Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Humpbacks continue to frequent my area in good numbers. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t at least see one or two from shore and when I go out with Vicente we are able to make 4-6 encounters each time. At this point in the season I now have 35 IDs and as I have mentioned before, that’s a good season already and we are only half way through. No returnees from last year as far as I can tell (I now have personally collected IDs on over 100 individual Humpbacks and I can’t truthfully say I know absolutely all of them by sight) but we did see one whale (HB# 22 10) again a week after it’s first “capture” (on film). Fewer mother calf pairs this season but lots of dueling males and some dynamite breaches near our boat. All of this of course translates into my area indeed being a major breeding/calving ground and worth including in its hopeful new designation as a “protected area” here in The Sea of Cortez. This is a dream come true if comes to fruition.

There are three experiences I would like to relate because each was special in its own way. They all occurred within a period of one week so one can imagine the emotional and physical drain….though all good!

A few days back Vicente and I had no plans to go out so I did another sojourn out to the Whale Zone. No encounters but I got into a nice little show of Mobula (a benign ray related to The Giant Manta) acrobatics and then I just hung out in an almost glass Sea, no sounds, no wind, only me, The Sun and The Sea. I started getting a bit warm and I hadn’t done laps in a while so I thought I might do some out there. There was a moment of hesitation but then I thought of a story my mother had told me about swimming around her father’s ship in the China Sea and I slipped in (the tales we tell our children sometimes take decades to become part of their growth). As I began to stroke into my first lap (I know exactly how many strokes makes up a standard lap) I felt a great surrender to life at that exact moment and I suddenly felt that I could swim all the way to the mainland and maybe beyond. I did my 20 laps and when I rolled back on to my kayak I felt wonderful. I thanked The Great Mystery for it’s benevolence and kayaked back in to shore chanting my heart out.

While following the whale I mentioned earlier (HB# 22 10), Vicente brought my attention to the fact that we had a “singer”. How he first caught the sound is in itself pretty extraordinary. You see they don’t sing on the surface. They are under water where of course the sound carries better. Only males sing as far as we know (see the work of Louis Herman, U of Hawaii) and they do not do it to attract females but other males. Sometimes it results in combat and sometimes in one whale teaching some new verses to another, after which they part. To actually be able to hear the song from the deck of a panga is an enormous treat. Vicente has become quite the whale enthusiast in every way. We stopped the motor and just listened. Then we realized he was right underneath us! Well, the smile on both our faces showed our mutual wonder and appreciation of that moment. It was very, very cool. We saw him again a couple of days later as HB# 30 10 (he will of course be recorded as HB# 22 10 in The Catalogue).

This is a better picture of the singer (HB# 22/30)

This is him giving me a high five real close to the boat.

Getting older is all I had hoped it would be but of course a bit of what I certainly hadn’t hoped it would be. I have always had bad eyes, I got my first pair of glasses in the 8th grade and they became a burden athletically from then on (try being a free safety in a night football game). Searching for whales requires a keen eye if you really want to have a productive day. Fortunately I have Vicente with me and he has the eyes of a Seahawk. It is nice however to at times be the one who spots whales at a great distance and against the odds (sun, waves etc). The other day we were searching the area around Las Tinas and I saw a blow way out on the horizon, directly in the sun AND with small waves between. I yelled to Vicente and pointed just as I saw it again. Vicente asked me if I was sure and how far (he hadn’t seen it), I said way out there, at the horizon, maybe 3 miles! He gave me that look but I insisted we proceed at top speed. Then I saw it again, two blows this time. Still Vicente couldn’t see them. I urged him on and we stopped after about 2 miles. We waited and then I saw them again yet another mile or so away. Vicente still didn’t see them. Well, we got to them, got our IDs and then Vicente gave me a look of genuine respect and admiration that was inspiring. When we got back in he told all his fisherman amigos about the incredible whale spotting capabilities of his friend, “El Ballenero”. So I may be getting older but it’s not the eyesight that’s a concern.

I will end by telling you that “The Bird People” are back. I noticed it for the first time yesterday. I was sitting in my favorite spot and a classically raucous Scrub Jay flew under the palapa and to a NEST. I’ve never had a Scrub Jay build a nest near me. Then I noticed that there was lots of bird activity in the desert around me ( though I am only 150 yds from the beach I am far enough back to be in a classic Sonoran Desert ecosystem). Later in the afternoon I saw another bird, not sure of species also busy building. Spring is already coming! I realized that indeed The Bird People were back. They are such a delight to watch.

This is my daughter Kersti and her husband Bill. Just thought I'd throw that in because I love them and I think they are beautiful!

Hope you are all well.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Another very good two days at Sea. I had 7 encounters yesterday and 3 more today. 5-6 of those are really good IDs so the season continues to be a great success thus far. Today was kind of special because we had another very close breach (camera wasn’t ready) and then later we ran across a whale we had ID’d yesterday, which is always cool (they don’t “hang around” much), and he put on a wonderful show of physical prowess. To add to our delight he also sang underneath the panga and we could hear him distinctly. Ah, for a set of hydrophones.

This is a "flank shot" of the singer.

Here is his ID. Had to shoot directly into the sun but his markings are clear.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Thought I would like to share some non-ID Whale shots with you. These are all from this year and all Humpbacks.
At this point in the season I have 56 shore sightings and 22 encounters with IDs. There really are a lot of Humpbacks in the area right now. I haven’t seen a Blue Whale yet but I certainly hope to see at least one, and if so, I will definitely take a swim with it.
Windy weather keeping me in but Vicente and I expect to go out again on Wed. or Thurs. Enjoy the photos!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Two young ladies came out from San Jose del Cabo to join me on a search for Humpbacks yesterday. Christine, who I have known for a few years now, and her friend (and my new friend) Linee from Vancouver, BC. We had planned to go out that afternoon but the wind came up and it was cold so we decided to conserve our energy for today. Problem was this morning that it was both cold and raining (but no wind)…not search weather!
Nevertheless I talked to Vicente and we agreed to wait until 11:00 am to see if the weather would clear, the ladies had to return to SJD in the afternoon. At around 10:00 I went up on the bodega roof (rain had stopped) and took a look around to see if there were any HBs in the area. Within 5 minutes I see one about a mile out going north. I went into town, found Vicente, told him we had a whale and he agreed to meet us at the boat launch in 15 min.
Christine and Linee were delighted and within a half hour we were near Boca del Alamo hoping to spot the whale….and we did. Linee had never been near a HB before and was really excited. We got an ID and then immediately saw a group of blows about 2 miles further out. We found three HBs there and I got two more IDs (one HB would just not fluke up). We saw 3-4 more HBs in combat another 2 miles out but it was beginning to rain and by then we had been out for 3 hours and the cold was getting to us (the day had remained drizzly and dark) so we came in. We were all totally satisfied with the day and it proved yet again the Buddhist adage, “perseverance furthers”.

This is a shot of the three. I was hoping they would all fluke up at the same time so we would have a great record of a temporary “unit” but it was not to be.

This is HB# 20 10 and the best ID shot of the day.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

I was about to go do laps yesterday morning when I decided instead to go out to The Whale Zone in my kayak. I had seen some whales going south in front of Los Algodones earlier and figured maybe there were more in the area. In a very short time I did see three more blows but quite a ways out. They were going north however and I felt there was a chance I could make an intercept. The wind was coming up and I was a bit cold but I just didn’t want to give up so I went for it. I have found that it is very important and highly beneficial at this time in my life to push very hard against any hesitation to take my body, and mind, to the limit.
On their third blow series I was within 75-100’ of them and the calf turned and came directly for the kayak. Then the two adults fluked up and seemed to also come in my direction. The calf veered to the north and I was able to kayak with him at about 50’ away for a short while and then he went down. Now I was quite a ways from “home” but I wanted to try for one more encounter so I continued paddling north and at a slight angle to see if perhaps they would surface nearby. When they did resurface they were parallel to me but had veered east and were another ½ mile out. Now a big decision. Well, I went for it yet again and I have to say that I was very happy with myself for my tenacity. Unfortunately at the next blow series they had picked up the pace and were definitely going further out to sea and it was just a bit much for me to follow any further.
I had a 4 mile pull back to El Cardonal but the wind and swell were with me, I had water, a Cliff Bar and a wet suit if I got any colder so I was in good shape. I have to admit though that by the time I hit the beach I was REALLY tired…….but empowered by the Sea and my Whale Friends once again!!
I am hoping to go out again with Vicente next Tues. or Wed. Maybe with a new friend, always nice.

This picture is not mine. It was FWD to me but it is one I had to share. The caption above it said, “Giving Thanks” and then below it it said, “Cats are so Dramatic”!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Well my friends, today was a doozy (am I antiquated or what?). Yesterday Vicente came by to see if I wanted to go out looking for whales. It was a beautiful morning but I had eaten something (my own cooking) that gave me some stomach problems and I really wasn’t interested in rolling around on a panga for 6 hours so I declined the offer. Later that day I saw 5 whales nearby and when I got together with Vicente this morning he told me he had been out yesterday and had seen 3 groups of 3 or more whales. Needless to say I felt a bit of remorse at not having gone out with him. He did show genuine sympathy and said that all his fisherman friends were in accord that “El Ballenero” should have been there. I couldn’t imagine that kind of activity in our area this early in the season in two consecutive days….right?

Hot dog! Yes indeed. Two days in a row! Within minutes of launching from the beach we spotted 3 whales a mile away. But no, there were blows further out….yes, another 2 at least. We head for the furthest out group and see yet a third group near Punta Pescadero (about 4 miles south, yes you can see the blows from that distance). We did well in our choices and ended up within an hour with 7 ID’s. That’s a damn good day right there.

We decide to head back towards El Cardonal (we are now by Los Barriles, 15 miles from home) but Vicente spots 2 more by the “Tuna Hole”. We get ID’s on these two, a spectacular breach, the weather is good and I’m feeling like I want to swim with some Whale People.

We pull in front of the 2 whales, Vicente kills the engine, I go overboard and Vicente directs me to the whales. He says they are coming right for me, I dive, the water is not very clear (maybe 20 ft at best), I come up, Vicente says they are right underneath me, I dive again but can’t see them (oh, for the clear waters of Hawaii). Never mind it is good to be near them and in their world again.

Meet "Jumping Jack Flash", my swimming buddy.

That made 9 ID’s and you know what? We got 5 more returning to El Cardonal! What a day.

It is a different world here in this little village in Mexico. I have been to the Great Cities of The United States. I have been to Paris, London, Athens, Stockholm, Munich, Vienna, Cairo etc., but El Cardonal is where my heart has found it’s home. The Whale People and I have a destiny.