By Caitlin Scully, Birch Aquarium whale naturalist
The final weeks of the whale-watching season brought few gray whales. In fact, we saw hardly any! The grays were few and far between and were often juveniles. It may be the adults had already passed San Diego on their way back north, or they were further off shore.
However, that does not mean there were no whales. In fact, we saw fin whales nearly every day. Large rorquals (a class of baleen whales) like fin whales are usually solitary. However, we saw many fin whales feeding in close proximity. They would come to the surface, take a few breaths, then arch their back and make a deep dive to presumably feed on krill or small fish.
The fin whales ignored our boat and continued to feed. There were many times we’d be looking for the whale to reappear, and it would pop up right next to us! With fin whales, we often hear their strong exhalation before we see them. Sometimes they were so close that we’d feel the mist from their blows. Needless to say, the entire boat yelled with excitement. It’s always amazing to think that fin whales are the second largest animals alive today, behind the blue whale. For most passengers on our whale-watching excursions, these whales are the largest living things they will see in their life.
One amazing morning we saw something never seen before from the Marietta – a blue whale! Blue whales are unusual to see off our coast this time of year. At first we thought it was another fin whale, but its behavior, dorsal fin, and the shape of its blow led us to think otherwise. Our captain was so excited! We all were!
Blue whales are the largest animals to ever live on Earth, including during the time of the dinosaurs. The largest blue whale recorded was 111 feet long, about one-third the length of a football field. Our blue was not that long but definitely made our usual gray whales look small! Such an unusual sight was a spectacular way to end of our whale-watching season.
On behalf of everyone at Birch Aquarium at Scripps, San Diego Harbor Excursion, and our wonderful volunteers, we want thank everyone who joined us on the boats this year. It was truly a wonderful whale-watching season, made all the better by the encounters we shared together.
We look forward to next year!