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Sunday, January 20 , 2019, 7:56 pm | A Few Clouds 60º


Captain’s Log: A Whale of a Tale

An adventure at sea nearly turns into a "Jonah moment"

Watching whales is always exciting, but occasionally the level of excitement borders on danger. Here’s such a tale of huge tails.

Capt. David Bacon
Capt. David Bacon (Ramona Lisa McFadyen photo)

A granddad chartered the WaveWalker to take his granddaughter and her friend out for a day of exploring and fishing. The water was so flat and glassy that we were cruising easily at 25 knots toward the west end of scenic Santa Cruz Island. Three miles off the island, I spotted whales — lots of whales.

As we neared, I could see that it was a large pod (maybe a dozen) of blue whales engaged in lunge feeding. That is a rare and lucky find, so we slid to a stop a quarter-mile away, shut off the engines and watched the activity from a respectable distance.

Lunge-feeding is incredible to watch. The whales have this down to a science. They swim deep under krill, then swim in a circle as they continuously blow bubbles to create a rising cylinder encircling the krill. In response, the krill balls up tightly in the middle of the bubble cylinder. Then the whale swims up through the cylinder with its mouth open to capture the krill, lunges at least half of its body out of the water and splashes down on its massive side while filtering the water out and swallowing huge quantities of krill.

As we watched, the whales moved closer to us. When they moved to within a hundred yards of us, I had planned to fire up the engines and move away. Little did I know that one whale had moved away from the pod. Suddenly I noticed bubbles coming up next to the boat. I quickly scanned the water and saw bubbles rising in a circle all around the boat. We were right in the middle of a bubble cylinder.

I bellowed from the bridge (a favorite pastime of captains worldwide), “Everyone grab the boat and each other, and hang on tight! We’re about to have a Jonah moment!” We braced for impact. After a few seconds, I looked around again and saw the whale gently surface about 20 yards from the boat and turn one monstrous eye on us.

That critter’s look said it all. I just know that whale was annoyed that we interrupted its meal. It was kind enough not to ram the boat and lift us into the air. We all waved and yelled, “Thank you, Mr. Blue!” We started the engines and motored slowly away from the area to find other adventures.

It was a whale of a tale, and it’s all true, I swear by my tattoo.

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a new nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need.

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