Each spring, I take my environmental science field course students out on a charter to track the annual grey whale migration along the west coast. We don’t always see whales, but this was a good year. As soon as we were out of the harbor we spotted one grey and then quickly fell in to tracking a separate grey whale pair.
My students often ask if we always see whales, and I reply that there is no guarantee but that we usually see loads of dolphins and that they are a better show anyway. Of course, the students are programmed to want to see a whale and there is nothing I can do about that. Sadly though, the whales are just not quite as charismatic as some of the other marine mammals. Especially, when you are on a large tour boat with a hundred or so passengers. When you are on a small boat, say in the Baja Peninsula and can get up close and personal, things can be very different.
Tracking the whales was a great experience for the students. Later on in the trip though, the good people at Newport Whales, the tour company I always use for this adventure, invariably try to track down a rambunctious group of dolphins to make sure that the customers have all gotten their money’s worth. It’s a cool trick too. Seeing the dolphins frolic is a value-added spectacle. No one really pays to go dolphin watching – that’s for whales. But in the end, seeing a whale from a distance, while magical, may fall short of expectations.
I always advocate for more dolphin interaction. And I share this with my students. ‘The point of today’s excursion is to witness the grey whale migration, but what you may find more fascinating are the other marine mammals who find it entertaining to play around the boat.’ Can you imagine? A wild animal swimming freely in the ocean that finds us entertaining?
The concept of biophilia always comes to the surface when I am on this trip. EO Wilson expounded on this concept to explain the innate sense of connection that people feel with nature. I don’t know of any better place to really witness this than in the presence of another species that is playing; enjoying itself in a parallel world; connecting with us so directly. I see this every year when I am out on the water, as I witness the spontaneous smiles that brighten the faces of all of my students. It’s brilliant and wonderful.
If you are interested in getting out on the water to see some of the local or the migratory marine mammal action in southern California, consider Newport Whales. They have always been a wonderful tour operator to work with.