DANA POINT : Festival of Whales Dives Into 2nd Big Weekend

The city's annual Festival of Whales heads into its second weekend of activities today, Sunday and Monday with a pet parade, art show and 5K run, among other things.

Last weekend, nearly 10,000 people showed up for various events, according to organizers.

The festival has been expanded this year to cover four weekends to give residents and visitors a better chance of checking out offerings such as live music, exhibits, sandcastle workshops and tide pool explorations, said Jody Tyson, executive director of the Dana Point Chamber of Commerce.

There are also the California gray whales to be glimpsed.

"I think that everyone who went out on the whale-watching cruises last weekend saw whales," Tyson said. "We are really pleased so far."

Tyson said that many of the festival's larger events are scheduled closer to the closing weekend of March 4 and 5, which should bring in larger crowds.

Last year, nearly 100,000 people turned out for the festival, she said.

Many of the events are free. The festival benefits both educational and environmental nonprofit organizations.

For a schedule of festival activities, event locations and other information, call (800) 290-3262.

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Watching the Whales Through hunted to near extinction in the mid-1800s, the Pacific gray whale population has grown to more than 20,000, permitting its recent removal from the endangered species list.

As their species has done for thousands of years, today's gray whales make the 11,000- mile round trip from frigid arctic seas to warm Baja California lagoons. Traveling up to 100 miles per day, they complete the southward part of the journey in eight to 10 weeks. In the shallow waters of Baja's San Ignacio and Scammon lagoons and Magdalena Bay, they mate or give birth to calves conceived the previous year.

Southern California residents can view the migration south through February and again as they return north from February through March. *

Where to Watch The 24th annual Festival of Whales at Dana Point runs through March. 5. The Orange County Marine Institute will host cruises aboard the new RV Sea Explorer. Daily events include whale- watching excursions and children's activities. Call (800) 290- DANA. *

Davey's Locker offers 2 1/2 hour trips through the first week in April. On weekdays, boats leave at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.; weekends, 9 a.m.; noon and 2:30 p.m. Rates are slightly higher on weekends. Call (714) 673-1434. *

Newport Landing Sportfishing also has 2 1/2 hour trips through the first week of April. Weekday departures at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.; weekends, 9 a.m., noon and 2:30 p.m. Slightly higher rates on weekends. Call (714) 675- 0550. *

Behavior Spouting When a whale surfaces to breathe, it exhales with great force, sending up a six- to 12- foot spout of warm, condensed air and sea water.

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Sounding After a series of shallow dives, whales often dive deeper, known as sounding. Tail fins, called flukes, are thrown clear of the water.

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Spyhopping With flukes pointing down-ward, gray whales sometimes extend the head above the surface as through scanning their surroundings.

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Breaching For reasons unknown- perhaps to communicate or just to play- a gray whale can propel up to three- quarters of its body out of the water, crashing with a tremendous splash.

Characteristics Eschrichtius robustus (Common names: California gray whale Pacific gray whale) Length: Up to 45 feet; 15 feet at birth. Weight: 35 to 50 tons at maturity; about one ton at birth. Gestation: About 12 months. Most females calve every other year. Life span: 30 to 40 years. Social behavior: During migration, whales travel in small groups called pods. Calving and mating season is spent among groups of as many as 20 whales. *

Unlike those on fish, the whale's tail fins are horizontal and move up and down to propel them through the water at about 6 m.p.h. *

Calves grow quickly, feeding on mother's milk, which is more than 50% fat. *

Migration Routes Southbound migration (October to February) Primary summer feeding area (June to October) Chukchl Sea Bering Sea Unimak Pass Primary winter mating and calving area (January to April) *

Northbound migration (January to July) Primary winter mating and calving area (January to April) Unimak Pass Bering Sea Chukchl Sea Primary summer feeding area (June to October) Sources: World Book Encyclopedia, Peterson Guide to Mammals, American Cetacean Society, National Geographic Society, The Gray Whale Pocket Guide by Forest Doud Researched by KRIS HOFMANN and TREVOR JOHNSTON / Los Angeles Times

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