Weekly Report ~ January 9-15, 2023
Gray Whale Cow/Calf Pairs, Patches, Dolphin Stampede
As we enter the first phase of the Gray Whale Southbound Migration, we see more cow/calf (mom/baby) pairs heading south along our coast, usually in shallower water very close to shore. Other adults are traveling as singles, pairs, or trios, many consistently fluking, usually traveling at about 3.5 miles per hour. Most of the baby gray whales we see are likely just days old. Many of these cow/calf pairs are shallow profile or stealthy, with little to no visible blows, and are usually spotted by their distinctive “fluke or foot” prints. This fluke print is a circular pattern on the water’s surface trailing a whale created by the upward stroke of the whale’s tail breaking the surface tension in the water. While gray whales prefer to give birth in the lagoons off Baja, California, Mexico, where the water is warmer, these newborn calves are not born with a blubber layer to keep them warm ~ many are born in the open ocean. The lagoons also provide shelter and protect them from their primary predator, the killer whale or Orca. It is estimated over 40 percent of these calves are born north of Los Angeles.
Patches, the leucistic offshore bottlenose dolphin, also checked in with us this week. He’s always a fan favorite. Traveling with 20-30 other bottlenose dolphins, he is easily recognized by the patchy black, white, and pink coloration on his body, which is how he got his name.
Long-beaked common dolphins have been seen in various sizes, including nursery pods with many babies. Late one day, there was a massive feeding frenzy about 5 miles off the coast just north of the Dana Point Headlands with well over a thousand dolphins for what looked like miles, including sea lions and hundreds of sea birds. Small groups of dolphins would take turns coming to our boat to bow ride. Suddenly, they started to stampede all around us, with many of the birds following. Seeing so many animals racing across the water under the cloudy skies was spectacular!