Wednesday, April 29, 2009

So the whale season for me is now officially over. It has been a great one! I did go out yesterday but there were no whales to be seen and that is a good way to end the season. Over all I saw more whales, had more encounters and obtained more IDs than any previous year. I also had my first ever underwater swim with a Humpback as well as a Blue Whale. Not to mention my dolphin and turtle encounters last week. What is there to say except that next year I will already be here when my friends return and who knows what adventures will unfold.
I want to thank all of you that have contributed to my work, whether financially or spiritually, and I promise to keep up the work as long as I am able.
The pic of a mother and calf Humpback are the two I dove with some weeks ago and had that first underwater encounter I mentioned. As you might notice, the calf that is on the right, looks a bit damaged. Unfortunately it was. Hard to say what caused the initial injury but it's skin and backbone do not look good. When I dove with it and saw it under water I was pained to see how extensive the damage was. The Humpback fluke shot (white/black) is one of my best this year and the other is actually a Blue Whale fluke shot (which we do not often use for identification of Blues) to compare with. Moonset behind my place....ditto sunset.
As my reef work proceeds I will be posting an entirely different line of photos.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Here are the other pics I thought might be interesting. The goats are from a group of feral (domesticated and now wild) goats that were introduced years ago on Isla Cerralvo and are now hunted occasionaly by the locals from the mainland. The fins are those of my friend Alan helping me get a "flukes up", again at Cerralvo the other day.

As I am writing this my friend Poppy informed me that a Humpback went by today. I'm going out for my last time on Tuesday. Maybe I will be

Here are some pics for your enjoyment and to give you a better idea of my life down here in Old Mexico. For whatever the reason my server is working real well this morning so I couldn't resist posting some pics.

The dolphin shot is from last year as I was kayaking (with camera) in the Whale Zone. These are Common Bottle Nose, the same as I encountered a few days ago. The shot of me coming out of the water was taken just in front of the reef where I will be doing the survey mentioned in my last post.

Spoke too soon about the server, it has begun to slow way time maybe.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The days here in my new home in Baja Sur have taken on an almost surreal character. It is not just the incredibly special encounters I have had with the “whale People” (a term used by my good friend Tomas when he introduced me to a Huichol Way of thinking), dolphins and my Sea Turtle friend this season, it is a heightened awareness of .....well, everything!

I have mentioned before how this small village in Mexico “feels” like I have come home. I wonder to myself, as a full blooded Baltic Viking, what is it here that inspires this feeling of coming home. Here it is sun and sea and desert….Ranchero Music, dusty roads, butterflies, beautiful birds and this wonderful TRANQUILITY. Perhaps it is a memory of a prior lifetime. Or perhaps it is the place I have found that is the antithesis of the cold, the fear and the spiritual pain of being born into a War Zone during WWII. Whatever it is, I am devoted to embracing it with all my physical, emotional and spiritual energies. I hope that some of you that might be reading these posts can share the joy that I feel.

Because of my recent dive at Isla Cerralvo and the realization of the unique beauty of our reef here, I am starting the process of establishing a transect across a part of the reef so that I can do a baseline survey and begin monitoring it’s health. All reefs world wide are in great danger of degradation so my little contribution here, as with my whale work, is timely. I must add that my good friend George Sievers from Colorado is here right now and has not only been deeply interested in reef work but has really “kicked me in the pants” to get it started (the monitoring protocol). He has arranged to have the underwater markers made and has volunteered to help set them in place. Then we will begin the survey and gather our first year’s data. This means a lot of underwater time that will be fun; especially now that there is a reason beside play (which is reason enough) for going in.

I went out today to determine on which part of the reef I wanted to set the transect. I did it with a GPS from my kayak and I have to say it was exciting just thinking about the possibilities. The pic is from satellite (google earth) of our reef. Technically it is called an inshore coral reef head. I will be working the area of the reef at the south eastern part of the picture.

One of my local friends has heard of my interest in all things indigenous and has invited me to a friends ranchero to see some Indian paintings I haven't seen before. I'm of course delighted and will share some pics if it happens.

So much to do here.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Went out yesterday, the 23rd and my daughter Kersti's birthday, and probably found the only Humpback in 100 sq miles. No fluke shot but good flank ID's. We are pretty sure it is a male so we named him KK; a name Kersti's mother and I called her when she was very young. The picture is of the new "KK" or HB # 43 09.

The trip to Isla Cerralvo was very nice. No sharks of any kind but we saw two Humpbacks on our way there so they are still clearly around though it is pretty late in the season. The water was very clear and we saw many different species of fish but we all agreed that our own reef right here in Cardonal is just as rich. It has given me impetus to regenerate my reef studies.

Kinda tired so a bit cryptic I'm afraid....but feeling great!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Going out later today to do my first serious reef dive (free not SCUBA) since coming here. The water was very clear yesterday out in the whale zone so it should be real nice. There is a dive trip planned for Isla Cerralvo on Friday and I have heard there are Whale Sharks and Hammerheads out adventure! Might do SCUBA on that trip.

A note: next years funding is somewhat tenuous at this point. A generous contribution has been made by my friends The Cook's in New York but at this time because of the difficulties around the benefit (computer etc) in March I am a bit short. If there is anyone out there that wishes to contribute, a tax deductible donation can be made to MioSah (my 501(c)(3) non profit) and sent to MioSah, C/O Susan Janssen, 106 canyon Drive, Ukiah, CA 95482. Every cent goes to one thing.....boat time. No boat time no whales, no whales no pics, no pics no data, no data no sanctuary. Much thanks! Sorry I have to even mention this and I know we are all a bit more strapped than ever but every dollar counts.

The pic is of a mother and calf we came across two weeks ago. We have seen and photo ID'd 5 of these pairs this year; that's good.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Remarkable day today. Just came in from a 5 mile kayak out into the whale zone. Beautiful day here and the sea is very calm....irresistable. So I got out there and started listening and watching for any action. Pretty soon I heard the snort of a sea lion but he was not close and though I called to him, he wasn't interested.

Then I heard the unmistakable blows of dolphins. I saw them in towards land a bit and decided to intercept. I was successful and had them around me and under the kayak, very nice but I didn't go in. I began to regret that I hadn't but I figured I just couldn't get my gear together before they would be gone. They were Common Bottle Nose Dolphins and very active; as that species is prone to be.

Then I saw a Sea Turtle about 100 ft away and slowly paddled toward it. It looked up once or twice but seemed to be unconcerned, rare in my experiences with them thus far. As I got within 10 ft or so I was sure he would dive but no!, he just looked at me and stayed put. I maneuvered the kayak closer until he was a hands length away and I ran my hand gently over the top of his carapace; still no dive....remarkable! I kept running my hand over his carapace and he just stayed right next to me with his head literally against the kayak side. Then I "petted" the top of his head and started talking to him. His eyes were on me all the time and he was so incredibly beautiful and old and wise. He then went all around my kayak and under it as if he were examining it. I decided to go in but did not want to frighten him so I waited until he seemed to be through with his examination and when he started to swim away I rolled in. The water is very clear today so I saw him as he began his descent into the depths and I followed (I felt for a minute that I just wanted to follow him forever). He looked over his shoulder and continued his dive and just before my air gave out two Mobulas passed by in their own gracious way. Wow!

At that point I was already "higher than a kite" but there was more yet to come. I spied another group of dolphins further out but I figured I could intercept them and I did. This time I got geared up, rolled in and started looking around for them. I knew I was right in the middle of them (about 30) so I should see them. The last time I actually swam with dolphins close enough to see them under water was in Hawaii in '98.

No luck at first but every time I came up I could see them all around me so I knew they were very near. And then it happened....right in front of me and coming directly towards me were 5 beautiful Bottlenose Dolphins. It was so cool!! They began "clicking" and looking at me and swimming around me. I became so excited I began "clicking" myself and boy did I get some weird looks. Then they were all around me in groups of 2-6; not too close but certainly within 15 ft. I was in heaven. I swam as hard as I could, I dove, I rolled and tried to be as active as I used to be when I played water polo in HS and college (well....I tried). They responded by increasing their movement and looking me over. Oh my, what can I was extraordinary!

Seems that this year is a year for me to experience many of the things I have wished for before I die (not suggesting all this as a portent); I am blessed indeed!

Enjoy the pics. The two young ladies are Elizabeth Plumb on the left and Jessica Pletz on the right (close up), my research assistants this season.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Well you can see from yesterday's post that I have successfully uploaded a photo. It all depends on the strength of my server and my level of patience. I will try to include more from now on.

The Blue Whale you see is the one I dove with yesterday. She (I have chosen to think of this whale as a female and I am calling her "Grace" because that's what she epitomized) was about 75-80 ft in length and beautifully patterned as you can see in the picture. The picture was taken from the panga not the water. I do not carry a camera when I dive because I want the full experience and not one through a lense. Selfish I know but it is what it is.

I feel that I have been transported into an entirely different realm of "Whale World" and I am enormously grateful.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A very special day for me today. Those of you who know me and the passion, respect and love I have for my whale friends will be delighted to know that I finally swam WITH A BLUE WHALE UNDERWATER! As with Humpbacks, I have swum close to them many times but to dive down and really be in THEIR WORLD, even if for a moment is something I have literally dreamed about for years.

After finding no HBs in the southern part of our research grid this morning I asked if Susan and Phil might like to go further out and see if we could find a Blue Whale. They were all for it and we motored out to the Blue Whale "zone" in the grid. We spotted him/her from quite a distance about 8 miles out from Boca del Alamo and made our approach. It dove and when it came up again he/she was only 150 ft from us. Vicente got me in position and I rolled out in front of him/her. I was close "but no cigar". As I was getting back on board I got a feeling the whale was still nearby and was curious. Once on board with fins off and taking a breather the whale came up again nearby so I rolled right back out (sans fins) but it was gone.

I asked Vicente to set me in position once more and he did a masterful job dropping me off directly in front of the whale. I saw it's back coming towards me and I just knew this was going to be good. I looked for directions from the folks on the boat and I saw Phil yelling "dive, dive" so I did. I went down about 20 ft and looked below me but nothing. Then I turned to my left and there it was, the whole whale about 30 ft away. He/she was just beginning to go up for another blow so his/her body was at about a 30 degree angle and just breaking the surface with it's head. I swam as fast as I could and was treated to a vision of physical/animal beauty that almost took my breath away (somewhat dangerous when under water of course). Now I know what Elizabeth (one of my research assistants this season) felt a few weeks ago when she dove with "Neptune".

So there you have it. I hope you who read these posts understand that I am doing my best to represent we Homo sapiens as peaceful and loving creatures. As you can imagine I am very, very happy!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The season continues to be productive. 41 encounters now and 28 good IDs. Going for a record of 30. Yesterday I went out with Susan and Phil and I spotted a dorsal fin just going under about 1/4 mile away. Wasn't sure it was a HB but figured we should remain for awhile in that position. Well, my eyes did not deceive me and we were soon behind a mother and calf heading south on their way to the Arctic (have to go south first here in the Sea of Cortez to get around the Cape). No fluke shot, the calf was too young for the mother to make a deep dive.

I obtained my flank shots and we started north towards Boca Del Alamo (a shark fisherman's village about 5 miles up the coast). We stopped there about a mile out and Susan spotted what she thought was a HB. excellent spotting. It was another mother and calf so the drill was the same as above. Those were encounters #38-#41 (each whale actually photographed is an encounter regardless of fluke or flank).

Rested in the afternoon and then Susan and Phil came over for dinner. Lot's of food and really enjoyable conversation. Weather kicking up a bit now, though it should be OK in the morning. May or may not go out.

Hope you are all enjoying a classic springtime wherever you might be!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Well, the Humpback season is hardly over. Went out today with Kirin Riddell (recent graduate from Stanford in Environmental Science) and my dear friend Poppy (whom I have known since she was a baby). Even before we got in the panga we sighted a blow straight out from the beach. We found 2 Humpbacks within a short time and it appeared it was a male courting a female. The male looked familiar….yeah, you guessed it, Odin again!! Like before, his lady was shy and did not give us a flukes up. Then Kirin and Poppy sighted another HB about a mile away so we motored to it. This one gave us a breach and then began heading towards our couple.

Looked amiable for a bit and then the two males began to “combata”. I did get an ID on both the new male and Odin’s girlfriend. While all this was going on, the three of us dove with the couple first and then the threesome later. No really close encounters but once they dove under us at about 40 ft and a number of times we were again within that distance but unable to see them under water.

There was also a shark in the area but Kirin and Poppy dove right in with me regardless. It was an all together great day and now I am really tired from those bursts of swimming when trying to have an encounter. I am up to 37 encounters now and 28 new and good IDs. Two more and it wil be a season record!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Feeling much better now and got out to sea this morning. Very calm but a south wind coming and I probably won't go out again until Friday.

While eating breakfast I saw 4 HBs going north right off my reef and after rousting Vicente we found 2 of them about 5 miles along. It was a mother/calf pair so no fluking but got some good flank shots. It was delightful to be out again and nice to run across a mom and calf. No idea where the other 2 went. I'm pretty sure they were males checking to see if the mother would be weaning her calf and possibly ready to mate.

By the way, my website has been updated with the 2008 season pics and reports.

Great party last night to say goodbye to a number of Ukiah people who have been visiting. We northern Californians sure know how to have a good time!!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Feeling better but not enough to go out searching yet. I do want to rephrase the comment at the end of yesterdays blog about The Orcas. I used the phrase, "toughest kid on the block". Besides antiquating myself it is also unfair in terms of their role in the biology and environment of The Oceans. Yes, there is little doubt that The Orca is the most powerful and feared hunter in the Seas. Even The Great White Shark will give them their space. It is however an injustice to their species to imply that their "toughness" is in any way malicious or of the bullying type. They have evolved as the most efficient and intelligent hunter of the Marine Biome and I have nothing but admiration and respect for their magnificence and the crucial role they play in the Oceans.

Like the sharks, they are to a great extent, responsible for maintaining the balance between predator/prey dynamics in The Oceans. Like our own terrestrial ally The Wolf; we depend upon their hunting efficiency to cull the genome of a vast number of other species. And as unfortunately we have done with The Wolf, we are decimating their numbers so that they are no longer able to effectively carry out this most important biospheric function. Whether Wolves, Orcas, Sharks or a host of other predators, we have not lived up to our touted intelligence in the way we have treated them!

I only hope that one day I will be in their presence (The Orcas) and have the opportunity to enter their world and for just a moment; swim with these most sentient of creatures.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Haven’t been out for a while due to the benefit (non)activity in San Jose and then getting sick. Relapse of the Shingles from last year but I had an extra packet of medicine with me just in case and I’m real glad I did. Feeling a bit better but it does prevent me from much physical exertion.

Whales are still here and I do intend to go out again at least 4 times so there are adventures ahead. It is also the time of year when the great Mobula migrations occur and we (me and my adventure buddy Alan) are hoping for another opportunity to dive with them. I have spotted at least 2 Giant Mantas this year from my kayak and they are a treat to see….way bigger than the Mobulas.

Some Orcas passed through about a week ago but I didn’t get a chance to see them. The area really cleared out of all other species…due respect for the toughest kid on the block!

Weather is delightful, sea clearing up and outside of a few set backs life is very good. Hope it is the same for all of you.