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The Gray Beginnings

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Animal Updates | Mammals | Conservation | Whale Watching

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Julien

It’s official: Gray whale season has started and we are well into having consistent sightings! Our first sighting this season was on November 28, and since then our trips have been full of activity. The gray whales spend half of the year feeding in the nutrient-rich waters off of Alaska in the Bering Sea in order to intake a large amount of calories to make their incredible migration south. Around October, they leave the Alaskan waters and begin one of the longest migrations that any mammal in the world partakes in. They travel around 7,000 miles down the coast to the warm lagoons of Baja California in areas like Magdalena Bay, Scammon’s Lagoon, and Bahia San Ignacio. These lagoons provide an excellent protected area for mothers to give birth to their calves and for single whales to mate. After a month or two they leave the lagoons, calves in tow, to get back to their Alaskan feeding grounds. This journey is a total of 12,000 to 14,000 miles round trip! We are so fortunate here in southern California to able to see these magnificent animals not only on their journey south, but also on their return trip back up north. At this time we are seeing the southbound adults and juvenile whales, but have not had any calf sightings. The pregnant females usually pass by first, followed by single adults and then the juveniles. These whales are solitary but have been seen traveling together and even showing mating behavior during our trips. So far we have had nineteen sightings in December.

Not only have we been sighting the gray whales, but also we are seeing many other cetacean species. Since our last blue sighting on November 18, the 70-plus-foot-long fin whales have been sighted seventeen times, often lunge feeding at the surface, along with two small pods of Bigg’s orcas (formerly named transient orcas)! While the fin whales are sighted all year long, we seldom see killer whales in our area and only have had a handful of sightings every year. These pods are from Monterey Bay, California, and are a subspecies that primarily eats other marine mammals. They are seen off of our coast predating on sea lions, dolphins, and gray whale calves but are known to also prey on seals and minke whales.

We have also been sighting fantastic large pods of common dolphins, coastal and offshore bottlenose dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, and even one sighting of twenty seasonal Pacific white-sided dolphins. Pacific white-sided dolphins are found in the temperate waters of the North Pacific Ocean and are often sighted off of our coast in late winter and spring. We never know what we are going to see out there, so come on out on an adventure in search of gray whales!

The Gray Beginnings
Close up of the dorsal view of a gray whale, so close to the boat!  | Aquarium of the Pacific Photo ID
The Gray Beginnings
Two fin whales surfacing together after lunging for food.  | Aquarium of the Pacific Photo ID
The Gray Beginnings
Bigg's killer whale right near the boat!  | Aquarium of the Pacific Photo ID
The Gray Beginnings
incredible close up of a common dolphin riding alongside the boat.  | Aquarium of the Pacific Photo ID

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