OC Whale Watching

Believe it or not, there are weekends when I have absolutely nothing to do. My homework is done and exams are still weeks away. All that’s left to do is sit in front of the TV, slowly disintegrating into the classic American couch potato stereotype.

Last weekend, as I settled into my spot on the sofa, I suddenly found myself itching for something else to do. I’m in Orange County, for crying out loud – there have to be places to go and things to see.

I ran the usual suspects through my head. I could go down to the ARC and sweat it out in some of the awesome free classes. Or I could plan an extensive shopping trip at Irvine Spectrum.

But those were all predictable. I wanted to do something different. Something bigger and better than spending my homework-free weekend doing the same old thing. Something like whale watching.

A quick Google search introduced me to Newport Landing Whale Watching. Located about ten miles away from UC Irvine, Newport Beach is recommended as a great place to see a wide variety of marine life species.

I called the company to reserve my spot and made my way to the coast. I passed some of the places that were used as the background for the television show, “The O.C.” I was able to walk around the little boutiques scattered around Balboa Peninsula. Local shop owners told me that even though it was abnormally hot, the summer season hds ended and the masses of people had subsequently left.

I strolled through a calm, serene stretch of sand until I was greeted with the “Western Pride.” It was a quaint, little boat that would serve as transportation for my whale-watching extravaganza.

After everyone else boarded the boat, we started cruising through the harbor. The three crew members began radioing fellow fishing boats to see if anyone had spotted sea life. Depending on the advice, we would either head south to Dana Point or north toward Huntington Beach. A few minutes later, we were treated to the sight of dozens of sleeping sea lions who had taken over someone’s sailboat.

Once we left the harbor, the captain immediately sped up from 10 knots per hour (about 11.5 miles per hour) to 40 knots per hour (about 46 miles per hour). It felt so nice to feel the breeze against my face, instantly providing me comfort against the sun.

Tip: Get a spot at the front of the boat. While the back of the boat is more appealing because of its benches, the front is the place to experience the splendor of seeing the horizon straight out in front of you with no obstructions. Also, you will definitely see the sea creatures since you basically share the same view as the captain.

The duration of the trip is 2.5 hours and worth every penny. A collective “Wow” from the passengers indicated that there was a first sighting. Our boat sped to the sprouts of water and I was delighted to see a small group of baby dolphins feeding. Seagulls and other birds, as well as sea lions, were mixed in with them, eager to get their share of food.

Later, pods of dolphins played with our boat, zigzagging underneath and adjusting their speed according to ours. They were so close that I felt the mist and water splashing on my face as they leaped out of the water.

Continuing on, I saw Risso dolphins, which feed primarily on squid. They would sprout water and promptly dive underwater to eat. We would crane our necks to see when they would surface. Five minutes later, we caught a few glimpses of them, yards away and on the other side of our boat.

The boat that left before ours saw a Minke whale. Some blue whales and fin whales were seen a few days before. Naturally, I was eager to spot one, but after interacting with so many different kinds of dolphins, the whales were a second thought.

I realized, however, that this little ocean excursion wasn’t just about seeing whales. I treasured the opportunity to see any creature in its natural habitat. The dolphins and sea lions just seemed happy and carefree, out there in the wild.
Looking around the boat, I could tell that everyone shared similar thoughts. Children, teenagers and adults alike were captivated by the pod of dolphins leaping through the air. Not one person was on a cell phone or listening to music. We were all united, helping each other take pictures, watching these animals swim and appreciating these simple things in life. Ultimately, that is the essence of whale watching, whale or no whale.