extremely friendly and regularly approach
our small pangas in a moving display
that occurs nowhere else,” says Brian
Hutchinson, the Oceanic Society’s director of outreach. “Friendlies” are what
the park guides call the many mothers
who’ve learned that it’s safe to glide right
up to the pangas and lift their barnacle-encrusted heads up to inspect the humans
leaning over the sides of the boats.
Whales In Love
Meanwhile, whale courting displays and
mating rituals are visible in the clear, calm,
turquoise waters in the lagoons. Two or
more males may pursue and gently surround a female that seems receptive. For
days the males cavort flirtatiously, extending a fluke or nose to embrace or nuzzle
the female. According to whale guide Jose
Arriaga, gray males show patience, as a
willing female takes her time selecting a
single mate. One mating per winter often
does the trick. Once a couple mates, they
play near each other for the rest of their
winter sojourn in the tropical lagoon.
In March, The Northbound
The warm lagoons don’t provide much
feeding opportunity for adult grays, so they
lose weight during their stay. Males and
females without calves leave first. Some
years, hunger draws the migration farther
offshore, leading them more directly back
to the Bering Sea feeding ground and making the northbound whale-watching season
along California less distinct, at least for
grays. Orcas are the only serious predator
of grays, and pods of orcas often attack
the more vulnerable baby grays during
their northward migration. The other
common dangers are long-line and drift
fishing nets. Whale-rescue organizations
are kept busy trying to save entangled
whales spotted in coastal waters. Those
caught farther out aren’t so fortunate.
Look! More Whales!
In California’s Monterey Bay, boaters
can see – sometimes from shore – orcas,
humpbacks, and blues when they come
to feed above the Monterey Submarine
Canyon. In Washington, whale watching
typically focuses on orcas, the dramatic
black-and-white whale with a very tall
dorsal fin. Orca watching runs between
Rules For All Boaters When Encountering Whales
No matter where you encounter whales, the West Coast or the East Coast, strict Marine Mammal Protection regulations from NOAA and the National Marine Fisheries Service are designed to keep you and the whales safe on your next
1. Be alert and avoid disturbing whales and changing their normal behavior.
2. ALWAYS stay 100 yards away from a whale.
3. If a situation arises in which you can’t avoid a whale or whales by 100 yards, DO
NOT move into the path of a whale or move faster than a whale.
4. Always operate at a no-wake speed in the vicinity of whales.
5. Do not make erratic speed or directional changes, unless it’s to avoid colliding with
6. Do not get between two whales, chase them, or feed them.
7. To report an injured or entangled whale on the West Coast, call (877) SOS-WHALE
(767-9425). In the Northeast or Greater Atlantic region, call the NOAA Whale
Strandings Coordinator at (978) 281-9300. Or hail the U.S. Coast Guard on VHF Channel 16.
Top photo, these boaters reported that, to their surprise, this whale surfaced
near their boat. If this should happen, slow immediately to zero wake speed.
Above, two humpback whales breach like acrobats in tandem, almost their
entire bodies (approx. 67,000 lbs each) coming out of the water.
Above right, a good pair of binoculars will help you spot whale “spouts” the
exhaled breath of a whale at the surface.