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I returned to Newport Beach recently to cash in those discount whale watching tickets and try to spot some marine mammals and guess what?
We saw a whale! And not just ANY whale. A Fin Whale! I didn't know anything about fin whales before, but I do now. Here are some quick facts from the American Cetacean Society fact sheet:
"The fin whale is one of the rorquals, a family that includes the humpback whale, blue whale, Bryde's whale, sei whale, and minke whale. Rorquals all have a dorsal fin and throat grooves that expand when the animal is feeding. The fin, or finback whale is second only to the blue whale in size and weight. [They can be 80 ft long and weigh 70 tons!] Among the fastest of the great whales, it is capable of bursts of speed of up to 23 mph (37 km/hr) leading to its description as the 'greyhound of the sea.'"
Here is a photo from that website:
And this chart gives you a sense of the size of the whales (fin whale is in the middle):
This site also has some great info about spotting Fin Whales including this:
"Fin whales generally take five to ten breaths per sequence. On rare occasions, fin whales breach, falling back on their belly or side with a loud noise. This species does not fluke up its tail as it dives; a rapid bending movement of its flexible body is sufficient for it to point its body towards the depths."
And here is a photo that my friend J. took of the whale we saw!
That's the dorsal fin (on the back of the whale) that you see. I can't believe she caught it on camera. It was definitely something that you might miss if you blinked!
To backtrack a bit, here's some info about whale watching in general. Whales breathe in a rhythmic pattern so you'll see what look like puffs of smoke above the water (this is condensation from the whale breathing) a few times in a row and then the back and sometimes tail of the whale appear. Then you won't see another breath for some time (5-10 minutes). This is because the whales take a few short dives before diving deeper.
This site is specifically about humpback whale sightings and the fin whale is generally not as showy as the humpback, but I really like the graphics and the clear explanations.
Here are some other photos I snapped:
In the center you see a little puff of "smoke". That's the whale breath! (Click on the photo to see it a bit bigger.)
A great time was had by all. I would suggest getting out there if you have the chance. Davey's Locker runs whale watching trips all year round because you can see different types of whales throughout the year. Although they were pretty disorganized, once we got on the boat the crew really knew what they were talking about and seemed genuinely passionate about marine life.