Senior Guest Experience Trainer Steven Johnston has been following a certain humpback whale—nicknamed Big Fin—for more than a decade. But after no sightings for two years, he feared the worst. Then, in mid-May, Big Fin returned to Monterey Bay! We’ll let Steve pick up Big Fin’s story….
I first was introduced to this whale in 2004 by the captains of Sanctuary Cruises out of Moss Landing. They had nicknamed her “Big Fin” due to the unusual shape of her dorsal fin. The captains told me they had first seen her in 2001, and each year since. Each odd-numbered year she had a calf. One of the best things about Big Fin is that she almost always hung out two to three miles outside Moss Landing, so she was often the first whale we saw on the way out or the last whale we saw on the way in.
In 2008, one of our volunteers sent me a photo of a whale tail that he had taken. I e-mailed him back and said, “I know that whale!” He had sent me a photo of Big Fin without ever knowing her story!
In 2010 I was doing a presentation about humpbacks, and invited Kate, one of the captains of Blue Ocean Whale Watch, also out of Moss Landing, as my guest. As Kate looked at my photos, she yelled, “I know that whale—I have her photo in my boat for passengers!”
In 2011 I went out with Blue Ocean in June. At that point Kate had not seen Big Fin yet that year, but we were hopeful. About a mile out she spotted a blow another couple of miles out. As we got closer, Kate yelled to me that she was sure it was Big Fin. Sure enough! We could also see that the baleen in the front of her mouth is white and shriveled, perhaps due to gum disease, or possibly damage to her jaw from fishing gear. It clearly isn’t very functional. She tips her head back and uses baleen that is farther back in her mouth to filter out her food, so the damage may not be in her whole mouth.
In 2012 no one that I know saw big Fin, and we were afraid that our friend might indeed have died of old age. However, on May 14 of this year, Kate said they had seen Big Fin that morning, and picked her out in the distance by her feeding method! It’s really good to know that our old friend is still around. No calf in sight, so she may indeed be old, but she’s still here!
The Monterey Bay Aquarium recently hosted a special evening event for the opening of our new restaurant, Cindy’s Waterfront, and in attendance with his parents was 19-month-old Hoppus Flores, a local child who has an immunity disorder that prevents him from interacting with large crowds. We’ll let his father, Bryan Flores, tell this amazing story. We were so glad to be able to give him this experience!
Thank you Monterey Bay Aquarium for a really great event the other night. When we received the invite I was so excited. I have been to a couple of other mixers at the Aquarium. When I called and asked if I could also bring my wife and 19-month-old son, Hoppus. I was told I could and I was very excited.
You see Hoppus has an immunity disorder called neutropenia, which means he is unable to fight off bacterial infections. We have been told he may outgrow it or he may have it for life. We have to keep him isolated. My wife has had to quit work to care for him at home, since he cannot be in day care or school. He cannot come in contact with other children or surfaces they touch like Aquarium glass! So we have to keep him in the stroller during our visits and use our bodies to block people. It is nerve-racking every moment of the day. We have had numerous visits to the ER in the middle of the night for emergency antibiotic injections when he is sick so that he won’t get a rampant bacterial infection and die.
The reason I am telling you this is so that you see how special our trip was to the Aquarium and how the Aquarium gave our son the chance of a lifetime to be the only child in the whole facility. We nearly cried a couple of times when he was running and pointing, making fish faces in the glass to the fish, smiling and laughing incessantly and touching creatures in the touch tank just like everything was fine and he did not have a serious disorder. It was very special for us as parents who are so stressed each time we go there for fear that he will touch something and get sick. We kept his hands out of his mouth and kept wiping him down with hand cleaner and everything turned out fine!
I just wanted you to know that you made a child very happy and his parents are very thankful for the experience.
The Aquarium sometimes works with the Make-a-Wish Foundation to accommodate special-needs children.