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Whale-Watching California: Gray Whales Put on a Show

CAWW - Douglas Croft_Big Sur Gray Whale

Have a Whale of a Good Time by Barbara L. Steinberg

Each winter California welcomes the return of its official marine mammal, the gray whale.
The annual migration of more than 18,000 gray whales begins high in Alaskan waters.  The giants then travel southward along California's coastline en route to their breeding and birthing waters in the bays and lagoons of  Baja California.  These majestic mammals hug California's shoreline at Point Reyes National Seashore, past the Farallon Islands, travel through Half Moon Bay and Monterey Bay, then follow the coastline past Southern California before reaching Mexico.

The whales travel 70 to 80 miles per day at a rate of three to five miles per hour.  A spout of vaporized water, at times reaching 12 feet, becomes visible to watchers as the whales surface every three to five minutes to breathe.  Their 12,000-mile round-trip trek is the longest known distance any mammal migrates on an annual basis.  During the migration, the whales will travel in small groups and stay fairly close Whalewatching_on_the_Condor Courtesy of Santa Barbara Conference and Visitors Bureauto the shoreline for protection from predators, such as killer whales.  By mid-February, the migration pattern reverses as the whales lead their new-born calves back to the chilly Arctic waters of the Bering Sea in Alaska.

Gray whales—the only whale species to fully recover its pre-whaling population levels—may reach up to 50 feet in length and weigh up to 45 tons.  Named for their gray coloring, the whales have mottled gray skin due to both natural pigmentation, and whale lice barnacle colonies.  When swimming or hovering just below the surface, the whales may appear uniformly white or slate blue.  One of the gray's more distinctive traits is its lack of a dorsal fin.  Instead, a low hump is followed by a series of bumps down the back. 


The initial sighting of the gray whale is exhilarating. The blow—a  puff of steam standing up to 12 feet off the water—will appear; where there is one blow, others are sure to follow as whales tend to travel in groups of two to six. An amazing maneuver the whales perform is spyhoppingA whale may stick its head above water one or more times consecutively—it is believed that the whale is either getting its bearings or using gravity to help swallow.  The most dramatic and exciting behavior observed is breaching.  The whale will leap out of the water and fall to its side or back making a spectacular splash.  This behavior can be perceived as a form of communication to other whales in the area Ventura California Mother and Daughter enjoy Island packers Channel Islands Credit Barbara Steinberg or means of “back scratching” to release the numerous parasites from the whales' hides.


The four-month period from December through March is a celebration for aficionados of marine and coastal biology life as various festivals, cruises and events are planned in conjunction with the gray whale's yearly migratory pattern.

FOR LANDLUBBERS

Point Reyes National Seashore, home of the picturesque Point Reyes Lighthouse in Marin County, has one of the best viewing locations.  In addition, naturalist talks ,”Journey of the Whale,” are offered weekends and holidays during the season, 1:30 p.m.  The Lighthouse Visitor Center is open from 10:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m., Thursday through Monday.  The Point Reyes Lighthouse Observation Deck is a great place to watch for California gray whales as they migrate past Point Reyes Courtesy of National Park ServiceParking is very limited and weekends can be crowded.  Th winter shuttle service runs December 31 through late March or mid-April, operating on weekends and holidays, weather permitting during whale-watching season.  For details on the talks and shuttles, call the Bear Valley Visitor Center (415) 464-5100; open seven days a week. Checkout their Facebook page for updates on sightings.

Ricochet Ridge Ranch, across from MacKerricher State Park on the Mendocino Coast at Fort Bragg, offers horseback riding along the beach where riders often see gray whales and harbor seals.

Cabrillo National Monument on Point Loma in San Diego is home to a glassed-in whale-watching observatory featuring whale exhibits and a taped narration, is being renovated but should re-open soon.  The center is open daily 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Interpretive programs are available, call for information. 

Other areas for active viewing include (counties listed from north to south):

Del Norte County:
Klamath River Overlook.  Approximately four miles off U.S. 101 on Requa Road at the top of the mountain that overlooks the mouth of the Klamath River and Pacific Ocean.

Endert’s Beach Overlook.  Approximately three  miles off U.S. 101 on Endert’s Beach Road to the parking lot and viewing area which is a redwood deck built on top of a rock.

Battery Point.  This is accessible only at low tide from the parking area at the foot of “A” Street in Crescent City.

Brother Jonathan Vista Point.  Located on Pebble Beach Drive at Ninth Street in Crescent City.  Viewing area is about 10 feet above the surface of the ocean.

Point St. George.  Located about three miles northwest of Crescent City at the west end of Washington  Boulevard.

Castle Rock, near Crescent City.  The best location for viewing this island is along Pebble Beach Drive north of the Brother Jonathan Vista Point, south of Point St. George.

Humboldt CountyDry Lagoon, Humboldt Lagoons State Park, Freshwater Lagoon,
Redwood National & State Parks near Orick, Gold Bluffs Beach in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park,
McKinleyville Vista Point off  U.S. 101, Palmer’s Point and Wedding Rock,
Patrick’s Point State Park, Trinidad, Scenic drive, south of Trinidad offers a number of spectacular vista points as well as access to beaches such as Luffenholtz Beach.

Shelter Cove
. Take the Garberville/Redway exit off U.S. 101 to the Lost Coast.


Table Bluff. South spit of Humboldt Bay Trinidad Head at Trinidad Harbor, Trinidad.

Mendocino Headlands Whale Watching Credit Barbara Steinberg Mendocino County: Laguna Point at MacKerricher State Park, Jughandle State Reserve, Mendocino Headlands, Point Cabrillo Lightstation Preserve, Russian Gulch State Park, Todd’s Point

Sonoma County: Stillwater Cove County Park and Bodega Head

Santa Cruz County:  Pigeon Point, Greyhound Rock and Davenport Coastline

Monterey County: Monterey Peninsula, Big Sur

San Luis Obispo County:  Montaña de Oro State Park, Pismo State Beach, Morro Strand State Beach, Cayucos State Beach, San Simeon State Beach, and Moonstone Beach Drive

Santa Barbara County:  Santa Barbara Coastline, Channel Islands National Park, and Shoreline Park

Los Angeles CountyCatalina Island, and Korean Friendship Bell and Point Fermin Lighthouse, San Pedro

Orange County: Dana Point

Anacapa Island Packers Credit Barbara SteinbergVentura CountyChannel Islands National Park
Island Packers - The 3‐3½ hour non‐landing narrated whale-watching trips are offered from both Ventura Harbor and Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard. Trips depart almost daily at 9:30 a.m. or 1:30 p.m. All‐day trips with landing are also available on Anacapa or Santa Cruz islands. Camping is also available on all five islands. Advance reservations are advised and can be made by calling (805) 642‐1393. 

California State Beaches also offer a number of programs and locations for viewing migrating whales.  For details on what programs are offered, contact the state park listed below or visit www.Parks.ca.gov for general information on all state parks. 

Fort Ross State Historic Park - (707) 847-3286
Garrapata State Park - (831) 624-4909
MacKerricher State Park - (707) 937-5804
Manchester State Beach - (707) 937-5804
Mendocino Headlands State Park - (707) 937-5804
Montaña de Oro State Park - (805) 528-0513
Morro Bay State Park Museum of Natural History - (805) 772-2694
Patrick's Point State Park - (707) 677-3570
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve - (831) 624-4904
Point Sal State Beach - (805) 733-3713
Point Sur State Historic Park - (831) 625-4419
Salt Point State Park - (707) 847-3221
Sonoma Coast State Beach - (707) 875-3483
Silver Strand State Beach - (619) 435-5184

California Festivals Celebrate Gray Whales

Whalefest MontereyWelcome the grays at Monterey Bay, Point Lobos and Big Sur.  Take part in this two-week celebration with whale-themed art shows, natural history exhibits, and children’s programs at dozens of cultural and natural history organizations, including the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  For more information and a schedule of events, visit.

Intertidal Festival Courtesy of Cabrilio National MonumentWhale Fiesta, San PedroSpecial speakers and presentations are included in weekend festivities at the enclosed whale-watching station at the end of Point Loma in San Diego.  Weekend date to be determined by November. 
For more information, call:  (619) 557-5450.

Oxnard’s Celebration of the Whales - Taking place at Channel Islands Harbor, the celebration will include entertainment and exhibits highlighting the offshore migration of the gray whale.  The event also includes island trips, speakers, and arts and crafts.  

Sponsore by See California
Find more whale festivals at www.SeeCalifornia.com

Dana Point’s Festival of Whales - After an opening ceremony at La Plaza Park with a two-day street faire, this spectacular event will kick-off with a grand display of tallships at the Dana Point harbor.  The Orange County Marine Institute will sponsor a “Whaling & Art of the Sailor” exhibition, and the last weekend will finish with a “wag-a-thon” plus much more.  For more information, call: (888) 440-4309 or (949) 472-7888.  

Mendocino Whale Festival.  Celebrate in the village's galleries and shops with premium wines from Mendocino's top vintners.  Other highlights include chowder tasting, marine art exhibits, music and whale-watching walks on the headlands.  For more information.

Fort Bragg Whale Festival.  Along with dozens of microbrews provided by the Fort Bragg Rotary Club, the area’s top chefs will produce their favorite chowders. A marine mammal art exhibit and crafts fair are also part of the two-day Whale Watching Courtesy of Visit Long Beachfestival. Experience the excitement of whales in motion with a boat excursion at Noyo Harbor.  For more information. 


Little River Whale Festival.
  Savor bites from the kitchens of the town's noted chefs, sips from Mendocino County
vintners, history and birding walks in Van Damme State Park, artist studio tours, fireside talks with local historians.  


Long Beach Whale Watching. Explore the Pacific Ocean and enjoy an up-close and personal experience with the world's largest mammals. Special whale-watching packages offered by the Aquarium of the Pacific. and tours and cruises by Harbor Breeze Whale-Watching Cruises, and Pieroint Landing.
 

Morro Bay Whale Watching is waiting. The Dos Osos is an open-deck pontoon boat, so dress with additional layers. A seasoned crew and interpretive staff provide background and safety instructions. Gray whales visit middle of December through May. Sightings are virtually guaranteed. Other commonly seen marine life includes blue whales, minke whales, fin whales and Pacific white-sided dolphins.


Social networking from California: A Letter

Seeking Dana Smith by Barbara Steinberg

I have shared this story again and again, here it is one more time. This letter was originally published on February 26, 2010. My hopes for 2017, other then the usual: health, happiness, and world peace....would be an answer to this letter. Of course, I have passed another birthday and rounded the corner to 60 and the 42nd anniversary of Dana's supportive words. Maybe 2017 will be the magic year when the answer comes.

Dear Mrs. Smith –

May I call you Dana? Now that I am nearly 60 years old it seems appropriate. I don’t know if you will remember me…though I believe you will. You were my English teacher (freshman and senior years [1970-1971 & 1973-1974]) at W. T. Woodson High School.  This is not the first letter I have written you.  I wrote to you after I graduated from high school and thanked you for coming into my life!  Here I am again.

You and I bumped heads that first year, 1970.  Diagramming sentences and all those English technicalities drove me crazy; I was so bored.  You may have suffered some of the same boredom. 

D. Smith My senior year (1973-1974) with you included media/marketing and writing courses.  What an eye-opener for me!  Those experiences would eventually figure into my professional life in so many ways.  In my senior yearbook you wrote, “I expect to be buying your books soon,” Good Luck, D. Smith.  That was the most powerful and memorable thing anyone had ever said to me.

After graduating, I told you all of this in a letter.After moving to California, I stopped by to say ‘hello’ and let you know what was going on in my life.  You told me that you and your husband (whom I never met) were moving to Kentucky.  I believe you said he was a photographer and planned to open a studio.  Again, this is what I think was said.  I don’t remember if you said where in Kentucky or (specifically) when you were going.

I don’t recall if we spoke again, but I have thought of you often.

I have been looking for you for a long time.  I stopped by and called WTW – the English department, the principal – no one responded.  I contacted the teachers association.  Each time I explained, but no one seemed interested.  I have looked online.Searched through www.WhitePages.com, Google searches, and people-finder websites. Someone from my graduating class knows someone who is currently on staff in the English Department. They were going to do some asking on my behalf, but then I never heard anything more.

I posted the following on Facebook believing that this ‘six degrees of separation’ Mecca would find someone out there who recognized you. Or maybe even find you!

Barbara imageI am still hoping to find Dana Smith who taught English at W.T. Woodson back in the '70s. She was still in Fairfax the last
time I saw her but she said planning to move to Kentucky. Her husband was a photographer (I think this is what I remember).
 December 13, 2009 at 8:38pm

Why is it so important that I find you?  Because I want to thank you…again!  Thank you for seeing something in me when I was only 17-years-old. Something no one else had noticed or nurtured. My life took many paths, all of them leading to my life as a writer and editor.Though I have been writing my whole life, I wasn't professionally published until my mid 30s. For 16 years I was the director of publications for Visit California. Since 2006, I have been a freelance travel writer and marketing California as a travel destination -- passionate about the subject!

I have often talked about what you taught me about the power of marketing. And, ironically, one of the first places I visited in California was the Hearst Castle…all because you had us watch "Citizen Kane" our senior year in a media class you taught.That’s true!  And from time-to-time, I take out my yearbook just to re-read your message.There are a couple of books I want to write, but finding the time is a major stumbling block.Your words of support may bring that to fruition someday. 

I hope this letter reaches you!  I want you to know that after 42 years I still remember and thank you from the bottom of my heart. In the meantime, others will know about the power of few well-placed words. Years later I still remember.


Love - Barbara

PS – Just before my senior year I visited a friend in the UK. Her mother, Joan, was a travel writer. When she explained this concept to me I said, “That’s a job?! I want that job.” I was just 17 years old and was just getting ready to begin my senior year in your class. The Universe and D. Smith saw the writing on the wall.