Whale sightings off the coast of California are at record high numbers already this season, as the annual migration of Pacific gray whales appears to have started about two weeks earlier than normal. This news has surprised and delighted whale experts, who see the large numbers as a great indication that the species is healthier than expected.
Gray whales generally pass the summer above the Arctic Circle, where they spend several months feeding in the Bering and Chukchi seas. As winter sets into the northern hemisphere however, they begin their long migration south, covering as much as 12,000 miles along the way. For several weeks, they’ll linger off the coast of California, breeding and nursing their young, and offering prime opportunities for travelers to encounter the giant mammals in their natural environment.
What has whale spotters the most excited this season is that the numbers of gray whales is considerably higher than last year. According to this story at Adventure Journal, in December of 2010, just eight grays were spotted in the waters off California, but this year that number has exceeded 30. Even more encouraging is the overall health of the pod, as the creatures seem well fed after their summer layover up north.
It is believed that between 1998 and 2002, the population of gray whales dropped by as much as a third due to poor feeding conditions and high mortality rates. But it appears that those population numbers are now on the rebound, which bodes well for the future of the species.
If you’re in California over the next few weeks, and want to have an amazing experience, you’ll find that there are plenty of commercial boats that conduct whale watching tours. Those boats have reportedly been booked solid in recent days, so you may want to buy tickets early and plan ahead for your own whale watching excursion. If you’re not lucky enough to be in the area, check out the video below. It was shot on December 18th by two scuba divers who had their own encounter with a young gray whale.