Foul-Weather Friends


The boat crew braved nauseatingly choppy waters, pelting rain and piercing frigid temperatures just to get a glimpse of her.

At first, she was elusive and even coy. But after an hour of scouring the ocean floor, she emerged baring her backside, flipped her tail and flirted with the crowd.

“She’s certainly putting on a show,” said Capt. Chris Pica as he led the whale-watching tour aboard his boat, Sum Fun.


Despite the rain and fog, scores of spectators turned up Saturday at Dana Point Harbor in hopes of spotting California gray whales as they migrate south.

Each fall, thousands of gray whales abandon Alaskan waters and follow the coastline to the warm lagoons of Baja California. The season for Orange County whale-watching usually begins in December and continues through April.

Typically, 40 to 50 whales pass by Dana Point each day, officials said. Acrobatic dolphins often please the whale-watchers as much as the main event.

Lorina De La Hoya, wearing a silver dolphin pendant around her neck, said she “came to see the dolphins. The whales are awesome too.”

Deckhand Gary Samaniego said the volume of visitors has been high this year, and the next couple of weeks--the height of the season--should bring even more.

For veteran whale-watchers Kathy and Steve Fowler, Saturday’s excursion was one of their most impressive. The Coto de Caza couple and their 12-year-old daughter, Dawn, have gone whale-watching off Alaska, Boston and Canada in recent years.


“What’s fascinating is their enormity and grace,” said Steve Fowler, 45, gripping his binoculars. “And being out in the open ocean is also very serene, yet adventurous.”

Cutting through the thick fog, the Sum Fun traveled to San Diego in search of whales. Eager watchers huddled at the stern, stretched and blinked away raindrops as they peered out.

Finally, a spout shot up. The whale then whipped to the left of the boat and resurfaced, spraying another 4-foot spout. For a good part of an hour, she continued to twist through the ocean. Finally, her fluke rose from the water as she took a deep dive.

“Isn’t that beautiful?” marveled Laura Philips, 73, of Texas. “We don’t get to see these kinds of things in Houston.”

The whale’s dive was too fast for Sarina Kalapaca, 24, of Redlands to capture on her camera.

“Oh, I missed the shot,” she cried. It was her second whale-watching trip Saturday, because she hadn’t had a good view of any whales on the morning tour.


The whales travel up to 100 miles per day, taking eight to 10 weeks to reach Mexico, where they give birth or mate. The round trip covers about 6,000 miles, the longest annual migration of any mammal. Boats are required to travel at least a quarter-mile from the whales to avoid disturbing them, Samaniego said.

“We don’t want to harass them,” he said. “Besides, you would want to give space to something so big and beautiful like that.”


Whale of a Time

The main herd of gray whales is migrating south, creating excellent viewing from the county’s bluffs and piers. Frequent sightings have been reported and are expected to continue through April. The whales swim half a mile to a mile offshore, so binoculars are helpful for watching.

Top Viewing Spots:

1. Huntington Beach Pier

2. Bluff tops at Crystal Cove State Park

3. Above Divers Cove at Heisler Park, Laguna Beach

4. Aliso Pier, South Laguna

5. Harbor jetty, Dana Point Harbor

What to Look For:

Spouting: When a whale surfaces to breathe, it exhales with great force, sending up a 6- to 12-foot spout of warm, condensed air and sea water.

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

Spyhopping: With flukes pointing downward, gray whales sometimes extend the head above the surface as though scanning their surroundings.


Breaching: Perhaps to communicate or just to play, a gray whale can propel up to three-quarters of its body out of the water.

Source: Orange County Marine Institute