Thursday, December 12, 2013
Killer whales, humpbacks, grays, a sperm whale and more!!!
The end of November through the beginning of December 2013 will go down in infamy as one of the most epic weeks of sightings ever! It was a true cornucopia of whale species and a lifetime of memories for the guests on board.
This sweet week began on black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, on the 29th of November. Our day started off with a fluking humpback whale and ended with one of the most memorable Bigg’s killer whale (transients) sightings! These huge black and white dolphins were reported off of point Vicente and that is EXACTLY where we went on the afternoon trip, luckily, I was on board this one! It did not take long until we saw a 5ft perfect isosceles triangle-like dorsal fin in the distance. The small pod was identified by local whale expert Alisa Schulman-Janiger of the California Killer Whale Project and the ACS/LA Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project, as the infamous CA51’s. This amiable pod includes an adult male, an adult female and two of her offspring (the smallest being identified as three year old Comet). They were very friendly with the Christopher and bow rode, porpoised, spy hopped and even tail lobbed!! We spent about 45 minutes with them and we were even joined by about 500 common dolphins. Simultaneously, there was a double rainbow AND the sun was setting which made for a magical evening. This day will now always be known as ‘black and white’ Friday!
The second surprise we got was our first gray whale sightings for the season over the weekend following our killer whale Friday. The gray whale season officially starts this Friday 13th! These are the first of the Pacific gray’s who have already left Alaska and are heading down to Baja California. We are lucky, since we get to see them on their way down, and on their way back up, oftentimes with calves in tow.
Monday came and the excitement did not end! One of our own naturalists, Eric Yee, was at the ACS interpretive center volunteering for the census and made the call of an unidentified whale they had spotted from the point. After several attempts to identify the species, the Christopher went right to the location and found a HUGE sperm whale! Male sperm whales usually travel solo, spreading their genes throughout other large pods of females. Much sperm whale research was conducted off of our coast for many years throughout the 1980’s and 90’s, but they slowly moved away from our area. The last sightings of sperm whales on our trip were a large pod of females back in 2011! This was SUCH a rare find and so interesting to interpret to the guests! The sperm whales blow is very distinct because of the position of their blowhole being ‘worn on the side’ like a little hat. Therefore, their blow is off to the side as well. The sperm whale was later identified by Alisa Schulman-Janiger as Mango. Mango is the most common sperm whale spotted off of our coast and is spotted a couple times every year, but rarely during our trips.
BUT WAIT, There’s more! As the week continued there was another unidentified large pod of humpbacks? Gray whales? NOPE! 20-30 offshore killer whales! While Bigg’s killer whales are mammal eaters and usually stick to the coast in small groups, offshore killer whales travel far offshore in large pods. The offshores are exclusive fish eaters and there is not much known about them! Recently, killer whales have been broken up into TEN different species depending on where they live, what they look like, and what they eat! Two different pods in a few days! This huge pod circled the boat and had at least one very young calf.
The American Cetacean Society’s annual gray whale census has begun near Pt. Vicente, and many of the census volunteers have been sighting these whales and thankfully reporting them to us ASAP! Risso’s dolphins, common and bottlenose, dolphins have also been sighted quite frequently along with lunge feeding fin whales!
It does not get much better than this folks; maybe it’s time to come out on a whale watch! With all of this activity going on AND the beginning of gray whale season there is a great chance of finding something interesting out there!
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