The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary has been called the Serengeti of the sea for its wealth of diverse wildlife. Keeping up with migrating birds, sea mammals, and changes in the beaches, waves, and vegetation is a full-time job hundreds of biologists, geologists, and other experts.

For me, it’s a hobby that never gets old. Every day it looks different, from the colors of the ocean to the hues of the sky and the direction and speed of the wind. Varying migration patterns and tides mean I never know from day to day what birds or mammals I might spot.  It keeps me flipping through my bird books to identify species I didn’t even know lived in North America. (I’d always thought of an ibis as a two-dimensional bird that lived on the walls of Egyptian tombs. Turns out they’re three-dimensional, live among us, and have an odd croaking voice that sounds as if they’re made of wood.)

There’s so much to absorb and learn that it keeps me humble and awestruck. But never so much as the day I ventured out for a quick walk on the sand, planning to spend a mere fifteen minutes.

It was late afternoon. A storm was approaching from well off the coast. The hills of Monterey were dark, but the sun highlighted the spray of the waves on a relatively flat sea. Something drew my attention across the bay. I saw what I feared was a plume of smoke and my heart sank. After a devastating fire in the Ventana Wilderness had burned for months, how could there be anything left in Monterey County to burn?

But then I saw another plume, another, and a fourth, in the distinctive heart-shaped pattern that says, “a gray whale is breathing here.”  I was loath to turn my back on them, and walked until I ran out of beach.

In case I hadn’t noticed, they began to breach — outdoing one another with huge leaps followed by the echoing sound of their bodies slapping the water.  No one quite knows why whales and other sea creatures breach. Theories abound. Are they ridding their bodies of parasites? Communicating? Showing off? Or having fun? Scientists aren’t sure but this pod of about a dozen looked to be enjoying themselves.

Monterey is one stop on the gray whales’ long migration from Alaska, their summer habitat, to Baja California where they spend the winter and birth their calves. The Monterey Canyon makes the bay extraordinarily deep just off the coast, allowing the whales to venture safely very close to land.

My ability to identify various species of birds, sea slugs, and shells is improving since my move to this area a few months ago. And I have the utmost admiration for birders who know avian habits well enough to anticipate behavior and snap pictures or identify rare species at great distances.

But I identified a whale species from several hundred yards away, without binoculars. And I felt honored. Birders, eat your hearts out.

What had been a frustrating day flipped on end and I walked nearly six miles in an effort to keep the whales in sight. It’s hard to feel anything but exhilarated when a dozen forty-five-foot mammals signal “I love you” repeatedly from the ocean’s depths.

Gray Whale Monterey Bay. Photo by Sanctuary Cruises.

 

Professional organizer Maggie McDonald has a knack for cleaning up other people’s messes. So when the fiancée of her latest client turns up dead, it’s up to her to sort through the untidy list of suspects and identify the real killer.

Maggie McDonald is hoping to raise the profile of her new Orchard View organizing business via her first high-profile client. Professor Lincoln Sinclair may be up for a Nobel Prize, but he’s hopeless when it comes to organizing anything other than his thoughts. For an academic, he’s also amassed more than his share of enemies. When Sinclair’s fiancée is found dead on the floor of his home laboratory—electrocuted in a puddle of water—Maggie takes on the added task of finding the woman’s murderer. To do so, she’ll have to outmaneuver the suspicious, obnoxious police investigator she’s nicknamed “Detective Awful” before a shadowy figure can check off the first item on their personal to-do list—Kill Maggie McDonald.

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