A hush fell over all the passengers except for the sound camera shutters going off in anticipation. Eyes were squinting, scanning the surface of the ocean for the smallest movement. A minute passed. Then another. And the crowd of people around me started to relax with impatience. Even a few wisecracks to ease the tension of standing too close to strangers. Then, a shriek to my left stiffened the whole group and we immediately turned or attention in silence as we saw what we were waiting for – the breach.
And once again, California’s coast left me speechless.
We first saw the water spout, and then the dorsal side of a gray whale not 50 feet away. This gray whale was already the third one we had spotted and this time we could even make out some barnacles on it. Once it filled it’s lungs, down it went with a parting fluke shot.
The coastal city of Monterey usually makes the California itinerary for most people. It’s a quintessential California coastal town with the usual beach activities and tours around the bay and a famous aquarium. Lesser known is the town of Moss Landing about 20 minutes northeast of Monterey. And this spot held perhaps the best whale watching opportunity I had ever experienced.
We can’t take credit for discovering the place. Nor were we interested in going. We received a coupon as a thoughtful gift from my mother and waited until it was about to expire before we booked a trip. Our tour was through Sea Goddess Whale Watching on a surprisingly warm February morning. But if you know California weather at all, bring layers! We were accompanied by about 70 passengers but the boat was fairly big so we didn’t feel crowded out.
I would have been quite thrilled if we even saw one whale. February was supposed to be the off season. As the boat pulled out of the harbor, we saw sea lions lazing about all around the dock, on boats, on buoys and on any piece of real estate that would hold them really. Sea lions are not uncommon along the California coast. It’s quite easy to spot them but I was surprised by the sheer number of them. The surprises didn’t end there. As we left the harbor, we were joined by several dolphins leaping alongside the boat and in it’s wake. At that point, I had already qualified this tour a success because I had never seen so many dolphins in the wild before, even on tours that promised dolphins!
We went on to see four gray whales in the three hour tour. Depending on the month, you can spot blue whales, orcas, and so much more. How is this possible? Moss Landing harbor is located by the Monterey Bay Canyon, which is the largest under water canyon on the North American coasts. This nutrient rich canyon is teeming with wildlife year round and we got to geek out on this awesome information thanks to the excellent marine biologists on board.
For a morning that started with low expectations (we didn’t even bother to take a proper camera with us), we ended on an exhilarating note, but terrible pictures on account of the no camera thing. Whether you live in California or are passing through, move Moss landing to the top of your itinerary.