Now that the weather is cooperating, this is prime time to go whale-watching off Southern California, especially when you consider that Pacific gray whales are being spotted in concentrations not seen locally in years.
Volunteers with the Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project on the Palos Verdes Peninsula logged daily counts of 38, 25 and 24 gray whales in a three-day span ending Sunday.
The overall count of 178 southbound grays, since Dec. 1, places the project’s count three times above last season’s count through the same period.
This does not imply there are more gray whales than the estimated 18,000-20,000 mammals that trek annually from the Bering Sea to mating and nursing grounds off Baja California. But it seems to imply that more of them are sticking close to the coast.
This is great news for landing operators and watchers, who might note that the last half of January is traditionally the peak period for the southbound migration off Southern California.
There have been some interesting sightings in recent days. Watchers aboard the Condor Express out of Santa Barbara have seen orcas on at least two recent excursions. In one case they were chasing sea lions; in the other they were harassing a gray whale.
On Friday, passengers aboard the Dana Pride out of Dana Wharf Whale-Watching saw a juvenile gray whale begin its dive and reveal a fluke with a large chunk missing (pictured), presumably thanks to a shark or a killer whale.
There also have been sightings of numerous other marine mammal species. Dana Wharf passengers on Sunday spotted three gray whales, but also a large pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins. That’s the beauty of these short excursions: you never know what you might encounter.