CARLSBAD — There were sparse sightings, if any that day, but the dozen or so hopeful whale watchers on Saturday were able to get a glimpse into the lives of gray whales as they made their way through San Diego’s waters on their winter migration.
Atop the bluff of South Ponto State Beach, volunteers from the San Diego Natural History Museum’s naturalist program and a California State Park interpreter led an educational whale watching forum, telling about the large mammals’ migration routes, diet and how best to experience a whale sighting.
Cory Hawkins, a State of California Department of Parks and Recreation interpreter said that while they don’t take part in any scientific whale counts (that’s done by the National Parks Service in Point Loma), because the department has a lot of bluff top lookouts under their jurisdiction, they do engage the public in education and outreach programs.
Some of the best bluff top lookouts for whale watching, she added, are at Torrey Pines, Cabrillo and at South Ponto, where whales have, at times, been seen just beyond the surf zone.
“Generally, you’re going to see them halfway between the surf and the horizon,” Hawkins said.
Tamara Kurtukova, a Carlsbad resident and a Natural History Museum volunteer said that while walking along the shore of South Ponto State Beach last year, she saw a rare sight — a gray whale performing a “spyhopping,” maneuver (where the whale pops its head out of the water vertically to have a look around).
The gray whales’ winter migration began in mid-December and lasts through April. The whales will eventually complete their 6,000-mile route, having started in the Bering Sea and ending up in the lagoons near Baja California to breed.
For Hawkins, though, she said her favorite whale watching time is during their spring migration in the months of March and April when they start heading north with their babies.
“The adult whales, they know the route pretty well by memory,” said Hawkins. “The majority of their route is by sight, but the infants, they obviously don’t know it. So the mom’s like, ‘Well, look around, remember where we are.’ So they’re poking their heads up, they’re doing all kinds of stuff. So that’s when we see a lot of above water activity is March and April.”
Leslie Rapp, another volunteer with the San Diego Natural History Museum’s naturalist program, stressed the importance of becoming aware of threats affecting the health of the oceans and all of the marine life, namely small plastics and balloons.
Oftentimes on whale watching excursions, Rapp said, they’ll find helium balloons in the water.
“You’re guaranteed to see at least one helium balloon anytime you’re out there,” Rapp said.