Most people call it winter, but here in Southern California, we call it whale-watching season.
December through March is the optimum time to see some of the thousands of gray whales that migrate from their feeding grounds in the Bering Sea to the warm lagoons of Baja California. Here they give birth to their calves and prepare for the return trip to Alaskan waters — a round-trip that totals 10,000 miles to 12,000 miles.
Lucky for us, we don’t have to travel far to see these gray whales, as well as several types of dolphins, perhaps a shark or even a blue whale. Just head to the Oceanside Harbor or Dana Point Harbor where whale-watching tours leave several times daily. Spotting gray whales off our coast has thankfully become commonplace, which means that this once-endangered species is thriving. Gray whales can be as long as 45 feet and weigh up to nearly 100,000 pounds, so it’s no ho-hum experience when one of these leviathans surfaces next to a whale-watching boat.
And if you visit the aquarium between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Feb. 8 to Feb. 16, you can participate in Whale Fest activities. Talk to experts as they take a deep dive into whale biology, evolution and culture, conservation and habitat, and baleen and bones. Learn how to spot whales from the aquarium’s panoramic Tide-Pool Plaza.
Whale Fest weekends feature meet-ups with whale scientists from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego or NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center.
“We hope to inspire curiosity with these marine mammals and empower our guests to take action to help protect them by continuing to find ways to connect with our ocean planet,” says Birch Aquarium education specialist Delanie Medina.
The aquarium also offers unique experiences with sea creatures at the other end of the size spectrum.
For the first time, visitors can go behind the scenes and see the aquarium’s groundbreaking work of breeding and caring for seahorses. The “Growing Up Seahorse” tour takes guests through seahorse exhibits with an expert to learn about the diversity and conservation status of these unique fish and how seahorses are cared for and bred.
The tour also allows guests to take a look into the breeding room to see tiny baby seahorses. (FYI: During mating season, the female deposits her eggs into the male’s pouch, where they are fertilized. The male gives birth after a two-week gestation.)
Birch Aquarium is a leader in the field of seahorse breeding conservation, and has been breeding seahorses for more than 25 years. It has shipped about 5,000 seahorses to more than 100 facilities around the world.
“Supporting breeding programs with our colleagues around the world is critical to the sustainability of our animals and our oceans,” says Jennifer Nero Moffatt, senior director of animal care, science and conservation.
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E’Louise Ondash is a veteran, award-winning journalist who was an investigative reporter, feature writer and columnist for the Times Advocate and the North County Times. She has written travel features for The Coast News since 2003.