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Grey Whales Are Coming To Town
by David Womack
David Womack is an award winning screenwriter and the author of Mountain Bike! Orange County, published in November 2007. His blog, MountainBikeOC, offers detailed information on local trails and mountain-biking events.

Each spring a brigade of giant Grey Whales marches northward along the California coast. The California leg is part of a 6,000-mile journey that begins in the coastal lagoons of Baja California and ends in the food-rich waters of the Bering Sea. For landlubbers, these immense mammals have enormous appeal -– they sing, swim, spout and survive (the latter against substantial odds after being slaughtered to near extinction in the 19th century). Not surprisingly, the whale migration has spawned a cottage industry in Southern California and elsewhere. Charter boats ferry thousands of onlookers to catch a glimpse of the magnificent beasts. For their part, the whales stay mostly underwater and show little of their length and girth. It’s hard to blame them, since they’ve just spent three months mating and birthing in Mexico and still have 4,000 more miles to swim. Yet the curious keep coming, spurred by what amounts to a marine burlesque show -- a gentle spout here, a graceful tail-flip there and, perhaps, the occasional barnacle-covered dorsal. A little exposure tantalizes the mind and leaves to the imagination the possibilities that lie below.

Whale Watching cruises leave daily from Newport Landing and Davey’s Locker in Newport Harbor. For those not inclined to party boats, Newport Landing also offers private charters. The day trips begin southward, hugging the Laguna Beach coastline. Both operators rely on sonar and a friendly communication network to track migrating whales. Most whale sightings will be in the company of other vessels. Since both operators have “see a mammal or don’t pay” policy, they also track the local Bottlenose Dolphins. If whales are scarce, expect to come across a pod of dolphins.

If you would rather avoid a three-hour boat cruise, the Newport and Laguna coastlines offer several prime whale-viewing spots. The odds of seeing a whale are lower, and the perspective a bit more distant, but the level of satisfaction from making your own sighting never disappoints.

Crescent Bay Point Park in North Laguna Beach is a great vantage point for viewing all types of marine life. From the cliff side edge of the park, look for whales as they pass distant Dana point and travel northward toward the rocky Laguna coastline. Pods generally pass about 100-200 yards off shore. In the absence of whales, you can spy on the colony of Seals and Sea Lions that live just offshore on Seal Rock.

Crystal Cove State Park is another prime viewing spot. Keep your eyes open as you hike the beach and the cliff top paths near Reef Point. There is a reason that the whale watching tours from Newport Harbor cruise this section of coastline. If you see two or three boats together it probably means whales are nearby. Whales can come within 100 yards of the sand here. In that case your shore-side perspective will be as good as the paying customers and you won’t have to take Dramamine to boot.

Published: Jul 23,2008 14:13
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