Friday, February 14, 2014

Lucky in LA

What do you get when you combine an extended stay in Los Angeles, a day that is supposed to be rainy but turns out to be quite nice, a mostly chilled out group of people (one of whom has what can be most generously described as having a slight Groupon addiction) and some very cooperative marine life?

An excellent day of whale watching, that's what.  Or not.  I am not making any promises since I am not sure that this formula can ever be precisely duplicated. Assuming you keep good company, getting the group together and rooting out the discounted deals is easy (just google Groupon or Living Social and whatever city you happen to be in and you will find lots of things to keep the tourist with time on her hands busy).  Getting both Mother Nature and the elusive denizens of the Pacific Ocean to play along is another story altogether.
I have to admit, this day felt promising from the start.  We were in line waiting to board, not even on the boat and already cameras and phones were being waved around.  There were oohs and maybe even some aaahhs. There were cries of "Look! It's a squirrel!"  "No, I think it's a gopher!!" "Does anyone know what a badger looks like?!" "What's the Caddyshack thing called?"  "Where is everyone looking?  I don't see anything!"

More impressively, the little buck-toothed dude was far from camera shy.  He kept popping in and out of his hole, sometimes to the left, sometimes to the right, making sure everyone got his best side.

Soon, our merry band was all on board.  The drizzling rain that we encountered on our drive over to Marina del Rey had stopped. No one had gotten lost on the way to the boat.  No one had gotten tossed overboard.  All was good.

For us, anyways.  At the very same time, there was a fish that was having a much worse time of it. Just minutes before, he had been swimming around, going about his little fish life, when out of the blue, this cormorant dives into his path, uninvited, and suddenly things took a drastic downhill turn for our fish friend.

The cormorant toyed with him, tossing him this way and that way.  It was unclear whether the bird was trying to get a good grip, disorient the unlucky fish or just toy with him until he determined whether or not to keep him.

Based on the bird to fish ratio, I honestly expected the cormorant to give up and go in search of a more size-appropriate meal. I couldn't have been more wrong.  Before we could understand what was happening, that bird Linda Lovelace'd the shit out of that fish.  One, two gulps. No fish.

And this was all before we even left the dock!  Soon, we were on our way, with two informative and enthusiastic naturalists leading the way.

They had explained that the pelicans would have their orange "mating plumage", which they would molt in a month or so, once they felt free to let themselves go (kind of like an avian weave) and sure enough, we encountered these guys.

Cool, but two bird species and one rodent in, we were still waiting for the headliners, the whales and dolphins.  We didn't have to wait long.

First, we spotted the long beaked Common Dolphins.  I have linked to their wikipedia page to show that this is actual name of the species, not any kind of disparaging remark on my part.  I fear that this will do little to assuage our British friend who took umbrage at what she viewed as an unnecessarily derogatory slur aimed at our flippered friends and seemed poised to take on the naturalists.

Next up, frolicking alongside our boat, was a school (pod?/ gang?/ posse?) of Pacific White Sided Dolphins, observing us as we were observing them.

Much squealing took place during this part of the trip, not so much from the porpoises as from myself and others around me.

What happened next was, to me, the most remarkable part of the day.  I have been whale watching before, in Mexico, Iceland, the Galapagos, Washington State and surely other places that I don't recall right now.  And I have many many pictures of water to show for it...not whales, mind you, just water.  Those speedy behemoths have a gift for submerging themselves at just the right moment. My sensory memories from prior whale watching trips are a combination of the thrill of seeing the whales and the frustration that comes from not being able to get a single photo.

But not this time.  We came across a couple of Pacific Gray Whales that happened to be in a very playful mood. They were blowing, splishing and splashing all over the place.

Even one of the naturalists was besides herself with giddiness.  You know it is a good trip, when you hear "Oh my god!!  Oh my god!! Look how beautiful!!!!" and you turn around and see the nature guide, practically jumping up and down.

Not only was I finally getting whale photos, I was on a roll.  Perfectly synchronized jumping dolphins? Got 'em.

Lazing California sea lions?  Got 'em.  As did everyone else.  They weren't going anywhere. A courtroom sketch artist could have captured them with time to spare. They were about as active as the Hollywood sign, but much cuter.

The point is that everything that could have worked out for us, did.  The weather, the whales, the Groupon, even the gopher groundhog.  I know you can't plan for this kind of luck, but you never know until you try.  My suggestion?  Give Marina del Rey Sports fishing  (or whoever is closest to you, there are whale watching trips all up and down the coast) a call and see whether you, too, can spot LA's coolest celebrities.

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