Dolphins, Turtles, and Whales, Oh Boy 2024

Personal Writings

           Puerto Escondido       Almost a year ago, we ended the year watching the whales off the coast of Baja California on a boat out of Cabo San Lucas.  What a great Christmas present.  Now in Oaxaca at Puerto Escondido, how could we bring in the new year and top that?  How about leaving at dawn to see if we could see more humpback whales, as well as dolphins and even turtles, farther down the Mexican Pacific coast.


            People have different first of the year and holiday traditions.  Scroll, not troll, on Facebook, and you can see hikers with their knit caps and backpacks, drinkers toasting us all, travelers here and beyond, and people posting and boasting about how early they were going to turn in on New Year’s Eve.  I totally get it.  We were lucky to see 9PM, but that was an offset to firecrackers and music that was still bumping hard when I finally gave up and rose at 430am.  Our New Year’s tradition, once upon a time, was riding our bikes to the French Quarter in New Orleans, first with kids strapped down, and later in a caravan, but that was long ago.


            Years ago, driving up Highway 1 on the California coast, I used to see pods of whales heading south, so you might think it would be easy to be blasé about seeing giant humpback whales again, but you would be wrong.  A flock of more than twenty pelicans had buzzed right by us as we left the beach.  We saw two dolphins swimming by, and one of our group saw a turtle, but all of that seemed collateral, as we scanned our eyes on both horizons for any sign of a spouting whale.  We were 45 minutes out from the beach, seemingly the first boat out on New Year’s Day, when we saw a whale nearby.  Then not long after, we saw her calf.  Other boats seemed to materialize out of nowhere, as we tried to guess where the humpback might next surface.  For a half-hour or more, we seemed to be playing cat-and-mouse with this pair, back and forth, near and far.  When the mother was near, she was hardly 30-feet away.  We could hear her deep breathing.  Magical.  Powerful. Amazing.


            Having chased them for miles, the boat captain thought they might have finally circled around us and head back the other way, so he said, let’s go see some dolphins.  I thought to myself, OK, but, really, no big deal. Working offshore on an oil rig in 1967 in the Gulf of Mexico, I saw dolphins all the time.  On the beach at Waveland, we could sometime see them from the shoreline.  Whatever, in for a penny in for a pound.  The driver throttled the engine, pointed the bow west in the vast expanse of the ocean, and we were on our way.  I could see a fishing boat on the distant horizon.  I assumed he was going to head near their wake, and see if dolphins might be trailing behind for easy eating.  I was wrong.  After 20 minutes or more, we got near two other boats, and spotted some dolphins swimming close to us.  Suddenly, they seemed to be everywhere we looked in the water and all around the boat, rising and falling, almost playing with us, as they sped down and then ducked under the bow.  It seemed like there were 20 of them around us, and then 50, and then more than 100.  They were everywhere, and we were in their midst.  Sometimes they leapt in the air, almost in unison, and pirouetted before splashing down.  I was chastened.  Dolphins had put on a unique display that was unparalleled.  Today, whales rocked, but dolphins ruled.


            Finally, it was time to head back.  The engine roared over the waves, hitting them hard in a constant butt bump.  We had all had quite a trip.  Too bad, we didn’t get to see any Tortuga.   Then we saw a small one on the starboard side of the boat slowly swimming miles from the shore.  After filing our eyes deeply, the boat roared forward again.  Ten minutes later, mi hijo yelled, “turtle,” on the lee side.  The boat slowed down and the good-sized turtle slowly swam across the bow, so we could all watch it closely.


            The sun was hot, the water was cool and blue, and we had started off the new year, wild and wondrous.