Video by Maren Machles
Two hours have elapsed and not one whale, not one misty plume of blow hole exhalation, has breached the horizon. The M/V Triumphant slams down upon the oncoming waves like a stomach-roiling slow-motion roller coaster, a sure-fire reason to throw your hands up and enjoy the ride or to hold on with white knuckles and force down that green-faced seasickness.
Just moments before you run out of patience, someone on the boat points excitedly at a smoke-like expulsion of mist and air as it quickly dissipates into the ocean breeze. The captain speaks over the PA, “This is it folks, it looks like we’ve spotted one!” and the boat starts to head toward the whale. A once restaurant-like environment of varying conversations is silenced as we wait the eight minutes for the blue giant to resurface.
“Eileen” (pun intended), a blue whale with a slight bend on the right side of its fluke, comes to the surface to catch its breath, showing our little audience just how majestic these creatures are. This seasonal whale watching cruise is not just a chance to gawk at the sea life in Long Beach’s oceanic backyard, but is an opportunity for residents and tourists alike to learn about the importance of protecting our marine life.
The Aquarium of the Pacific and Cascadia Research Collective, a scientific and education organization based in Olympia, WA, have joined together with the mission of protecting these whales so that ships traveling in and out of the Long Beach and Los Angeles ports will no longer pose a threat to the gentle giants. The two teams have a long way to go. According to Kera Mathes, an Education Specialist at the Aquarium, in 2007 four whales were found dead due to ship strike, which is an alarming number out of a total population of only 2300 blue whales, and this doesn’t include the deceased that have sunk to the murky bottom.
Mathes explained, “These whales are negatively buoyant, which means that when they die they sink, so [Cascadia Research Collective thinks] that there’s even more that are being hit that we don’t know about.” The Aquarium of the Pacific is helping to collect data on these whales so that Cascadia can start to figure out what’s happening to them within the range of these incredibly busy ports. More data means the aquarium and the collective can improve and better implement conservation efforts to protect this endangered species.
Mathes was happy to share her enthusiasm for blue whale and marine life conservation. “I think that having people out on the water is really important because I think a lot of people aren’t aware of the wildlife in their own backyard,” she says. Wednesday alone, within a mere three hours, whale watchers were able to see two different types of dolphins and two blue whales while two days ago, humpback and fin whales were spotted as well. Mathes continues, saying that “by getting people out here they can start to understand what this ecosystem is like and why it’s worth protecting. If you can bring people out here and have them connect with these animals in their backyard, ideally they’ll want to protect it.”
The Aquarium of the Pacific’s Blue Whale and Sea Life Cruise departs from Dock #2 in Rainbow Harbor twice daily at 12:00PM and 3:30PM for the rest of this summer.The M/V Triumphant by Harbor Breeze Cruises is a new addition to the fleet, allowing whale watchers to choose between a windy front row seat or a calmer view in the back of the boat. Visit the aquarium website for more information about pricing, and to RSVP.
Photos by Asia Morris