MIgrating Gray Whales

Two Gray Whales (one showing its flukes). Point Vicente, California.


I’ve been fascinated by gray whales and their amazing annual migration for a long time. This time of year, the grays have left the warm Baja lagoons, many with their newborn calves beside them, swimming to their summer feeding grounds in the Arctic sea 5,000 to 7,000 miles away. This is one of the longest mammal migrations on earth.

Years ago, I discovered the best local cliff-top whale watching spot — Point Vicente in Rancho Palos Verdes. For decades, it’s been the primary station of the American Cetacean Society’s (ACS) Gray Whale census.

From December through May, teams of expert volunteer spotters watch the waters from sunrise to sunset from an elevated patio. Fully equipped with binoculars and spotting scopes, no blow, fluke or signs of a whale escape them. A few weeks ago, we hung out with the spotters, listening to their calls and the post number location of where a whale was sighted. We saw at least 15 whales.

Some of the whales are far out in the ocean. Terri, one of the spotters, pointed out a fin whale’s distinctive spout pattern against the horizon even though the whale was almost 2 miles from shore. Many of the grays were close enough to shore to see with binoculars or the naked eye.

Jim and I walked along the oceanside path and at 3:33 pm – a time I always consider lucky, we stopped and sure enough a pair of gray whales were so close I could easily see them. Then one of the whales dove under showing me her beautiful ebony flukes. Double whammy!!


The best viewing time is December through April during their winter and spring migrations. You can follow the grays daily migration and trends at: http://www.acs-la.org/GWCensus.htm. The whales swim 90-100 miles a day, travelling in small pods.

 Adjacent to the viewing spot is a natural history museum with exhibits on the rich natural and cultural history of the Palos Verdes peninsula. The address is 31501 Palos Verdes Drive West.

Bring a picnic, a pair of binoculars and have a whale of a day!

19 thoughts on “MIgrating Gray Whales

  1. We’re going to follow your lead. Hope to get out to the viewing spot before the end of April. Thanks so much for the tip. And the pic of you is great!

  2. What an inviting post. I’m going to take our Danish guest there with Duane and I, when she gets here late April. She will love it. It’s interesting, we just got back from Costa Rica and stayed with friends who raved about African Safaris. And the birds in Costa Rica and the wildlife are spectacular. But I realized today, after walking in Descanso, that we have thrilling wildlife all around us in So Cal. Your post reminds me, as does your last one, of the beauty we can enjoy nearby. Thanks for leading us to wonderful spots to enjoy nature.

  3. It’s interesting, and intriguing, that whales can be seen from dry land here; save the trouble and expense of a boat. Also notable is that there is such a commitment to documenting the number that pass, by what I assume to be volunteers. In our digital age, immersed in so much data that is so easily available with a Google search, it’s easy to not appreciate that each factoid may represent months, if not years, of conscientious field work by a dedicated group.

  4. > Susan,
    You continue to amaze me with your Wondrous Nature blogs.
    > Thank you for keeping me in touch with what really counts and what is part of the mystery that surrounds us.
    > With love,
    Your Friend,

  5. Thanks for this story. I had never seen a live whale (other than on TV) with flapping flukes and blow-holes until I traveled all the way to Alaska. To think that I could see them from land and from a location relatively near my home (as compared to Alaska) is a very happy notion. Love your writing and your chosen topics. I want more, more.

  6. Hi Susan,
    I enjoyed this post very much. I can smell the salty air. You’re as beautiful as ever!
    xo SZ

  7. Always a fun and educational read.
    Thanks for continuing to share nearby forgotten or unknown treasures.

  8. Nice piece. a couple of months ago in Maui when I dived deep into the water I could hear the whales from a considerable distance off. that was a thrill. Best Marc

  9. Susan, I, also, have loved whale watching. Thanks for sharing your special observation spot. Our family is taking a cruise to Alaska this summer, and hope to see some whales in their Alaskan home. Bridget

  10. Hi Susan,
    Wonderful picture of the whales. It looks like you had a wonderful day and lots of fun watching the whales. Glad to know of a good spot to whale watch. I will keep it in mind. I’m glad to hear you are out and about and enjoying our wonderful nature and weather in So Cal. warmest regards, Janell

  11. Very cool. Thank you for including the migration and physical addresses. We live in an amazing state!
    Great post!

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