From the turn of 1900 through the mid 1960s there were an estimated 250,000 blue whales on the planet. Sadly, whaling was profitable during this period in human history, and it is estimated that today there are only 12,000 Blue whales roaming through all oceans. The wonderful news is that conservation efforts in the US, Canada and Mexico have been working. Due to strict regulations, the blues are making a recovery here, and it’s estimated that there are now about 2,500 migrating Blues along America’s western coastline. Every season, from December through February, they head South to Baja California and to the Costa Rica dome to feed and socialize. From June through October they head back north to Canada and Alaska.
El Nino brought some unexpected benefits this year. The blue whale and pelagic migration off San Diego was spectacular: storms were not an issue; wildlife was plentiful. As in the past six years, we went out to sea primarily to view the migrating blue whales, and this year we were greatly rewarded.
Although Blue whales are the largest living things on our planet – measuring anywhere from 60 and up to 100feet long (33meters) – it is very rare to see them in the vast ocean. They are shy and usually travel from one location to another along underwater canyons in deep water, far from land. In order to spot these giants, I charter a spotter plane, flown by my old time favorite pilot, Chris, who I’ve been working with for the last six seasons.
Chris has eyes like and eagle, and once he spots the whales moving north from Mexico, he radios the mother ship. On the other side of the radio is the ship’s skipper, Ryan, who has been the skipper for six years.
Ryan is a master at navigating the mother ship into position, which requires great understanding of the whales and an appreciation for keeping a distance that’s comfortable, which means, far enough for them and close enough for us. Once Ryan gets the boat situated properly, he shuts the engines, and we commence launching the fleet of five, two-person kayaks into the water.
Interesting enough, blue whales are very shy animal compared to other more curious whales, such as Sperm, Minke and Humpback. So in order to have good, in-person encounters with these rare beings, we deploy each and every one of our guests on-board a two person kayak. The guests sit up front with mask, fins, snorkel and camera at hand, while in the rear seat, we hire expert and strong kayakers, who paddle as stealthily as possible towards the incoming blues.
In addition to the giant blues, we witnessed greater numbers of the strangely beautiful Mola Mola fish hiding among the floating kelp, feeding on the than greater than usual number of Velella Velella (relative to the Portuguese man o’war but relatively benign to humans) that proliferate in the warm water and get locked up among the kelp leaves.
Last but not least, we were very excited to encounter smooth hammerhead sharks, which are only rarely seen along the coast of California. With the increasing water temperatures, pelagic fish move further north, along our coast, in search of cooler water for their own survival. Consequently, US coastal fishing saw a great increase in the harvest of sardines, anchovies, squid, salmon, tuna and Mhai Mhai. To our great delight, the presence of these fish attracted the smooth hammerheads from their usual habitat along the Mexican coast line.