Ocean Conservationist Richard talks about this time on the Celebrity Solstice
For somebody that lives in the UK and follows numerous social media sites of whale watching spectacles across the world, there’s one place I see that regularly hits the news - Monterey Bay, south of San Francisco, California.
Why? Well, a fantastic year-round climate often brings optimal viewing conditions for those of us on the surface. Whilst for the resident and migrating whale and dolphin species, huge biodiversity and unique underwater topography creates idyllic food conditions. Monterey Bay, for example, has an underwater trench deeper and longer than the Grand Canyon! With such deep water, so close to shore, magical encounters occur.
Therefore, when I was asked to collect sightings data and educate guests aboard the Celebrity Solstice, for ORCA from Vancouver down to LA … I was truly excited, and a little ‘star-struck’ knowing that I would be passing through such famous waters.
Headed out of Vancouver, the weather conditions and sightings were as expected, and sundown always came too quickly. Joining a whale watching trip in Victoria, myself and just four other guests, spent several hours drifting in our inflatable rib craft amongst a plethora of feeding humpbacks. Seeing whales is one thing, hearing and smelling them all around - a whole new level!
The skipper of the whale watching boat had already briefed us that he would switch his engine off and wait to see if they approached us, not wishing to encroach or disturb their feeding behaviour. This was good, responsible whale watching. Always look for a responsible company when undertaking such an excursion. There is an international whale watching code of conduct, and you are entitled to ask the operator what that is and ensure it is adhered to.
After departing the humpbacks, we stopped off to visit a sea lion colony on our route back. Again, not just sights but sounds and smells to behold! A sad sight to see on later reviewing my photographs was that one sea lion had a fishing lure ‘hooked’ through its lip. A reminder that all marine creatures can suffer directly or indirectly as a result of human activity. I hope the lure dislodges itself without further pain or hindrance.
I must admit I was a little disappointed not to see the famous orca that are resident throughout these waters on the trip. I needn’t have worried; we saw two young bull orcas later that night as we sailed out on the cruise ship. Believed to be a ‘transient’ orca, this ecotype feed on other mammals, particularly: seals, sea lions and other dolphins. Unsurprisingly they weren’t far from the sea lions we had seen hauled out earlier. In fact, earlier that day, our skipper had told us the orcas were known to take the seals and sea lions off the rocky outcrops – this gained them the nickname ‘rock sausages’ or ‘orca d’oeuvres’!
The trip continued with epic sightings of feeding whales and dolphins. Numerous humpback whales, dolphins of several species and even sightings of the largest animal to ever have lived on earth - the blue whale. A true highlight for any whale watcher. As we left the Monterey Bay area behind, the sun sank, and I was left feeling content and grateful for being able to share the experience with so many guests alongside me. However, the day was not quite done as we had one last flurry of activity as a huge pod of short-beaked common dolphin travelled, on mass, against the orange horizon.
This may have been my first visit to this area of the Pacific coastline, but it will most certainly not be my last. Those eight nights have brought me new friendships from around the world, important data collected, fabulous photographs to add to my collection and more whale tales (and tails) to fill the memory bank. Thank you, ORCA, for the opportunity, to Celebrity for having us on board and thanks to all the guests that shared this experience with me and made it extra special.
Ocean Conservationist Richard