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Gray and Fin Whale Bonanza

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Animal Updates | Mammals | Whale Watching

Thursday, February 16, 2017

James S.

Gray and Fin Whale Bonanza
Gray whale breaching  | Josh Meza-Fidalgo, Harbor Breeze Cruises

Hello everyone! I hope you’ve had a chance to get down to Long Beach to board a whale watch recently, if not no worries! You can live vicariously through the blog or even better, book your trip soon! We have had both gray and fin whale sightings almost every whale watch over the past couple of weeks. Even in the fog and rain we still find these graceful and beautiful animals in the water. Our season of gray whales is going to start shifting from mostly southbound to mostly northbound soon. The American Cetacean Society gray whale census has counted almost 1000 whales moving southbound and 25 northbound since Dec. 1, 2016. It is amazing to see how strong the population of gray whales is in the eastern pacific. The western pacific subpopulation has not recovered nearly as well, and can be locally considered extremely endangered. Some scientists have even identified gray whales from the western population migrating to our coastal waters and down to Baja instead of wintering in their western waters. This is what gives the gray whale the distinction of having the longest migration path of any mammal, upwards of 14,000 miles round trip!

The water has definitely been exciting in the last few days, we even had another visit by the offshore orca. On Sunday the 12th the 3pm whale watch got a chance to see part of this pod again, though this time they were chasing and possibly hunting a fin whale. Not only is it very difficult for orca to hunt full size fin or blue whales, but the offshore orca typically feed on sharks or rays. The crew and aquarium staff reported seeing just the first fin whale and the orca chasing behind and harassing it. Suddenly two other fin whales joined in the commotion, grouping together for protection. It has been reported that other whales will protect each other, if not other species too, in the midst of orca harassing or attacking. It’s very rare for a whale watch to get to see orca feeding on anything, but to get the chance to see them trying to feed on such a large prey item like fin whales is truly amazing.

While it might be sad to see orca feeding on other animals that we love so dearly, it is part of the natural ecosystem. Much like wolves or coyotes hunting deer help remove sickly or dying animals from a herd, orca can help clear out sickly animals from the aquatic ecosystems. Orca and sharks are both great predators and extremely helpful to the populations they prey on. If they aren’t around or even allowed to feed on the animals they need to the population of prey species can suffer by keeping certain negative adaptations in the gene pool. Or even just the spread of diseases to other members of the populations they prey upon. As stewards of the oceans we should always remember that we are here to observe and protect but shouldn’t interfere in the natural processes.

In the next few blogs we will once again highlight our amazing interns, so stay tuned to learn more about the people who are out on the boats and working diligently to manage our sighting data and help identify the coastal bottlenose dolphins and blue whales (once we start to see them this year). If you know anyone who would like to apply to our internship follow this link to our internships page and apply today! Applications for the summer (May – August) intern season are due by March 11, 2017. And as always, come on down to Long Beach and get a ticket to the whale watch and the aquarium. Harbor Breeze is currently running 9am, 12pm, and 3pm whale watches on the weekends to watch for gray whales, and the regular 12/3pm schedule during the week.

See you on the water!

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