Gray Whale Watching
What are gray whales? In short, gray whales are 40 to 50-foot lice covered, barnacle encrusted, mud sucking, bottom feeders and we love them!
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Gray whales are baleen whales that feed on small crustaceans call amphipods. But they don’t catch their food in the water column like blue whales or humpback whales. Instead, a gray whale dives to the bottom, rolls on its side, and scoops up mouthfuls of mud. The whale closes its mouth and pushes out the water and bottom sediment through baleen plates that hang from the whale’s upper jaw, leaving behind the amphipods to swallow.
The majority of gray whales spend the summer months feeding in the cold waters of the Bering and Chukchi seas. They have eat as much as possible because in the fall gray whales will start their annual 12,000 mile round trip migration to the warm lagoons of Baja, California, to mate and have their calves.
Gray whales have the longest migration of any mammal. And they don’t eat during the migration because there is no food for them south of Oregon. Gray whales go five months a year without food!
In addition to lack of food, gray whales face several other challenges. These slow moving, gentle, animals are often fall prey to killer whales. According to N.O.A.A. up to 35% of gray whale calves may be eaten by killer whales. Another threat is one that takes the lives of nearly 1,000 whales and dolphins every day. Scientists estimate that every year 308,000 dolphins and whales worldwide die because of fishing gear entanglement.
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Captain Dave organized Orange County’s first whale disentanglement group in 2008 and has successfully disentangled several gray whales. Learn more about the disentanglement of gray whales Lily and Bart. Capt. Dave recently launched his new catamaran, “Lily Whale Research/Rescue Safari”, a 62-foot luxury whale watching vessel that has also been specially equipped to rescue entangled whales and dolphins as well as conduct photographic recapture research.
During our Dana Point whale watching trips we often see gray whales within just a mile or two of the shoreline. Gray whales will use the Dana Point headlands as a landmark on their annual journey. It’s not uncommon to find these 30 to 40 ton animals breaching or spy-hopping just outside of Dana Point Harbor in their effort to take a look around and get their bearings. Gray whale watching season is typically December through April. Sometimes we see them as early as November and as late as May.
In March, Dana Point celebrates the gray whale migration with the Festival of Whales. Held the first two weekends of March, the Dana Point Festival of Whales began 43 years ago as an annual community event and now attracts nearly 100,000 visitors each year. Residents and visitors celebrate migrating gray whales and other marine wildlife with ocean-themed activities and presentations emphasizing education and environmental responsibility.
All photos taken during our regular Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari
Watch some of our favorite Gray Whale videos, taken during our regular whale watching trips.
You also might be interested in the Los Angeles Chapter of the American Cetacean Society Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project.