Dana Point’s annual Festival of Whales kicks off this weekend

A whale breaching off the coast of Southern California.
A whale breaching off the coast of Southern California.

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Dana Point’s Festival of Whales launches this weekend to mark the annual northern migration of the gray whales. But the Fin whales are stealing some of the spotlight.

Experts at the Ocean Institute in Dana Point say they’re spotting Fin whales off the coast every day. That’s unusual in the winter. The Fins — baleen whales about the size of a bus — typically populate local waters during the summer when there’s plenty of krill to feed on.

"We’re seeing lots of them and they’re here eating krill and they seem happy as pigs in a pigpen. And they’re really fat and happy,"said captain Mike Bursk with the institute.

He said that unlike the gray whales, which quickly pass tourist boats, Fins can be a treat for whale watchers because they’re more likely to interact with people.

"They touch the boat with the tip of their nose or rostrum", Bursk said. "And they’re just saying ‘hello’, or trying to see what you are and what you feel like. The touch is very soft. It’s as delicately as you would touch a bubble if you were trying not to burst it. And they make contact for a second or two and then they drift back."

Whale watching is a year-round pastime in Southern California. The slowest months tend to be April and May once the gray whales make their way north along our coast after birthing their calves in the winter in the warm lagoons of Baja California.