For this month’s issue I wrote and provided photographs for a feature story about the natural history of humpback whales. When writing the article, I couldn’t help but think that it might come as a surprise to some readers to find an article about humpback whales in California Diving News because humpbacks are not commonly encountered in our waters. But sightings do happen here, and they are fairly routine in Hawaii, Mexico’s Sea of Cortez and Revillagigedo archipelago, and several other destinations around the globe where California divers often visit. And when those encounters do occur, they are nothing short of magical!
If you survey the diving public about the creatures they might expect to see in California, our big animals — the whales, dolphins, sharks, seals and sea lions — might get completely overlooked or relegated to an unlikely possibility. I won’t tell you that you can swim off any beach at any time of year and swim eyeball-to-eyeball with Mr. Big, but when experienced California divers gather it is usually easy to find someone that has a story to share about their experience “big stuff” in California waters.
Personally, I have enjoyed more than my fair share of Mr. Big dives, and what I want to share with you here is not facts about natural history, but about how those encounters made me feel.
I have found my dives with marine megafauna — a cool word for big sea creatures — to be everything from thrilling to life affirming. This is true whether I am reflecting back on times when I have been in the company of a gray whale, blue or shortfin mako shark, common or Pacific white-sided dolphins, harbor seal or California sea lion. For me, learning about these creatures, their habitats and their natural histories has made these encounters even more rewarding.
So, what can you do to experience California’s marine megafauna? First, know that it is possible. Second, drop into your local dive center and ask them if they have any trips in which they are hoping to dive at a sea lion rookery at the Channel Islands or anywhere else. A rookery in the summer or fall can be a great place to start. Perhaps, shop personnel will suggest a trip to an oil platform or to look for kelp paddies in the open sea, as a variety of big animals often congregate around them. You might also enquire about the shark dives that various specialty operators offer.
Think big, my friends. A lot of big adventures are waiting for you out there.