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Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Gray Whales Are Still Cruising up the Coast in Sizable Numbers

• Cars Gather in Clusters at the Ocean Side of PCH to Watch These Elegant Leviathans Head ‘Home’

BY KAYLA BROWN

The magnificent gray whales of the Pacific have nearly completed their lengthy migrating voyage north. Although stragglers may be spotted for another few weeks, it is now close to the end of the time when large numbers of grays can be observed.
The official whale-watching season is Dec. 1 through May 15, but that is based on human calendars, and the whales do not always coordinate their travels accordingly.
The annual Whale Census and Behavior Project, conducted by the Los Angeles Chapter of the American Cetacean Society, is a shore-based study of “the marine mammals that utilize the near shore waters of the Palos Verdes Peninsula,” according to the ACS website.
During the whale-watching season this study is run by certified volunteers that monitor the gray whales’ “migratory behaviors, including breaching, spyhopping, rolling, courtship, apparent nursing, possible feeding, and interaction with kelp and with other marine mammals.”
The prime peninsula for whale watching is located in the heart of the Los Angeles Harbor. But after the gray whales reach this point, many Malibuites are provided with the unique opportunity to witness their journey as they pass through our coastal waters.
Gray whales endure a 10,000-14,000 mile relocation in order to escape the Arctic feeding waters of the Bering Sea in winter and explore the warm bays of Baja California for mating and birthing season. The ACS notes that this 2-3 month journey is arguably one of the “longest of all mammalian migrations.”
This lengthy whale migration season to date has shown a total of 1705 gray whales migrating along the coast. Between April 29 and 30, there were a total of 43 whales spotted by certified volunteers. A message from one observer noted, “One gray whale breached twice” and “a cow/calf pair rolled.”
This active out-of-water behavior is common for grays. Measuring 46 feet in length and weighing 40 tons, these behemoths are easy to spot when breaking the surface of the ocean with their prominent dorsal hump back, infamous flipper tail, and notched fin. These signature details allow for easy spotting when posted at one of Malibu’s whale watching locations, such as Point Dume State Beach.
Locals can also utilize nearby whale watching tours for a unique whale watching experience. Marina Del Rey Sportfishing provides weekend tours from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. According to the Sportsfishing website, for $25 per person, one can experience gray whales in action as well as “dolphins, porpoise, seals and all sorts of marine birds.” For more information call 310-822-3625.
The Channel Islands National Park also provides “Island Packer” open water tours. This tour departs out of Ventura and Oxnard and travels out into the channel for a three-hour adventure at www.islandpackers.com/ GrayWhales.html
According to the most recent ACS Gray Whale Census report, as of May 7, there were 14 more gray whales spotted. The volunteer observers noted that “six more calves” were sighted this Monday, which is seven whales shy of a new record.
With only one week left of the official whale-watching season, Malibuites have the opportunity to seize the day and witness the tail end of the migrating gray whales.

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