The annual northern migration of gray whales is happening in significant numbers off the Northern California coast, and park rangers at the Point Reyes National Seashore counted 209 sightings between Friday and Sunday.
"A whale of a time the past 3 days!" the rangers wrote on Twitter, posting a photo of some gray whales spouting.
The geography of the Point Reyes peninsula make it an ideal spot for whale-watching at this time of year, as KPIX explains, because the jut of the land means that north-migrating whales end up swimming fairly close to shore.
A whale of a time the past 3 days! Gray whales are migrating northbound. 45 whales on Friday, 103 on Saturday, and 61 today. (ca) #FindYourPark #EncuentraTuParque #PointReyesNPS pic.twitter.com/NR4iQvSds4— Point Reyes NPS (@PointReyesNPS) March 9, 2020
A year ago, in March 2019, we were seeing gray whales and humpbacks begin to swim inside of San Francisco Bay — a phenomenon that upsets marine biologists because of the dangers posed by ships but delights those who just want to catch a glimpse of whales nearby. Some whales have evidently made a habit of coming into the Bay to feed, following schools of anchovies perhaps or possibly driven by a search for available food amid a boom in the whale population generally.
(Between March and May we also saw nine dead gray whales wash ashore along the local coast. Malnutrition was to blame for at least a few of those deaths, and necropsies found that ship strikes were to blame for at least three.)
California gray whales make the long journey from the Baja California coast to the waters of Alaska each year, chasing food on their way to their annual summer feeding grounds up north. They actually have the longest annual migration of any mammal, with females clocking in well over 10,000 miles — a record that was taken from humpback whales just in the last few years. Humpback whales also make a similar migration, traveling from multiple parts of the Pacific to feeding grounds around Alaska and eastern Russia in the spring and summer. Those humpbacks that do their winter breeding off the Mexican coast will be the ones we also see on the "road" north along the NorCal coast this season.
And you know what's a fun nature activity that doesn't involve a lot of human contact? Whale watching! So get out there and do some whale watching because even if we're all on coronavirus lockdown this should still be allowed.
But if you're planning to be out on a boat, steer clear of whales and give them space. You don't want any near misses like the one below that happened in San Francisco Bay in 2017.