by Dr. Kayla Causey

We were so glad that we got to invite two classes from Viejo to come back out with the Gray Whale Foundation. Both classes had their original trips rescheduled due to weather. Ms. Borg’s class had made an attempt to come out with us, but because the weather was so poor, visibility was awful and it was impossible to see whether there were whales in the area. In addition, many students were feeling ill because of the conditions, and so we had to end that trip early. You can read more about that here.

So we felt it best to bring both classes back out and give them another shot at studying gray whales. And it was a success! We spotted a Gray Whale just outside of the Harbor! In fact, there were two gray whales – a cow and her calf. It was really exciting to show the kids a calf and describe the northbound-migration that moms and their newborns make. The behavioral differences are always striking as well. Whereas most of our sightings so far this season have occurred in an average depth of about 50 fathoms, this pair was in very shallow water — only 6 fathoms and moving more shallow as they hugged the coastline throughout the sighting. Cow/calf pairs remain in the shallow waters for protection and probably ¬†because it makes for easier nursing.

This pair was moving very slowly (average speed was 4.45 mph during our ~30 min. sighting), and surfacing irregularly. Their average dive duration was 2 minutes, and they rarely spent more than a single breath at the surface. Early on the sighting, we saw the whales “blow bubbles” ¬†– a behavior that we see from time to time, yet still aren’t sure why it’s done. For most of the sighting, they appeared to be resting/milling in the same area, and then they traveled a little ways up the coast, remaining in very shallow water. We saw at least two coastal bottlenose dolphins pass outside of us, but the two species didn’t interact or even seem to notice one another. We stayed with the two whales for just under half-an-hour before heading out in search of other cetaceans in the area.

We didn’t go very far before we picked up thousands of common dolphins, very spread out, apparently feeding on anchovy. We initially sighted them at a depth of 33.5 fathoms (you can see the second purple waypoint in our track above, representing the beginning of the dolphin sighting), and followed them offshore into deeper water (the farthest waypoint indicates the end of our sighting). The students really enjoyed seeing the dolphins.

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