We have decided to give Larry the Whale and all his Minke Whale friends a voice.  After our experience with Larry on March 28th, 2010 – we have been just amazed.  Not only did he give us the attention we needed to raise funds for our charity Paddle With Purpose, he has raised our awareness of how the Minke Whale is suffering in other parts of the world.  Their curious nature gets them into trouble and they end up at the end of a harpoon too often.  We are hoping that through the blog, Larry the Whale, we can raise more awareness of the Minke Whale and it’s preservation as well as other ocean matters that are important to all of us.  We believe in being good stewards of what God has given us to enjoy.

Thus far Larry’s story certainly has legs…he has been the focus of national news – highlighted on the CBS Early Show, NBC Today Show, NBC nightly news, CNN, local TV news outlets such as Los Angeles’ KCAL 9, CBS 2, KTLA 5,  & FOX 5 in San Diego.  He made the front page of Yahoo on Thursday, April 1, 2010 and has helped raise approximately $122,000 for Breast Cancer Awareness/Education/Prevention.

We hope to fill the blog with the pictures taken by Jenny & Angela, videos take by Drew,  & the experiences of each member of the crew, including Jodie’s perspective which was a bit more intimate!  We also will be gathering information from Minke Whale experts and other Marine life advocates to help educate Larry’s fans on what we can do to help.

To get started, here is a bit of our story:

On March 28, 2010 we had the honor and privilege to travel with a Minke Whale off the coast of Orange County, California.  Jodie Nelson was on a solo trek on a 14 foot stand up paddle board from Avalon, Catalina to Dana Point, California, a distance of approximately 40 miles,  to raise funds and awareness for Breast Cancer.  She was officially a part of the annual Ocean Ohana Catalina Challenge which is a relay race involving teams racing on single and double Outriggers or Surfski’s, as well as Stand up Surfboards and Paddle boards.  Jodie was given a special start time due to her solo mission knowing it could take up to 10 hours to complete.  If she accomplished her mission, she would be the first woman ever to Stand Up Paddle this crossing.

Jodie and her crew, which consisted of Captain Ray Hsieh (pronounced Shay) of Crows Nest Yachts, Jodie’s dear friend & Breast Cancer warrior Angela Robinson, her sister Jenny Penjoyan, and Drew Little, a one man film crew who was documenting Jodie’s whole journey.  They were  on board a 33 foot Pursuit, which in layman’s terms is a luxury small fishing boat.  The boat was equipped with the latest technology that assisted Ray to make precise decisions on which direction to guide Jodie to Dana Point according to winds, currents, & swell.

The weather was beautiful, calm winds, “Santa Ana” wind conditions were prevalent in Orange County the day before and the predicted weather for the day of the paddle was perfect for a crossing from the West to the East.  The water was like a lake, clear turquoise water surrounded the boat.  Truly a rare and beautiful day to be out on the Pacific.

The paddle started out perfectly with the sun rising within 30 minutes of starting.  There was excitement in the air to get this long trek started.

At approximately 9:15am, 3 hours into the crossing and approximately 8 miles East of Avalon, we were all extremely surprised by something BIG in the water…not clear at first what is was, and thinking back to the event – we are all not really sure who saw it first.  The Whale just approached out of no where and when he appeared he was already really close, approximately 20 yards away (for the sake of telling the story, we refer to the whale as a male, although we have not confirmed the whale’s sex).  All of us on the boat gasped and Jodie wanted to know what in the world was going on.  We let her know she had a friend – she honestly didn’t want to know what type of friend and quickly paddled toward the boat.

Ray immediately assumed it was a Risso’s dolphin which he had seen from afar many times in these waters.  But after a short while and realizing that Risso’s don’t “hang out” with boats or by themselves, we knew we were with some other species of whale.  Next we all assumed it was a juvenile gray whale.  I think in the back of all of our minds we knew were getting a visit from some other kind of whale we just really had no idea what it was.

At this point in the story it is obvious to Whale buffs that all of us on the boat had never had a close encounter with a whale other than at Sea World.  When he came up with his nose we could definitely tell he was a baleen whale – the “friendly” type, aka  NO SHARP TEETH type!  Knowing full well Jodie was in the water with all sorts of creatures (she really does have a fear of sharks) she couldn’t stop thinking about the movie Jaws and other crazy stories she has heard.  But, we continued to reassure her that she was safe!  For a while we kept her paddling next to the boat just in case.  Once Ray had a moment, he placed a call to a friend at Sea World.  Upon our description, they were fairly certain we were indeed having a rare encounter with a gray whale…but I (Jenny writing here) still was not convinced, but I really had no other theories either.  His flippers were not very long and his body was super smooth.  His coloring was very similar to the creature Jodie feared the most, the great white.  But we KNEW it was just a whale, and apparently a curious one [We found out on Monday after the experts had a chance to see our film/video that it was confirmed we had a very rarely seen in these waters/rarely documented extremely long encounter with a Minke whale].

At some point after our first introduction to this whale, Jodie lovingly (or annoyingly) named the whale LARRY! The name stuck immediately and we all referred to him as Larry.  Jodie was on a roller coaster of emotions.  At times calm and comfortable with Larry being nearby and other times pretty much freaking out.  Because of the crystal clear water conditions that day it was pretty easy for us on the boat to spot Larry while he was under water if he was within 10-20 yards from us. We could somewhat predict when he was going to surface again by watching him under the water.  Often times he seemed to be only going down about 5 feet or so.  He tended to hang out behind the boat or off to Jodie’s right and when he did that the underwater view for us was not great, but Jodie could see him.  The pictures of her pointing into the ocean are times when he was right under her or next to her.

Larry seemed to spend the most amount of his time around Jodie and her paddle board. She did have one close call when Larry decided to cut her off right across her bow and then do a slight roll to his side.  His tail was the last thing she saw and it gave a little flick.  The tail was something we hadn’t see yet.  Turned sideways it looked like a dorsal fin of a Whitey – causing her to spook big time!  That is when she can be quoted as saying – I walked on water!  She ended up jumping to the back of the boat and asking us to grab her – we all reassured her that it was just Larry’s tail, no other creature was with her.  She took a minute to recover (we recovered her board quickly) and off she went.  She relaxed a bit after some time and we think that spooked Larry too because he wasn’t seen for a few minutes after that.

Jodie became more and more comfortable with him and was very familiar with his dorsal fin which has a little flap of skin hanging off.  I also saw a straight white scar on his right side.  Capt. Ray noticed he had a silver dollar sized scar as well.  He was our whale…by this time we knew we were having a special time with one of God’s creatures.  As Jodie gained confidence she would venture further from the boat.  And when she did, boy did Larry like that!  He would get in between the boat and her board and swim along side sometime turning sideways underwater.  We talked to a Minke Whale expert and have come to learn that this is common behavior and that Larry was definitely checking Jodie out – probably having fun!  He also began blowing bubbles while underwater. This behavior was very surprising to all of us.  We joked that he was protecting her from something else…Jodie didn’t like those jokes!