There are a number of ocean fans around Wilfair HQ, though I'm inclined to say that is all of us. How we approach our oceanic interactions probably differs -- there are likely some snorkelers among us, while a few might prefer admiring the waves from the beach -- but we all have a love of the watery part of our planet and the beasties that call it home.

I've always had a soft spot for sharks, though I'm partial to whales and dolphins and the larger creatures of the deep. (Sorry, plankton, don't be jealous.) (Uh-oh, I kind of like that for a band name: Jealous Plankton.) (Anyway, moving on.)

That's why I put sharks in a hotel in the Wilfair books. They're found in Lodge Under Ocean, a Finley family hotel up the coast.

Never, ever did I expect I'd see a shark in the wild, though, much less a Great White, which is a statement that's only leading to one inevitable end: I just saw a Great White in the wild.

It started with a boat trip to Channel Islands National Park, near Ventura (that's about an hour northwest of Los Angeles). (Reader Caitlin #2 knows it well -- hi, Caitlin #2.) The islands were beautiful and remote, I spied an osprey, then got bit on the ankle by a sand fly or something munchy, and am currently nursing my first sunburn of this millennium.

Ow ow ow.

So on the way back to the mainland the captain of our passenger boat announced that we're approaching a deceased minke whale floating in the Santa Barbara Channel. Captain advised us that the carcass was a few days old and was now providing food for other ocean denizens. The circle of life, indeed, though why the whale died was unknown. Natural causes seemed a strong possibility.

Our captain advised the squeamish among us not to venture to the railing. That is not me, so I was at the railing in moments, curious about this rare sight. Then, mere seconds after I reached the railing, a giant Great White pushed forcefully out of the water, just feet from where I stood, and chomped the carcass.

To say I gasped multiple times is an understatement. I might have yelled "oh wow!" or something equally as clever. It was unreal, a nature documentary playing out before our eyes.

I'm full of awe over seeing this, even as I give a thought to the minke. I hope it had a fine whale life. Happy trails, Mr. or Ms. Minke.

I suppose it is true what Monty Overbove says in the Wilfair books: None of us know what comes next in our story. I've long wanted to see a bear in the wild, from a respectful and very, very considerable distance, but I never thought I'd come across a Great White on the open ocean. Nor did I especially want to, truth be told, but now that it has happened I'm, well. Amazed. Agog. Both.

My phone camera was juiceless, but I'm glad -- I wanted to focus on the moment and not take pictures. But if you want to see video of what I described, you can find it on the Island Packers Facebook page. Again, to echo our captain: If you're squeamish, please tread with care. It's wild, spectacular nature at its toothiest.

Have you seen a rare wonder that you 100% never expected you'd see?

Channel Island, cr: NPS


Caitlin #1 said...

I have seen a bear in the wild! A black bear, so it was pretty small and not dangerous, but still. And we were fairly close. That was in Tennessee.

I also saw a sea turtle in Hawaii, although that wasn't a surprise. I'd love to see some of those again.

Wilfair Book said...

Black bears are pretty.

I've always wanted to see a sea turtle! Cool.

I remember some mystical 1970s made-for-TV movie where a woman turned into a sea turtle and swam away to be with her sea turtle boyfriend. Maybe? I think that was the plot.

Even though I was a very small tot the film had a big impact. For I, too, plan on turning into a sea turtle one day, when the time is right.

Chiara said...

Sharks! I've been fascinated by them ever since I was a little kid. So cool you saw one in the wild! I checked out the videos on Facebook, awesome.

Don't think I ever saw a rare wonder like that. Unless I forgot but I doubt I would forget something like that.

And yes, bears are pretty.

Ginny said...

Wow, that is amazing! I think I may have told you about the time I "swam with the dolphins." We were in San Diego on vacation at a beach house on Mission Beach. One morning there was a pod of dolphins swimming just off shore. I had always wanted to swim with dolphins and I felt like seizing the day so I ran and got a boogie board and jumped in.

After a few minutes I felt myself getting pulled out to sea and started to get really freaked out. Then a huge wave crashed directly on my head, sending me tumbling and causing me to lose my glasses. The only good thing was the wave pushed me back to shore.

So, yeah, I swam with the dolphins. Kind of. I'm sure one of them has extremely good vision now that they have my glasses!

Wilfair Book said...

Chiara: I'm glad we share a sharky fascination!

Ginny: I had no idea you boogie-boarded with a dolphin pod. Too. Cool. And at Mission Beach, too, which is beautiful.

And now I want to write a tale about a dolphin wearing your glasses and lovin' life! Though I'm truly sorry you lost them. I've been there, in different ways, as a glasses-wearer. Though I've never lost mine in quite the exciting fashion!

Glad you were okay and got a great story out of it. :)

Kelly said...

Ginny that is an amazing story! If that was my story, in all those weird circumstances where you are supposed to "provide an interesting fact about yourself" my fact would always be "I once lost a pair of glasses in a dolphin related incident".

Alysia your trip sounds fantastic. I've seen Great Whites before, and I was completely awestruck. It wasn't a surprise in my case as I was on a cage-diving boat trip in South Africa, so we were searching them out. I knew theoretically how big they can be, but I was still somehow entirely unprepared for the big-ness when we got up close to one.

As for unexpected rare wonders - when I went to Iceland last year I went on a late night excursion to try to see the Northern Lights. We did manage to catch a glimpse, and they were beautiful and strange and sort of ghostly, but we also happened to see a meteor shower while we were out there. It was so so beautiful, just shooting star after shooting star, and it's so dark and clear there I felt like I could see right to the edges of the universe. It was trippy and hypnotic, and it made everyone there get kind of quiet and philosophical.

Rosemary said...

Whoa! I had to look up their Facebook page - that video is RIDICK.

True story: I'm an ichthyophobic. So I do not get in natural bodies of water and even getting on boats requires drugs and/or booze for me. And while I think catfish are THE DEVIL'S SPAWN, I'm not any more afraid of sharks than anyone else. And if that video had been catfish, I wouldn't have been able to watch it. But it was pretty amazing.

I was riding my bike behind my neighborhood once in junior high (sort of out in the country - I grew up in a small town) and a mountain lion crossed the road about fifty yards in front of me. I biked home as fast as I could, but NO ONE BELIEVED ME. People have always claimed to see them, but the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission denied they existed in Arkansas until last year. Finally they reported that we do, in fact, have a breeding population, and some have even been photographed in populated areas.

Wilfair Book said...

Kelly: There are so many interesting things in your comment! Cage-diving, Australia, Iceland, the Northern Lights. I want to experience ALL of those places and wonders.

"Trippy and hypnotic" sell me on any natural occurrence, as does "ghostly." Also, I've seen a few meteor showers, but nothing like you describe. Once I saw a massive cloud-to-cloud lightning storm, where the lightning didn't hit the ground but rather zigged around neighboring clouds. Magical.

And "late-night excursion" contains three of my favorite words. I like strange journeys by night. Sold, sold, sold. Thank you for sharing!

Rosemary: No joke, but I have a "riding my bike and seeing something weird" story that I've been planning to post. NO. JOKE. I will link back to this comment when I do.

Also, mountain lions? WHAT. Beautiful and not something I ever want to meet in the wild. Speaking of populated areas, there's one roaming LA's Griffith Park, which is in the middle of the city, like, right next to Hollywood, right now. He's on the cover of the LA Times today. I'm like, Mountain Lion, dude, watch out! Traffic and stuff!

And what is it with the catfish? The whiskers? They're a little freaky. Can you eat a catfish? Or is that way, way, WAY off the table, literally?

do dah said...

you all have some amazing stories! and kelly, the northern lights! they're one of my favorite things ever, although i've never seen them as any color other than green. and i live too far south to see them now... isn't it a big solar flare year this year, which will make them particularly impressive? combined with a meteor shower? magical.

rosemary, did you bike through the neighborhood again ever? i think i might've been too afraid! although one was hanging out on my neighbor's porch a couple years ago, enjoying the dog food, and i still walk around outside. so.

i think my most... amazing... wildlife encounter is actually this: i was walking to class in the middle of the morning, through a neighborhood. i saw one of the members of the urban fox population crossing a lawn. it gave me a Look, and then peed on the sidewalk about five feet in front of me. that sort of thing is just NOT supposed to happen! i am still sort of disturbed by it, actually. was it being aggressive? was it sick? was it just so urban that it had stopped caring? is it a hipster?

Jill said...

I also saw a shark once. Not a great white, however. Just a reef shark. I was snorkeling in Hawaii while on my honeymoon, and one just swam by. Our guide kindly identified the kind of shark it was and that reef sharks usually ignore people. It was during this snorkeling trip (my first and only) that I discovered that I am not afraid of sharks but I have an irrational fear of coral.

Wilfair Book said...

Jill -- the phrase "irrational fear of coral" will be my phrase of the day! It made me laugh, a little, but not, because I know what you mean. Oh, coral -- you're so beautiful but so sharp and pointy, too.

I wonder if reef sharks just see so many people that they're like "hey, how's it goin'?" as they swim on by.

Thanks for the hello, Jill!

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