by Dr. Kayla Causey

Well, despite being stood-up by gray whales, it was a beautiful day on the water with two classes from Hidden Hills Elementary. We left the dock at 9:57 with the tide moving out. The water was so calm, the sun was shining; it would have been a good day for water skiing!

As we left the Harbor, we radioed other boats to find out whether there had been any sightings of whales so far that morning. Nothing… and the conditions were so clear (we could see Catalina) and the water so calm, we felt confident that if there were whales in the area, someone would have seen them. We decided to check out an area of the coastline that hadn’t been surveyed yet that morning, so we headed down the coast (SE) in about 100 fathoms of water.

We continued our search many miles down the coast (as you can see above). Finally, just as we were about to give up, Capt. Todd and the rest of the crew sighted dolphins off in the distance. We were desperate to catch up to them and show these scholars some (toothed) whales. They turned out to be common dolphins, a beautiful oceanic dolphin that one can only observe in the wild. They are so social, they simply don’t survive in captivity. We always joke about how their name is misleading… these dolphins are anything but “plain” or “unremarkable” (all synonyms for “common”). They are called common dolphins because we see them so often off of our coast; in fact, as of most recent abundance estimates, there are 180,000 common dolphins residing off of Southern California. No wonder they are a “common” occurrence!

We finally caught up with them, but only for just long enough to let the scholars snap a few pictures and see how these dolphins like to bowride. Before we knew it, it was time to high-tail it back to the dock so that the students didn’t miss their bus. We traveled back up the coast in slightly shallower water, still holding out hope that we might sight a gray whale. No luck…

It’s too bad we didn’t get to see a gray whale, but documenting the absence of these animals is just as important as documenting their presence. It’s all still important data! We didn’t see a gray whale on Tuesday either. Perhaps this suggests we are in a transition period, the time when most whales have completed their southbound migration, yet few have made it up to Dana Point yet on their Northbound migration.

Later in the week, we had gray whale sightings, so we will just have to continue to wait and see what patterns nature brings our way. Despite the absence of gray whales, it was a beautiful morning out on the water.

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