January 2006

Monday, January 30, 2006

Ally McGrey

I’ve decided that Grey’s Anatomy is really just Ally McBeal set in a hospital.

Skinny young woman pines for a married man who has feelings for her. (Gil Bellows/Patrick Dempsey)

This grown woman of independent means has a roommate(s). (Lisa Nicole Carson/Katherine Heigl)

The no-nonsense woman of Asian descent has great power over her man. (Lisa Liu/Sandra Oh)

Insecure but sincere man pines for the lead. (Peter MacNicol/T.R. Knight)

They hang out in a bar after work.

Lots of music including on-the-nose narration-style montages.

POSTED BY Cybele AT 9:30 pm    

Friday, January 20, 2006

Whale Watch - Spirit Cruises

Today was my first voyage on the Pacific Spirit with Captain Tim at Spirit Cruises down at San Pedro’s cute little Ports o’ Call.

I’d never been out on this boat before (though I’ve been booked on it before and even boarded the boat on December 30th before the boat was canceled).


The weather was stunning today. The air was crystal clear, the water smooth and calm and it was rather warm. Captain Tim took us through the harbor area, pointing out the raft of sea lions near the pier by the fish market and then we made our way out to the open waters, past Angel’s Gate Lighthouse on the San Pedro jetty.

imageWithin about twenty minutes Captain Tim spotted a whale, about a mile further out to sea, a little north of us. We caught up to it and were delighted to find a very cooperative whale. It would surface without much of a blow, but would take five faithful breaths and then a dive and a lift of the tail (it fluked for us three times) and then only stayed down for about three and a half minutes before it would repeat the cycle.

We stayed with the whale for well over thirty minutes, following it south as it made a bee line for Dana Point.


On its last but lackluster dive we turned further out to catch up with some dolphins seen further out. What we thought were common dolphins turned out to be much more. We first came across a small pod of common dolphins (at least eight individuals) that met up with the boat and surfed in our wake. We continued towards the larger group that appeared to be feeding. Those were not common dolphins, instead they were bottlenose dolphins. They were delighted to see the boat and though it was a small group (probably a dozen) at least three joined in a few times to swim in the boat’s bow wake.

We had a large number of children on board, and they just scream with delight when the dolphins come up to the boat. A few circles in the area and the captain went off to catch back up with our faithful whale. As we headed towards him we instead ran across another small group of Risso’s dolphins. These were by far the most visible of all the dolphins we saw for the day, moving more slowly and showing more of their heads as they came up to breath and moved around. I suspect there were squid that these dolphins were feeding on. They were definitely staying in the same area, and there were plenty of gulls (but no Pelicans, which don’t eat squid).


I was suprised by the number of Heerman’s gulls. I’ve not seen many of them over at Redondo Beach, but there seem to be lots of them out of Ports ‘o Call. I think they’re very pretty gulls, with their bright white heads, red beaks and waxy gray bodies.

On our way back to the harbor the Captain stopped at one of the buoys to visit with the sea lions. There were two of them on the buoy , both males, and one of them had a huge growth at the base of his flukes. The little kids kept pointing at it and asking about it. I didn’t know quite what to say, since I didn’t think that sea lions had testicles. I’m going to print out a picture and take it into class, I have a feeling it’s some sort of tumor. It was probably the size of a mango - far too large to be a normal scrotum. I hope it’s not an indication of something dastardly going on in the harbor that may affect the wildlife.

The past two trips have had huge varieties of wildlife out on the water, they’re like dream trips where we get to see whales and dolphins. It just makes me so happy that I started doing this whalewatching stuff in the first place.

POSTED BY Cybele AT 11:58 pm     Whale Watching

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Monday Trip on Voyager

Yesterday was an awesome trip on the Voyager’s afternoon trip from Redondo Beach. It was the kind of trip that I think naturalists dream of.

The weather was mild and beautiful. A little chilly, but the waters were calm and the air was brilliantly clear. We set out at 1:30 with a rather full boat with over 50 passengers. I talked with my fellow naturalist, John, and we agreed because of my bum knee that I would take the mic for the whole trip so I didn’t have to deal with trying to navigate around the boat during the ride.

It was the first time I’ve done the whole trip as the lead naturalist, the first time I’ve really had to narrate much at all. I felt pretty comfortable about it, and I think part of it was that I’m more familiar with the material and also because Will was along and he’s always such a good audience. I tried to remember some of the biggest comments I’ve gotten, especially the one to “slow down and not talk too much.”

About 40 minutes out we passed around Rocky Point and caught sight of at least one whale close by and another a bit further out to sea. Captain John pointed us towards the closest whale and we tailed him for at least five cycles on the surface. He was not a regular whale, he didn’t follow the guide books completely. He would surface, sometimes taking his first breath and briefly snorkeling and taking another quickly after that. He did some wonderful fluking and because of the moderate wind we got some very good views of his flukeprints. He didn’t swim in a straight line, he dodged in and out, possibly because of his proximity to the point and possibly because of the other whale nearby. We never got particularly close to him and he probably preferred it that way. His irregularity made it a little difficult to predict where he’d be and how many breaths he’d take. Of course he didn’t stay down for 7 minutes or more like last week’s whales.

After following this lone whale for over 40 minutes our other naturalist, John, called the whalewatch census that pointed out a pod of dolphins a bit further out to sea. We’d seen the glinting of dorsals and a few light blows and some birds and knew they were dolphins, but it was the spotters with their scope that confirmed that it was Risso’s dolphins. I was really excited by this since I’d never seen Risso’s before. Of course I didn’t want to tell Captain John that I really, really, really, really wanted us to go out there to see them. I’m just there to help tell our passengers what we’re seeing. As we got closer to them in our current course I directed the passengers to look for the blows from the dolpins. Luckily John waited for another fluke from our present whale and turned us towards the dolphins. While on our way out there I gave the brief info that I had about the Risso’s which is pretty scant. They’re dolphins, about the size of bottlenose dolphins, 10-13 feet long, but with no real beak. They’re dark grey at birth but as they get older they get scarred and streaked until some are practically white. Their dorsal fins are quite tall and are often mistaken for Orcas, especially at a distance.

(that’s Point Vicente lighthouse there on the bluff - click to embiggen)

Risso’s, as it turns out, are rather aloof dolphins. Unlike the long-beaked and short-beaked common dolphins and bottlenose that I’ve seen before that come right up to the boat and bow-ride, the Risso’s pretty much go about their business. But it’s pretty cool to observe them ignoring us.

As far as I could tell, there were well over 20 individuals scattered over a pretty large area about a half a mile wide. They appeared to be feeding and worked in small groups of up to four individuals. They’re known to eat squid and though we saw birds around, they were gulls and I didn’t see any Pelicans, which apparently don’t eat squid.


The Captain powered down the boat and we made several slow circles through the group. With the engine and wind noise gone, all we could really hear were the squeals of the kids on board that were just tickled pink at the dolphins and pointed them out all around the boat and then there were the sounds of the dolphins themselves. They made that poofing sound as they exhaled sharply. If you didn’t see them coming up, you knew where to look just by the sound. The water was wonderfully clear and with the swells we could see the lightest colored Risso’s under the water, darting around in different directions. Sometimes two or three would come to the surface at once, and I even saw two jump partway out of the water.

At that point we were two hours into the trip and Captain John parted with the Risso’s and we headed back into Santa Monica Bay. As we passed the Dominator I prepared to wind up the trip and started my little audio presentation about the patches that we sell for the Whalewatch program and there was a loud bunch of hollering from the passengers and they all pointed at three o’clock as we saw at least two whales speeding along, hugging the coast.

Whoo! More whales! The Captain pulled around to see them, of course he had to turn out and away from them, lest he get to close. I was hoping it was a mother and calf, as they often hug the inside of the bay like that. But it was possibly better, three or maybe four whales. All coming up in close proximity and the light from the setting sun was just stunning. It was a little tough as we lost them in the glare on the water at one point, but after another cycle Captain John positioned us to catch some really nice flukes from two of the whales.

I’m sure we all would have liked to keep following them around the point, but it was time to go back to shore.

Captain John pointed us back towards Redondo Beach, we made a short stop at the buoy at the breakwater to peek at the hauled-out sea lions and then we were home again.

My pictures for this trip are rather lackluster, I’m afraid, as I was concentrating on creating the experience for the passengers. Not a bad compromise at all!
Will blogged about it.
Will posted some fantabulous photos.
I found these photos from another passenger, Josh Young.

I’m booked to go out again this weekend, a Saturday morning boat from Spirit Cruises at Port-o-Call. That’s a boat what there Captain does the mic talk, so I’ll be able to move around and maybe get some more pictures.

Here’s what the whale census had to say:

As of 16-Jan 2006

Southbound Today———————- 18
Northbound Today————————0
Total Whales Today——————- 18
Southbound Calves Today————- 0
Northbound Calves Today————- 0

Season to Date (since 1 Dec 2005)

Total———————————- 223
Calves South————————- 28
Calves North—————————0

Message from the observers: We started the day REAL SLOW. We had two sightings between 9 and 10 am, another sightings at 11:30am and then around 2 pm we started to see whales. Our numbers were greatly assisted by a number sightings on or near the horizon. We had a pod of 4 and two singles with Catalina as our backdrop. We had four sightings after 4 pm, which is when it got a little confusing. There had been a pod of three and they separated, then there was another sightings where the whales were pretty close and the sun was setting, so the visibility was difficult. Dolphin included Rissos, bottlenose and probably common.

POSTED BY Cybele AT 10:30 pm     Whale Watching

Sunday, January 01, 2006

The Year in Review

I wasn’t planning on doing a top ten list or any resolutions.

But here’s a review of the great things that happened (or I made happen) in 2005:

• I saw a blue whale, the largest animal on earth.

• I saw thousands of common dolphins off of the Southern California Coast

• I saw a dozen Pacific Gray Whales

• I saw Elephant Seals in San Simeon (okay, I’ve seen those before, but they were very active this time)

• I went to three weddings (okay, one was a reception): Will & Susan, Laura & Frank and Laura & Terry

• I went to New York City, Morro Bay, Pittsburgh (x2), Hershey, Youngstown (x2), Catalina, Santa Barbara (x2) and San Francisco (x2)

• I visited three candy factories: Jelly Belly, Scharffen Berger & Harry London Chocolates

• I had Jury Duty at Los Angeles Superior Court. I served my one day where I was put on one panel and was dismissed when they got what they needed then dismissed at the end of the day when I didn’t make it on any other panels.

• I wrote my fifth novel (I’ve now written over 250,000 words of fiction in the past five years)

• I took over 10,000 photos, probably 5,000 of them of candy (but only about 500 of them were good)

• I started a new play based on my 2004 novel, An Alphabetical Order. It still needs work and a third act, but it’s the first new thing I’ve started in over five years, so it’s progress.

• I’ve been on the radio twice: Good Food and Radio Open Source and that has since been remixed: Universal Passion.

• I started a new blog and have reviewed over 250 candies.

• I moved FastFiction and am starting a subsite for my playwriting.

Next year I plan to travel more, Chicago for the All Candy Expo, a trip to New York City, a vacation or two, a visit to the family back east and of course more whalewatching trips. Another novel, finish the current play maybe write a non-fiction book about candy (well, you knew that was coming, right?). It’s an exciting time.

POSTED BY Cybele AT 7:51 pm     Curious News













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During November it's all about me writing a novel. Sometimes it's about whalewatching. You know, and then there's other stuff.