Dolphin Hunt

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Pacific White Sided Dolphin like the pod we saw

Dan and I have been Stand Up Paddleboarding for about 2 years now. It started inauspiciously in a lagoon in Carlsbad.We  rented boards that seemed to have the temperament of unbroken horses.  I will soon tell all about that process, but last weekend we had an experience that was pretty much the reason we learned to paddle in the first place.

On Friday I had gone out at La Jolla Shores, a beautiful, 90 degree day in May which is very unusual. The wind was very high but the sea was as calm as a bath tub. Tiny ankle slapper waves made it easy to maneuver the 12 foot board out past the surf and I was able to hop right up and start paddling the gentle swells over unusually clear water. If the paddle stayed this good, I was going to be one happy mermaid. I saw a long distance swimmer about a mile away and noticed s/he had some extra activity around him. As I looked closer I saw that it was birds, but I also saw a tiny object jump from the water and gracefully land back in it. S/He had a dolphin following him/her! Several! They looked tiny from such a distance but I knew better and was so envious of his/her incredible swim experience. S/He was out where I was thinking of going anyway, so I headed that direction in a leisurely way, figuring the pod would be long gone by the time I got there.

As I went, I could see the dolphins frisking around him/her for quite a while and then I got distracted by a couple of curious seals. I kept paddling in the same direction but I had lost sight of the swimmer and the pod. I was headed to a buoy off the end of the Scripps Pier and getting close when I saw one of the dolphins break the water again, heading my way. This was a smaller, different dolphin than we were used to seeing out there. It was darker with a light patch on its side and seemed more inclined to jump out of the water and zoom quickly, acrobatically underwater. There were about fifteen of them heading in my direction and they all came close, jumping when they reached me, sometimes in pairs, zooming under my board, chattering that dolphin squeak and churning up the water. They circled a couple times. It felt like they were checking me out. I felt like I could not play to their satisfaction and then they wandered off, leaving a couple seals behind to look at me expectantly. If I had better balance skills I would have been jumping up and down on my board in excitement. We had seen two or three dolphins at a time before, bottlenose or common, breaking the surface calmly, circling a bit as they pass by, but nothing like this. I was dying to tell Dan, and see if we could find them again so he could experience it.

When I got home Dan was as jealous as I had feared. Saturday was a repeat in weather and I thought we might get lucky and run into them again so we headed down to the Shores to try. The conditions were just as fantastic, which was good because I was a little fatigued from Friday’s paddle. We headed out to where I had seen them and there was no sign of them. We went all the way out to the rough water line where a deep sea cliff starts and then headed back over to the La Jolla Cove. I was feeling badly for Dan because we really weren’t getting any mammalian sightings and I had really hoped he could experience that as well. About a half mile off the cove I looked out to sea and saw one dolphin jump out of the water. Ha!

We headed in that direction, they were coming our way too so we took it slow and sure enough they came straight at us. Of course, I can’t tell if it was the same pod, but it was the same kind of dolphin and about the same number in the same vicinity so I would guess it was. Dan’s face expressed exactly what I was feeling, and I’m sure mine did too. They were really jumping as they came at us but then started just swimming around us and under us. The water was really getting churned up and then three seagulls dove right at one of the dolphins. Dan said that they were attacking it, but we quickly realized that they were going after the fish. The dolphins were rounding up a large school of fish right underneath our boards and then swimming through it to catch a meal. The birds were coming to feed off of it too. Next thing we knew there were a couple of seals in on the action as well. They were so bold that we thought we might have company on our boards! It did not seem to bother or slow down the dolphins. We could look down and see the cloud of fish and the dolphins as they swam around and through them. It was amazing. Suddenly something shifted and the dolphins were headed out to sea again. They were jumping and swimming in a straight line. Were they full? Did they get tired of the seals and birds? Did they lose control of the fish? We followed for a bit to see if they were going to pause and round up more fish but they kept going and there was no way we were going to keep pace, or stalk the wildlife.

We looked around and the nearest people were a herd of kayakers about three quarters of a mile away over by the sea caves by La Jolla Cove. The La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club at the Shores was probably a mile and a half paddle away and we were all alone out there having had the most amazing sea encounter we had ever had. We couldn’t help but wonder what someone would have thought if they witnessed that interaction through binoculars or a telescope from the shore. When we took up paddling it was my intention to get good enough to be able to paddle out to try and find the whales during the migration off the coast here in San Diego. This experience was more than worth the price of admission!     But, I’m still going to try for the whales…..