.
I look to the East and the shoreline is fading out. The glistening moonlight and stars become bright and there is the lighthouse up on top that beautiful jagged corner of the coastline. Waves crashing up against the rocks as I look up at the stars and smile. This truly is a special night.
Traveling through a living painting. Nature all around. Above me, beside me …and below me in the dark waters, swim Leviathans ….in search of food. Gentle creatures allowing us grace to share this time and space with them.
This cold and glistening passage.
Here is Carrie’s beautiful photo of Scarback and a previous calf…found on Carries website, oregonwhales.com.