Spanish explorers in 1542 came across the bay while sailing north. Originally named for the many pine trees and then in the name of Saint Peter the bay was given its current name in 1602 in honour of the Conde de Monterrey the then viceroy of New Spain.
Deep under the waters of the bay lies one of the largest underwater canyons in the world and it is due to this canyon that Monterey Bay has become the home to a variety of marine animals with the cold, nutritious waters providing an abundance of feeding for some of the largest mammals on earth. Sea otters, Californian sea lions, harbour seals, elephant seals and bottlenose dolphins thrive in the bay and it is on the migration path of the Gray and Humpback Whales.
Therefore this area was a must to catch a glimpse of the whales as I journeyed south just as they would be doing in the coming months. My last whale watching trip had been in Iceland and although I do believe that we did see the back of some Minke whales, the most of the journey was spent trying to stand up in the stormy seas and avoiding the waves as they broke over the side of the ship. With calm seas and perfect blue skies this trip should prove to be more about the sea life rather than the threat of becoming sea life!
Leaving the harbour we pass a group of noisy Californian Sea lions basking in the sun on the breakwater accompanied by some Grants Cormorants. An otter watches us pass before flipping over and disappearing. Pelicans gliding rather than flying just above the surface of the ocean travelling with just a few beats of their wings pass us by along with soaring gulls.
It would take about 45 minutes to reach the canyon where the Humpback whales would be feeding but it was not long before we could see the spray of whales coming to the surface to breathe. In the distance but that first glimpse of these sea giants was in itself breathtaking. As we came nearer to the the deep water a pod of four whales came to the surface off to the shore side of our boat. In succession they came to the surface and cleared their lungs three or four times before diving to the depths with a flick of their uniquely marked tails. We were left speechless to be in the presence of such amazing animals and close enough to hear them breathing out, spraying a fine mist of water into the air which caught the light as a rainbow of colours. Minutes later they resurface and the boat turns to make sure we get the best views. Again we all watch, some with cameras trying to catch that prefect wildlife photographer shot, but all in silence as the whales prepare to dive. Their next surface was much closer to the boat with some spectacular fin waves. Time was coming to an end for our time in the bay and with one more surface and tail flicks we parted: us back to harbour and them to continue their feeding to ensure they have enough body weight to allow them to breed and survive the months further south. As we sailed back to land we could see more sprays of water as more whales surface and dived to feed.
I had been determined to take only a couple of photos as wanted to enjoy the experience myself and not on a screen. I did capture some tail flicks – if only I had my Nikon and zoom lens… but what I do have are the memories of sharing time and space with some of the largest mammals on earth.