Weekly Report ~ January 2-8, 2023
Welcoming the New Year as New Life Begins! Birth of a baby Gray Whale Right Outside Dana Point Harbor!
This week’s Baja-style encounter with this newborn gray whale calf just minutes old was a great way to begin 2023! During this incredible ninety-minute encounter, Captain Chase Moore on the Dana Wharf Whale Watch vessel Ocean Adventures had our engines in neutral, and we were stopped to ensure the safety of the whales.
On Monday, January 2, 2023, Captain Chase Moore spotted the blow of a gray whale just north of the Dana Point Headlands, about 3 miles off the coast, at 1:30 PM. This adult gray whale was fluking high as it circled, not traveling much in any direction, just north of the Dana Point Headlands. As we were returning to the harbor, a captain at Capt. Dave was notified about the whale’s location. Just a few minutes later, Captain Chase received a call from the captain, who told him that they saw blood in the water once they were on site. When they saw the newborn calf, they realized the gray whale must have given birth minutes before.
Once we had returned to the whales, we watched as this mom gently lifted her newborn calf to help it take its first breaths, as it was still just minutes old. The calf was often resting on the mother’s back. We could see the calf’s floppy flukes as this newborn calf was learning to swim. This cow/calf pair made several passes around and under our boat. During our encounter, the pair was moving closer to shore, likely seeking safety in the shallower waters as they complete their journey to the Baja lagoons.
Whale scientists, whale researchers, and other observers have observed gray whale moms do not bring newborn calves to boats, as their primary goal is to ensure each newborn calf can take breaths to stay alive. New moms are super protective; guiding, nudging, and following their calves, as these newborns are uncoordinated and cannot follow them. Any newborn calf cannot control the direction it’s traveling or propel itself with its floppy flukes, so the mom has to follow it closely. It is NOT likely this mom we watched was purposefully bringing her calf to any vessel; she appeared to be trying to stay between us and her calf mostly. If she would bump a boat, she could have been trying to deflect the vessel away from her calf. In the birthing lagoons in Baja, moms do not bring their newborn calves to boats. There are close encounters with small boats called pangas in the outer lagoon waters later in the season, around February and March.
The cow/calf pair will continue south to the warm waters of Baja for the winter, where this calf will gain about 50 pounds a day and grow about a foot in length each month. Then they will leave the warmth and safety of their Baja lagoon in April or May to head back up to Arctic waters to feed.