But who needs jokes when you’ve got the real thing surrounding your ship. Unlike the gray whales on the Pacific side of the Baja Peninsula a few days before, the humpbacks in the Sea of Cortez had no interest in us. They were too busy feeding, playing, and – perhaps – vying to impress potential mates.
Most of their show was, of course, hidden from us below water, but no one seemed to mind. Every slap of a pectoral fin was greeted by an ooh or an ahh…and plenty of cameras clicking away. Believed to be a courting behavior, “pec slapping” as it’s called, can be quite impressive as the whale brings that 15 foot fin down upon the water for an explosive report and splash. And “lob tailing” (when the whale slaps its flukes against the water) was equally appreciated. But many of us seemed more impressed when the whales simply raised their flukes and, instead of slapping down, slid gracefully below the surface. That makes quite a photo op.
And what can I say about breaching? We all want to see it, right? And not just the side breaching, where they only come up just far enough to fall over on their sides. It still creates quite a splash and there are plenty of us who have pictures…of the splashes. Sound familiar? Try was we might, with our newfound knowledge of how to spot “whale footprints” (those momentarily still ovals on the ocean’s surface where the whale has just been), it was difficult to predict where the whales might next appear. I’m the only one who got a shot of this whale doing a side breach and, because I’m only shooting with a 200mm lens, it’s not that fantastic of a photo. (Anyone wanna start “Janet’s 400mm lens fund”?) Still, I happened to have my camera pointed in the right direction at the right time, and got a lucky shot.
The best shot, however, no one got. It was our last morning aboard the National Geographic Sea Lion as we headed back toward La Paz for our airplane rides home. I was late getting to the upper deck for morning yoga with Darcy, our wellness coordinator. Just as I was sliding open the door, I heard a “girly scream” (self-described by Jeff, the man it came from) and rushed out to see a humongous splash just off our stern. There was Jeff, standing upright in mid-stretch, staring out at the water, while the other yoga practitioners were all scrambling to their feet to see what they had missed.
It was a humpback, of course, the only humpback during the entire two week trip that did a full breach, pirouetting through the air before falling back into the water. No one had known the whale was there. Only one person happened to be looking in the right direction. Jeff was delighted, naturally. The rest of us, a bit jealous. Next time, however, may be my turn, or one of theirs, to witness that one special moment found in every trip.