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Whale Watching Around The World Part 4

Updated on February 25, 2010

Blue whales, the largest creatures on the planet, are more timid than humpbacks. Perhaps one out of ten blues will display its gigantic flukes as it dives. Blue whales typically float on the surface for five minutes or so after a dive, but they are somewhat like icebergs in this mode; the portion that is visible above the surface is only a fraction of the vast bulk that lies below. The largest blue whales, after all, may attain 100 feet in length and weigh 200 tons.

The Lethal, the Fast, and the Rare

Orcas are also sighted with some regularity in the channel, particularly during the gray whale migration. Transients range widely and subsist almost exclusively on marine mammals, particularly baleen whales and pinnipeds. They travel in small family-based pods and are the most laconic of the orca races, possibly because orca chatter may alarm potential prey. Transient orcas appear particularly disposed to gray whale calves, and they will take them whenever possible. They do not, however, like to attack when the grays are among the kelp.

Other whales sometimes seen in the channel include finbacks, second only to blues in size. Finbacks are among the world's fastest whales and can dive even longer and deeper than blues. They often are blasé about boats and may hang around for prolonged periods, particularly if the seas are calm. Two other whales that are turning up more regularly are minkes, which are small rorquals, and pilots, small, black-skinned, toothed whales that travel in large schools and live amid a complex social structure.

Very occasionally, beaked whales are seen. Little is known about these rare, strange-looking cetaceans, which look rather like oversized dolphins with long snouts. They are pelagic by preference and are thus usually spotted only in the middle of the channel or windward of the Channel Islands. Though they spend much of their time plumbing the depths for squid, they sometimes loaf on the surface, swimming sluggishly in small pods.

3. Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, California

The Monterey Peninsula is renowned for its fine restaurants, inns and shops. It is arguably the most beautiful place on the entire California coast, an area which is already blessed with bountiful beauty beyond imagining. But civilization, with all its boons and drawbacks, stops at the beach. Just beyond lies Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, a vast wilderness where great beasts roam, mate, fight, and feed. The only rules here are the implacable laws of nature.

Ocean Behemoths

The sanctuary encompasses Monterey Canyon, a tremendous submarine gorge that reaches 25 miles offshore. An impressive array of cetaceans transits the sanctuary, including blue whales and finback whales. Both are usually seen traveling alone or in small groups of up to four animals as they rove ceaselessly in search of krill, bait fish, and zooplankton, which they strain from the water with their baleen, the feathery curtains of bone and cartilage in their maws. Though enormous, the whales are sometimes difficult to see; they typically surface only briefly before diving for 10 minutes or more.

Continued In Whale Watching Around The World Part 5

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