Whale Watching Report #1

Photo by Caitlin Scully

By Caitlin Scully, naturalist

This year’s whale season has begun exceptionally well. Each day we have seen a consistent flow of southbound gray whales. They are not just migrating; we’ve seen them mating, interacting with dolphins, spy hopping, and even breaching!

Our coastal waters have been teeming with marine mammals. Our naturalists have spotted common dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, and Pacific white-sided dolphins, and we had a quick glimpse of the illusive Risso’s dolphins. Sea lions have also been plentiful, and a few shy harbor seals were seen within San Diego Bay.

Our daily whale sightings have been record-breaking; on some days we’ve spotted up to 20 whales! The grays are finishing up the last leg of their 5,000-mile journey south from their feeding grounds in the Arctic. San Diego marks the home stretch for the grays as they travel toward their birthing and breeding lagoons on the west coast of the Baja California peninsula.  Adult whales and juveniles have been spotted, and one cruise of lucky passengers saw a young calf.

Photo by Caitlin Scully

We also spotted grays that were unable to wait until the lagoons to mate. Mating gray whales are quite the spectacle: two males assist each other in positioning a female. There is a lot of splashing and views of pectoral fins and flukes.

Gray whales have been seen interacting with dolphins more than once since the season started. One noteworthy day, there was a very large gray whale – one of the largest we’ve ever seen – rolling, splashing, and diving with Pacific white-sided dolphins. Our naturalists believe it was a pregnant female based on this whale’s size and overall “roundness.”

These first weeks even provided us with a beautiful breach just 200 yards from the boat!

We’re looking forward to another spectacular season on the Marietta. Check back each week for more whale watching updates! Also, you can follow our whale watching naturalists on twitter @BirchWhaleWatch for live updates from the boat, photos, and current ocean science news.

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Scripps Institution of Oceanography UC San Diego