Sunday, August 7, 2016

I think I'm going to make a sign...

"Yes, I know where the whales are.  No, I'm not going to tell you!"

Joan gets that "Where are the whales?" question multiple times everyday.  Her stock answer: "We don't get that information here in the office."  Which is true.

I don't get the question very often when driving out of Friday Harbor - our boats are on the commercial docks; we don't get any "walk by" traffic.  Driving our Roche Harbor boat, I get it all the time.  Our slip is right alongside the main pier to the transient slips - lots of people coming and going.  Fortunately (maybe unfortunately) we don't get decent business band radio (what the commercial whale watch operators use) reception in Roche Harbor.  Most of the time, I can't get the most updated info on the radio until we are out of the harbor.  That means planning "on the fly."

While prepping the boat, I get asked that question all the time.  One guy today was particularly persistent: "So, you aren't going to tell me?" - after I explained the radio situation.

I finally had to say to him, "We belong to the Pacific Whale Watch Association.  We pay big bucks for that and for the special radios we use.  If you would like to get a business license as a commercial operator, and pay all that money that goes along with that, you can become part of our network.  Otherwise, it is not my job to disseminate information."

"So, you aren't going to tell me?"

"Did you miss the part where I said I don't get radio reception in this harbor?  You could pay for a ticket, come out with us, and all the pressure will be on me to get you to any whales that may or may not be out there."

"So, you aren't going to tell me?"

"No, sir.  But, I am going to get back to prepping this boat."

Sometimes, they think they are being sneaky: "So, where are the whales?"

My response: "Are you going out with us today?"

"What?  Umm... maybe.  I was just wondering where the whales are?"

"Are you here your own boat?"  (You can tell)

"What?  Umm... yeah, but, umm... we were thinking about going out with you... if we knew where the whales are."

I'm really not being snarky.  Private boaters, for the most part, make my job more work - they get too close to the whales, they cut between other boats, they will pull up between us and the whales, blocking our view.  They don't abide by the laws, because they don't know the laws (ignorance is no excuse).  Very unpredictable.  And, they want information for free that we pay for.

But, I digress.

I started my morning off with a leisurely breakfast at the Lime Kiln Cafe - great to have warm food in your belly before starting a chilly work day.  There was a very short line when I got there; when I left, the line was out the door...

Today was a relatively easy day... there were humpback whales pretty close.  Close, as in: less than 15 minutes from the time we shoved off.  Our first view...

That is a baby.  There were 4 humpbacks as we came on the scene - I chose to set us up for viewing a very large female and her calf.  The other two moved off in the distance.  This Mom and baby were very surface active, with dives no longer than 3 minutes.  That is a treat!

A large container ship passing close by, whales in the foreground...

Mom's flukes, the baby right behind her, taking a breath.  There was a baby breach.  Lots of enthusiastic tail-slaps.  A reasonably successful cartwheel.  Lots of  pectoral waves.  And the "shriek" of their blow - I love that sound!  Baby flukes...

It was us and a half dozen private boats for a while, but we were soon joined by other commercial operators (who get the information we share)...

Our Roche Harbor boat is 42' long - the Mother humpback (above) is longer than our boat.

No, I didn't get photos of the most dramatic moves.  Yes, it was a great viewing.  When a few more commercial boats arrived, we said our good-byes to the humpbacks (Mom waved a pec at us), and we went in search of other wildlife.

It was a chilly day, but the water was reasonably pleasant.  Besides the beautiful scenery, we saw seals, harbor porpoise, a river otter, some bald eagles, and a bunch of the four-legged wildlife on Spieden Island.  My camera said it had a full charge on it before I left this morning.  By the time I turned it on, mid-way through the humpback viewing, it was flickering between 1/3 and 2/3 battery, no doubt because of the cold.  I got this shot of a bald eagle, and put the camera away...

What you don't see in that shot is a juvenile bald eagle nearby... with Mom here keeping an eye on him.

Our guests were delighted with their trip today (me, too!).  It is my "Friday," after a longer than usual week.  One of our guests told me, "This is the third whale watch trip I've been on this week, and we didn't see whales on the first two - this trip more than makes up for that!"  She showed me photos of the baby breach, the cartwheel, and a great shot with Mom's flukes.

One family was from England; the Mother said to me, "The whales were great, but getting to see the bald eagles up close was very moving for me; your symbol of America is so beautiful.  And our daughter loved seeing the baby seals."

Another family of four from Bellingham - they have their own sailboat.  They come out with us at least once every summer when they are here.  Dad said to me, "This is the way to see the whales.  You know what you're doing.  We really love being out on our boat, but it isn't fast enough to get us where the whales are.  Thank you - that was a really fun tour - the kids loved it!"

Of course, I would like to take all the credit, but there is a lot of amazing beauty and wildlife around here.  As always, no two trips are the same.  We didn't see Orcas today, but no one seemed to be concerned about that.  I know I sure enjoyed seeing all we saw today!  Nice way to finish off my work week.

Yeah, that cranky guy at the dock this morning missed out on all that cool stuff.

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