Our whale watch was thus far bearing little fruit. But we could never say the excursion was futile, because the whole point was to hang out as friends. And as ever, I endeavor to collect quotes and vignettes.
As things were looking increasingly hopeless, word got out that we were conceding defeat – raising the white flag on our search for the white whale, the anti-Ahabs of Marina del Rey. Not to be deterred, a defiant and determined Lina – the Fedallah of East London – marched up to our dejected-looking guide.
Where were those marine samples, she demanded? She’d heard of chumming for sharks; perhaps we could lure these elusive whales toward us with the krill? (To review: It was a single, inch-long dead krill preserved quiescently for God-knows-how-long in formaldehyde. If we dropped it in the water, surely this 30-ton behemoth would drop everything – its biologically imperative winter migration, say – and zip over tens of miles for a shot at a single pickled shrimp corpse.)
Just then, there was a commotion. Someone saw a telltale spout! We turned the ship around — Fail Whale no longer! All our Melville references — like “thar she blows” and the excitement of tracking the unpredictable moves of this awe-inspiring, incomprehensibly scaled beast — felt poignant and thrilling.
The guide informed us that after they spout, whales dive down for anywhere from 5-30 minutes, after which they reemerge briefly, then swim away. Thus began the waiting – and guessing game. We had no idea how long we would be sitting there, or which direction the whale was headed nor at what velocity, but everyone started to weigh in with a guess, or a hunch, working towards the greater goal of being able to say we left this whale tour having seen more than just gulls and my fingerwhales (which Naomi euphemistically dubbed “The Pod of 10”).
In the end, three gray whales surfaced, and the crowdsourced guesswork paid off – our boat was a mere 20 or so feet from!
It was truly a gratifying and electrifying experience. I have a creeping suspicion we may have been afflicted by “live audience syndrome” – i.e., that modern phenomenon whereby the audience at a multi-camera sitcom or live comedy show taping laughs hysterically, disproportionately loud, due to the fact that a) they were well warmed-up, and/or b) their intrusive chortles are the necessary release valve for the pent-up thrills and weirdness of dragging oneself all the way out and planting one’s butt in a foreign seat.
I think this because Deepak and I went over the resulting photos – which I wager are some of the best available from the trip, because I used my DSLR whereas most used camera phones. I noticed him scrutinizing them with the zeal of a Zapruder investigator, hoping to feel some thrill of discovery but instead finding the whole gallery to be reminiscent of that 1930s purported Loch Ness Monster pic.