My name is Vaishali Shah and I am a volunteer Naturalist for the Cabrillo Whalewatch Program sponsored by the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium and American Cetacean Society Los Angeles Chapter.
I have been a volunteer for 5 years and it has been an amazing experience. Currently we have over 100 volunteers who join the whale watch boats on their daily tours from December to April. They educate the public on the variety of marine life found in the Santa Monica Bay, CA.
These months (winter and spring) are when the Pacific Gray whale migrates from Alaska to Baja, Mexico and back again. Being right in the migration path, whale watching boats rarely have go out more than 2-3 miles to see these amazing animals. This particular season has been an epic year for gray whale counting. All along the west coast of US, people count the number of gray whales going past. Volunteers, including Whalewatch naturalists, take part in this activity at the Point Vicente Interpretative Center in Palos Verdes, CA as part of the Gray whale census that lasts from 1st December to April, dawn to dusk every day.
This year has been a record year for the Southbound migration of gray whales as 1900 whales have been counted. This is an all time high in the 32 year-old census. This made for many exciting whale watch trips. Each trip lasts for 3 hours and we would see anywhere between 10-16 whales at the peak of migration. This year was fantastic for me as I got to witness my first breaching whale, (when the whale comes right out of the water and splashes down) a truly breath-taking experience.
The captains of the boats are extremely sensitive to the behavior of the whales and will respect them by keeping their distance. By law all vessels, including paddle boarders, have to stay at least 100 yards away from any whale. On numerous occasions, the captain has shut off the boat engine only for the whale to approach and check us out! One time a Humpback whale came so close, I got covered in whale snot!
We see many other types of whales too. Southern California has a variety of different species. This year in the bay we have had resident humpbacks including a mother and calf, and finback whales (the 2nd largest animal in the ocean). There are already sightings of blue whales (the largest animal known to have lived), which usually come to visit us in summertime to feed. Every now and then we get the very rare chance to see orcas, pilot whales, false killer whales and even sperm whales have been sighted.
The whales with their gigantic size are what people come to see on the whale watch, but it is often the smaller cetacean species that make the trip worthwhile! Dolphins. There are up to 5 species of dolphins in Southern California and the most well known being bottlenose dolphin (Flipper was one). However, my favorite are the common dolphins. On a good day these animals will jump, leap, tail slap and bow-ride the boat. They can be seen in mega pods of thousands. They come close to the boat. It is truly something when you look down into the eye of a wild dolphin.
Last but not least, a typical whale watch is never complete without seeing California Sea Lions. Whether they are resting on a buoy or porpoising behind the boat, children and adults love them. How could you not with those big surly eyes!
Hope you have enjoyed a brief glimpse of a whale watch trip in Santa Monica Bay.
Hello, my name is Vance, and I am a Vaquita. I am also known as the Gulf of California Harbor Porpoise. I live off of Mexico in the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez). There are only 30 of us left (as of 2018), making us the most critically endangered small cetacean (whale) in the world. Eek, that’s a lot of pressure on us, just trying to stay alive. I’d hate to go extinct just because we live in a limited range.
We are the smallest cetacean, reaching lengths of 4-5 feet (1.2-1.5 meters) and weights of 65-120 pounds (30-55 kg). We are hard for humans to study because we avoid boats if possible. It’s nothing personal, except that we’ve had so much trouble with humans setting out fishing nets (see below). We hang out in pairs, but sometimes we get together in groups of 7-10. We eat schooling fish such as croakers and grunts, as well as crustaceans, squid and octopus
Our greatest threats are through commercial fishing. Gillnets are miles long, and are used to catch shrimp for export to places such as the United States. Shrimp is the most popular seafood of choice there. Gillnets catch anything and anybody in its path, including us Vaquita.
There is also a fish called the Totoaba, whose swim bladders are exported to China for a medicinal soup. This is an illegal fishery, and Vaquita get caught in these nets too.
The bad news is that cetaceans worldwide are caught as bycatch in fishermen’s nets. 300,000 cetaceans die a year, or one every two minutes, just to satisfy human’s demand for seafood.
The good news is that there is a moratorium on gillnets in the Gulf of California for two years. If it gets enforced regularly, then my population of Vaquita have a chance to recover. Females have calves every other year, and the calves already born will have a chance to grow up.
For now, it’s time for my morning meal. It’s time to celebrate!
Photos and video taken under permit (Oficio No. DR/847/08 ) from the Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (CONANP/Secretaría del Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (SEMARNAT), within a natural protected area subject to special management and decreed as such by the Mexican Government. This work was made possible thanks to the collaboration and support of the Coordinador de Investigación y Conservación de Mamíferos Marinos at the Instiuto Nacional de Ecología (INE).