Wild Time

Pacific Grove

Author: John Kern

Shortly after setting off from Coral Avenue we saw the first fins. Shockingly tall, the dorsal fins of Risso's dolphins always make me wonder first if I'm seeing killer whales. These turned out to be sirens and they seductively drew us toward Point Pinos and the open ocean, where impressive swells were rolling and wrapping around the rocky point. We were comfortable facing the large waves and entranced by the many dolphins surrounding us. After momentarily disappearing, the dolphins reappeared as synchronized surfers in the oncoming ocean waves. We faced a mixture of fins, white heads, scarred gray bodies, and very obvious blowholes, with occasional flukes thrown in for good measure.

We were “oohing and aahing” and also paying a good deal of attention to boat control in the confused seas. Then I noticed the dark animals. Several times we noticed sleek, dark bodies porpoising among the Risso's. Being finless, almost black and having flukes, they had to be Northern right whale dolphins. My whale book tells me these dolphins frequently travel with pods of other dolphin species.

As we reentered the bay, we were treated to the sight of many Bonaparte's gulls and Northern fulmars working the territory. Rhinoceros auklets were encountered, along with many murres. After paddling a few minutes enjoying the birds and the occasional push from the swells, we saw the dolphins again. Off and on for the next hour and a half, we paddled in and out of the very large pod of Risso's dolphins. We got to where we recognized individual animals. We noticed the nursery where mothers and calves congregated. It was like a dream.

In all, Dick and I may have paddled two or three miles. We were on the water at least two hours. But this counts as one of the top ten paddles of my life. This paddle was full of wonderful, unexpected encounters! The conditions were less than alluring and the sky was overcast but we relearned that important lesson of adventuring: you just never know what you’ll find if you get out there.