Imagine you’re paddling your kayak off-shore along the southern Oregon coast. Suddenly, you spot a giant, seldom-seen sea creature in the water ahead.
That’s exactly what happened to South Coast Tours owner and guide David Lacey and his group last week during a sea kayaking tour near the Thomas Creek Bridge.
“Conditions were stellar this day and we were enjoying some of the best conditions I’ve seen in two years,” Lacey said. “We had finished our lunch break on an actual secret beach north of the famed ‘Secret Beach.’”
After paddling alongside a school or two of harbor porpoise and through 10 natural rock arches, the group saw a fin in the distance. “I was very apprehensive as we approached this finned creature, as I had this childhood horror movie rhythm in the back of my head,” Lacey said.
“Turns out this sea beast was not the white shark that I first envisioned, but none other than a large ocean sunfish commonly known as a Mola mola.”
The huge, flat fish is the heaviest bony fish in the world. Adults weigh from 545 pounds up to as much as 2,200 pounds. They’re native to tropical and temperate waters worldwide.
“This one was about 7 or 8 feet across,” Lacey said, “and close to 2,000 pounds. It was a giant beast. A gentle beast, too.”
In 25 years of ocean life off Curry County, Lacey said, he had yet to see a Mola mola in the near-shore.
“The Mola mola swam all around our kayaks, while it absorbed the warmth of the sun, and did not seem to be worried about our presence,” he said.
The kayakers were on South Coast Tours’s Arches Territory Tour, a 15-mile sea kayak paddle that begins near Pistol River and ends at Whaleshead State Park.
This particular tour is for experienced paddlers only, unless they pair up with a guide, said Lacey. Even then, they must be physically fit.
“Fifteen miles is a long time to be handling a paddle and the conditions can get rough around Crook Point National Wildlife Refuge,” Lacey said.
“Blisters are not entirely uncommon. And sea sickness can ruin an inexperienced paddler’s day, and jeopardize the safety and fun of the entire group.”
As for Arches Territory, Lacey said it’s not an easy place to paddle. “There are not a lot of safe landings, and the hydraulics inside these rock arches are crazy.
“Inside the arches and sea caves, the swell can more than triple as it gets compressed between the rock walls, leading to very dangerous situations.”
To learn more about trips offered by Gold Beach-based South Coast Tours, visit southcoasttours.net, or call 541-373-0489.