Back in June of 2016 I took what is perhaps one of the best three photos I have ever taken, and certain my favorite ever shot of a Humpback Whale. We dubbed this whale "Wally" because why not? After seeing this whale every day for a week we felt a need to have a name for it when talking to passengers, and while I generally don't care much for whale "nicknames" when you have a whale as personable as this one was...you just have to smile and give in.
Wally passed away and washed ashore on June 30th, 2016. Just over a year after my first encounter with her. We learned she was female for the first time during the post-mortem examination and although the name didn't conform to human gender-standards it certainly stuck well enough for national media outlets around the world to use the name in their articles and broadcasts.
The first encounter with Wally saw her engage in multiple breaches, tail throws, along with pectoral slaps and mugging. She breached so close to the boat that the people got wet! We would see this whale almost daily from June 19th all the way through August 1st in 2015.
Wally the Humpback Whale was the most amazing Humpback Whale I have ever had the privilege of being around. I consider whale watching to be at its best when whales grace us with their presence, but Wally went above and beyond that. If you were respectful when boating Wally would frequently swim underneath you and roll to the side to look up. Wally lifted up a massive pair of flukes, but not every time, and on certain instances the lifting of the tail would be prelude to an incredible breach.
I first encountered Wally on board the Patriot during a late day whale watch that took us from Newport Beach down to Laguna Beach. She executed a series of incredible breach in stunning light with an amazing backdrop. This touched off a series of almost daily encounters that would last all the way to the beginning of August. During her time in Newport Beach this whale befriended another whale we called Wilma/Wilmer. For about two weeks these whales were close companions, devouring a shared meal of anchovies until the supply diminished and the two moved on. Wally was last seen by us on August 1st, 2015. Wilma was last seen August 2nd.
Wally was the first herald of the greatest Humpback Whale season in the history Orange County Whale Watching. Before Wally, few of these Humpbacks were ever seen on such a consistent basis. This whale will hold a place in history, but more importantly she will hold a place in the heart and memories of thousands of people who visited Newport Beach to witness the majesty of the Humpback Whale.