Posts Tagged ‘Dana Point Harbor’


For me, there are two reasons I love to be on the ocean. 1) Fishing. As in hunting fish. 2) Nature. As in experiencing the stuff that is there to see.  A couple of weeks ago, I was out with my pals Matt and Joe (see Reason #1), and we were I was getting the crap kicked out of us me by some rough water, and a bite that just wouldn’t switch on. Between casts my stomach would lurch, and flop, and clench as my temperature rose uncomfortably, and my palms grew clammier by the minute. Every time I turned my head, my meager breakfast began rising in my throat. After what seemed like a thousand 6 foot swells rolling past, I called it and told them, “I’ve gotta go in, or this is going to get ugly quick.”

First seen off of Dana Point

I’m not one of those guys who can just lean over the rail and quietly empty the contents of his gut into the clear blue water, allowing the other occupants of the vessel relative peace. Maybe I missed that day in Reverse Peristalsis 101, where they teach you to barf gracefully, or perhaps it was the severe potty training. No matter. The result is the same; I’m the guy who’s body tries to turn itself inside out with a crippling, seizing, body-length convulsion reminiscent of The Exorcist. People could be injured, namely me, and besides it’s damned embarassing… to watch.

Being friends, and not wanting to experience my disgraceful hurl-fest first hand, they relented and reeled up their unbit lines. We motored slowly across the surging swell toward the nearby refuge of Dana Point Harbor, and I felt immediate relief in knowing I would soon be in more stomach settling water. I’m not proud of my status as a wimp, but the weight of the annoyed looks I was getting bounced off like I was made of Teflon. Very queasy Teflon.

Even when I’m expressing my wuss-ness, I’m still a curious soul.

 

Through my unsettled eyes (yes, even my eyes were sick) I spied a white blob barely under the surface and without hesitation turned the boat in the direction of the disturbance, which I hoped would be something interesting to look at (see Reason #2). It turned out to be a whopper of a Mola Mola. For the uninitiated, a Mola sighting is quite bizarre. These gentle, but huge alien looking, fish are also called Ocean Sunfish because they will lazily fin at the surface on their sides, apparently resting under the radiant gaze of our nearest star. They do this until a boat comes near, or, I suppose, until they just feel like swimming away. Sometimes, like this time, it takes a bit more to get them off the dime.

Broadside of a 200# Mola Mola

In our case, the fish wasn’t in a hurry to dive and disappear as quickly as the other Mola’s I’ve seen. In fact, with its pale white color, and flaccid road-kill-esque demeanor, I was pretty sure it was dead and motored right next to it to take a look at my grisly find. Always the 8-year old boy, I gave it a gentle, but curious “Eeew, it’s dead!” test poke with a long boat hook, and was more than a little surprised when the baseball sized eye flinched and snapped shut. You can’t get the scale from the photos, but this fish was large, as in 6-7 feet from nose to tail, and roughly equal dimensions from tip to tip of its enormous fins. I don’t know about you, but when an eye, on a fish that big, snaps shut within feet from my own eye, it’s startling. I must admit, I jumped back, just a tiny little bit.

Mola Mola Up Close & Personal

I immediately felt remorse for my child-like morbid curiosity and grabbed my camera to turn the moment into this blog post. We circled the beast and to my surprise, it stayed within arms reach of the boat for several minutes. There was plenty of time for me to shoot a handful of underwater still shots, and assemble my video camera to shoot the video you see below. It’s not going to win any awards for anything, or likely get more than a few dozen views, but I think it was some of the coolest footage I’ve ever shot of wildlife. The 1985 Blag Flag frat house basement concert video excepted.

Our big pale pal swam over to the boat and my overwhelming childishness blasted forth yet again. I leaned over the gunwale of the boat and grabbed the fish by the giant dorsal fin. The photo does a good job of showing the scale compared to my hand. I’m not sure what I was thinking, but it just felt right. I touch fish all the time, but this one was different. I had not hooked the fish, nor fought it, or even baited it for that matter. This creature was content to hang out with us and allow me to interact with it, physically. I’m sure the fish must have been sick, and perhaps even dying to allow such hyjinx, but the experience was one I won’t forget. It felt like shark skin, and the meat tasted like chicken. (I’m joking…)

After the fish decided to dive, I realized that my sea-sickness was gone, as in 100% symptom free. I’m sure there’s some sort of deep and meaningful life lesson, or cosmic soul-bonding, inter-species love/medical miracle story there, but I’m going to chock it up to simple awe. Whatever it was, it worked like a charm. Thanks Mother Nature.

This was one big mellow fish.


In an earlier post, I had some fun describing a Mako shark sighting in Dana Point Harbor. As I was trying to point out, the spectacle of a major predator cruising inside a boat basin is unusual, and awesome. This morning, I woke to find there was more going on than the videos convey.

Apparently Joel Colombo (a charter boat Captain) and Jordan McNaughton (his cousin), took it upon themselves to remove the wayward Mako shark from the harbor. What I had positioned as a story awe and wonder, has now turned to mis-guided glory-hounding.

Here is an excerpt of the article written by Andrea Swane of the Dana Point Times (read the complete article with photos here) :

“I couldn’t believe my eyes; it looked like a Mako so we put a line out and the shark took it right away, quickly broke the line and swam toward the Wind & Sea Restaurant with the hook still imbedded in its mouth,” said Colombo. “We started up the boat and followed it to the bait barge.”

According to Colombo, the duo then snuck up on it once, it sunk out and then popped back up. When the shark reappeared, McNaughton quickly gaffed it.

“The shark rolled with so much power that it snapped the gaff in two,” said Colombo. “At this point we knew it was really wounded and if we didn’t bring it in it would probably have been cranky and dangerous for a while and then later died. We decided to keep pursuing it and about an hour and a half later we saw it near the JollyRoger.”

They pulled the boat up next to it and McNaughton hit it with a second gaff and Colombo followed with a third. They were finally able to get a rope around its tail, get the flailing fish under control and pull it up on to the swim step of their boat.

Colombo said that by this time there was a group of onlookers watching and he thinks that some may have gotten the wrong idea by seeing only the end of the pursuit.

What idea were the onlookers supposed to get? Were they supposed to think that these two had been planning for days, honing their skills, investing their time, sweat and hard earned angling credentials in this life and death struggle? This was on-par with running down a rabid raccoon with a truck. Sure, they did swimmers and paddleboarders a favor of not having to worry about the shark biting them, but to label the episode a “pursuit” is laughable. Further posing with the animal as a trophy is adding insult to our collective intelligence. There was no fair chase here, this was a drive-by gaffing. This fish was sick and clearly disoriented. This was a pest control situation, not a fishing expedition.  The manner in which this animal was captured and dispatched was messy & shameful. This in no way resembles the “sport” of angling, or the fishermen that I so dearly love and support. Thanks for taking out a hazard, but there is no glory here for anyone.

Do you know what these three things have in common: Lindsay Lohan, Christmas Morning, and Saltwater Fishing? Give up? Each of them are rife with opportunity to surprise, delight, and disappoint, all at the same time. Who knows what that formerly attractive and modestly talented girl will do next to end up on the cover of a magazine. She collects mugshots like I collect hook wounds, and I hope that she’s able to redeem those Frequent Rehabber miles for something nice, but not too outlandish. As for Christmas Morning, it’s a real crap shoot sometimes. How many camouflaged Snuggies can a guy really use? Yes, I’m talking to you Mom.

On the other hand, being on, around, or within sniffing distance of saltwater can be one of the most exhilarating, frustrating, bewildering, and awe inspiring experiences ever. Take for example these two very quick videos I found on the web. Apparently (I read it on the interweb so it has to be true) the fish in the videos were filmed inside Dana Point Harbor, a So Cal boat basin near my home, this week and posted to Youtube by user MrScrabbe. Thank you MrScrabbe for inspiration and blog fodder.


In case you couldn’t identify the critter, that is an Isurus Oxyrinchus, or Shortfin Mako shark. And, in case you don’t know a whole lot about Shortfin Mako sharks, you can learn a bunch of stuff about them on Wikipedia, my reliable source for questionable information of unknown origins, and the occasional provider of a bet winning answer. In this case, it seems the Wiki army of fact-phobic friends have it more or less right. At least that’s my recollection from my brief stint as a Marine Biology major.

Wikipedia – Shortfin Mako Shark

These animals range the deepest, wildest, openest (I know, it’s not a word) oceans searching for the fastest movingest foods like mackerels, tunas, bonitos, and swordfish (thank you team Wiki). That’s the reason they exist; to chase down and eat stuff that swims faster than most land-based animals can ever hope to run. Some say that the Mako is the fastest shark of them all. If true, this puts them on in the company of the fastest land predators. You could think of that fish as the Cheetah of Dana Point Harbor. I’m not saying people wouldn’t mock you, or question your once great ability to draw comparative analogies, or leave rude and insulting comments on your blog if you did, but you could think of it that way. OK, a balanced and rational person like you wouldn’t, but you could.

Anyway, from the reports of this incident I’ve read on various forum sites, it sounds like this mighty quick predator was either sick, injured, or both. It was said to be lethargically bumping into objects in it’s path, and swimming erratically. Maybe it’s GPS was not synched with it’s rudder, or maybe it got into Charlie Sheen’s private stash? Who knows. It was obviously not in it’s preferred habitat, and not doing what it was purpose built to do. Where I’m going is this:  Even the most casual saltwater enthusiast can get a sudden surprise, thrill, and head scratching moment if you are paying attention. A Mako shark swimming inside Dana Point Harbor makes about as much sense as Lindsay Lohan being spotted in a camo Snuggie. But then again, that was my point all along. Some things are just too weird and random to make sense of. I can’t wait for the next time.

UPDATE (5/30/11): You can read how this story ended for the shark here.