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A Close Encounter of the Whale Kind

A resident paddles within yards of the gentle giants, which are nearer to shore than in previous years as they journey south.

How easy is it to get close enough to a blue whale to shoot a really good photo of it? Ask Rob McGarry.

On Friday, the Manhattan Beach resident and South Bay Realtor got close enough to a group of blue whales for amazing shots. He had heard in the local news that the Santa Monica Bay was full of the enormous mammals, so he and a group of friends got on their stand-up paddleboards and hit the water.

McGarry surfed along the coast for a rare chance to see a considerable number of the blue whales at once, spraying mists of water and fluking through the waves. 

"We were able to see several blue whales breeching. A couple of us ended up in the same photo frame with the whale's tail as it was diving."

A blue whale is roughly the size of a double decker bus and is the largest known animal to exist. In recent years, local tours have noted an increase in the number of whales they spot in the late summer. 

"Having grown up in the South Bay, there were many times I had the opportunity to go out whale watching," McGarry said Sunday morning, "but it's always a bust. You see one whale and you end up getting seasick on the boat.

"This was remarkable because we were able to be in the water with the largest mammals in the world. To actually be in the water with them at the same time, these enormous animals that are so beautiful and so graceful as they cut through the water was an incredible experience. There must have been six or eight of them out there."

Temperatures in the Santa Monica Bay are about 10 degrees colder than they were this time last year. Some scientists have suggested that the colder temperatures are inviting an increase in krill, which the blue whales feed on before heading south to mate.

McGarry describes the experience of sharing the water with the animals as exhilarating rather than frightening. "You hear them before you see them.  When they surface and breech, it sounds almost like a gunshot. It's this release of air, you hear it and sometimes you see it."

From the coast, residents have been standing with binoculars to catch glimpses of the blue whales, which are making their annual migration. Whale watching tours are experiencing a sudden boom, yet few sightseers get as close to the creatures as McGarry.

"We were in an area where you could look several hundred yards in any direction and you could see them. There were times we were a couple hundred yards away. The one we have a photo of ended up turning and coming towards us, probably from 20-25 feet away.

"I don't know how long they're going to be out there," McGarry said. "I've been hearing about them for a week."

For now at least, the gentle giants are making an extended local stop on their long journey. 

Duke Noor September 20, 2010 at 06:32 PM
There have been some great pictures and encounters recently of the Blue Whales. I know it's impossible to know where a whale may breach, but let's not forget the Whale Protection Act specifically states that a "100 yard distance shall be maintained as to not harass the whale". I know in Cabo these gentle giants where intimidated so much by sightseers that they totally changed direction and now have headed way out to sea to avoid human harassment.
Madeleine McJones September 20, 2010 at 10:57 PM
Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) All marine mammals are protected under the MMPA of 1972. The MMPA prohibits, with certain exceptions, the "take" of marine mammals in U.S. waters and by U.S. citizens on the high seas, and the importation of marine mammals and marine mammal products into the U.S. The MMPA defines “take” to mean “to hunt harass, capture, or kill” any marine mammal or attempt to do so. “Take” also includes the negligent or intentional operation of an aircraft or vessel, or the doing of any other negligent or intentional act which results in disturbing or molesting a marine mammal and feeding or attempting to feed a marine mammal in the wild. The term “harassment” means “any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which- 1) has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild (Level A harassment); or 2) has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering (Level B harassment).” http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/laws/mmpa/
jacquelyne may September 30, 2010 at 05:38 PM
Thank you Rob McGarry for these wonderful and amazing photos!

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