Thursday dawned cold and breezy – we all got up especially early to have breakfast, because at 8:00, we were heading out for our first day of whale monitoring. We all donned multiple layers (usually a shirt, a capilene, a fleece jacket, and a waterproof jacket on top, with an extra sweatshirt thrown in our backpacks), pulled on our rainboots, and trucked off to the boats. We’d been in the boats the day before as we headed out to cleaner waters to do our swim test, and we all stayed within the same groups. As we loaded the boats, there were dozens of pelicans and other shore-water birds around us – It was pretty amazing to see so many up close. As was our due, we continued to make many Finding Nemo jokes related to the pelicans, and in tandem with our whale watching excursions, we became Team Ballena (Ballena means whale, in Spanish. For us, it’s said the way Dorey would say it, if she were trying to speak whale).
As we headed out, it quickly became apparent that the waters were not the calm ones they’d been the day before – as long as our boat was actually moving forward, it was less noticeable, but we were all gripping our seats for the (unlikely) fear that we might bounce out of the boat. We made several stops where we all sighted for whales, but found nothing. As the minutes wore on, we all kept thinking that this wave or that wave was actually the back of a whale, surfacing out of the water; none of these situations was the case, however. Finally, luckily, Gustavo (our Center Director, and resident whale-watcher in our boat) saw a tourist boat, and then the spout of a whale! Poncho, our boat driver, quickly turned the boat, and we bounced our way towards the whale. As soon as we settled there, we began to see it – first a flipper, like it was waving hi, and then a good portion of its back. We saw it spout several times, and were overwhelmed with excitement that we’d gotten to see a whale on our first time. We took all of the readings – time, water temperature, water depth, etc so that we could write it up when we returned, and then we headed out (several people were not feeling well, and it was at this point very windy and very cold).
As we headed to Isla Magdalena for a bathroom break, the waves got more and more choppy, and the spray became very intense to the point that when we reached the island, we were all drenched from head to toe, and many of us were trying desperately to get the salt out of our eyes. As we waited for others to use the bathroom, many of us tried to dry off and keep warm (by doing several renditions of “Baby Shark”). I tried desperately to dry off my camera, which didn’t have a dry bag. Because I’d needed it to see the whale (and photograph it), I had kept it out, and during the trip to Isla Mag, it had gotten, like the rest of us, completely soaked.
We set out from Isla Magdalena to go home – we didn’t think we would see any more whales due to the unfavorable conditions, and we were all in quite the state of cold and wet. The ride back was so windy that I was regularly checking the ties on my hat to make sure it was still on – my hood on my rain jacket refused to stay on my head. By the time we disembarked, we were thoroughly rattled, and I could definitely still feel the sea moving beneath me, even though I was on dry land. We all hurriedly changed into warm clothes, and headed into the sun to warm up – but to no avail. The wind was blowing so hard that we just got colder being outside.
Fortunately, we didn’t have to be outside the rest of the day, and there was hot soup for lunch, but as we headed into the classroom, it became clear that we were doomed to be cold. The classroom was freezing, as it seemed that every part of campus was. By the time dinner rolled around (with delicious tamales!!), everyone was wearing at least one pair of socks, a hat, and multiple sweatshirts. We all crawled into our cabins, pulled our sleeping bags around us, and started with our first readings.