During an ordinary beach walk, a gray whale slipped into our sight yesterday, a benediction from the sea. Perhaps we should have known something unusual was happening in the Santa Monica Bay because several groups of brown pelicans were seen diving for fish, making a big splash before taking off in flight repeatedly.
Known to migrate through Santa Monica Bay as they head south to Mexico each year, gray whales keep closer to shore, avoiding orcas, and feeding in the warmer, shallower water filtering with their coarse baleen mouths. After diving to the sea floor, they take a large mouthful of ocean mud or water, rich with food (phytoplankton, worms, schooling fish or shrimp) and extrude the water through the baleen fringe. They feed primarily during the summer months, and don’t often eat once they arrive at their wintering grounds.
Their typical annual migration takes them on a 12,000 mile round trip from their (December through February) calving grounds off Baja California up to Alaska’s Bering Sea, the longest migration of any mammal. It takes two to three months for them to arrive in Mexico from Alaska.
Our gray whale breached several times, the head showing mottled colors of sand, gray, and black. I don’t know if we were seeing the same whale several times (we saw a whale swimming from right to left five times) or members of a pod. It is estimated there are around 22,000 gray whales.
In previous years, whales have been seen swimming close to the Hallowed Ground Cliff face, off Westward Beach in Malibu, rubbing off barnacles by using the offshore rocks like a loofa sponge. Spectators with binoculars shared that they thought it was a juvenile, based on its coloring and size.