Eager anticipation is the only way to describe how we all felt loading up our things and getting ready to go on our first whale and dolphin watching cruise with Dana Wharf . Based out of the Dana Point Harbor and offering a multitude of outdoor activities such as sport fishing, twilight fishing and opportunities for kids to experience firsthand what it means to responsibly fish in the Pacific Ocean, there is truly something for everyone.
We have been following the Dana Wharf’s twitter updates for the past month, (www.twitter.com/DanaWharf) where they have been describing all of the recent dolphin and whale sightings and we were exited to experience this for ourselves. The kids had been asking a countless amount of questions about whales and dolphins in the weeks prior to the cruise. I answered as many of the questions as I could from my limited knowledge, but it was clear that I wouldn't be able to answer them all unless I had the help and expertise of the staff while on the cruise. Wanting to make this a family experience, we decided to bring the grandparents along as well in celebration of Grandparent’s Day.
Our tickets had been reserved and we patiently waited for the Captain and the crew to ready the catamaran for loading and departure. We fumbled with our jackets and hats, made sure that our digital camera was in working order, and made one last check of the backpack to make sure we had everything that we needed. Eventually, the engines roared with fervor, the gates swung open and we were allowed to board. The boat was spacious with plenty of benches to sit on, a covered salon area with a beverage and snack bar, and on top of that, a two level bow viewing area where we would be able to see everything. The kids were bouncing around the deck, excited to see the ocean in a new light.
When we left the harbor, we rounded the jetty out into the open Pacific Ocean and began our journey. The blue sky was filled with fluffy white clouds, the wind blew just slightly and sailboats could be seen dotting the horizon off in the distance. We had only gone about a half a mile from the jetty when a call came from our guide, Larry, that there was a pod of Common Dolphins swimming ahead. Within seconds we were completely surrounded by them. You could see them from all sides of the catamaran swimming and leaping in pairs and it was magnificent. Then another passenger shouted “A baby!” and all of us looked over and saw itty-bitty baby dolphins leaping out of the water in unison with their mothers riding alongside our boat. Larry explained that we had come across a maternity pod, which was apparently quite rare. Common Dolphins only have one baby dolphin every 2 to 3 years so this was an exceptional find for all of us to witness. They usually travel in large pods or herds numbering in the hundreds or even thousands, and we were lucky to experience them firsthand. It was amazing to be surrounded by such elegant animals in their natural environment.
Among the dolphins was a young seal lion swimming, who seemed like he was trying to mimic the other dolphin's behavior. It was cute to see these two seemingly different animals interacting in the wild.
The seal lion wasn’t the only creature out that day, as we also saw a flock of pelicans diving into the water, fishing for their lunch. When we asked about it, Larry explained that the pod of dolphins were “driving bait” or herding fish so that they could eat. This is when they surround a school of fish tightening them into a ball to feed on. This is also beneficial to the Pelicans too because they can feast on what the dolphins miss or leave behind. I had heard about and have seen this occur only on the Discovery Channel before, but had never been able to see it with my own eyes. The experience was truly memorable and something that I was proud to have been able to share with my kiddos and their Grandparents.
Next we went searching for a Blue Whale that had been spotted further down the Laguna Beach coast, which Larry had heard about from another vessel. Our Captain looked for sometime to find this fellow, but unfortunately, he was nowhere to be found.
Even though we were not able to view a Blue Whale on this cruise, we were blessed with the sighting of something even more rare and something that our guide was even surprised to have come across.
Six juvenile Sunfish (Mola Mola, the scientific name) appeared on the surface of the water. This is so rare because Sunfish are usually only found alone, and in quite deep waters. Sunfish are the largest bony fish in the world and the adults can reach upwards of 4,000 lbs but these babies were much smaller, around 5 to 10lbs. They laid flat on the surface and with the sun high in the sky, the light glimmered on them making them appear silvery and metallic almost like a glowing UFO. Apparently, Sunfish are riddled with parasites and will surface in an effort to attract birds to pick the parasites off. (http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/fish/mola/) The fish began to flap one fin in the air and back to the water, it appeared to be in an effort to tell the nearby birds they were ready for a cleaning. Then as suddenly as they appeared the Sunfish dove back to the depths from which they came.
As the Sunfish waived goodbye the Captain maneuvered us back around and set a course for the harbor. As the kids chattered away about all that they enjoyed I thought about the incredible memory he had made. This was a Grandparents day to not soon be forgotten. That eager anticipation we felt at the beginning of our journey had morphed into a respect and appreciation for the great Pacific Ocean and all that it has to offer and teach us.
By Anne-Marie S.