It's been an exciting season for whale watchers in Southern California. A record number of gray whales have been spotted along the California coast since the beginning of December. And the reason we know it's a record year is due to a dedicated group of volunteers who count the whales one-by-one.
Those volunteers are members of the Los Angeles chapter of the American Cetacean Society. They have counted gray whales during their migration season every year since 1979. The group has about 80 volunteers who work in shifts from the patio of the Point Vicente Interpretive Center in Rancho Palos Verdes. The work every day from dawn to dusk, December through May. And many of the volunteers put in even more time than their shifts require.
Sheila Parker put in 400 volunteer hours last year. This year she's back again.
"It is really addictive," she said. "It's like panning for gold."
Most volunteers are deeply invested in catching those precious glimpses of some of the world's largest creatures. They use special binoculars with compasses on them. Those help them keep detailed records not just of the number of whales they see, but exactly where they show up. Sometimes they'll see a puff of mist as the whale exhales. Sometimes they see a tail fin. Sometimes it's just a glossy ring on the surface of the water indicating a whale is somewhere below.
"You never know what you're going to see," said Joyce Daniels, who has volunteered with the group for 20 years, "Every day is different. Some days are sort of mundane. Other days, something special happens. And you live for the special times."
This year, almost every day has been an exciting day for the whale watchers. Since the beginning of December they've seen over 460 whales--twice the number from last December and more than they usually see in a whole year.
The reason for the heavier whale traffic this year remains unclear. With several months left to go in the whale migration season, the pattern could change. Regardless of how many whales pass by, the volunteers will be there to spot them.
Interested in going on a whale watching boat tour, or spotting them from a distance from the shore? Check our list of whale-watching opportunities below, and let us know of others in the comments!
Watch for whales around Southern California
POINT VICENTE INTERPRETIVE CENTER
The Interpretive Center has a small museum with information. The back patio provides views of Santa Catalina Island and the Point Vicente Lighthouse. "Whale of a Day" activity day will be held March 1, 2014 from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Museum open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily
31501 Palos verdes Drive West
Rancho Palos Verdes, CA 90275
WHALE WATCHING BOAT TOURS
- Cabrillo Whale Watch, San Pedro
- Davey's Locker, Newport Beach
- Harbor Breeze Cruises, Long Beach
- Marina Del Rey Sportfishing, Marina Del Rey
- Spirit Cruises, San Pedro
- Voyager Excursions, Redondo Beach
View Whale Watching near Los Angeles in a larger map