Every week, Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching provides the Dana Point Times and San Clemente Times a report on the week’s whale and dolphin sightings from naturalist Laura Lopez, in addition to a weekly log.
Here is Lopez’s report for the past week:
Welcoming the New Year as New Life Begins! Birth of a baby Gray Whale right outside Dana Point Harbor!
This week’s Baja-style encounter with this newborn gray whale calf just minutes old was such a great way to begin 2023! During this incredible 90-minute encounter, Captain Chase Moore on the Dana Wharf Whale Watch vessel Ocean Adventures had his engines in neutral, and we were stopped to ensure the safety of the whales.
On Jan. 2, Captain Chase Moore spotted the blow of a gray whale just north of the Dana Point Headlands, about three miles off the coast, at 1:30 p.m. This adult gray whale was fluking high as it circled, not traveling much in any direction. As we were returning to the harbor, a captain at Capt. Dave’s was notified about the whale’s location. Just a few minutes later, Captain Chase received a call from the captain who stated once they were on site, they saw blood in the water. When they saw the newborn calf, they realized the gray whale must have given birth minutes before.
Once we had returned to the whales, we watched as the mom was gently lifting her newborn calf to help it take its first breaths, as it was still just minutes old. The calf was often resting on the mother’s back. We could clearly see the calf’s floppy flukes as this newborn calf was learning to swim. This cow/calf pair made several passes around and under our boat. During our encounter, the pair was moving closer to shore, likely seeking safety in the shallower waters as they complete their journey to the Baja lagoons.
Whale scientists, whale researchers and other observers have observed gray whale moms and have said that moms do not bring newborn calves to boats like it appears, their primary goal is to make sure each newborn calf can take breaths to stay alive. New moms are super protective; guiding, nudging and following their calves as these newborns are very uncoordinated and cannot follow them. Any newborn calf cannot control the direction it’s traveling or propel itself with its floppy flukes, so the mom has to follow it closely. The mother whale appeared to be trying to mostly stay between us and her calf. In the event she would bump a boat, she could have been trying to deflect the vessel away from her calf. In the birthing lagoons in Baja, moms do not bring their newborn calves to boats. There are close encounters with small boats called pangas in the outer lagoon waters later in the season around February and March.
Captain Chase said, “the newborn baby swimming reminded me of how a baby deer walks – a little wobbly and a little unsure, but so adorable. The whale was flopping its tail around trying to figure out how this swimming thing works.” It may almost look as though the mother was bringing her baby to the boat. just like they do in Baja. but experts say the mom is more likely to guide her baby because the baby whale can’t maneuver very well. We feel very privileged that this happened in Dana Point.
The pair will continue south to the warm waters of Baja for the winter, where this calf along with the others that pass us daily will gain about 50 pounds a day and grow about a foot in length each month. Then, they will leave the warmth and safety of their Baja lagoon in April or May, to head back up to Arctic waters to feed.
Here is the latest Whale Watching Log from Dana Wharf Whale Watching:
Jan. 13 – 6 Gray Whales including 3 Cow/Calf Pairs, Common Dolphin
Jan. 12 – 1 Cow/Calf Pair, 1 Gray Whale, Common Dolphin, Bottlenose Dolphin w/ Patches
Jan. 11 – 1 Cow/Calf Pair, Common Dolphin
Jan. 10 – No Trips Due to Weather
Jan. 9 – No Trips Due to Weather
Jan. 8 – 2 Gray Whales, Common Dolphin
Jan. 7 – 5 Gray Whales including 2 Cow/Calf Pairs, Risso’s Dolphin, Common Dolphin