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Whale Ho!

I saw it on the CBS Evening News so it had to be true. But all kidding aside, it was, in early November, the feeding frenzy on Monterey Bay: whales and dolphins and sea lions and even orcas. It had been going on all summer, an anchoy orgy. Maybe because the waters of the bay were now warmer for who knows what climate-control reason, the seafaring critters didn't have to travel to their usual feeding in the waters of Baja.

I wasn't going to miss this, especially because I had missed seeing any orcas off the San Juan Islands above Seattle.

So a reservation ahead with the Princess Cruise whale-watching out of Monterey Bay. $49. A bargain I thought for what was about to unfold, guaranteed I hoped.

I had done golf at Pebble Beach, but never on Fisherman's Wharf. Steinbeck would choke on it, Epcot Center like, T-shirts and trinkets and free clam chowder samples of which I frenzy fed on, but the real smell of the sea and fish and pier pilings, barking harbor seals and my cruise ship tied up and ready to go, sunny and warm.

All on board, maybe 75 of us on what you would recognize as a charter fishing boat.

Lines case off, everyone out on deck along the rails, some bench seating, mostly standing, chatting, learning that a lot of us on board saw the same CBS report.

A dazzling dry day, adding another jacket as a big bay becomes its own ocean, rolling, riding the waves, not calm, not rough, a few folks already sick of the sea.

Where are the whales? Where are the whales?! A cluster of sea birds, a few dolphins, a few sea lions popping up. Out we go, further out, a few other whale watchers on their return trips waving hello, a constant loud speaker tour guide.

Where are the whales? And then our tour guide's script is interrupted by, "Spouts ahead at 11 o'clock!"

We crowd the rails. I was never much for whale watching, maybe from the shore at the Point Reyes lighthouse, but I always felt like I was interfering, bothering the whales from a boat. But…

Three, four, five waterspouts. I think we are about seven miles out and holy frickin' earth of our earth humpbacks, humpbacks, like the history of Nantucket, like your own Moby Dick, Steinbeck on the Sea of Cortez, dinosaurs alive, not beyond belief, a belief beyond, humpbacks blowing to the surface, fan tails as they descend like the wings of Earth's largest angels.

Howls of pleasure from all of us, packs of dolphins, packs of sea lions, seabirds like scattering leaves.

I've never, and I've seen grizzly of Yellowstone and gators in the Everglades. This is the earth before us, humpbacks all around us. And of course you think of harpoons. How could we? Ahab, call me ashamed, but here they are, all around, our young lady guide telling us that the radar/sonar of the anchovies looks like land, how much each whale can consume, its length, its weight, its life/death and birth cycle, as the mammals appear from the depths to breathe, like us, close to the boat, the boat obeying all the hands-off rules that apply.

A high school worth of sea lions plows by almost looking up at us, most of the folks on board more concerned with a photo than the moment. No kidding.

The orcas are absent, but maybe somewhere out there waiting for a stray sea lion. I hope so.

The guide tells us that the killer whales will be waiting for the children of the blue whales as they travel north from Baja. It's a jungle out there.

More whales ho! More whales ho! But all good things must come to an end. Return back for port. Anchovies. My only exposure has been on a pizza.

The voyage back in is beautiful, riding in with the waves, off at three o'clock a humpback breeching, a flash of its giant white underside.

The ship bells and buoy bells as we coast back into the dock, all hands ready to disembark, a few still wobbly from the cruel bay, myself a self-satisfied "old salt" now of the whale watching feeding frenzy.

On the dock an old salt with trained tropical birds. Back to reality.

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