Gray whales are beginning travels along the Southern California coast now as they make one of the longest mammalian migrations known to man.
The journey from the Bering and Chukchi seas to the lagoons in Baja California and back averages between 10,000 to 14,000 miles.
"We have been seeing more and more gray whales every day," reported Scott Louie from Harbor Breeze Cruises in Long Beach. "Add in literally thousands of dolphins and an occasional orca sighting and this is a terrific time to be on a whale watching trip."
The whales feed on small crustaceans on the bottom of the ocean by rolling on their sides and drawing up bottom sediments and lots of seawater.
The whale then closes its mouth expelling the water and sediment through its baleen plates and leaving a tasty meal inside. Adult males can reach 46 feet, and while adult females can reach 50 feet. They weigh between 30 to 40 tons.
The Marina del Rey sportfishing fleet as well as several private boaters have been seeing several gray whales pass the area by recently.
"This is a great time of the year," said Rick Oefinger from Marina del Rey Sportfishing. "Our anglers get a two-for-one deal with whale watching and fishing on the same trip."
The Voyager out of King Harbor in neighboring Redondo Beach will start its whale watch season Tuesday. The deep water canyons just off Redondo have attracted copious amounts of blue whales earlier this year. Now the blue whales are gone as more gray whales pass by.
One of the great things about gray whale watching is that they are frequently visible from shore. Taking the family to the Palos Verdes Peninsula, as well as the cliffs in San Pedro and Laguna Beach makes for a fun, educational and economical outing.
A shore-based study, the ACS-LA Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project, has been going on since 1979 near Point Vicente in Palos Verdes, and runs until May 15 using volunteers as spotters.
Spotters detail whales’ behavior including breaching, spyhopping, nursing and more. They also watch for what effect boats have on the whales and document any harassment issues. So far, the spotters have documented nearly 40 southbound gray whales this month.
Another way to track whales this year is on your computer. The Marine Mammal Institute within Oregon State University has tagged two gray whales that you can track online. Vavara and Agent are presently making their way across the Bering Sea but taking very different routes.
If you plan on whale watching from your own boat, make sure you are aware of NOAA’s Marine Mammal Viewing Guidelines and Regulations—federal law prohibits harassment of these whales so please remain at least 100 yards from the migrating whales. Do not attempt to touch or swim with these creatures as their behavior can be unpredictable.
Gray whales were given full protection in 1947 by the International Whaling Commission. Since that time, the eastern north Pacific gray whale population has rebounded to near its original population size somewhere between 19,000 and 23,000 whales.
While calving occurs mostly in the lagoons of Baja California, Mexico, some calves are born during the migration. A Dec. 18 post on YouTube by RIPproductions9 off Laguna Beach shows three divers interacting with a baby gray whale. The whale makes a u-turn towards the camera and gives these divers a Christmas present they will have for a lifetime.