Sunday, January 31, 2010

Whale watching with the Laguna Sea Dwellers and the Ocean Institute

On Saturday, I met up with the Laguna Sea Dwellers to go whale watching with the Ocean Institute out of Dana Point. They were a very nice and welcoming group, even though I wasn't a member of the dive club. We were on the Sea Explorer, a well equipped boat for whale watching. On our way out, we stopped to play with a small pod of bottlenose dolphins (tursiops truncatus). A few came right under the boat:

and another leaped out of the water, coming back to land with a large splash (click on the image for larger versions):

Next, we found a large pod of Risso's dolphins (grampus griseus), which are the largest dolphins found off of California. As they age, they acquire more and more scars, so the oldest dolphins are almost white. This pod was relatively young, with many baby dolphins.

Our time with the large pod of Risso's was cut shut, when the captain heard that a gray whale was spotted closer to shore. We caught up with a small armada of other boats that were following a single gray whale (eschrichtius robustus). The first sight you see is the brief surfacing and spout of moist air as the whale exhales:

This whale was about 30 ft long. The whale breaths about 3 times before going for a deep dive and typically stays under between 5 and 6 minutes. On the last breath before the deep dive, its fluke would sometimes come out of the water, in order to give a big push downward.

During this time period, the various boats would jockey for position, trying to predict where the whale would surface next, yet keeping a distance in order to not disturb it's migration south. As the 5 minute mark approached, everyone on the boat would start scanning the horizon to spot the first breath. After about 5 diving/surfacings, it was time to head back to the docks.

Location of the Ocean Institute at Dana Point Harbor:

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More photos are up at: