Friday, February 15, 2019

Whale bonanza as great grays head south to give birth, play in Baja

A misty blast of water from the whale's blow hole helps us see him, as our Hornblower boat moves closer.

For sailors worldwide, the San Diego skyline is one of the prettiest.

THE AIR was crisp and fresh, the sun shone bright and our group of 200 aboard Hornblower was in the mood for whale watching.
We were NOT disappointed!
The Hornblower bar did a brisk business as nature lovers from Europe, Asia and North America cast off from San Diego Bay in search of migrating grey whales.
A frisky dolphin dives near the boat to our delight.
 While we motored out, a lively commentary began with a capsule of the magnificent whale's life and travels, his breaching, "spyhopping" and mating habits. We followed the main channel past Harbor Island, Shelter Island, graceful yachts, sailboat races, our exotic submarine base, popular restaurants, the U.S. Coastguard Station, our Navy Base, and into the ocean, a scenic 40-minute journey.
For us, it's a pilgrimage we make several times a season, a lovely way to enjoy whale watching as well as to admire one of the prettiest skylines and harbors in the world.
San Diego's abundant pleasures include the opportunity to observe one of nature's grandest creatures close-up and we take full advantage as often as possible.
 When a whale spyhops, it pokes its head out of the water.
 Most oceanographers say spyhopping simply lets the animals
 get a better view of activity near the water's surface.
We found this great grey near Alaska,
where we also saw humpbacks.
THIS TRIP, we saw about 10 grey whales -- in peak migration season -- each one about the width of a basketball court. Two of our sightings were of mating pods, three whales each.  The greys often mate in a trio. We've seen babies with their mothers in April, heading north. But since the gestation period is 12 months, the ones we see mating these year will give birth next year.
We'll be looking again in April for the mothers and calves.
Keller took this photo last April, a thrill for both of us. 
Dolphins are also a delight on our whale watching expeditions. They frolic, jump and dive for us, enjoying their captive audience.
 The whales know we're nearby and don't seem to mind.  Some experts speculate that they are naturally curious and trusting, which could explain their near demise at the hands of the ruthless and greedy whalers of yore.
These beautiful creatures travel at about five knots (about six miles per hour), so when a boat captain or passenger spots one, we slow down -- usually from five or six miles out, although we've seen them at closer range. Someone hollers "thar she blows" and gauges the direction off the boat -- 2 o'clock, 11 o'clock, etc.
A mature gray whale heads into a deep dive.
Their spectacular journey is over 10,000 miles roundtrip, for us, the best opportunity to view. We've taken whale watching ventures in Hawaii, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Polynesia and Iceland - but have never had better whale watching than right here in our own back yard.
This year, we've been out only twice, not our usual half-dozen times, exploring the 70 miles of coastline in the migration path.
Another  grey whale "spyhop" off the coast of San Diego near La Jolla.
The gray whales start swimming south from Alaska in October,  passing the coast off San Diego from December through February, and again in March and into April, when they head north. But it's not unusual to see a northbound whale this time of year.  For as our captain said, "The whales don't have a time table. And it varies year to year, season to season."
SO WE TRY TO catch the mighty grey whales coming and going.  After spending time in warm Baja California waters so their young can grow strong and pregnant cows gain weight, they make the journey north again later in spring. This remarkable trip of 20,000 creatures represents the longest known distance any mammal migrates on an annual basis. Experts from San Diego's Natural History Museum enhance the trip with information and dialogue with curious passengers.
Wonders await aboard Hornblower's whale watch.
For this Montana girl and my San Diego born partner, it is an extraordinary spectacle.
In summer, the legendary blue whales -- the largest animals on Earth -- feed offshore the San Diego coast. Once on a summer cocktail cruise, we spotted a blue. We've also seen humpbacks, fin whales, pilot, minke and even killer whales off our gorgeous waters!
View the Whale & Dolphin Watching Brochure
Jeffrey Scott Parsons as Bobby Child is surrounded by a terrific tap-dancing
ensemble in a fine production of "Crazy for You" by San Diego Musical Theatre.
BEST BET: Magnificent tap dancing and winning Gershwin tunes grace Horton Grand Theatre, San Diego, in a satisfying production of "Crazy For You."  The thoroughly fun, old-fashioned musical features snappy numbers performed with panache by a terrific ensemble, a well tuned orchestra, colorful set and a series of show-stoppers ala Busby Berkeley. Impressive season opener for SDMT, the lovingly crafted endeavor of producers Erin and Gary Lewis. Through March 3. 
Madrid's stately boulevards are handsome and inviting even in winter.

 NEXT UP: Madrid.  Think elegant boulevards, baroque palaces and expansive, manicured parks. We take you to this exciting and historic central Spain city,  renowned for its rich repositories of European art, including the Prado Museum’s works by Goya, Velázquez and other Spanish masters. The heart of old Hapsburg Madrid is the portico-lined Plaza Mayor and we'll be there! Remember to explore, learn and live and visit us each Friday for a fresh take on travel, nature, the arts and family.


  1. Wish we were there with you. Thanks for the memories of fun whale watching with you. Best tour guides on the Pacific!

  2. San Clemente Whale WatchersFebruary 16, 2019 at 10:48 AM

    We love Hornblower. Appreciate the reminder that now's the time for prime whale watching.

  3. Gorgeous photos, fun copy. We're on the lookout.