Archives for Whale Watching

Just Another Day at the Office

What a day, beautiful sky, little wind, flat seas, wonderful temperature and Whales!Lokikng for Whales

Grey Whales

Gray Whale

I love the southern coast of California.  In fact, we have the privilege to live next to one of the most diverse  populations on the planet.

  • In fact, numerous whales, can be seen traveling up and down the coast.  These  include;
  • Gray Whale – Eschrichtius robustus;
  • Blue Whale – Balaenoptera musculus;
  • Humpback Whale – Megaptera novaeangliae;
  • Minke Whale – Balaenoptera acutorostrata ;
  • Sperm Whale – Physeter macrocephalus;
  • Pygmy Sperm Whale – Kogia breviceps;
  • Brydes Whale – Balaenoptera cf. brydei;
  • Sei Whale – Balaenoptera borealis;
  • Baird’s beaked whale – Berardius bairdii;
  • Blainville’s beaked whale – Mesoplodon densirostris;
  • Ginkgo-toothed beaked whale – Mesoplodon ginkgodens;
  • Perrin’s beaked whale –  Mesoplodon perrini;
  • Stejneger’s beaked whale – Mesoplodon stejnegeri;
  • Cuvier’s beaked whale – Ziphius cavirostris;  and
  • Fin Whale – Balaenoptera physalus.  

In addition, these giants can be seen at different times during the year along the coast of Southern California.  Amazingly, several of these animals have multiple thousand mile journeys every year.  Typically, traveling  between rich feeding grounds in Alaska to warm waters in Mexico.

Gray Whales Migration

Specifically, Grays can be seen beginning in November.  At that time, they are heading south to the warm-water lagoons of the Baja peninsula.  Then beginning in February and March they head north to the feeding grounds of the Bering sea.

Consequently, by late December to early January Grays begin to arrive in the calving lagoons of Baja. Moreover, the first to arrive, pregnant mothers, look to the lagoons for protection.  While, the pregnant whales  give birth to their calves, single females seeking out male companions in order to mate.

Morover, the three primary lagoons that the whales seek in Baja California are Scamnon’s , San Ignacio and Magdalena. Scamnon’s were named after a notorious whale hunter.  While he discovered the lagoons in the 1850’s, he later became one of the first protectors of the Grays.


The California Grays were called the devil fish until the early 1970’s.   At that time a fisherman in Laguna San Ignacio named Pachico Mayoral reached out and touched a Gray mother that kept approaching his boat. The fisherman have been interacting with the whales ever since.  Today the whales in Laguna San Ignacio are protected.  Moreover, it is possible to visit a whale camp and have the same experience that Pachico had.

Throughout February and March, the first Gray Whales to leave the lagoons are the males and single females. The other whales start leaving the lagoons once they have mated.  The beautiful creatures then begin the long trek back north.  There they will enjoy the summer feeding grounds in the Bering seas. Pregnant females and nursing mothers with their newborn calves are the last to leave the lagoons. They leave only when their calves are ready for the journey, which is usually from late March to mid-April.

Accordingly, Grays appear most prominently in wintertime.  While, Humpbacks and Blues migrate during the summer months, from early June to late September.
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Humpback Whale breaching, Megaptera novaeangliae. Maui Hawaii ( (949)290-6367)The Great Whales.  Beautiful, graceful, intelligent, magnificent!! How can you describe these marvelous creatures as they leap high-into the air or perform graceful ballets beneath the waves and on the surface. Great Whales, also known as Rorquals, include: Blue Whales, Gray Whales, Fin Whales, Sperm Whales, Humpback Whales, Right Whales, Bowhead Whales, Bryde’s Whales, Mink Whales, and Sei Whales.   Great Whales hold a unique place in the minds and hearts of people around the world.  They have played and continue to play important roles in many cultures.  Their sheer size captures the imagination of anyone who has been privileged to see or interact with them.  Yet man’s interaction and exploitation of these creatures, especially during the period of commercialized whaling from the late 1700’s to the mid-1950’s  had driven many whale species to the brink of extinction.  However, with the help of the international community and concerned individuals, many of these whales are seeing ongoing patterns of growth.  Yet much still needs to be done to ensure the continued survival of these awesome creatures.

The greatest threats today, to most Great Whale population groups, are vessel strikes and Blue Whale, Balaenoptera musculus, Dana Point, California (Steven W Smeltzer)entanglement in fishing gear and the nations that still hunt whales commercially.   The endangered Fin whales are targeted by Norway and Iceland while,  Japan, under the guise of “scientific research”, uses two whaling fleets to hunt and kill whales in significant numbers including Minke Whales, Bryde’s Whales, Sei Whales and Sperm Whales.  The whale meat is sold by these “scientific expeditions” in the market or is given away to encourage the continued consumption of whale meat.  Other countries such as Canada, Greenland and Indonesia allow native populations to hunt Great Whales, but in a highly restricted number annually.

Atlantic Blue Whales, of which there are approximately 500 individuals, and the Northwest Pacific Gray Whales, of which there are approximately 150 individuals need Gray Whale, Eschrichtius robustus, Eastern North Pacific Gray Whale,Whale Migration (Steven W Smeltzer)substantial support from conservation efforts if they are going to see their populations return to sustainable levels.  The other endangered whale species also need continued intervention or they, too, will become critically endangered and could be lost to us forever. Whether you are a politically conservative or liberal is not the issue for whale conservation.  These mammals are a precious resource to our planet and we must act responsibly to ensure their ongoing viability.

Conservation Status of the Great Whales:

Critically EndangeredEndangeredVulnerableLower risk (conservation dependent)Lower risk (least concern)Data Deficient
Blue whale (Antarctic)Blue whaleBlue whale musculus subspecies - Atlantic populationBlue whale (North Pacific)Bowhead whaleBryde's whale
Gray whale Northwest Pacific populationFin whaleSperm whaleBowhead whaleHumpback whaleAntartic Minke whale
North Pacific right whaleGray whale Northeast Pacific populationGray whale (species)
North Atlantic right whaleSouthern right whaleCommon Minke Whales (stable population)
Sei whale

More information regarding the Great Whales population and conservation effort is available at NOAA Fisheries, the International Whaling Commission,the Animal Diversity Web, and the IUCN websites.


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From December to late April and even early May is the time of the Humpback Whales in Hawaii.  We were excited to be back on Maui, it is definitely one of our favorite places on the planet.

Humpback Whales Welcome

What a wonderful start to the always magical island of Maui, Hawaii.  We arrived in Maui around noon after a very pleasant flight from Los Angeles.  We left the Kahului airport heading south on the Kuihelani Highway heading to our destination in Kaanapali.  Just as we got to the furthest point south at a “scenic lookout” from the bluffs looking toward the island of Lanai,  we saw a Kohola (Humpback  whale) do a full breach in the distance.

Humpback Whales, Maui Hawaii (Steven W Smeltzer)

Breaching Humpback Whale, Maui Hawaii

We pulled over to the lookout and watched 6 to 10 of these wonderful creatures playing in the waters between Maui, Lanai and Kaho’Olawe.

What a wonderful welcome to the island. We are looking forward to numerous whale-watching excursions and lots of scuba diving – chasing after Hammerhead sharks and other marine life.  But this time of year is always about the Humpback Whales.  They are some of natures truly most inspiring animals.

When we arrived in Ka’anapali, we started getting settled into the room, which faces the islands of Lanai and Molokai, and I had my camera out, as always, just taking in the sights when I saw another whale breach offshore.   A whale breached several times, photo above, making our welcome to the islands complete. The Humpback Whales had bid us a very wonderful welcome and I am looking forward to some extraordinary adventures over the next several weeks.  If you have not been to Hawaii during the season to see the Humpback Whales I would highly encourage you to come.  It is certainly a once in a life-time adventure.  I am both blessed and lucky that I get to do it almost every year.

Time for a great dinner and a little relaxation.

Mahalo nui loa to the great Kohola.

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Blue Whales, Balaenoptera musculu, are one of few animals in the world that can truly be described as unique.  These beautiful marine mammals grow up to 100 feet (30 meters) in length and can weigh in excess of 150 tons.  They are the largest animals ever known to have lived on earth.  And yet it is truly inspiring to see how graceful and beautiful these creatures are as they swim swiftly through almost all oceans on our planet.

Blue Whale, Balaenoptera musculus, Dana Point, California (Steven W Smeltzer)Once numbering in the hundreds of thousands and living in all oceans, these amazing animals were  hunted almost to extinction until the Convention on Fishing and Conservation of Living Resources on the High Seas was signed in 1966.  At that time the number of Blue Whales was estimated to be around 1,000.  Today the estimated population of Blue Whales is around 4,500 to 5,000, with the population growing at about % per year.  The Blue Whale is an endangered species, but the growth rates over the last 10 to 15 years are encouraging and it demonstrates the value of coordinated conservation on a global basis.

Blue Whales

blue whale

The Blue Whale is very long and slender with various shades of bluish-grey on the top or dorsal side and somewhat lighter underneath. There are three known and distinct subspecies: B. m. brevicauda (also known as the pygmy blue whale) found in the Indian Ocean and South Pacific Ocean, B. m. musculus of the North Atlantic and North Pacific and B. m. intermedia of the Southern Ocean . B. m. indica, found in the Indian Ocean, may be another subspecies.

The diet of the blue whale is almost exclusively small crustaceans (krill).  The blue whale may in fact consume up to 40 million or 3,600 kg of krill on a daily basis.  It eats by expanding its throat plates and takes in enormous amounts of water which also contains krill and then pushes the water out through its baleen plates and swallows the krill.  Blue Whale, Balaenoptera musculus, Dana Point, California (Steven W Smeltzer)

The blue whale is found alone or in small groups in all oceans, but populations in the Southern Hemisphere are much larger. In the Northern Hemisphere, blue whales can be seen regularly in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and off the coasts of Monterey, California, and Baja California, Mexico.  The blue whales migrate to the colder waters near the poles in the summer to feed and migrates back to equatorial regions to breed in the winter.


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Branch TA, et al. 2007. Past and present distribution, densities and movements of blue whales Balaenoptera musculus in the Southern Hemisphere and northern Indian Ocean. Mamm Rev 37:116-175.

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