Top: Blue whales usually travel alone or in groups of two to three.

Searching for blue whales

Ask a six-year-old boy what his favourite creature is and he’s likely to name a dinosaur species. All that is left of these massive creatures are their skeletons, but a creature that is bigger than any dinosaur still exists — the blue whale. Describing a blue whale exhausts one’s supply of adjectives.

Ask a six-year-old boy what his favourite creature is and he’s likely to name a dinosaur species.

All that is left of these massive creatures are their skeletons, but a creature that is bigger than any dinosaur still exists — the blue whale.

Describing a blue whale exhausts one’s supply of adjectives.

These creatures are about the length of three school buses parked end to end, can dive for an hour at a time, and weigh as much as 100 tonnes.

It took decades for scientists to determine their weight accurately because no ship or scale was large enough for the job!

Their heart is the size of small car and a human could crawl through their aorta.

It is estimated there are between 10,000 and 25,000 blue whales swimming the world, but no one is sure where they mate or give birth. These whales stick to deep water — away from ocean coasts — so seeing them as a non-scientist is difficult.

However, tourists have a reasonable chance of seeing blue whales in the waters off Monterey, Calif.

Monterey Bay holds an underwater canyon reaching as deep as the Grand Canyon.

Cold water percolates up from the bottom, creating an abundance of nutrients and the richest marine environments on the Pacific Coast.

I headed there in the hopes of seeing a blue whale, booking a trip with Sanctuary Cruises in Moss Landing just inland from the Monterey trench.

This departure location means maximum time in the deep waters where blues feed.

Captain Mike Sack laughed when I explained my quest to see a blue whale.

“Blue whales never fail to disappoint,” he said. “People are disappointed if they don’t see them and they are disappointed if they do see them.

“All you see is a very long back arching through the ocean before it dives. Humpbacks are much more entertaining to watch.”

Undeterred, I clung to the railing for six hours of rough swells, scanning the waters for a long, greyish-blue back and averting my eyes when my fellow whale-watchers left their breakfast in the ocean.

Exploring the deep waters revealed creatures not often seen on day trips.

A pod of Risso’s dolphins — looking like a cross between Flipper and a beluga whale — rode the waves, passing under the boat before disappearing.

Mike stopped the boat on a dime to show us a sunfish or mola mola.

These huge fish are the heaviest bony fish in the ocean reaching weights of 1,000 kg by eating jellyfish.

There were lots of creatures active in the bay but no sign of the loudest whale on Earth.

Blue whales emit low frequency sounds that travel kilometres underwater, but we heard or saw nothing.

Skunked, we headed for shore, but Mike offered me another chance. If I wanted to get up shortly after I went to sleep, I could tag along on his pre-dawn scouting trip.

Chugging slowly out of the marina the next morning, we squinted into the fog.

Daylight failed to burn off the fog, and the ocean and sky blurred together in a greyish cloud.

I felt like I was looking for whales inside a bowl of porridge!

I tried to wish a blue whale from the ocean, but it did not work.

I had to head home without spotting the blue whales.

As Mike predicted, I was disappointed, but recalling the dolphins, the sunfish, and the whale encounters I had dismissed as “just humpbacks,” I realized that searching was half the fun.

I’ll be back to try again!

If you go:

• Late May to August is the best time to see blue whales, but it is always a good time to see whales in Monterey Bay.

Greys migrate through the area from December to May, humpbacks can be seen March to November and orcas are found year-round.

• Sanctuary Cruises rents motion-relief bands to stop seasickness.

If boat motion bothers you, put the bands on at the beginning of the cruise.

They are 95 per cent effective if applied early, but effectiveness drops sharply if you wait until you are nauseous. www.sanctuarycruises.com

Carol Patterson helps businesses and people reinvent themselves through adventure. When she isn’t travelling for work, Carol is travelling for fun. More of her adventures can be found at www.carolpatterson.ca.

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