Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Gray Whale Watching in LA: 12,000 mi. Migration Celebrated

by E Jo (writer), San Diego, January 28, 2007


Thar she blows! The Whale Fiesta which celebrates the southern migration of the Pacific Gray Whale will take place on Sunday, January 28th from 10AM-4:30PM at Cabrillo Marine Aquarium. Admission is FREE and the celebration includes talks by whale experts, building a life sized Gray Whale sand sculpture, food, crafts, music and general marine mammal awareness. Whale watching boat tours are also available through CMA. Late January is peak season in LA and southern California to see these giants pass by on their journey toward Mexico.

The Gray Whale southern migration begins approximately late November and ends in early February. They migrate between their summer feeding grounds in the North Pacific and Bering Sea and winter breeding grounds in the lagoons of Baja California. The roundtrip journey is 12,000 miles, the longest migration for any mammal. In the North Pacific they spend their time feeding on small crustaceans building up layers of blubber which will act as insulation and food reserve for their long migration, during which time they do not feed. Pregnant females are the first to leave on the southern migration, swimming about 5 mph, followed by mature adults then juveniles. In Baja, mating and calving occur in the warm, safe lagoons. A baby Gray Whale weighs around 1,100-1,500 pounds at birth reaching 16 ft. in length and nurses for 7 months. They stay in these protective waters for 2-3 months to allow time for their babies to build a thick layer of blubber for the journey north.

The Gray Whale, the sole species in the Eschrichtiidae family, is only found in the Northern Hemisphere. The adult baleen whale weighs 30-40 tons. They are mottled grey in color with a blotchy appearance due to the numerous barnacles that live on their skin. The dorsal hump set way down the back is followed by a ridge of knuckle-like bumps. Their snouts are beak-like with an arched mouth and are used to scoop up ocean floor sediment during feeding. The baleen (hairy plates instead of teeth) filters and traps amphipods and other small crustaceans in the plates and expels the sediment.

Once on the brink of extinction, protection by the International Whaling Commission recovered the populations and they were officially removed from the endangered species list in 1994. However, in the last 30 years the polar ice caps have melted due to drastic climate changes resulting in warmer waters and less food for the Gray Whale. One third of them died in 1999 and 2000 because they were starving (PBS). Although population numbers are ok for now, threats to critical habitat (Mitsubishi Baja Salt Plant project which would have destroyed their only calving lagoons), Navy sonar use, and climate change continue to affect the whales.

If you miss the Whale Fiesta, two hour whale watching boat tours cost from $7-$17 per person and depart daily at 10AM and 1:30PM. These inexpensive trips have a Cabrillo Whalewatch Naturalist aboard and are worth it for the close-up view of whales. Other whales, porpoises, sea lions, and dolphins can be seen too. Bring binoculars if you have them. With binoculars, you can watch these creatures anytime from just about anywhere on the beaches or cliffs of LA. If you don’t spot one, you’ll have another chance on their return migration beginning in March.

Whale Fiesta celebration information/photos:

Cabrillo Marine Aquarium map/driving directions:

Whale watching boat tours:

Video of Gray Whale watching voyage:

Gray Whale information:

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E Jo is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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3 comments on Gray Whale Watching in LA: 12,000 mi. Migration Celebrated

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By Steven Lane on January 28, 2007 at 12:56 pm
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By E Jo on January 28, 2007 at 01:28 pm
Just wanted to add (and I'm not trying to depress anyone)... Gray Whales: "For a species that was significantly exploited by shore-based and ship-based whaling in the 1800's and again in the 1900's, we have seen enduring survival of Pacific gray whales. This, unfortunately, is not the case for the North Atlantic population, which is extinct. The remnant Western North Pacific gray whale population is severely endangered and continues to be threatened primarily by oil & gas exploration on their feeding grounds and entanglement in fishing gear" (American Cetacean Society)
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By E Jo on March 16, 2008 at 05:12 pm


They service LA and OC and have a whale and dolphin log on their website that lets people know what animals they are seeing.  They also work with the Nautical Museum which has a neat program on whales and marine life in Southern California.

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