Today I went whale watching up at Pt. Dume. Well, really it was a picnic with The Man, but there were whales. Hoo, boy! There were really some whales!
We arrived there around 1PM and hiked up from the Zuma Beach parking lot, past the rock climbers. We settled in at a spot just shy of the little platform on the boardwalk on the south side of the point. We ate our sandwiches and started on our pineapple chunks when we spotted a series of blows just to the south of the point.
But before I bore you with the details, I’ll give you this picture of a cute ground squirrel who ate one of our pineapple while we were had our backs turned. Stick around after the jump if you’re curious about the rest of it.
We waited patiently as they went through their breathing cycle, went down for about four minutes and then came up closer. This time they were between the buoy and the rocks. At first we thought it was two whales, but then it was apparent that it was three. As we watched them, one turned and headed in the opposite direction — so we had two whales going one way, and right next to them, a whale flipping up its flukes to take a dive.
For the next thirty minutes or so the whales stayed in the same position, surfacing, milling, throwing their flukes and sometimes rolling and showing off their fins. About ten minutes into this display two more whales joined in.
Every once in a while their surfacing would be preceded by a blast of bubbles from under the water. The surface would churn a bit and turn turquoise and then about thirty seconds later a whale would come up in that spot.
I was curious to know if they were feeding there. Gray Whales (and they were definitely gray whales) normally only feed in the Bering and Chukchi. They’re bottom feeders, preferring to eat gammarid amphipods, which are small little shrimplike creatures that live in the loose mud on the floor of the sea. They dive to the bottom of the ocean, turn over and open their mouths and suck in a huge mouthful of mud, water and amphipods. Then as they rise to the surface they filter out the food by pusing their great tongue against the baleen plates in their mouths.
Gray Whales are certainly known to feed as needed, and over the summer The Man and I saw a solo Gray Whale at the mouth of the Klamath River exhibiting feeding behavior (diving, coming up in the same spot and some cloudy mud behind him as he surfaced).
We got a very good look at them as they surfaced. One had a large and easily seen white spot near the start of his dorsal knuckles. Another had an almost white snout and we could see it beneath the surface just before he’d come up (the second whale in the photo above). Another had dorsal knuckles that looked like a serrated knife.
Humpback Whales are known for a feeding behavoir called “bubble netting” where the Humpbacks (usually in a small group) will go around in a circle under a school of fish and put up a curtain of bubbles. The fish will concentrate into a ball and then the whales will take turns taking big gulps of the fish (I’ve seen this up in the Santa Barbara Channel before). I have no idea what the bubble blasting the Gray Whales were doing, it could have simply been “because they felt like it.”
I plan on asking at my last whale watching class on Tuesday. Even if the whales were just rolling around in the gravel on the ocean floor, it was a fun little display to watch, especially since they were so close in to shore and easy to watch.