Canine Co-Captains: Dog-Friendly Whale Watching
by Carie Broecker
Andy, Sam, and Hanna are as comfortable on the water as they are on land. These lucky dogs get to run on the beach and then board the Sea Wolf II for a day of whale watching almost every day. Andy is approaching 15-years-old now, and he has been going out on the boat five or six days a week since he was a puppy, as have seven-year-old Sam and five-year-old Hanna.
Nancy Black, a marine biologist and owner of Monterey Bay Whale Watch Center, was able to combine her love of dogs with her passion for marine mammals to create a job working with, protecting, and researching marine life but also spending all day every day with her dogs.
Nancy has a graduate degree in Marine Science from Moss Landing Laboratories and has been involved in a long-term killer whale project for over 23 years. She ventures to say that Andy has seen more killer whales then any dog on the planet. When Andy was younger, he would go out with her on their 25-foot inflatable boat and got pretty up close and personal with the whales.
Andy would get so excited when the whales came near that he would put his paws over the side. He appeared to want to jump right in and swim with them. One time he tossed his Frisbee to a whale inviting play! No worries though, he was always strapped in so things couldn’t get out of hand.
After boarding the Sea Wolf II, I climbed a steep ladder to get to the captain’s cabin to meet the dogs and have a chat with Nancy. My first question was, how in the world, do these dogs get up this ladder? They climb right up it on their own! Wow. Andy is older now, and he gets carried up the ladder, but he still goes out on the boat every day. At the end of the day Nancy carries each dog down the ladder on her shoulders. I could barely get down the ladder on my own carrying a pad of paper, but Nancy has the up and down with the dogs choreographed to a science.
The sightseers that board the Sea Wolf II love to see the dogs up on deck. When the passengers start to board the vessel, the dogs strain over the edge of the deck for attention and the tourists’ cameras start clicking. Focusing on the dogs puts the passengers at ease, especially the children. All cruises are dog-friendly, and over the years have included everyone from huge Saint Bernards to teeny tiny Chihuahuas who get tucked in mom’s coat to stay warm.
After all her years of research, Nancy recognizes many of the killer whales by markings on their dorsal fins and saddle patch. There are about 460 individual Orcas that frequent Monterey Bay and are recognizable by marine biologists. Male killer whales live up to 50 years and the females can live up to 90 years. Nancy is now familiar with three generations of whales in the bay. Some of the pods known as “friendly pods” are curious whales who approach the vessels in a friendly and curious manner. The first time a friendly whale approached one of Nancy’s boats is still the highlight of her career. The humpback whale purposely came right up to the vessel, and began to circle them and spyhop (sort of standing straight up to get a better look). Nancy remembers looking right into her big eye and what she saw there was an incredible intelligence and a communion of beings. It still blows her away to think about. Although the first friendly encounter stands out most in her mind, this behavior happens about ten times each year - usually with younger whales. And it is just as exciting every time.
For a memorable day on the bay for you and your pup, head to Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey. Walk to the end of wharf #1 (the one with all the shops and restaurants) and take a right when you get to the end. The red building is the Monterey Bay Whale Watch Center office and gift shop. Be sure to make reservations, especially on a nice day, as they can fill up.
Monterey Bay Whale Watch Center
Fisherman's Wharf, Monterey
Open Monday - Sunday
7:30 AM - 8:00 PM