From November to May, many visitors to Catalina Island will have an unexpected surprise while riding on the Catalina ferry. One of the world’s largest animals makes the world’s longest mammal migration and their route goes right through our front yard.
California gray whales, which were nearly wiped out by whaling in the early part of last century, have made an amazing comeback. These gentle behemoths spend the summer months north of Alaska, where they feed and pack on the blubber for their long journey south. Pushed by colder weather and lured by the siren song of warm water, in the fall the grays begin to travel south. They spend the winter months in the subtropical waters of the Baja peninsula where they mate and give birth. In the spring, hunger calls and they begin the journey north.
Throughout the winter, spotting gray whales is a frequent activity on the Catalina ferry. The up to 45-foot-long mammals are easily spotted by their blow, which can be seem for a few miles on a clear, calm day. While a blow and a glimpse of the back are the most common sightings, occasionally grays will thrust their heads out of the water in a behavior known as spy-hopping or burst from the ocean in an impressive leap known as a breach.
There are about 26,000 gray whales expected to travel this winter, so chances are good that while you are visiting Santa Catalina Island you may see them either coming or going while you are either coming or going. Whale watching is a popular winter activity on Catalina Island, local tours are also available while you are here.