DANA POINT (CBSLA.com) — It’s been a very happy New Year so far for whale watchers in Southern California.
Gray whales have been spotted migrating in record numbers off the California coast since December, when Dave Anderson, owner of Captain Dave’s Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari in Dana Point, reported seeing as many as 75 gray whale encounters.
In comparison, Anderson recorded 21 sightings of gray whales during safaris in December 2012, preceded by about 44 sightings in December of 2011, according to a statement.
“We’ve seen more whales than I have ever seen in my 20 years or so of being a captain,” said Capt. Dan Salas while leading a whale-watching expedition Tuesday.
Data from the American Cetacean Society/Los Angeles Chapter’s Gray Whale Census reported 368 gray whale sightings in December 2013 compared to 182 sightings during the same period the previous year.
Anderson and other whale watchers reported regular sightings of fin whales, minke whales, and five different species of dolphins, in addition to gray whales and even one visit from humpback whales at Dana Point.
“It’s pretty exciting. It’s the first time I’ve been out here and I’ve been in California for 50 years ,” whale watcher Trenna Cousins said.
“It’s so clear, so calm Mike Minor said.
Scientists do not yet have answers as to why so many gray whales – which can weigh up to 40 tons and average up to 50 feet in length – have been spotted in Southern California waters, but most say mass sightings within one or two miles of the shoreline is not uncommon.
Each year around this time, an estimated 20,000 whales make the roughly 12,000-mile trip from their feeding grounds in the Chukchi and Bering Seas to the warm lagoons of Baja, California, for mating season, according to researchers.
One video uploaded to YouTube showed ten gray whales recorded during one safari trip off Dana Point, a sighting that elicited loud cheers from the boat’s passengers and crew.
The ACS Los Angeles census showed an uptick of as much as 3.5 times the number of gray whale sightings as the December average for the 10 seasons prior to the 2012-13 season.
It remains unclear whether the trend will continue, but for Anderson, 2014 has already marked one whale watching season he won’t soon forget.
“We have never seen this many whales,” said Anderson. “We’ve had a perfect storm of great weather, gray whales, and dolphins.”