Animals
1:51 pm
Fri July 6, 2012

Blue Whales Drawn Unusually Close To Shore In Calif.

Originally published on Tue July 10, 2012 2:46 pm

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. It's been a great season for blue whale sightings off the coast of Northern California. Dozens of blue whales, the world's largest animal, have been spotted unusually close to shore. Lured by an abundance of food, the tiny crustaceans called krill, their appearance has delighted whale watchers and marine biologists.

Dorris Welch is one of them. She's co-owner of Sanctuary Cruises and she joins me from her boat in Monterey Bay, California. Dorris, what are you seeing out there?

DORRIS WELCH: Wow. We have a blue whale right now and this is spouting. I see a 20-foot tall spout and then I see this large blue-gray back that is surfacing and it seems to go on forever when I saw the blue whale. They're over 70 feet long. There's another blow.

BLOCK: How much would that whale weigh?

WELCH: Oh, well over 100 tons.

BLOCK: How close is that whale to your boat?

WELCH: Right now, we're about 150 yards from this whale.

BLOCK: And what's it doing, what can you tell?

WELCH: It's going down for short periods, lunging through the krill, taking mouthfuls and then coming up for a quick breath, going back down again. It's not moving very fast and that's wonderful for us. A blue whale can go over 20 knots and it could get away from us, but it's not doing that. It's right - you know, hanging around this area, circling around, enjoying the abundant food that we have here.

BLOCK: How much of the whale can you see?

WELCH: There she blows again.

BLOCK: Oh, yeah?

WELCH: Oh, yeah. Blue whales are nice because, sometimes, you can see about three-quarters of the length of their back when they surface. They just go on forever. They don't tend to arch their backs, so they come up. You see their foreheads, their blow, but it's blowing right now and I see this long back and it's just going, going, going, going. I see the dorsal fin and - oh, there's the tail. Wow.

BLOCK: Oh.

WELCH: The tail - it's just gorgeous. It's got the big, wide tail fluke and it puts it up way high in the air and goes down. It's just a sight to behold. I've got a boatload of passengers. Most of them have never seen a whale before.

BLOCK: Wow.

WELCH: Got a lot of kids aboard and they're really getting the sight of a lifetime here.

BLOCK: Oh, it must be amazing. How rare is this? How unusual is it to have blue whales that close to shore?

WELCH: For the past several years, we have been seeing blue whales coming into Monterey Bay feeding consistently. We don't always see them so close to shore, though. So this year, it's been a very good one and they have come in close to shore. We'll see them as close as a mile from shore.

BLOCK: And what's causing this abundance of krill that we mentioned?

WELCH: It's a phenomenon that happens in Monterey Bay seasonally. It's called upwelling and we have the cold nutrient-rich waters. They rise up to the surface, meet the sunshine and then we have the phytoplankton blooms followed by the krill blooms and the blue whales are feeding on that krill. It's an extremely short food chain and we've got a lot of food right now in the form of krill on the bay.

BLOCK: Now, Dorris, blue whales are endangered. Their numbers have been way down. Is there a danger, do you think, of too much attention, too many boats trying to go out to see them this year?

WELCH: Well, we're all, in the whale watching charter fleet, we're all trying our best to be very cautious, always giving them their space and there's enough whales that we're spreading it out, so at any given time, there might only be one boat or maybe two boats watching a particular animal, so that's very good. If we had more whale-watching boats come out, it could be a problem. But right now, with our existing fleet, I think everybody's been very conscious to be careful of the whales and considerate of the whales.

BLOCK: And, Dorris, do you still see that whale out there?

WELCH: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Yeah. We're still with this whale.

BLOCK: Well, you're making us all wish we were out there with you.

WELCH: Well, I wish you were out here with us, too.

BLOCK: Well, Dorris Welch, it's great to talk to you. Thank you so much.

WELCH: All right. Well, thanks for the call.

BLOCK: Dorris Welch is a marine biologist and co-owner of Sanctuary Cruises. She's out on her boat watching blue whales in Monterey Bay, California. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.