“It was bigger than this ship,” yelled five-year-old Nicholas Carrozza. “It was bigger than this ship! Oh my God!”
Nicholas was a fellow passenger on the “Voyager” on Saturday morning, September 10, 20111, and we had just been surprised by a blue whale that surfaced from a feeding dive not more than a boat length on our starboard side. We could hear the explosive exhalation that sent a plume of water mist into the air high above our heads and we could see the giant animal’s impressive rostrum, mottled gray blue skin and tiny dorsal fin right next to us. At 75 to 80 feet in length, the whale was indeed longer than our 65-foot boat. The whale surfaced several times right there next to us and then showed its mighty flukes as it glided into the depths of the Redondo Canyon to resume feeding on krill. Feeding on dense swarms of the tiny shrimp-like animals is what blue whales during the summer and fall and that is what brings them to the waters off California.
It can take a while to find the first whale on any given trip, but on Saturday we spotted out first blue while the “Voyager” was still tied to the dock in the Redondo Beach Marina. We could clearly see one animal’s 30-foot tall blow and then its giant flukes through binoculars, just over a half mile from shore. So there wasn’t much guessing as we made our way past the pelicans, gulls and cormorants on the jetty and the California sea lions on the harbor entrance buoy and headed straight to where the first whale was. It sounded just as we got there and Captain Brad decided to leave this animal to the many kayakers and paddleboarders in the area and we continued further offshore.
We were soon surrounded by a pod of approximately 600 long-beaked common dolphins who were feeding on bait fish just below the surface. We could see them zipping around and even swimming belly up as they caught their meal. And then we reached an area full of blue whales. They were spread out in ones and twos and were staying down relatively long which can make it challenging to hook up with them. But Captain Brad knows his whales and he is a patient man, so he positioned the “Voyager” where the whales were likely to surface and it sure paid off.
Right after we had the close encounter that prompted Nicholas’ outburst, another blue whale surfaced about 100 yards away and then turned towards us. It kept coming closer and closer until it dove just off our port bow and then surfaced right on the other side of the “Voyager.” It was clearly having fun with us.
Blue whales don’t always show their flukes when they dive but today we had two or three animals that did, including one large female that threw her tail high in the air as if to wave goodbye to us just as it was time to return to port. In all we saw between eight and 12 different blue whales; it is hard to keep track when there are animals all around. We had several more pods of common dolphins come through the area, and we also saw a few ocean sunfish or mola mola, one of which jumped out of the water right next to a surfacing blue whale.
We are extremely lucky to have such easy access to largest animal ever to live on this planet, but there is no telling how long the show will last and the whales move on following their prey. In 2010 it lasted pretty much exactly through the month of September. The “Voyager” will continue running daily trips out of the Redondo Beach Marina as long as the blue whales are around; on the day after Christmas they will begin running gray whale trips and the rest of the time they offer nature cruises. Trips leave at noon on weekdays and 9 a.m. on weekends, call (310) 944-1219 for reservations.