Field Notes 2013
San Diego, California, United States

Birch Aquarium runs twice-daily whale watching cruises through April 14. Naturalists report the season's "firsts" starting February 2013.

March 13, 2013:
By Bekah Logan, Birch Aquarium naturalist

Is it mid-March already? That means we have just about a month left to cruise the Pacific in search of gray whales with Birch Aquarium naturalists. We find gray whales simply by looking to the horizon and scanning for signs of their presence. From a distance, the first sign is their blow. An adult gray whale’s heart-shaped blow can stretch as much as 15 feet high, which immediately alerts everyone on board that they are close by.

Juvenile whales are a different story, and we’ve been encountering them most often these past few weeks. Much smaller than their 45-foot-long adult counterparts, these immature whales measure only 20 feet or so, depending on their age. Their blows are very small and hard to see. It takes a trained eye and good timing to spot these individuals.

One day this past week, the Marietta was headed out to sea when, just a mile offshore, Captain Hieu slowed the boat to a crawl. He was sure he saw something up ahead, and he was right! That day, our passengers saw one of the smallest northbound gray whales that our onboard experts had ever witnessed, about 15 feet long. This whale’s course was strong, steady, and unwavering; someone was ready to get back home to the Arctic! It’s very important to give these amazing travelers space, so after trailing for a while, we bid the whale goodbye. It was amazing to see such a strong and independent little gray whale.

March 6, 2013: Since our first northbound sighting on Feb. 5th we have been seeing a mixture of north and southbound whales with increasing northbound the last week or so. I have attached a few photos I took in Baja this past week.

February 28, 2013:
By Elizabeth Argyle, Birch Aquarium naturalist

This has been an unusual season for whale watching, and guests have had their share of excitement. Guests aboard one cruise were delighted by the sighting of more than 15 gray whales in one group. For baleen whales like grays, this is called a herd. The well-known term “pod” actually refers to a group of toothed whales such as dolphins or porpoises.

February 13, 2012:
By Bekah Logan, Birch Aquarium naturalist

It’s February and whale watching in San Diego is still in full swing. We’re nearly halfway through the season, and so far, passengers aboard the Flagship Cruises and Events’ vessel Marietta have seen more than 300 gray whales!

In late December, when our gray whale watching season begins, we see southbound gray whales making their way down to Mexico. That all changed last week when we had our first glimpses of northbound gray whales.

After spending time in the calm lagoons of Baja California, the grays begin to head back north, typically around February, so they are right on schedule.

The first northbound migrators are usually the young juveniles, and that has primarily been the case on the Marietta. These immature whales make the trip to Baja for practice; they will definitely need to know the way when it comes time for them to reproduce. Anxious to return to familiar feeding grounds, the youngsters lead and are soon followed by adult males and newly pregnant females and eventually the mothers and calves.

February 5, 2013: Today we had our first sighting of a northbound gray whale—which is actually pretty early. —Audrey Evans, Birch Aquarium education specialist


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Photo: Audrey Evans
Gray whales migrating past San Diego, CA
Photo: Audrey Evans


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