9/25/10- 12:17 - Blue Whale Near Hit in Monterey Bay by Mark Rauzon
I was a co-leader on a Shearwater’s Journey trip in Monterey Bay. We were having an excellent morning on the bay having passed through hundreds of dolphins and had already seen a tufted puffin. We had great views of humpbacks, and I finally saw the characteristic fire-hydrant blows of two blue whales. Monterey Bay was having the richest krill outbreak in recent memory and the whales were back. Standing on the starboard side of the cabin, I could see the whales were feeding, rolling on their sides, white pectoral flippers in the air, mouth agape, engulfing thousands of gallons of water and forcing it through their baleen, filtering out the krill.
Another boat also approached and we both stayed a respectful distance from a pair of blues that continued to feed then sound with a shallow dive and resurface several hundred yards away. The other ship soon left and we motored over in the vicinity of the whales and stopped as they fed, then disappeared under the water. The whales were performing well so we lingered. I was standing at the rail when I looked in the water and saw the huge distended throat pleats of the whale on its side right by the ship. I yelled out something like-WHALES BELOW! STOP THE BOAT! Tinker, the skipper threw the boat into reserve and the whale rose out of the water, a pectoral fin rose up. A towering fin held upright in the air --was it a sign? -Stop! !
I had a moment’s thought to take a photo even though I was using a long telephoto. (Luckily it had the teleconverter off and it was a 300mm.) I snapped one shot of the flipper in front of me, before deciding to grab the rail and brace for impact. But the whales were in control and I saw the broad rostrum of one on the left and the closing maw of the right animal pass downward under the bow. They soon surfaced on the other side and appeared to continue to feed.
What happened? Were the whales under control and approached us? Did the whales make a grab at a bait ball before we plowed though it? Did we both stop in our tracks and avoid a collision? I like to think the whales approached a bait ball that was below the surface and not visible to me. One whale rose from a low angle and appeared to engulf a mass of water as we were slowly moving over it. The whales were in control and perhaps the waving flipper was a counter-balance to a braking motion of the flipper the water.
We were stunned, the terrified looks on people were a mix of pleasure and horror. Someone said, “well now we all family”, flush with adreline of having gone through a supernatural encounter of the first order together. I was high for a good half hour, amazed by the size and presence of the largest animal ever to live on the planet.