Not to be beat by the first Malcom trip (which was amazing), our second Malcom Elementary trip set a new record of 7 whales! This was a really special trip. Students saw “courting” gray whales, with double fluking, and a breaching gray whale too!

Ms. Reimer is a major whale enthusiast herself and helped organize and write a large part of the curriculum that CUSD teachers implement in the classroom this year. The students were so well-prepared for their adventure, and we left the dock promptly at 10:00 a.m. with the tide moving in, the water 60 degrees, and a Beaufort State of 2 (small, short wavelets…; see our Cover Sheet below for more details).

By 10:15, we were observing whales. Just off the Dana Point headlands (see track below), two northbound whales were spotted taking a pause to “fraternize”. When we approached, they were traveling¬† Northwest, but by 10:23 they had slowed down and were rolling and diving and engaging in a lot of social contact. We stayed with these whales for over half-an-hour, observing their long dives (the longest was 10 min., 15 sec.!). The average long dive time 4 min., 14 seconds. We were in 13 fathoms of water.

We could have watched these whales all day, but suddenly, SPLASH!, our sighting was interrupted by a whale breaching behind us!

There are several hypotheses as to why whales breach: one reason they do it may be do remove barnacles and parasites from their skin; another reason may be that they want to get the attention of other whales in the area; they also might be trying to orient themselves visually as they move along the coastline; finally, it’s possible that they do it just for fun. Whatever its function for whales, breaching is always fun for us to see. So we left the courting whales at 10:51 to find out what was going on with the breaching whale to the South.

This whale breached four times! And as it turns out, it had company! There were three whales total, and at some point (11:07 to be precise), we saw a fourth whale pass by heading down coast. It was really surprising to see a southbounder this late in the season. We decided we would try to catch up with the lone whale a little later and remained with the three for several minutes, recording their breath cycles.

At this point, we were only in 16 fathoms of water, and these whales were traveling at about 4 mph, on average. Their breathing patterns were very regular. At the surface, they took 3-4 short dives. For several intervals, these dives alternated between 8 seconds, then 14 seconds… 8 seconds, then 14 seconds… followed by a longer dive that averaged 2 minutes 55 seconds. It was really neat to observe the rhythms of nature. We followed these whales North around the Dana Point headlands until 11:23, before deciding to head toward the dock. But on our way, we spotted the wayward southbound whale from earlier. Ms. Reimer thought he looked small and was concerned about him. I thought it was pretty interesting too, and wanted to take the opportunity to record some observations. We convinced Capt. Jack to let us watch the whale for a few cycles.

Boy was this a long-winded whale! We were afraid we’d lost it as soon as we’d found it! It stayed down on a long dive for 7 minutes, before surfacing and submerging for another minute or more. It surfaced again and then submerged for another long duration. At 3 1/2 minutes, we decided that maybe it was time for us to move on, just in case the whale was stressed by our presence. Given that he was heading south (in March!), we didn’t want to add to any confusion. We headed back to the dock and wrapped up a record breaking trip – 7 whales, breaching, double-fluking! – it was really quite memorable.

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