Traveling time again

Posted by Ken Campbell March 11, 2011 2 Comments 723 views

March brings the start of the gray whale migration. Longest migratory route of any mammal, 12,000 miles from the peaceful lagoons of Baja to the feeding grounds of the Chukchi Sea. Once close to extinction, numbers are now upward of 20,000, and stable. It’s the adult males who come this way at this time of year. Eager for the return to the north, to the promise of food and familiar surroundings, the males leave first. Maybe some other reason, who knows?
I remember one March, standing on a high bluff overlooking the slate-gray Pacific, watching the whales pass. They came from the south, and we could see the plumes of their exhalations before we could actually see the whales. Some of them were more dramatic than others; many of them slipped by us without any great fanfare. Silently and mostly out-of-sight, they kept to their passage.
But there were others that seemed super-charged. With the wife and kids still back in Mexico, the journey north was like a buddies road-trip for these guys. Every now and then, they just couldn’t help themselves. Here’s how I described it back then. There was a group of us standing on the cliff above the water and we’d been watching a pair of whales about a mile away as they swam north, when…
“… I think I see, out of the corner of my eye, a spout much closer to where we are standing. I tell the others, and we all peer intently at the spot I had indicated, waiting for another exhalation. Staring at the water, we are hoping for another sighting, maybe even a gigantic tail breaking the water’s surface. We get a whole lot more than that. Instead of a vaporous mist hovering above the water, the whale chooses this moment to breach, coming almost completely out of the sea in a staggering vertical explosion, not more than a quarter-mile away. He seems frozen in place for a split-second, then crashes, back first, into the waves, his snout stretching to its fullest extent and his huge flukes extended. The power and the grace that are exhibited by this display elicit immediate hoots and joyous exclamations from the awestruck spectators. And, just in case the puny onlookers had not been sufficiently impressed, he repeats the same move, less than a minute later.”

That was a good whale day. I hope to be paddling with them again soon.

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