Why seeing a gray whale is so special

A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky to go whale watching in southern california.  This is a good time of year to go, because whales are migrating and seeing one is highly likely.

With Anna-Belle, on the way out, the voyage is full of potential.

With Anna-Belle, on the way out, the voyage is full of potential.

Seeing a whale in the ocean is a special thing, something that not every one will get to experience, and it sends chills down my spine every time.  For me, it opens my mind to the existence of an animal.  It’s one thing, me telling you about whales.  It’s another to have one 10 yards away breathing, living, diving, scarred and shiny and amazing.  What is this whale doing/thinking? where is this whale going? What has this whale SEEN?

Gray whales travel south from Canada, along the western United States, and down into Mexico’s Baja peninsula. It takes approximately 3 months to make this 6000 mile journey south.  This brings their round trip to an astounding 12,000 miles, the longest migration of any animal. In the world.

Gray whale breaching. These awesome pictures not taken by me.

Gray whale breaching. These awesome pictures not taken by me.

They get their name from the gray coloring, but most people also recognize their memorable barnacles that latch on for the ride. And the fact that their snouts tend to veer in one direction or the other.  Did you know this is because gray whales filter feed thru mud, sand and silt on the bottom of the ocean, scooping down to put the mud in their mouths by rolling on their preferred side (like how many people are “righty” or “lefty”). This can even cause blindness in one eye in many older whales on the side they roll on to.

Orcas and humans are the gray whales only known predators.  In fact, humans were such a fierce predator that they practically wiped gray whales from the face of the earth in a show of incredible power and masculinity (jk).  Luckily, we didn’t kill them all, and in 1973 they were placed on the endangered species list. They were removed once their population boomed again, and even now it continues to grow.  A gray whale was spotted in Israel, and even Namibia, which is the first gray whale spotted in the southern hemisphere, and suggests that the whales are spreading back out again.

Gray whales are the only species in their genus and family.  There are two Pacific populations, the larger one residing on my side of the world (the other, smaller group outside of Korea).  Which brings me to my final point: to see a gray whale in the ocean is immeasurably special.  A 40 foot whale that follows instinct and kin on the longest migration pattern anyone’s ever heard of….to see a migrating whale is to  see one of the wonders of the world. Almost made extinct, but making a spectacular comeback.

happy campers at the end of the day.  Four fin whales and three gray whales later,  all smiles.

happy campers at the end of the day. Four fin whales and three gray whales later, all smiles.

What I’m saying is, the whales are heading down to Mexico right now, and if you have the chance, get out and watch for some. They can be seen in shallow water, and our good winter conditions have made sightings even easier.  Stand on the cliffs of PV, or Laguna, and with any luck you’ll spot some when they come up for a breath of air. A majestic sight.

xmerbabe

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One response to “Why seeing a gray whale is so special

  1. Great post, Merbabe. I never thought much about seeing whales until I saw one breach during a crossing to Catalina. Now I’m always watching out for them.

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