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Watching for whales

January 06, 2001

Young Chang

Susan Taylor's purple blouse inflates with the wind. The purple thread

on her straw cap streams behind her, and she clutches her young daughter,

Maddy Havnaer, tight in her lap.

The wind isn't too bad yet. Once they get out into the open ocean

aboard the Reveille, the wind may blow stronger and the boat may rock

harder.

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But it shouldn't be too much for Maddy, 3, to handle. After all,

Taylor said she began whale-watching when she was about her daughter's

age. The shine of a whale's skin encrusted with barnacles, the mammal's

slowness, nearness and sheer size -- it's not something she's ever tired

of.

"I tell you, they're just so big," Taylor said. "They look almost

prehistoric. I was amazed that something that big could move as

gracefully as it did."

Taylor's shipmates aboard the Reveille, especially the younger ones,

waited for their glimpse of a whale this week. Young boys in Billabong

sweatshirts leaned over the rail and were told to"please do not hang off

the boat" by Capt. Bill Scott.

Other passengers joined them at the front deck, standing for a large

part of the two-hour trip in hopes of seeing a gray whale. What they did

see were dolphins swimming at the bow and sea lions lounging on a buoy,

but it wasn't too disappointing.

"It's really fun," said Kevin Burzynski, 10. "I like seeing all the

dolphins, the fish in the water. I just like the adventure of looking out

here."

Since whale-watching tours began Dec. 26, Scott and his passengers

have spotted the large aquatic mammals on three separate trips. Boats

take off every day from the Balboa Peninsula for two-hour excursions to

try to catch a glimpse of the great whales migrating from the Arctic

Circle to the warm lagoons of Baja California.

The Nautilus from Newport Landing and the Western Pride from Davey's

Locker also conduct whale trips.

Gray whales migrate more than 5,000 miles one way at about 4 or 5 mph

without feeding, Scott said. They summer in the frigid waters of the

Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort seas and the Arctic Ocean and spend the

winter in the warm waters of Baja. Whale-watching season ends near Easter

weekend, but only to make room for fishing season.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act requires that all boats stay at least

100 yards away from whales. As sound travels better underwater, Scott

said the mammals can hear the proximity of boats.

The 53-year-old captain knows what he's talking about. Scott is at

home on the bridge of his vessel.

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