WHALES, DOLPHINS AND AWE

I read Moby Dick ages ago and found myself fascinated by Herman Melville’s lengthy discourses on cetology, the study of whales. Last Wednesday, I joined my friends Ira and Dan on a whale watching trip hosted by the Oceanographic Society. In a word: awesome!

We departed on the Salty Ladyfrom the yacht harbor at the Marina Green off Scott Street. The two naturalists onboard and the captain all emphasized the incredible weather we’d have at sea: clear skies and mild—a relative matter—temperatures. (San Francisco hit 94 degrees that afternoon.)

On the way out, we spotted dolphins, porpoises, humpback whales and sea birds, including more than one albatross, and a rarely sighted skua. Because of the great weather, our captain decided to bypass the Farallon Islands at first and sail to the edge of the continental shelf. There, the seabed drops precipitously from 300 feet to 3,000. An upwelling of water brings nutrients and food sources providing great feeding to whales and other sea life.

Jaws dropped as humpbacks spouted then rose out of the water. We’d see their backs then a huge length of white foam as they submerged. Several jumped out vertically well past their heads. Others displayed their flukes—tails—as they dove.

At the peak of activity, we sighted a pod of at least three whales and maybe five. Spouts rose like the fountains at Las Vegas’ Bellagio Hotel. Dolphins and porpoises leapt by the boat with great frequency. A huge turtle came close—another rare sighting. An ocean sunfish swam alongside. I called out to the sea life, “Guys, slow down. There’s more to see here than we can take in!” They didn’t listen. No complaint from me.

Almost everyone missed the best sighting. After stopping by the Farallons to check out the birds and sea lions—we also saw houses for researchers and Coast Guard personnel—we headed back to San Francisco.

As we sat and chatted, Ira, who’d been seasick until noon and missed the action out at the continental shelf’s edge, spotted a humpback leap entirely out of the water and expose its white belly. By the time he called out, Dan and I could see only the splash. Only one or two others onboard saw the event. We were glad for Ira and had no problem missing what we’d love to have seen because we’d seen so much.

Sunday night, the Jewish world will observe Rosh Hashanah, marking the New Year 5780. The whales, dolphins, porpoises and birds I saw provided me with much added meaning. The ten-day period from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is known as the Days of Awe. As we contemplate how we’ve lived our lives and acknowledge the Source of Creation, the majesty of the synagogue service can raise our spirits only so far. We need perspective.

Being out on the Pacific, rising and falling with the swells, witnessing the sea’s sheer size and power, and seeing the magnificent creatures with whom we share the planet showed me how small I am and how huge is creation.

At this, or any, time of the year, a little awe-inspired humility can bring us closer to the marvels we can see and the mysteries we can’t.

The post will take next week off and return on October 11. For everyone celebrating Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, may you be written and sealed into the Book of Life.

Big Truth: New and Collected Stories,  is available at Amazon and bn.com in paper or e-book. Or, ask your favorite bookstore to order a copy. And, please leave a review on either or both sites.

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9 Comments


  1. Julie Lekach House
    Sep 27, 2019

    Awesome! Beautiful and inspiring. Sounds like a whale of a good time. Wishing you and yours and all your readers who surely appreciate your writing a sweet new year!


  2. Julie Lekach House
    Sep 27, 2019

    Awesome! Beautiful and inspiring. It sounds like you had a whale of a good time. Wishing you and yours and your readers, who surely appreciate your smart writing and wit, a sweet new year!


    • David
      Sep 27, 2019

      Many thanks, Julie, including for the irresistible pun. Shana tovah!


  3. Ellen Newman
    Sep 27, 2019

    Hi David,

    What a fun post. Watching the whales and dolphins does put one in the right frame of mind for the holidays. The world is indeed miraculous.

    If you don’t mind a link to a similar experience we had on the Sea of Cortez, you and your readers can check out https://tinyurl.com/dolphin-joy from my Hidden-inSite blog. Shanah tovah!


    • David
      Sep 27, 2019

      Thanks, Ellen. Glad to pass on more great experiences.


  4. Davud Sperber
    Sep 28, 2019

    David,
    How fortunate you are. Years ago I won a whale watching trip from a local radio station. How many whales did I encounter? ZERO. Sounds like a once in a lifetime experience, plus no heavy coats required.


    • David
      Sep 29, 2019

      David, I think they were waiting for another David—me. I hope you get another chance.


  5. Martin Weiner
    Sep 29, 2019

    Dear David,
    You certainly experienced the wonders of Creation—a marvelous preparation for the High Holydays. Loved the piece!!
    Marty


    • David
      Sep 29, 2019

      Thanks, Marty. There’s nothing like being out on the Pacific to gain perspective.

      Shana tovah!

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