New Times San Luis Obispo

Get up early for a tour of the Monterey Bay, humpback sightings, and a jellyfish bloom

Camillia Lanham Nov 30, 2017 4:00 AM

Everyone inhales sharply, exhaling with a "wow" or an "ooh" or an "ahh." There are about 20 of us cozied up toward the bow of the Princess Monterey.

Photo By Camillia Lanham
GOOD MORNING SUNSHINE A fishing tour heads out of the harbor at Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey early the Saturday morning after Thanksgiving.

To the left, two humpback whales are surfacing in unison about a quarter of a mile from the boat we're on. Sea lions are jumping in and out of the water and a gaggle of birds swarm overhead. As the whale tails flick back under water, our tour guide announces that the sea lions are most likely annoying the whales.

This Saturday morning after Thanksgiving, my parents and I woke up before 6 a.m. to make the first whale watching tour of the day—one that was added because the other two tours were booked solid. We made our way to the Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey staring out at the sunrise—a pink-purple-orange-yellow fire cascading over sailboats, fishing vessels, and ripples. Coffee and doughnuts were waiting for us at the Princess Monterey kiosk, where we gathered with a few other early risers to board the boat.

Photo By Camillia Lanham
WHALE TAIL A humpback whale's tail pops out of the water for a second before disappearing again.

As we left the harbor, four sea otters arched in unison, jumping across the water in front of us. A cacophony of sea lions serenaded the boat as it hit open water. Almost as soon as the Princess started to pick up speed, we had our first humpback whale sighting—thanks to the telltale shot of water that's released as they surface, they're fairly easy to spot.

It's a chilly, clear morning. The pair of humpbacks is at least the fifth sighting so far on this tour of the Monterey Bay. Moss Landing's smoke stacks are visible on one side. On the other, so is Lover's Point in Pacific Grove. Sea lions dip and dive, seemingly playing as one of the whales resurfaces a few yards ahead of the bow. Spouts of water spurt perpendicular to the surface at several spots across the bay.

Photo By Camillia Lanham
BLOOMIN' JELLIES This year was the first year in several that a bloom of jellyfish found its way into the Monterey Bay, a sign, some say, of a healthy aquatic environment.

Gazing at the coastline that stretches in a giant bowl all around us, the Princess picks up speed as she heads back, wind whipping loose hair into a frenzy and we decide to sit inside the cabin.

But the open air feels too good, so I squirm back to the deck as the boat skims a bloom of jellyfish that goes for what seems like miles. The orange-brown half orbs with strands of white pulsating beneath a glassy sheen are stinging nettle jellyfish. Randomly interspersed between is the opaque whitish-purple of moon jellies. We follow the bloom all the way back to shore, where a hundred people are waiting in line for the next tour. Δ

Editor Camillia Lanham is a fan of the early bird that gets the worm. Send thoughts to