Saturday, February 2, 2013

Whales, dolphins, critters aplenty play for the crowds off San Diego


It’s  spring in San Diego!  The dolphins  are racing, the whales are heading south and the harbor seals are giving birth! We watched with wonder for several hours this week – critters relaxing, playing, moving.  The dolphins are fast and agile.  The seals seem cumbersome out of water but they, too, have bodies of amazing grace in the water. The whales always intrigue.
Dolphin at the bow! Wow!
We’ve been dolphin watching with friends from Montana, enjoying the whale watching enterprises out of both San Diego Bay and Mission Bay. We can recommend both H & M Landing and the Quivera Basin whale and dolphin watch boating operations. Excellent naturalists give commentary on board and adventurers have the opportunity to watch the grey whales enroute to Baja to give birth – through March.  Dolphins aplenty are a bonus! These intelligent, playful creatures follow the boat and dip and splash along. If you’ve never taken a three-hour whale and dolphin excursion, now’s the time. (We hope to have Bruce Keller’s short but sweet dolphin video up next week.)
Papa seal at the watch.
And if you want to “seal the deal,” San Diego is the place. It is now possible for the world to watch the mothers and pups frolicking and enjoying the good life. What a treat.
Thanks to a progressive move by city hall, a new “seal cam” is up and running at the Children’s Pool beach in La Jolla.   Installed above the lifeguard station, it will photograph the seals in action.  The mayor’s idea is to share this natural wonder with the rest of the world, sending out online video of the frolicking and birthing seals, creating interest in wildlife and giving researchers immediate information and photos.
The seal activity is being filmed with a high-tech $40,000 camera which will be on duty round-the-clock.  The gift comes from the Western Alliance for Nature and the pool and its inhabitants will be on camera with state-of-the-art equipment.  The camera is equipped with windshield wipers for stormy weather seal-viewing.  Its infrared capabilities will even capture mother seals birthing their pups at night.
Besides charming viewers – probably millions worldwide -- the footage will aid researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in their study of harbor seal reproduction.
In the five years I’ve been a regular visitor to San Diego, Children’s Pool has been controversial.  Donated by the Scripps family, the pool beach was built in 1931 as a place for children to swim safely in a calm inlet. Through the years, the children have been outnumbered, and in the past 12 years, the beach has become a refuge – not just an occasional destination -- for harbor seals, since it is safe and protected from crashing waves.  The popularity of the area by seals has spawned a clash between naturalists/activists and people who believe the pool should be returned to the kids.  Others, taking a middle ground, lobby for a way for humans and the engaging mammals to share the space.
Nature lovers enjoy dolphins, seals and
 migrating grey whales.--Bruce Keller photos 
Last year the city split that territory, leaving part of the sand to beach-goers while ceding the tidal zone to seals.  Still, the camera has critics, some of whom claim it raises privacy issues.  Most people we know are excited at the opportunity to see more of these fascinating creatures with whom we share the planet and our ocean.

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