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WHALES ON THE BEACH
The California gray whale is one of the largest of the baleen whales and every year they head from the plankton rich waters of the Artic to the tepid breeding lagoons of Mexico, appearing off the California coast in November to January. They head north again in February and March, but the mothers bring their nursing babies close to shore later, in April and early May. Armed with binoculars, I settle in on Zuma Beach to see these gray whale families. I watch the sea birds and a few sea lions. The local pod of dolphins goes by. No whales. I scan 270 degrees of the horizon, but see nothing. The wind begins to pick up and I know I'll have to leave soon.
Suddenly, she rises silently from nowhere. Next to her, her newborn rises with her. The newborn is the size of a VW. She is the size of a gray bus. They both exhale in unison, twin fountains of spray. Then they are gone as silently as they came, only rippling circles left to mark their presence. I rub my eyes, not sure whether I have seen one of nature's great wonders, or simply imagined it.
She rises again, much closer now, her baby right at her side. Her sheer bulk is overwhelming, but there is no sense of lumbering, only grace. Her baby flicks his flukes and they are under again. I keep scanning, fervently hoping for another glimpse.
My god! They are in the surf line, not 60 feet from me. Is she sick? Is she wounded? Do we need a bucket brigade? She lifts he great head half out of the water. A huge mouth and gray patches of barnacles marking her mass. Then she rolls, slowly, lazily. Her huge flipper stretching to the sky in peaceful languor. There is no struggle here. She seems to be simply stretching on this peaceful, California morning. Her baby does the same. He is so much smaller, but still far larger than a dolphin. Mother and baby slide in and out of the five feet of water. Back and forth, they raise one flipper, then their flukes. First one, then the other. After 10 minutes of sand massage, the two gray whales back out beyond the surf and glide along parallel to the shore. They surface every few minutes, but as suddenly as they appeared, they are gone.
The old timers say they love this beach and come to this shore every year. Some people say the whales do this just because it feels good. Some people say they are scraping barnacles off their sensitive skin. Maybe it is all of those things. All I know is I visit that beach every year to see the Leviathans lolling in the California surf.
California gray whales migrate every year. Good viewing spots in Los Angeles County are the south end of Zuma Beach in Malibu, Point Vicente on Pacific Palisades, and Sycamore State Beach. Central California offers good whale viewing from anywhere along Big Sur. Good whale watching expeditions leave from Monterey, Santa Barbara and Dana Point. For more information on the California gray whale, dolphins and other cetaceans, see the American Cetacean Society website at acs-la.org
Submitted By Penny Pedd on Feb. 26 , 2009