by Dr. Kayla Causey

This week we welcomed three separate classes from Wood Canyon Elementary aboard the Ocean Adventure. The winds made the trips very exciting!

Our first class was Ms. Dockin’s 5th grade. These students were an excellent, attentive group of scholars, and it was a pleasure to have them aboard. We shoved off from the dock a little before 10:30 (the bus was running late, as things go) just after high tide, with a sea surface temp. of 55 degrees Fahrenheit. The water had cooled slightly from the weekend rain. We had smooth seas and clear skies, which made it easy to spot some dolphins fairly quickly.

We caught up to the common dolphins at 10:34 in about 25 fathoms of water. There were approximately 500 dolphins in this large pod, and they were spread out in “rank” formation, meaning swimming side by side. It appeared they were foraging or herding a school of fish for their next meal. The dolphins traveled up coast, and we stayed with them for about 16 minutes before circling back to search for a gray whale.

It’s the time of year when gray whale mom’s (called “cows”) pass through Dana Point with their newborn calves as they make their way back North to the Alaskan feeding grounds for the summer. Cow/calf pairs usually travel in shallow waters to avoid predators and to make nursing easier. So we made our way down the coast in shallower water, hoping to intercept a northbound pair. Sure enough, by 11:26, we spotted two spouts. Two gray whales, a cow and calf, were making their way up the coast, moving slowly through the kelp. The whales were in 7 fathoms (42 ft. of water) and moving slowly, at about 3.89 mph. We observed them for 5 breathing cycles. Their pattern of breathing was consistent with traveling behavior. They took an average of 2 breaths at the surface, making shallow short duration (~20 seconds) dives in between, before descending on a longer dive that lasted an average of 1 minute, 37 seconds. We noted that they slowed down at one point, and this also seemed to be their longest dive (2 minutes, 9 seconds).

We stayed with these whales until 11:40, at which point it was time to head back to the dock. It was great to have the opportunity to show the scholars a cow and her calf.

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