A Gray and Common Day

By Ernie Witham   |   April 8, 2021

“Oh man! There are thousands of them.”

“What species are they?”

“They are Delphinus delphis,” the captain said. 

Seems like during every Star Trek movie there comes a scene where they hit the dashboard button that says WARP SPEED. Then they can only hope that the coordinates they set don’t deliver them into the middle of an asteroid belt or a raging galactic battle.

“We will be slowing down the ship. Everyone get ready,” the captain said.

I grabbed my trusty shooter. “Let’s head to the front,” I said to my wife.

Our ship was only half-full for this journey, which made maneuvering through the other passengers easier. Soon we were in position. “Looks like a mega pod,” the captain said. I took aim.

“So beautiful!” said Pat.

Okay, so we weren’t in a galactic battle or trapped in an asteroid belt. Instead we were surrounded by common dolphins (Delphinus) in the middle of the Santa Barbara Channel. It was Pat’s birthday and my first attempt at a gift flopped: “How about an appetizing selection of cheesy snacks and a four-hour Battlestar Galactica marathon?” Pat thought a four-hour whale watching trip sounded more fun. So, we headed south to Ventura and got on the Island Packers boat. There was a chill in the air and the water was a bit choppy on the way to the channel, which made drinking beer and eating sandwiches challenging. But when the going gets rough, the rough get going.

“Ouch. Did you shave today?” Pat asked, as I offered her a birthday smooch. 

“No way. I’ve got my seaman’s beard going. It’s a New England tradition.” 

“Were there a lot of ‘Old Salts’ in Laconia, New Hampshire?”

Before I could conjure up a clever rejoinder, the captain had spotted the boiling sea ahead. “Looks like we have three different pods of common dolphins working. They team up to bring fish to the surface to feast on. Dolphins must consume about fifteen pounds of food a day or about five percent of their body weight.”

“Wow, who knew that mammals could eat like that,” I said between bites.

“It’s amazing,” Pat said, brushing crumbs from my sandwich off her lap.

“We have a resident population of about twenty thousand common dolphins,” the captain said, slowing the boat further, so collectively the fifty or so of us onboard could take 1,100 photos. Then the captain increased our speed. The common dolphins chased the boat as long as they could, but the captain hit WARP SPEED again and headed for Anacapa Island in search of bigger game. Pat and I went inside to get out of the wind and to see if they had any ice cream. 

“Ice cream? Seriously?”

“I was thinking coffee ice cream so we could stay alert.” Pat mumbled something about some mammals being more intelligent than others.

“The gray whales stay close to the Channel Islands on their way south from Alaska to give birth in Mexico, a twelve-thousand-mile round trip,” the captain informed us. 

“That is so amazing,” said Pat. “That they can find their way there and back year after year.”

“Maybe they have built-in whale GPS or something: ‘In five hundred miles, take the exit toward Seattle. Merge onto coastal route south. Traffic is light. You should be there in a month or so.’”

Anacapa Island is about as rustic as you can get. It has a lighthouse and a few other buildings and about a million seagulls. We passed the famous arch and went along the south side of the Island, the captain pointing out a group of sunbathing sea lions.

“Spouts!” the captain said. I left my ice cream and headed for the front again. “They can stay down for quite a while,” he told us. We never saw them again.

“Must have missed their offramp,” I whispered.

A short time later, the captain said they spotted another Gray and this one surfaced several times to appreciative oohs and aahs and dozens of upheld iPhones.

Then the captain hit WARP SPEED again and we headed back to the harbor, pausing briefly at the dolphin belt for a final look.

“Thanks for a great birthday,” Pat said.

“You bet. Say, are you as hungry as I am?”


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