Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Whale Watching

California Gray Whale

Those of you who know me know that this is the time of the year my husband and I spend as much time as we can ‘whale watching’. This is primarily done on the weekends since the hubby is at work Monday thru Friday. If I get a chance to go during the week, I will take it, but I’m usually busy at home getting things done so we can play on the weekends. 

So what is this thing called whale watching? Aren’t whales way out in the ocean? Yes and no. Here in Southern California, we are fortunate to watch the gray whales every year from late November through mid-March. They are migrating from Alaska down to Baja, where pregnant females will give birth in the protected lagoons, and males will look for interested females for mating. The path of this migration allows us to see them from the shore, so you will find hubby and me having our morning coffee/tea (and sometimes lunch and/or dinner!) down at Laguna Beach, binoculars in hand, watching for the spout that tells us ‘thar she blows!’.  This spout looks like a puff of steam coming off the water. It’s a little hard to describe, but it’s one of those things that once you see it, you will always know what it is. Of course, this spouting is not just limited to the gray whale; it’s what you look for any time you’re out whale watching (we spotted humpbacks this same way when we were in Kauai). You can see images of the puff of 'steam' I'm talking about as well as other pictures/videos here:

You can also take whale watching cruises during the season. Several different sailing companies up and down the coast here in SoCal offer whale watching cruises. It’s a great way to see whales a little closer; it’s just not guaranteed that you will see a whale. After all, the whales are on their own time, not ours! Usually, you will see pods of dolphins and maybe even other marine life (we saw a sunfish on our last outing), so even if you don’t see a whale, you will most likely have a good time. 

There is a great book written by Lynne Cox, a well-known long distance swimmer, and her encounter with a baby gray whale while she was training one morning off the coast of California. She stayed in the water for hours with this baby whale (named Grayson by her because the calf was a gray's son) until he was reunited with his mother. You can see the book here:

I find them fascinating. To see that puff of steam is so exciting to me; to see the tale flip up in the air before they go below surface for a few minutes even more so.  I just love that these almost 40-foot creatures continue the migratory path that their ancestors followed. The gray whale was considered critically endangered, but I have read that scientists believe their population is on the increase. There are volunteer groups that do whale counts during the season; the group I know of is based out of Point Vicente in Palos Verdes, just up the coast north of where I live. Hubby and I took a recent Sunday and drove up there (about an hour), had a gorgeous day, a picnic, and saw several whales, even a whale who came halfway out of the water not once, but three times! A perfect day in my book!

I've read that once the whales get to Baja, in the lagoons, you can take flat-bottom boats out and almost pet the whales. These docile groups of whales are called 'friendlies'. I'm not sure I would go; I suppose if I had the opportunity I would have to take it, but there's a part of me that says leave these creatures alone - do not interfere with them. 

Recently, the L.A. Times had an article/video on a humpback whale and her calf, filmed by a drone camera off the coast of Maui. Fascinating! It gives you the overhead view of what we’re watching from shore (although, of course, we are watching the gray whale here). We don’t always see the whales’ bodies because we’re on the shore, but the link will give you an idea of what we’re looking for .

If you’ve never been whale watching and the opportunity arises, I hope you will go. These are wonderful, graceful, powerful, and majestic creatures. They are awe-inspiring and beautiful. And you can find me at the beach as often as possible looking for them, November through March! 

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