Sung to the chorus of "The 12 Days of Christmas":
Four whales together, three trios swimming, two pairs a-pairing and a set of single graaaaay whales.
What a sight it must have been Tuesday off the Southern California coast for teams of volunteers and researchers tracking the migration of gray whales south for the winter.
And the jubilation was clear in the online posting by the American Cetacean Society's Los Angeles chapter, which on Nov. 28 spotted one of the first gray whales heading to Mexico, part of its 14,000-mile roundtrip voyage. It is one of the longest migrations known to man.
We've asked the dedicated whale counters for more details about the whale party seen from the team's station on Point Vicente Interpretive Center's patio, but for now, we'll share their ebullient experience verbatim:
"Message from the observers: 'Wow, what a great day! Despite near gale force winds that that made our finding and tracking whales difficult, we spotted NINETEEN grays today; we have NEVER seen 19 grays on one day this early in the season! This brings us up to 65 grays for this season; we now have more grays than we have had during the entire month of December for (18) of the last twenty-eight seasons!
"We had one pod of four whales, three trios, two pairs, and two singles. We saw flukes on three of the eight sightings. At least two fin whales came by about the same time as some of the gray whales, so we needed to be careful to keep these sightings separate. We also spotted one pod of common dolphin. Our day ended with a nice green flash—plus a small whirlwind out in the water!'"
Nevertheless, it's way too early to tell if this will be a record season, according to Census Director Alisa Schulman-Janiger.
The gray whale migration is one of the longest known to man, averaging 10,000-14,000 miles round-trip between the Bering and Chukchi seas to the Baja California lagoons. The 30- to 40-ton baleen whales can grow up to 50 feet in length.
The Palos Verdes Peninsula-based annual Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project, now in its 30th year, began Dec. 1. It is exactly what it sounds like: counting gray whales on their north and south migration trips. Last season, volunteers using binoculars and scopes spotted 672 southbound gray whales, and 1,133 northbound gray whales, according to data provided by Census Director Alisa Schulman-Janiger.
Volunteers are still being sought for the count of gray whales. For more information please contact Schulman-Janiger at firstname.lastname@example.org.