Jilara (jilara) wrote,

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Amazing marine wildlife experience.

I was in Half Moon Bay, yesterday, getting the car worked on. Long story why I go there for car repair in a community where the mechanics are honest and know me, but it doesn't concern us. What does is that I was there, and did my usual "long day while they do major work" routine, which is eating breakfast and the Moonside Bakery, then going to the beach.

So I was walking down the beach and noticed a sea otter right there in the surf. Then noticed there were two of them, young ones by the look of them, and they were chasing something under the surface. Then I looked beyond the breakers, and caught a flash of fin. My first thought was a shark had driven them close in. Then it surfaced again, and it was a dolphin! No, more correctly, three dolphins. They were almost lazily cruising right outside breaker line. Then I looked around and saw more, and more. There must have been at least seven, and they were herding a school of fish, probably sardines, in toward shore. And suddenly, everyone was taking advantage of the buffet. Pelicans were flying in and starting to dive-bomb the school. Cormorants started showing up and ducking under to grab fish. Apparently, the sea otters decided it was a good deal, too. And then the seals started to show up. A group of harbor seals started to follow the edges of the school, sometimes leaping all the way out of the water to dive. And then the sea lions showed up. They would spy-pop up and check where the pelicans were, then home in on them. And all the time, the dolphins would cruise up and down the periphery as the shoal of fish would break into parts, try to make a break for another part of the shore, etc. Farther out, some enormous gray dolphins started breaching, apparent late-comers. There were two of those. The rest of the dolphins were pinkish-gray and smaller, with at least one baby, who was about two thirds of the size of the rest.

It was, overall, and amazing sight. I kept running back up and down about a mile long stretch of beach, trying to follow the action, for several hours. Finally, it looked like the show was mostly over, and the dolphins headed down toward the south. It still amazes me how fast they move, when they want to. I felt like I'd been involved in the most amazing wildlife encounter ever. I'm sure it's the sort of thing documentary photographers would salivate over. I know I sure felt like it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, even more than witnessing the elk in rut and having one of the defeated youngsters end up on the trail no more than twenty feet ahead of me. I'm glad I picked that day to have my car worked on. These kinds of experiences often only happen once in a lifetime.

Addenda: I just checked out online what kind of cetaceans we had, and it looks like the smaller ones are classic Bottlenose Dolphins, but the two BIG ones that were way out there were Risso's Dolphins, which are somewhat rare to see. I initially thought "Huh, pilot whales?" but then when I looked more closely, I thought "hmm, whalelike dolphins." That is a Risso's Dolphin. I am even more jazzed, now!

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