In my seven years in SoCal, I have been on several whale tours from Oxnard, Ventura and Redondo Beach, but nothing came close to the magical day my girls and I had with Dolphin Safari Adventure out of Dana Point.
On our 2 1/2 hour excursion, we saw three types of whales and three varieties of dolphins which included watching bottlenose dolphins through an underwater glass-enclosed viewing pod. Instead of tanks where you admire the enclosed sea creatures, we were the ones on display in a human aquarium where the dolphins perused us. As we peered out, the dolphins came up close, playfully swimming on both sides of our viewing pod. It was magical, truly magical to witness such joyful animals thriving, frolicking and interacting with us.
Dolphin Safari has been on our radar for a few years, since the owners Capt. Dave and his wife Gisele are homeschool parents themselves, who offer discounts to homeschool families. Only two months ago, Capt. Dave was on the Ellen Show for his part in saving a California Grey Whale whose fluke was terribly tangled in a fishing net along with leopard sharks and a sea lion. Ellen & Capt. Dave share how you can help.
Upon boarding the 45 foot Manute’a catamaran, we were told of their live webcam, WhaleWatchingTV; so even my parents in NC could watch their grandchildren chase dolphins and whales. And as soon as we cleared the harbor the fun started with two frolicking dolphins; harbingers of the abundance of sea mammals in store for us that day. The kids took their first jaunts across the bluecloth latticework that connected the two sides of the bow. Between the gaps we could see UNDER the boat.
Armed with binoculars up top, the first blow (the spray of air & vapor exhaled when a whale surfaces) was spotted two miles due west. It was only the second California Blue whale of the season that the crew of the Manatu’a had seen. And we were off. Some of us stayed outside letting the ocean spit at us while we motored at higher speeds while others stayed dry in the main deck. By the time we arrived, we had to wait over 10 minutes since the whale had just submerged. Blue Whales stay below an average of 8-12 minutes but can easily stay under for over 20 minutes. It seemed appropriate for us to be waiting for these glorious creatures who feed and travel at their own rate. Another reminder that the sea belongs first to them and we must care to preserve the life and beauty within it.
Between the times when this gentle giant surfaced, breached (only once) and dove back down, our crew explained the habits and health of the Blue Whales. We searched all about, as you never know where they will resurface. After the fourth dive, we left in search of a pod of dolphins to bowride with. (Bowriding is when they swim alongside or in front of a speeding boat for the rollercoaster push that comes from the boats’ pressure wave). We delayed a second more for a large Ocean Sunfish (also called Mola Mola) who was crossing our boat’s path.
Most people don’t know that the largest pod of bottlenose dolphins in the world live off of our coast – 4,000 in number. The pod we came upon was under a hundred, but due to synpatry (different species intermingling with each other in the wild), we also met two Minke whales as well as a few whiter Risso’s dolphins. It was amongst these common bottlenose dolphins we all took turns going down the hatch to see them underwater. Others laid upon the blue lattice with arms outstretched towards the water in hopes of making contact. I believe five of our senses were thoroughly engaged, our 6th sense replacing our sense of taste.
What a glorious experience. Even the crew felt it; this was evident when one crew member went to the front of the ship and held his arms high in thanks to the sea and all her gifts bestowed upon us that morning. As we headed back to harbor, that same crew member shared interesting facts about the whales we saw with fascinating visual aids: a part of a Blue whale’s baleen; a tooth from a great Sperm whale; the earbone of a (Gray ?) whale; and toy models of each of the whales that travel up and down our coastline. My children were brimming with questions, ideas and excitement.
After we thanked the crew and gobbled up the complimentary triple-fudge brownies, we were still not ready to get back on the road. Instead we headed to the end of the harbor to the Ocean Institute with a giant Pirate Ship docked outside. This affordable Institute is open to the public on weekends ($4.50 for kids $6.50 for adults).
If you can’t get to Dana Point to experience a similar adventure, you can order Capt. Dave’s DVD Documentary of whales and dolphins of SoCal or get a copy of Capt. Dave’s recently published book that follows Lilly the Gray Whale, with a forward by Jacque Cousteau’s son. Our sincere thanks go to the entire crew, the staff and Capt. Dave and his wife Gisele (the fabulous baker of the brownies). We hope to return someday with my husband in tow, who actually saw us on the Whale Watching webcam!