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Standup Paddling with Blue Whales
We did our research, planned our day and packed our boards. Off to paddle with the earth's largest mammal, the blue whale.
Brett and I set off on Tuesday, 9/14 and headed for Redondo Beach - the location our 'blue whale veteran' friends had told us to launch. We arrived around 11:30 in the morning on a beautiful sunny day. The wind was light and visibility magnificent so we scoped the horizon... and saw nothing. Unfazed, we headed out. But the bay is huge and we had no idea where we were going. We saw a few boats scattered about - but not clustered (as would be expected if they were observing a whale). The general direction of the boats was 'upwind' which was the perfect direction for us to paddle our SUPs.
About 45 minutes and approximately 3 - 4 miles into our paddle we saw a spout dead ahead. Adrenalin shot through us and we paddled frantically for the spout. Just then another spout, and another, and another! We suddenly realized we were surrounded by whales! They were everywhere: further out to sea, off on our sides, and even shore side of where we were. This explained why the few boats in the bay were scattered so far apart. There were probably 20 whales swimming back and forth, on the surface and diving, all the while feasting on the schools of krill that clouded the blue water.
For a few minutes Brett and I paddled near one another while watching and listening in awe. We had no idea what to expect and no real plan to follow so within minutes we separated to follow the whales of our choice. We kept an eye on each other and we didn't paddle too far apart. It's hard to explain but it seemed natural to paddle alone and have the personal experience of a 100' whale swim just feet away. And there was absolutely no fear - just sheer amazement and adrenalin. Even when a whale paddled straight towards me and dove under my board. I sat frozen with my my heart in my throat as a photographed the light colored mass swim beneath me. I had no time to think of what I'd do if she surfaced - she was beyond me in a moment.
We stayed in the water for nearly 3 hours and only paddled ashore when the hunger pangs became audible. By now the whales had moved closer to shore and our paddle back took no time at all. Our car was parked on the cliff above the beach. We had a beautiful view of the bay as we packed to leave. We could see spouts everywhere and realized how many whales must be in the bay. A friend of mine had told me there were only about 15,000 blue whales in existence. I was blown away to think that at least 20 of those were right here, right now.
Tuesday was an experience I'll never forget. Experts say the whales may be around until the end of September. I hope to paddle out again and see my new friends before they leave. And I hope you enjoy the photos. Some of these I took myself and some were taken by Dexter Ford who was photographing from a small boat nearby and who kindly allowed me to share. Unfortunately I can't share with you my memories, but I hope you are inspired to go out to Santa Monica Bay and make your own!