by Dr. Causey

Unfortunately the luck of the Irish was not with us on our St. Patty’s Day trip with Marblehead Elementary. Actually, that’s not entirely true… we did get to see two northbound gray whales, and we were able to stay with them for several breathing cycles. However, a small eddy (weather disturbance) sent us back to the docks early to seek shelter from the increasingly inhospitable wind and surf.

When we left the dock (at 10:13), the conditions were fair. You can see that I noted some chop on the Cover Sheet and a Beaufort State of “3” (Large Wavelets. Some crests break. Occasional white foam crests). We knew that this might make it difficult to spot whales, but we were hoping things would get better rather than worse. It was high tide, and the sea surface temperature was 62 degrees.

We made a right turn out of the Harbor and headed up the coast to find 2 northbound gray whales by 10:30.

We observed the whales traveling north in about 35 fathoms of water. At one point, they engaged in some splashing and rolling behavior with one another, suggesting they were playing or perhaps courting.

I really like the shots of the knuckles (or “dorsal ridge”) below. This is one great way to photo-id. gray whales. In addition to the markings on their flukes and elsewhere on the body, sometimes scientists will measure the distances between the ridges, or knuckles, on the whale’s back as a way to identify it.

The whales’ average speed during our 20 minute observation was 4.5 mph. We observed 6 breath cycles. The whales took a median of 2 breaths at the surface between longer dives. Their average long dive length was only 1 minute and 28 seconds. You can see from some of the photos below that the chop was really starting to pick up during our sighting. The white caps make it difficult to spot whales and dolphins on the water — it becomes too hard to tell whether a splash is a blow or wind or a white cap — and some of the scholars were starting to look a little green (and not the St. Patrick’s day kinda green either…) so we decided it was the safest decision to end the trip early and head back to the dock. We left the whales at 10:50 a.m., stopped briefly at the sea lions, and then sought refuge behind the wave break in Dana Point Harbor.

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