By Pete Thomas/GrindTv
Passengers aboard a Southern California whale-watching boat on Sunday enjoyed a magical daylong excursion that included rare sightings of gray whale megapods, traveling south toward Baja California’s lagoons.
The first group contained more than 15 whales, swimming closely together. The pod, spotted at 10 a.m. between Dana Point and Santa Catalina Island, included at least three juveniles.
The second megapod, consisting of at least 12 gray whales, was spotted at 2:30 p.m., also in mid-channel, and was being harassed by Risso’s dolphins, which acted like cattle dogs guiding a herd. (This type of behavior, although not unprecedented, also is rarely observed.)
The sightings, made aboard the Ocean Adventures out of Dana Point, were chronicled by a group called the West Coast Whale Geeks, which chartered the Dana Wharf Whale Watching vessel for an 8-hour excursion that also featured sightings of bottnelose and common dolphins, and several other gray whales.
Photos, some of which accompany this story, reveal multiple blows and fluking; blows mixed with fluking, spy hopping, and other behavior. Aerial footage (posted above), captured via drone, shows the majesty and true size of the iconic cetaceans, which were once hunted to the brink of extinction.
“This is not a common thing,” said Alisa Schulman-Janiger, a researcher who also was on the trip. “In all my years on the water I’ve never been with two megapods in one day.”
Sightings in coastal waters usually involve one or two mammals, or perhaps two or three. It’s rare to see groups of 10 or more, because adult gray whales, when they do travel in groups, tend to swim on a more direct offshore route to Mexico.
But this has been a very unusual season, with an earlier migration and more whales than usual appearing to take more of a coastal route, said Schulman-Janiger, who runs the ACS-LA Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project on the Palos Verdes Peninsula in Los Angeles County.
Shore-based volunteers man a cliff-top promontory at the Point Vicente Interpretive Center from sunrise to sunset throughout the migration period, counting whales and logging their behavior.
Through Monday they had tallied 1,039 southbound gray whales, the fifth highest in the project’s 30-year-history.
“We’re seeing more large pods than we typically see, and up in Monterey they’re also reporting very large groups passing by,” Schulman-Janiger said. “We’re definitely seeing more this season. Maybe it’s just because they’re picking a route closer to shore.”
“We’re seeing more large pods than we typically see, and up in Monterey they’re also reporting very large groups passing by,” Schulman-Janiger said. “We’re seeing many more this season. They’re definitely early, and maybe also picking a route closer to shore.”
The southbound migration period is winding down, but sightings should continue for two or three more weeks.
–Images (top to bottom) are courtesy of @Alisa Schulman-Janiger, ©Carla Mitroff, ©Christina de la Fuente, ©Alisa Schulman-Janiger, ©Alisa Schulman Janiger, ©Alisa Schulman-Janiger