Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Marine Life Tastic

After Santa Barbara we continued up the coast stopping at various points to admire the scenery. We had glimpses of the coast driving along sometimes, but it was the area known as Big Sur where we hugged the coast, following the road high above the vast blue ocean. Before we started on this road though we stopped at Piedras Blancas to look at the elephant seals on a beach near the highway. Sometimes there can be thousands on the beach but although there were quite a few there were not a thousand. We stopped at two beaches to see them. On the first beach we saw females and a couple of what we thought were rocks, but which turned out to be Bull Elephant seals. They were absolutely massive. On the next beach there were again more females than males but there were some massive bulls lying among them.

In the next few days, marine mammals continued to be a theme. We travelled along the winding roads hugging the coast of Big Sur stopping at various points to admire the vast blue ocean stretching far away into the clear blue sky. At one point we looked out and at every point we looked at in the sea there were pods of dolphins jumping and swimming. The road is high above the sea which allows a good vantage point out over the ocean. Below us the cliffs dropped into sea crashing against craggy rocks. At another point where we had stopped we saw a whale spouting water. These sightings were quite close together which suggested the area was very rich in marine life.

The next day we retraced our steps to return to a part we had had to miss the previous day due to having to find accommodation. On the way we stopped at a scenic lookout and as soon as we got out of the car heard the bark of seals down below. Looking over we saw loads of seals on rocks and swimming about. I could have stood for ages just listening to them. Their barks were echoing up the cliff and made it sound so haunting.

We continued on to the part we had missed which was a waterfall falling into the sea. The waterfall was not very spectacular, a thin sliver, but picturesque all the same, falling on to the sand of a secluded cove with turquoise seas and craggy rocks. On the way back we stopped again to hear and look at the seals, this time also seeing four Condors flying over the cliff on the other side of the road.

After our lovely journey along Big Sur we arrived at Monterey where more marine activity awaited. The town itself we found quite frustrating to get around, with lots of traffic and annoying junctions. We booked on a whale watching trip hoping to see a Blue Whale, something which is at the top of our wildlife watching “ambition” list. However, when we booked it the lady said they hadn’t been sighted since June so we knew our chances were slim. Never mind, we still booked on to see (hopefully) Humpback Whales. The day before they had only sighted one, but on the list of sightings for previous days, 1000 dolphins and 25 killer Whales had been seen!

We arrived at the Wharf early for the trip and watched a couple of seals and sea otters in the harbour. The sea otter was really cute, swimming about on his back playing with sea kelp (which they also use to anchor themselves to the spot to sleep) and diving down to get shell fish which he then cracked against the jetty’s legs to open. Leaving the harbour on the boat we went past lots of seals and sea lions sitting on the breakwater with Cormorants. Some sea lions were swimming in the water and seemed to show off to us, flipping out of the water.

Out on the water, although a lovely day, it was absolutely freezing. The ride initially was a bit rough with the spray hitting us and we clung on whilst intently looking for a sign of a whale. We were called to the front of the boat to see Dall Porpoises (black and white) swimming along playfully with the bow of the boat which were lovely to watch. Two hours later, I think people were feeling a bit despondent when the Skipper said he had spotted a whale in the distance breaching. We travelled towards it looking out for the tell tale sign of it breathing (water spouting). Eventually we saw the spouting with the mist evaporating in the air. The whale had just taken a breath to go under to feed so we had to wait for it to come up again. We got a few good looks at it few times before it went under again. At one point it seemed quite playful playing with sea kelp something which the Marine Biologist on board said she has never seen before. We did not see any more whales, but I still enjoyed it. We had seen Humpbacks before in Australia where they were all round the boat playing with it. I think this one was concentrating on it’s food (which I can’t blame) You just can’t predict when you will see nature. The marine biologist said the day before she had gone out looking for dolphins on Big Sur and had not seen any. That was the day we saw about 1000 of them!

You’d think we’d had our fill of marine life by now, but never ones to miss an aquarium we felt we had to go to the one in Monterey which we’d heard was very good. On the way, Tim was like a small child, very excitable and he continued to be so all the way round the aquarium. I felt like I had taken a child out and I looked on with that proud, pleased smile parents have as they watch their children having fun! It was a brilliant aquarium though. I do believe it may surpass Sydney which is a very good one. It is in an old sardine cannery factory and has the old fittings all around, making it look really swanky. The displays were excellent and they had a separate children’s section which looked great. The thing that most amazed me though was a creature that I never knew existed. The sunfish swam past me in a tank and I couldn’t believe that it was real!

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