Pacific Marine Exploration Cruise: Whale Sightings
Mike Bursk


Saturday, January 8th, was our first Pacific Marine Exploration cruise on our Research Vessel, Sea Explorer, of 2019; and if it was a predictor of voyages to come, then 2019 should be a banner year. Under the darkening sky of that approaching rainstorm, we saw three different types of cetaceans. “Cetacea” is the order which includes all whales and dolphins. Exiting the harbor, we saw the blow of a Pacific Gray Whale, less than a mile from the harbor entrance. It was a sub-adult, about 30 feet long, paddling gently towards Baja. It allowed us alongside for a GREAT look, never broke stride, its body language calm and relaxed. Twice it showed us its flukes, and several times angled towards the Sea Explorer for a closer look.

Our coastal water is fairly turbid, and these whales can’t see very far underwater….so when they hear something interesting, like the purr of our idling engines, they often investigate. 

 After about 20 minutes, we said goodbye to our oceanic visitor and motored further out to sea. About 3 miles out, we found a resting Fin whale. Fins are the planets’ second largest animal, second only to the Blue whale. This one was about 50 feet, quite a sight. The Fin also took several very close looks at us and spent some time “coasting” just a couple of feet down. Clearly in a playful mood, twice it inverted and cruised belly-up for a bit. Check out our video of this adventure. The sky was so dark that day that the whale was difficult to see underwater because they have dark brown backs….but, they have white bellies and they absolutely glow when they swim upside-down. 

Back nearshore, we found a pod of Pacific White-sided dolphin, another winter migrant like the Gray whale, and a staff favorite. They have a beautiful black/white two-tone paint job, and a sickle shape dorsal fin….much different than our resident common dolphin. They were hunting sardines, very busy seeking lunch, but nonetheless came over to bow-ride under the boat for a bit. Our “young scientists” aboard were thrilled seeing them up close and asked countless questions, including the single most common question I hear from kids: “Is that a boy or a girl dolphin?” We tell them the frustrating truth, that you can’t tell the boys from the girls in the Whale World! So they move on to their next question, and they never run out. That’s why we love this!

   Check our website schedule for upcoming trips. It’s looking like a great start to the 2019 season. See you aboard!