Thursday, March 31, 2022

Whale watching yields maritime pleasures, birds, dolphins and calm


A boat of happy whale watchers heads back after a successful spotting this week aboard Flagship's
Marietta, with an experienced and enthusiastic crew to enrich the journey near San Diego.


Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers are happy
aboard the Marietta, which they take at least once
a season to watch for whales off San Diego.


EACH WINTER, 20,000 sleek,  southbound gray whales thrill nature lovers as they glide through the waters off the coast of California on their way to the warm waters of Baja's sheltering lagoons. There, they mate, calve and fatten up for the cold winter ahead. The annual gray whale migration is  one of Earth’s greatest wildlife spectacles, and the California coast is an outstanding place to see this grand migration. We haven't missed a season in the 15 years we've been together.

Naturalist Danielle is associated with
Ocean Connectors, whose aim is to educate.
Flagship hosts dozens of school kids each year
to spread the word for ocean conservation

Watching these enormous, graceful creatures is a thrill that never dims.
Playful dolphins are a wonderful part of the adventure.
Especially because they were nearly wiped out in the shameful whaling days of yore. Thanks to a moratorium on whaling and other multinational protections, the eastern Pacific population of gray whales is thriving with around 26,000 of these amazing critters now alive.

WE SET off with a familiar crew who have become friends through the years aboard Flagship's comfy Marietta.  Our goal was to see at least one whale -- which we did -- in less than a half hour!

For me, the dolphins are as much a thrill as the whales.  These delightful creatures swim along side the boat, playfully leaping and turning in the water.  The babies look like little fast-floating footballs and I never tire of watching their antics, as their mothers gently nudge them to get back in line.

Whales usually travel in pods of two or three. Gray whale calves are born between the end of December and beginning of February. So some mothers are mating and others are giving birth to calves conceived the year before. Since the gestation period is 12 months, the ones that mate this year won't give birth until next year. Newborn gray whale calves are about 15 feet long and weigh 1,500 lbs. During this time, the mother and calf pairs are known for their curious, friendly behavior. The mother's milk is the consistency of cottage cheese and the baby eats pounds a day.

Dolphins follow the boat, so many
of us peer over the side for
long periods of time.
A COUPLE YEARS ago, Keller photographed a mother and calf, a real thrill.  This year, we spotted that very active gray and watched him for over an hour, keeping a respectable distance so as not to frighten or interfere with him. When a whale comes into view, the naturalist puts out the word and there's a rush to one side of the boat.  Don't worry, the captain is considerate and makes sure the boat turns so everyone sees.
There's a feeling of excitement and joy as we hurry to the railings. A whale, after all, is the width of a basketball court. The single whale we followed this outing was a delight.  Sometimes, we've seen four or five, but this single guy -- or gal -- put on a worthy "solo act," co-operative in his breeches and fluking, leaving a "footprint" on the water each time so we could follow him. 
A splendid view of San Diego's skyline
from the Marietta, approaching the city.

"Footprint" is the disturbed water the whale leaves on the surface of the ocean when he or she flicks its tail or fluke with a downward stroke. Our captain and his crew were helpful in pointing out the whale's journey.  We followed our single whale by watching the markings on the surface even when he wasn't always visible for long. 

Seeing a whale fluke is one
of the great pleasures.

WHEN 'OUR' whale was diving, the naturalist provided interesting commentary on the incredible journey. With more than 20,000 grays making the impressive 10,000 mile round-trip journey to the

The Flagship's Marietta crew includes skilled
naturalists and the captain: Dale, Charles,
Danielle and Hannah, and a luxurious
two-story whale-watching yacht.
southern lagoons from their Alaskan home, there's much to talk about.

WE ARE LUCKY in San Diego to be able to watch the journey close-up, so this time of year, look for us on the water -- often on Flagship's venerable Marietta with its full snack bar and many options for comfortable viewing inside or out. Sailor Keller has piloted our own craft on a couple whale watching adventures. But being captain is work. It's more fun for him to let someone else do the driving so he can play photographer. 

The ship is also available for chartered events, harbor cruises, weddings, celebrations and corporate meetings and parties. There's still time for the whales if you're near. Or the whale watching in itself is worth booking a trip to San Diego; 

The San Salvador is an exact replica of the one that explorer sailed
into San Diego when he discovered the bay in 1542. It is a proud
part of the San Diego Maritime Museum's extraordinary collection.  

UP NEXT: While we're on exploring the benefits of living close to the water, come with us to San Diego's wonderful nautical museums.  We're exploring them in a two-part series on the enormous aircraft carrier at the USS Midway Museum, and the multi-ship Maritime Museum with its large collection of historic maritime vessels.  Both are wonderful educational and entertainment offerings for those with an interest in the sea. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh look at travel, art, nature, the ocean, family and more: 



  1. Pittsburgh VisitorsApril 1, 2022 at 9:37 AM

    To have a good time and learn something -- what a lark. Great photos and commentary.

  2. We enjoy your writings, especially when you are on the water!