Whale Watching: The Home Stretch

By Bekah Logan, Birch Aquarium naturalist

Is it mid-March already? That means we have just about a month left to cruise the Pacific in search of gray whales with Birch Aquarium naturalists.

We’ve seen some amazing sights lately aboard Flagship Cruises & Events’ Marietta. Among sightings of dolphins, sea lions, and coastal birds, eager whale watchers have been extraordinarily good at spotting blows in the distance.

We find gray whales simply by looking to the horizon and scanning for signs of their presence. From a distance, the first sign is their blow. An adult gray whale’s heart-shaped blow can stretch as much as 15 feet high, which immediately alerts everyone on board that they are close by.

A gray whale's iconic heart-shaped blow.

A gray whale’s iconic heart-shaped blow.

Juvenile whales are a different story, and we’ve been encountering them most often these past few weeks. Significantly smaller than their adult, 45-foot long counterparts, these immature whales measure only 20 feet or so depending on their age. Their blows are very small and hard to see. It takes a trained eye and good timing to spot these individuals. Good thing we have both on the boat!

One day this past week, the Marietta was headed out to sea when, just a mile offshore, Captain Hieu slowed the boat to a crawl. He was sure he saw something up ahead, and he was right! That day, our passengers saw one of the smallest northbound gray whales that our onboard experts had ever witnessed, about 15 feet long. This whale’s course was strong, steady, and unwavering; someone was ready to get back home to the Arctic! It’s very important to give these amazing travelers space, so after trailing for a while, we bid the whale goodbye. It was amazing to see such a strong and independent little gray whale.

Juvenile Whale

A juvenile gray whale and its mother in the lagoons of Baja California.

It’s not too late to whale watch with Birch Aquarium and Flagship Cruises & Events. You never know what you’ll see, but it’s always a pleasure waiting for what the ocean shows us.

Whale watching coupon

Daily whale watching cruises with Birch Aquarium at Scripps continue through April 14. Cruises leave at 9:45 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. from Flagship Cruises & Events at 990 N. Harbor Drive in downtown San Diego. For more information and to download a $5-off whale watching coupon, visit the Birch Aquarium Whale Watching page. Register_Now_Blue

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  • Rick McPherson
    April 14, 2013 at 9:02 pm

    And a great season it was for sure!

    Captain Rick

  • Eefke Radeleff
    July 15, 2014 at 12:34 am

    Dear Scripps, My name is Eefke, I am 8 yrs old and I am hoping to raise awareness for Whales and other Marine Animals with blog http://livewildlivefree.blog.com/ I just started this blog (with the help of my Mom and Dad) I want to help make a postive change for all animals and I would love you to join my blog and hear my stories. Thank you for teaching me about our marine world. Eefke

  • Scripps Institution of Oceanography UC San Diego