Saturday, March 14, 2009

Whale Watching around Catalina Island

Last Sunday the American Cetacean Society (the whale society) of Orange County sponsored a whale watching trip around Catalina Island. The Catalina Flyer from Newport came over to Avalon on it's normal run and instead of being on a mooring all afternoon in Avalon, it took a cruise around the island looking for whales. It was a great deal for Catalina residents - only $35 plus it was narrated by whale experts and by Aaron, a wonderful naturalist from the Catalina Conservancy. Most of the 3rd grade class at Avalon School got to go - for many it was their first trip around the island.

The boat was a bit late in arriving but once we were on board we headed south, past Lover's Cove toward Pebbly Beach and past the quarry. Our first stop was Seal Rocks. Now I'm not sure why they call it Seal Rocks since the California sea lion hangs out here, but I guess a pinniped is a pinniped. The sea lions are curious so before long a gang of them came close to the boat, checking us out.

We eventually cruised on and ran into porpoises everywhere! Very cool. Some came right close to the boat and in the clear water you can see them streaming alongside. Others were leaping out of the water in groups of 2 or 3. Almost everywhere you looked, you could spot them.

Then we saw a blow! (Thar she blows!) And we're off in search of the gray whales. Gray whales migrate from Alaska to their mating and calving waters in Baja every fall and head back to Alaska every spring. From January to March is the best time to find them in the waters around Catalina. About 90% of them are on the outside - the backside of Catalina - and about 10% of them head inside in their northern journey - between Catalina and the mainland - going by Avalon. They are big - about 45 feet for an average adult and they weigh 30-40 tons.

We ended up seeing quite a few gray whales - more than we had expected. It was amazing to think they they are traveling such distances. They were certainly on a beeline to Alaska. They come up, blow, and you can see the bulks of their backs, and then they head back down with a classic whale tail dissolve.

As we continued around the island, many in the boat spotted one whale breaching just outside of Two Harbors. I missed it of course, but I did see the splash.

We also saw more porpoise and even bald eagles - in fact we got close enough to see a bald eagle nest - with an eagle cam close by sending pictures of the eagles (and soon to be eaglets) across the internet.

We were back in Avalon by about 3pm. All in all it was a great way to spend an day! Cruising the coastline of Catalina in search of whales. Thanks to the American Cetacean Society for sponsoring the trip. They do it every year in March. We'll do it again!

No comments:

Catalina Island Chronicles, daily life on the CA island