Whale Spouting

“To have a huge, friendly whale willingly approach your boat
and look you straight in the eye is without doubt one of the
most extraordinary experiences on the planet.”
Mark Carwardine

Wally the Gray Whale

Wally the famous gray whale spouting in Redondo Beach.

For the past few weeks, my husband and I have been enjoying the gray whales outside our living room window. We spot them when the whales spout a large heart-shaped spray of water. Curious creature that I am, I wanted to learn more about whales spouting.

Contrary to what you may have seen in such movies as Pixar’s otherwise extremely entertaining Finding Nemo, whales don’t  spray water out of their blowholes.

Whales’ noses/blowholes, are on the top of their heads, so that they can just barely break the surface to breathe without rising too far out of the water. When inhaling, they flex a muscle which opens the blowhole and take in a big gulp of air. Then, they relax the muscle to close the blowhole, leaving them free to dive down beneath the surface of the water once more without drowning themselves.

It’s exhaling that’s the interesting part. When the whale resurfaces, they have to release the used up air back into the atmosphere just like all other mammals do. This results in a spout, but it isn’t water, at least not at first. The air inside the whale is typically quite warm from the whale’s body heat. When it’s exhaled, it meets the much cooler temperature of the air outside and immediately condenses, making it look like a spout of water. This is also often mixed with mucus —it is a nose, after all.

Every species of whale has a differently shaped blowhole. Some even have two, which results in differently shaped spouts. You can tell what species of whale by seeing their spouts. For instance, a humpback whale’s spout looks like a column; orcas’ spouts are somewhat more bushy; and gray whales’ two blowholes are positioned in such a way that their exhalation results in something of a heart-shaped spout.

Now when I go whale watching next Saturday with my son, just like an experienced whale watcher, we’ll be able to tell which whales are which by their whale spouting.

Shine On

Whale Watching at its Finest

“Most whale photos you see
show whales in this beautiful blue water
– it’s almost like space.”
                                                                                                        Brian Skerry

Gray Whale Family

Living on the Esplanade in Redondo Beach the past decade has not only been amazing and beautiful, but it allows you to experience the miracles of marine life. It’s mind-blowing to be able to watch the most spectacular sunsets 365 days a year. Without the use of binoculars, see dolphins playing daily along with seals and sea lions. Watch soaring seagulls and pelicans diving for their daily catch. Yet, with all of Redondo Beach’s beauty, the most breathtaking sight the past few weeks has been watching several baby gray whales swimming just 30 feet from the ocean breakwaters.

Witnessing from ones balcony, the longest migration known to man, raises curiosity about gray whales and what brought them to the shores of Redondo Beach.

The gray whale feed on shrimp, which is abundant this time of year in Redondo Beach. Baby gray whales are called calves and can be as long as a large SUV and weigh as much as a ton. The mother gray whales bring their calves to lagoons to feed for a few months, so that the calves can build up blubber for their yearly migration from Southern California to Alaska.  A record-setting number of gray whales were born in Baja California this year.

It is great news that there has been an increase in the gray whale population, since it was listed as endangered in the 1970’s. However, with the increase in gray whales there has also been an increase in the number of whales becoming entangled in fishing lines and colliding with large ships. The other conundrum for these magnificent mammals is their predator the Orcas. These Orcas breed and live in the waters off Catalina Island and this may explain why the baby grays are feeding so close to the shore on the Esplanade. Could it be that these highly intelligent whales were hiding from the Orcas?

Whatever the reason, it’s a great opportunity to watch baby grays up close and personal. If you’d like to witness the gray whale spring migration from Baja California to Alaska this year, you don’t have to travel far. Just come down to the Esplanade in Redondo Beach and may be, with a little luck and timing, you too can catch a glimpse of these prehistoric mammals make their massive migration and witness whale watching at its finest.

Shine On