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Tale of Whales and Whistling for Dolphins

In 2008 you may have read the front page story of the SF Chronicle about a whale rescue. A female humpback whale had become entangled in a spider web of crab traps and lines. She was weighted down by hundreds of pounds of traps that caused her to struggle to stay afloat. She also had hundreds of yards of line rope wrapped around her body, her tail, her torso, a line tugging in her mouth. A fisherman spotted her just east of the Farralone Islands. Within a few hours, the rescue team arrived and determined that she was "so bad off, the only way to save her was to dive in and untangle her..." One slap of the tail could kill a rescuer.

They worked for hours with curved knives and eventually freed her. When she was free, the divers say she swam in what seemed like joyous circles. She then came back to each and every diver, one at a time, and nudged them, pushed gently around - she thanked each of them before continuing on her way.

Some said it was the most incredibly beautiful experience of their lives. The guy who cut the rope out of her mouth said her eye was following him the whole time, and he will never be the same.

IN 2014 Captain Mary’s Favorite Whale Tale of the Season:

In September of 2014 I sailed the coast from San Francisco to Ventura. The 4 people with me were taking courses to prepare for this trip, to make it fun for all. The pre-courses in San Francisco Bay and the trip south were on their own boat. The two best friends who were partners in the boat had coastal sailing experience with family or racing but the daughter and wife, respectively, had little to none. After the prep-courses all were very excited about this trip. We stopped in Half Moon Bay as our first destination to ensure all had their sea legs. Our next stop was Ventura.

On the 2nd night of the trip sailing on watches, Shortly after Renee joined me, we heard the unmistakable huff of a dolphin. I whistled, badly, but made noise. I asked Renee if she could whistle. The dolphins did not care if it was good, just that we whistled. With whistling as our point of connection the dolphins stayed and played with us and the boat through the rest of my watch. They would disappear for a bit then return. After I went below Renee taught her father’s best friend Billy how to whistle to keep the dolphins near the boat. I fell asleep to the sound of foot falls running over my berth to the bow being led by the waves of dolphins, and laughter. So the knowledge passed to all 4 with me.

The 3rd evening, nearing sunset, we sailed into Estero Bay to duck bigger waves offshore. As we entered near Cayucas there was a flurry of texts between myself and Dylan Lopez, a young man that works at Afterguard, about sailing by his families 2nd home. I waved for him to his house. He then told me there was a whale pod sighted at San Simieon, a half day’s sail north of the Bay and a Great White sited in Estero Bay, the week before. Texted back we would not go swimming and would watch for whales – then added, We have spouts! 2nd text – Got tail! Gotta go.

The 4 with me went to the bows because they also saw dolphins. They were whistling. They were heard. Good thing, too. When I asked which way to sail around or between the whale pods, they said there was no way. We were in a large semi-circle of feeding whales that were unaware of our presence. We had a shallow coast of rock and kelp behind us. A group of the dolphins swam by the helm station in a way that caused me to turn to port. Then another group swam from port to in front of us. I centered the main and rolled most of the jib to slow our wing-n-wing run.

Hailed Billy to return to the cockpit to put on his IPod speaker, loudly, with the music of Sarah Brightman. Her album was the highest pitch music any of us had on the boat. No Indian flute, violin or new-age guitar with whale and dolphin sounds, but Sarah’s voice worked at the time. The 'traffic stop' by dolphins gave time for other dolphins to usher 3 whales past the bow. With music playing loudly those whales turned to swim beside the boat to the cockpit. One looked into the boat. The platter size eye looking at you is a stunning and breath-taking experience. I waved to her too. They continued on as did we. The clearing of whales made a group of 7 dolphins guided our passage. After easing out the main per their leading speed, we wove our way through the rest of the pod safely. The 4 on the bow kept up the whistling. Soon the dolphins and whale’s tails were behind us. We all had huge smiles.

In all my sailing I've never seen whales feeding. Had never seen or been in the middle of such mamal orchestration. After a bit of time on Google found several images that best reflect what we might have encountered. At the time we were in such a state of awe that no took a shot.

Whales work together when feeding. They feed in sub-teams, much like a good sailing crew. I believe the group that went by the cockpit were 'lunge feeding' collecting the cream of the effort of what might have been a 'bubble net'. See the attached definition of that effort.


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