Whales Ahoy: Grays Are Making Their Journey South
• Large Numbers of These Magnificent Behemoths Appear to Be Traveling Closer to Shore than Usual
BY KAYLA BROWN
Malibu is renowned for its "27 miles of scenic beauty," but from late December until April it is noted for the gray whales that grace its coast. These giant mammals, measuring up to 46 feet in length and weighing as much as 40 tons, travel every year from the arctic waters of the Bering Sea to the warm bays of Baja California.
According to the American Cetacean Society, "the gray whale makes one of the longest of all mammalian migrations, averaging 10,000-14,000 miles round trip." This lengthy journey takes around two to three months as the whales travel from the feeding grounds in the Bering Sea, to the mating and birthing lagoons in Baja California.
These massive beauties feed on small crustaceans on the oceans floor. Grays feed on organisms like amphipods and tubeworms that live in bottom sediments. The construction of a gray whale's mouth does not consist of large sharp teeth, like the species primary marine predator, the orca.
The gray whale is categorized as a baleen mammal, which means that its 'teeth' are made up of a series of fingernail-like plates, called keratin, that are similar to fine hairs within the mouth. To feed, the whale dives to the bottom of the ocean floor, rolls on its side to unsettle the bottom feeders, and draws the sediment and water into its mouth. As the gray whale closes its mouth, filled with 180 fringed overlapping plates, the excess water is expelled through the baleen plates and the food is trapped on the tongue and swallowed.
Although the gray whale spends most of its time under the water, Malibu locals can be sure to spot their prominent dorsal hump back, infamous flipper tail, or notched fin gracing the surface of local coastal waters when they come to the surface to breathe.
In past years Malibu residents and visitors have taken pleasure in the Malibu Pier whale watching tours and received a first hand experience to an amazing array of Malibu sea life. This tour has been cancelled for the 2011-2012 whale watching season due to the large September swell that damaged the landing at the Malibu Pier, according to the Pier website.
Although this whale-watching opportunity is not available, alternative nearby tours are.
Island Packers, the official concessionaire for Channel Islands National Park, offers a tour that departs out of Ventura and Oxnard Harbors and travels out into the channel for a 3 1/2 hour adventure. Adult tickets are $35, seniors are $32, and children $25. More information is available at www.islandpackers.com/GrayWhales.html. Reservations are suggested.
Marina Del Rey Sportfishing also offers weekend watching tours from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. for $25 per person.
This nature excursion ventures into Santa Monica Bay and provides passengers the chance to witness the giant gray whales in action as well as "dolphins, porpoise, seals and all sorts of marine birds," states the Sportfishing website. FI: 310-822-3625.
For whale watchers who would rather leave the water to the whales and stay on land to view the giant grays, Point Dume State Beach and the viewing platform atop the Point Dume Reserve is reportedly one of the best places in Malibu to spot whales.
The gray whale is one of the whale species to recover from near extinction due to over hunting.
This massive mammal was given partial protection in 1937 and full protection in 1947 by the International Whaling Commission, and since that time the Pacific gray whale population has multiplied into a population of 19,000-23,000 whales, according to the American Cetacean Society.
Malibuites have the luxury of viewing migrating whales traveling right past their backyard.
As the migration period for gray whales reaches its peak, whether one travels by boat or simply sticks to the sightings by land, everyone should keep their eyes open.