The California Gray Whale
When staying in Mendocino, whale watching is an activity you will not want to miss if your visit falls during the late winter and early spring months. Once almost extinct, gray whales are once again increasing their numbers, and can easily be seen during migration from vantage points along the California coastline. The Point Arena Lighthouse, on a point of land that juts out two miles into the Pacific, is an excellent place to view these magnificent creatures on their journey to and from the warm waters surrounding the Baja peninsula of Mexico. Here whales are commonly observed just off headland rocks, appearing almost to scrape the rocks in passage. They come particularly close to the shore on their return migration, when females may be seen loitering by the rocks nursing their calves.
About The Gray Whale
The Gray Whales are perhaps the most rudimentary of all whales, not having developed much in the last 30 million years. They may reach 50 feet in length. Gray whales are Baleen whales, which means that they have no teeth — only stiff bristle-like brushes through which they strain food from seawater.
Whale Watching Season
Gray whales may be viewed along the northern California Coast from December through April in most years. Weather, warm currents, food supplies, or other conditions may affect their schedule. The whales spend the summer in the Bering Sea off of Alaska. They feed on krill to build a supply of body fat, which must sustain them through the winter months as they migrate. The whales often do not feed during the entire migration, and their body weight can easily reduce by a third. Their southern migration is from October – December however the northern migration is the best time to spot whales on the coast.
Once they arrive in Baja they will rest. Females impregnated during the previous year will give birth. Mating takes place in the calm lagoons. Then they will begin their long swim back to the summer feeding grounds of the north.
Gray whales are believed to use landmarks for navigation, and often will lift their heads out of the water and spin slowly to see better. This is called spy-hopping. When a whale leaps out of the sea it is called breaching. Spy-hopping and breaching are frequently observed from the Point Arena Lighthouse. One individual was seen breaching fourteen times in succession, a truly awe-inspiring sight!