Baby Whales

“To have a huge, friendly whale willingly
approach you and look you straight in the eye
is without doubt one of the most
extraordinary experiences on the planet.”
Mark Carwardine

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Photo by: Brad Graverson/The Daily Breeze

Late this afternoon, we had a Pacific gray whale and her calf visit just a short 30+ feet from the beaches shore. The pair put on a show popping its huge head out of the waves and rolling around in the surf.

The juvenile whale spouted water and scratched itself in the sand just feet from the Redondo Beach shore. Dozens of onlookers watched in wonder and many snapped photos.

The local news reported that the yearling was probably making its first annual migration. Gray whales commonly migrate this time of year from feeding grounds in Alaska to Baja California lagoons, where adults mate and give birth in the warm waters.

An annual census has documented more than 1,420 grays passing by since December. This is the second time this month we’ve seen the baby whales.

Shine On

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A Higher Level of Language

“The sea, the great unifier, is man’s only hope.
Now, as never before, the old phrase
has a literal meaning: we are
all in the same boat.
Jacques Yves Cousteau

A Higher Level of Language

Scientists and researchers have known for quite some time that some of the most intelligent animals can be found not on land, but in our oceans.

For example, the sperm whale has the largest brain of any animal on earth, yet it is not considered one of the more intelligent aquatic marine mammals. Orcas and dolphins show strong signs of high intelligence, such as complex play behavior, the ability to learn, the ability to plan and even have regional dialects.

The patterns of clicking vocalisations these aquatic mammals use to communicate vary from clan to clan. Each whale clan, or group consisting of several families, has its own specific accent, or dialect.

A recent study in Canada, has evidence of these mammals capability of cultural learning; more specifically, that the whales learn the clicking patterns from each other, rather than other methods, such as genetic inheritance.

Several methods of evaluating their clicking sounds were examined. In the genetic inheritance method, for instance, whales inherit the ability to know which sounds to produce. Another method tested was individual learning, in which individual whales develop clicking patterns on their own. A third method was pure social learning, in which young whales learn clicking patterns indiscriminately from older whales.

What the study found is that social learning with bias, as opposed to pure social learning, is the most likely way whales learn clicking patterns. This means that the whales are biased towards learning certain clicking patterns, based on specific clicking from whales in their own clans, or the most commonly used. This is similar to how human dialects evolve.

It seems that man is not as unique with his communication skills as was always believed. There are other animals in the world, such as the whale that may have a great deal to teach man about a higher level of language.

Shine On

Voyager Excursions

“The real threat to whales is whaling,
which has endangered many whale species.”
Dave Barry

Voyager Excursion

On of my favorite things to do in Redondo Beach is to take the Voyager Excursions.

Whenever we have visitors from outside California, this is also one of their favorite things to do as well.

On Voyager’s Nature Cruises, you’ll have a chance to see dolphins, sea lions, marine birds and a variety of other local sea life that live and visit our local waters. The cruises are a lovely way to spend part of your day as you breathe in the fresh sea air and feel the cool breeze on your face.

Just sit back, relax and enjoy the beauty of the Redondo Beach coastline and the unique landscape of the Palos Verdes Peninsula on these daily Voyager Excursions.

Shine On

Wyland Whaling Wall

“I pretend like I’m painting the whales as they swim by.
I’ve studied whales since I was a child,
so it’s all in my mind.”
Wyland

Wyland Whaling Wall

This entire week I dedicate my posts to beautiful Redondo Beach.

One of our most famous landmarks is a large mural created by world-famous Laguna Beach artist Wyland. He painted the mural for free back in 1991 in hopes the mural will inspire everyone to make ocean conservation an issue to be examined.

This 87′ x 622′ mural depicting 12 California gray whales can be viewed on the exterior wall of the AES Redondo Generating Station, 1100 North Harbor Drive, Redondo Beach, California. The mural is #31 of the artist’s largest and most extraordinary works created as a series of 100 life-size murals in 100 different cities around the world.

The mural illustrates the annual 10,000 mile round-trip migration of the Pacific Gray Whale from the Bering Sea to the warm lagoons of Baja California and back again to the arctic circle, with their newborn babies alongside. This migration happens every winter and brings the whales close to Redondo Beach’s shoreline.

I feel so fortunate to have witnessed many whales the past years making their yearly trip. If you too have seen whales in their natural habitat, you know what an emotional experience it can be. We need to be reminded of our beautiful oceans and the precious cargo it is home to everyday.

The following 1991 video about Wyland is about his passion for whales and also shows the painting on the Wyland whaling wall.

Shine On

Sticky Situation

“Every fish and invertebrate contacting the oil is probably dying.
I have no doubt about that.”
Prosanta Chakrabarty

Sticky Situation

Hazmat teams clean up Redondo Beach as beachgoers sit and watch.

It saddens me to post this, but for the last few days, our beautiful Redondo Beach coastline has no sign of dolphins and no sign of whales. Even the pelicans and seagulls have disappeared.

Why? Because globs of tar and oil like substance washed ashore on Wednesday and impacted a 6.8-mile stretch of our beautiful California coastline.

Numerous agencies are working together cleaning up the mess as well as collecting samples to determine if it is a result of an oil spill or a natural occurrence.

This oil slick comes about a week after a ruptured 24-inch pipeline spilled oil into the ocean off Refugio State Beach, about 20 miles west of Santa Barbara. The pipeline, owned by Santa Maria-based Plains All-American Pipeline, was on land, and the oil flowed from a culvert into the waters.

Redondo Beach officials are asking residents to avoid contact with the water, wet sand and any materials that have washed ashore. Officials warn that the oil may cause skin irritation and long-term health effects.

Meanwhile on my walk this morning, there were flashing digital signs everywhere advising people to stay away from the beach. If you look at the photo I shot above, you can see two adults sitting in their beach chairs watching men in hazmat suits pick up toxic waste from the beach. A few yards away young children are in the water, while their parents sit on the sand. How stupid do you have to be to not follow blinking/flashing signs telling you to stay away from the beach? The wild life has more sense than humans and they can’t even read all the signs posted.

Most likely we will never know who and where these globs of oil came from. The oil companies will never fess up, because of the fines involved, unless of course we find them holding a smoking gun. Either way, it will take a half a century to recover from this sticky situation.

Shine On

Whale Spouting

“To have a huge, friendly whale willingly approach your boat
and look you straight in the eye is without doubt one of the
most extraordinary experiences on the planet.”
Mark Carwardine

Wally the Gray Whale

Wally the famous gray whale spouting in Redondo Beach.

For the past few weeks, my husband and I have been enjoying the gray whales outside our living room window. We spot them when the whales spout a large heart-shaped spray of water. Curious creature that I am, I wanted to learn more about whales spouting.

Contrary to what you may have seen in such movies as Pixar’s otherwise extremely entertaining Finding Nemo, whales don’t  spray water out of their blowholes.

Whales’ noses/blowholes, are on the top of their heads, so that they can just barely break the surface to breathe without rising too far out of the water. When inhaling, they flex a muscle which opens the blowhole and take in a big gulp of air. Then, they relax the muscle to close the blowhole, leaving them free to dive down beneath the surface of the water once more without drowning themselves.

It’s exhaling that’s the interesting part. When the whale resurfaces, they have to release the used up air back into the atmosphere just like all other mammals do. This results in a spout, but it isn’t water, at least not at first. The air inside the whale is typically quite warm from the whale’s body heat. When it’s exhaled, it meets the much cooler temperature of the air outside and immediately condenses, making it look like a spout of water. This is also often mixed with mucus —it is a nose, after all.

Every species of whale has a differently shaped blowhole. Some even have two, which results in differently shaped spouts. You can tell what species of whale by seeing their spouts. For instance, a humpback whale’s spout looks like a column; orcas’ spouts are somewhat more bushy; and gray whales’ two blowholes are positioned in such a way that their exhalation results in something of a heart-shaped spout.

Now when I go whale watching next Saturday with my son, just like an experienced whale watcher, we’ll be able to tell which whales are which by their whale spouting.

Shine On

Whale Watching at its Finest

“Most whale photos you see
show whales in this beautiful blue water
– it’s almost like space.”
                                                                                                        Brian Skerry

Gray Whale Family

Living on the Esplanade in Redondo Beach the past decade has not only been amazing and beautiful, but it allows you to experience the miracles of marine life. It’s mind-blowing to be able to watch the most spectacular sunsets 365 days a year. Without the use of binoculars, see dolphins playing daily along with seals and sea lions. Watch soaring seagulls and pelicans diving for their daily catch. Yet, with all of Redondo Beach’s beauty, the most breathtaking sight the past few weeks has been watching several baby gray whales swimming just 30 feet from the ocean breakwaters.

Witnessing from ones balcony, the longest migration known to man, raises curiosity about gray whales and what brought them to the shores of Redondo Beach.

The gray whale feed on shrimp, which is abundant this time of year in Redondo Beach. Baby gray whales are called calves and can be as long as a large SUV and weigh as much as a ton. The mother gray whales bring their calves to lagoons to feed for a few months, so that the calves can build up blubber for their yearly migration from Southern California to Alaska.  A record-setting number of gray whales were born in Baja California this year.

It is great news that there has been an increase in the gray whale population, since it was listed as endangered in the 1970’s. However, with the increase in gray whales there has also been an increase in the number of whales becoming entangled in fishing lines and colliding with large ships. The other conundrum for these magnificent mammals is their predator the Orcas. These Orcas breed and live in the waters off Catalina Island and this may explain why the baby grays are feeding so close to the shore on the Esplanade. Could it be that these highly intelligent whales were hiding from the Orcas?

Whatever the reason, it’s a great opportunity to watch baby grays up close and personal. If you’d like to witness the gray whale spring migration from Baja California to Alaska this year, you don’t have to travel far. Just come down to the Esplanade in Redondo Beach and may be, with a little luck and timing, you too can catch a glimpse of these prehistoric mammals make their massive migration and witness whale watching at its finest.

Shine On