I always find that autumn is a tough season for me, in terms of maintaining enthusiasm and fascination with the world around me. I feel, like most creatures, that autumn is a time to hunker down and take it easy until the winter solstice, after which we’ll be gaining daylight again instead of losing it. Even if we get blasted by El Niño storms in January and February, it will be easier for me to feel energized simply because the days will be getting longer.
However, even though I really want to hole up with books, tea, and knitting (hi, Junkies!) life goes on and I can’t ignore the siren call of the natural world. This morning I went whale watching with some of my students. It was a class trip organized by the other instructor for the course, and almost all of my students came along. If you know me, you probably know that I have a history of horrendous seasickness. As in so awful that none of the OTC meds even touch it, and although I have tried some of the prescription meds they all make me so drowsy that I can’t drive or even really stay awake.
It has been a good year for whale watching in Monterey Bay. Humpbacks have been everywhere the past several weeks, showing off all their acrobatic skills and lunge-feeding right off the beaches in Santa Cruz. So it really is a fantastic time to go whale watching, and since I had to go with my class I asked my doctor about other seasickness drugs to try. She gave me something that has worked for other people, including the pharmacist who filled my prescription, and although I’ve been burned before by the words, “Oh, this will work. You’ll be fine!” hope springs eternal and I tried it. And by George, I think it worked! Not that the seas were bad at all, but I think that if I’d gone drug-free I would have been substantially less happy out there.
We did see whales, but for the most part they were pretty far away. They didn’t spend much time at all on the surface, just a breath or two and then a show of the flukes as they dove to deeper water. The only breaches we saw were way off in the distance. There were a lot of common murres swimming around, which were extremely fun to watch. They are ecologically similar to penguins in the southern hemisphere and even resemble penguins, with their “tuxedo” plumage.
I was trying to photograph some murres on the surface when this happened:
Most of the murres scattered when the whale surfaced, and I was lucky to get even two of them in the frame.
We also saw a lot of pelicans.
Those browning lumpy things in the water at the top left of the photo? Those are sea otters.
And look at this!
The rocks in the background are covered with adult pelicans. The upper dock is occupied by Brandt’s cormorants (Phalacrocorax penicillatus), which appear to require more personal space than do pelicans, and one of what I think is a great egret (Ardea alba). The lower dock is almost submerged by California sea lions (Zalophus californianus).
I’m counting today as a minor victory, and I’m grateful to have been able to enjoy it. This is the first time I’ve been out that far on Monterey and not wanted to die. ‘Tis the season for gratitude, isn’t it?