By Marina Hernandez
“What are all of you doing here?” Captain Lon playfully shouted to a line of about 40 people waiting for a boarding call to the Harbor Breeze Cruise Whale Watching Excursion. It was our first glimpse into what would be a really fun afternoon. We boarded the ship and my little ones made an immediate bee-line for the outdoor stadium seats at the bow of the ship. We cozied up on cushioned seats and made guesses at what we might see out in the Pacific. I thought that we might see a sea lion basking on a buoy out near the harbor but to be honest I was skeptical as to whether we would actually encounter a whale.
According to visitcalifornia.com, Pacific Gray Whales embark on their annual migration from Alaska to Baja California from December to mid-May. Blue whales can typically be seen off our Southern California coast from mid-May through November. Humpbacks, Orcas, a variety of dolphin, and other wildlife can be spotted within a short distance of our Long Beach shoreline throughout the year. With that in mind, it sounded like we stood a good chance of spotting a marine mammal.
Once our vessel was released from the dock a sense of ease and comfort came over me. Heading out into the open ocean is so freeing, a 2.5 hour escape from the rumbles of daily life onshore.
The ship felt safe and well-maintained. As we veered out past the breakwater and toward Catalina Island the winds whipped around us and I was grateful to have packed our hoodies.
Just 22 minutes into our journey we heard a fellow passenger shout out, “Whale!” An Aquarium of the Pacific educator was soon heard over the boat’s loudspeaker confirming the sighting. Every passenger migrated to the perimeter of the vessel and eagerly waited to catch a glimpse. We arrived within yards of the Humpback whale as its flipper raised above the water and flapped back down as if to wave hello to all of us. We went on to encounter two more humpback whales, easily spotting their flukes raise and submerge with the current. I was hoping to experience the impressiveness of a whale breaching but that will be something to look forward to on a future trip.
The absolute highlight of the trip was cruising along with a massive pod of common dolphins. The pod was at least a mile-wide in radius, and as dolphins gracefully glided alongside, underneath, and in our wake, it truly felt like our rapidly moving vessel was a part of the pod. It was spectacular.
On the way back to shore, I chatted with a couple visiting from Kansas City. They expressed a sentiment that I had been feeling all along, “We told ourselves, even if we didn’t see any whales, this was already worth the little amount of money asked to do this. Then we did see some whales and dolphins, ah man, two thumbs up. Very nice. We recommend it to anybody.”