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A rare late-June sighting of a migrating gray whale surprised passengers and crew aboard Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Safari in Dana Point, California on June 28, 2014. It’s very unusual to see a gray whale off Southern California so late in the year.

Gray whales are seen every winter off the coast of Dana Point. Typically sightings begin in December and last through May. Gray whales migrate annually from their feeding grounds in the cold waters of the Bering and Chukchi Seas near Alaska to the warm and safe lagoons of Baja, California, where the whales mate and give birth to their calves. It’s a 10,000 to 12,000 mile journey and is the longest migration of any mammal.

UPDATE 30-June-2014: This gray whale has been identified. Our friends at Ocean Blue Adventures in San Diego identified this whale as “Earl”. Earl had been hanging around the San Diego area since the second week of May, feeding in a shallow area.

Captain Dave Anderson of Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Safari explains, “This whale may be one of the few gray whales who never travel all the way back to their feeding grounds in the arctic and has found enough food foraging along the coast. Or this whale could even be a mom who lost her calf and is late heading up the coast because it was trying to find its calf. It may be a whale that has gotten lost for a time and now is heading right way. We have seen whales head the wrong way for a while then turn and go the other way. There is no way to be sure, but the whale appeared healthy and is currently traveling up the coast towards its feeding grounds at a good speed and it may just be one of the last to leave the lagoon party…. one whale needs to be last to leave.”

This gray whale was encountered off the coast of San Clemente, California, in about 50 feet of water heading back north to the join the rest of the Eastern North Pacific gray whale population. The adult whale looked a little thin, which is not uncommon because there is no food for gray whales to eat south of Oregon, but otherwise it appeared strong and healthy. Gray whales primarily feed on amphipods found in the bottom sediment.

Fascinated passengers and crew watched as the gray whale came up for a single breath of air and then sank just below the surface. The white scars caused by barnacles gave the whale a beautiful turquoise glow that could be seen by everyone aboard the boat.