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Northern California Pelagics

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  • SKUA@MSN.com
    I read with interest Ed Stonick s recent post about Northern California pelagic trips, and I wanted to comment on the use of whale- watching/fishing trips as
    Message 1 of 2 , Jul 10, 2001
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      I read with interest Ed Stonick's recent post about Northern
      California pelagic trips, and I wanted to comment on the use of whale-
      watching/fishing trips as substitutes for trips dedicated to birding.
      I also wanted to comment on Ed's assertion that the pricing of these
      trips is higher due to the fact that there is only one major tour
      operator providing these trips.

      Before I discuss the whale-watching/fishing trips vs. birding trips,
      I'll disclose both my conflicts of interest and relative experience
      with these different options. I've been on close to 200 pelagic
      trips, mostly in CA and NC, but I have been out of over a dozen ports
      in the US, as well as five continents. I am a frequent leader for
      tour companies on both coasts, (including the company Ed refers
      subtly to), and about 60% of my trips were free in exchange for my
      leadership, the rest were as a paying customer, and I continue to pay
      full fare for my wife. I've been out on well over a 20 whale-watching
      trips on both coasts, and roughly the same number of fishing trips.
      My conclusions are simple. I will always go on a birding trip as my
      first choice, and here's why:

      The primary purpose of a birding trip is to see birds, and the
      captain, leaders, and participants are all focused to that end. Whale-
      watching trips generally go to the closest whales, fishing trips to
      the fish, and that may or may not be where the birding is best. Even
      when you do see birds on whale-watching or fishing trips, the boat is
      not going to stop for you to get a better look. On Monterey Bay,
      murrelets are usually at the top of birders' most-wanted lists. On
      bird trips, I have on numerous occasions had long, leisurely looks at
      pairs of murrelets on the water at a distance of only a few yards. A
      whale-watching/fishing boat is not going to spend ten or twenty
      minutes doing that, at best you'll see them flying away, or get brief
      views on the water as the boat goes by. The same holds true for
      Monterey Bay's unique storm petrel rafts. Pelagic birding trips often
      spend a substantial amount of time getting good looks at these
      flocks, and searching for uncommon species amongst the Ashy and Black
      Storm-petrels. A whale-watching/fishing trip will most likely not
      even see a flock, and will most certainly not stop and carefully
      search through them.

      Chumming also makes a huge difference. The popcorn/fish/ cod liver
      oil often used not only increases the chances of seeing rare or
      uncommon species, but generally brings jaegers, shearwaters, and
      albatrosses to the stern where they can be observed at closer range,
      for a more extended period than would otherwise be possible.

      Add those benefits with the, camaraderie of spending the day at sea
      with like-minded birders, and the obvious benefits of having so many
      well-trained eyes scanning the horizon, and the advantages of going
      on a birding trip are clear. There are a number of other factors, but
      in the interest of brevity, I'll not elaborate further, except to say
      birding trips are also usually a great way to see whales, and I would
      prefer to take a birding trip to do that as well. I've seen
      spectacular whales in CA on birding trips, definitely the equal of
      any whale watch tour I've been on.

      I think the difference between a whale-watching/fishing trip and a
      birding trip can be compared to the difference between taking a
      professional birding tour as opposed to a cheaper generic tour. You
      are going to pay more to go on the professional birding tour, but you
      are going to see more, and see it better. For most birders, that is a
      worthwhile investment.

      As for the prices of California trips being too high, they are in
      line with Gulf Stream trips out of NC, and Northern CA is a far more
      expensive place. I live in LA and commute to Monterey, and I have
      watched reasonable accommodation become increasingly difficult to
      find. Fuel prices are at least 15% higher in CA, and the price to
      charter boats has increased, partly because of increasing fuel
      prices, and partly because of an increase in demand for whale-
      watching and fishing trips. The amount of work that goes into to
      organizing and marketing 30+ boat trips a year is far greater than
      the financial returns, and I suspect that is the real reason there
      are not more tour operators out there.

      Finally, let me add that all of my comments are my own, and are not
      necessarily the opinion of any of the tour companies I lead for. And
      lest I be flamed, I have nothing against whale-watching or Fishing
      trips. I will continue to go on both, and always enjoy myself. My
      only point is that trips dedicated to birding are far better choices
      for birders.
      Good seabirding!

      Todd McGrath
      Marina Del Rey CA
    • Richard Carlson
      If you only have one day in Monterey and are a beginner, take the birding pelagic. If you know your birds fairly well, the good whale trips offer more times
      Message 2 of 2 , Jul 10, 2001
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        If you only have one day in Monterey and are a beginner, take the birding
        pelagic. If you know your birds fairly well, the good whale trips offer
        more times at less money. You'll see lots of whales and 80 to 90% of the
        species that you'd see on the birding trips for about 60% of the money.

        Richard C. Carlson
        Full Time Birder, Biker, Skier, Hiker
        Part-time Economist
        Palo Alto & Lake Tahoe, CA
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