Friday, December 28, 2012

The Cheap Seats

It costs about U.S. $75 to get into a high speed inflatable and go speeding across the bay for close-up views of the humpback whales that swim down from Alaska to spend their winters along the Pacific Coast around Puerto Vallarta.

I only paid about twice that for these oversized binoculars and tripod, but now I can stalk marine mammals and a good deal else for free from the comfort and safety of my living room.

I'll admit it's not really a substitute for getting up close and personal, where you can see the scars and barnacles on their shiny hides and hear the deep throaty gasps that accompany their expulsions of spray and mist.

In fact, if it weren't for the tourist barges I'd see far fewer of the creatures long distance, because nine times out of 10 the way I spot them is by noticing a cluster of boats heaved to in the bay. Focusing in on them, I see spouts, dorsal fins, and now and then the lifting of wide flukes that means the whale is diving to cruise the depths for as long as 15 or 20 minutes.

When there's not much haze, the binocs give me such glimpses almost to the horizon. But the ideal distance is close enough to see the action with the naked eye, in which case the glasses make a real show out of it.

That was the case a couple of days ago when I looked up from my book to see a couple of boats flanking some disturbed water in which a gout of spray suddenly appeared that was larger than either of them. A dark shape rose up, and then there was another huge splash.

I lunged for the lenses and got them aimed and focused just in time to see the entire length of that frisky adult whale, certainly a testosterone-driven male, thrust free of the water, then fall back in a cloud of spray that soaked everybody on the nearest boat and probably scared them to death.

It was the best look at a living whale I ever had from any vantage point, ashore or afloat, and for my money those binoculars paid for themselves in that one exciting moment.

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