It’s whale-watching time on the California coast again. Every year – beginning in October – thousands of gray whales embark on a four-month journey from their summer home in Alaska’s chilly Bering Sea to the warm and shallow breeding/birthing waters off the Baja Peninsula.
The length of pregnancy for a female gray whale is about 13 1/2 months. A female will mate one winter, eventually travel back to Alaska, and then gives birth the following winter – sometime around mid-January – on returning to Baja.
Newborns are approximately 16 feet long; adult females, which are larger than adult males, range from 43-50 feet. The newborn calf stays with its mother during her lactation period (about seven months); once weaned, the calf is on its own.
From mid-December and well into January, the majority of migrating whales are cruising south along the California coast – and Sonoma’s coast offers wonderful opportunities for viewing these amazing cetaceans as they breach, spout water through blowholes, and play. Be sure to bring your binoculars.
A great place to catch sight of them is Bodega Head, a small peninsula that shelters Bodega Bay. On weekends from January through May, volunteers knowledgeable about whales are on hand to answer questions and give interpretive talks to the public.
Bodega Head is part of Sonoma Coast State Park, home to many beaches where you can settle in with a picnic, explore tidal pools, and take hikes while keeping an eye out for traveling whales.
If other people are on the beach, someone is bound to shout “Look! A whale!” Nobody remains blasé; to the contrary, everyone will run eagerly to the waterline, hoping to get just a tiny bit closer to the spouting water or flash of whale tail in the distance. Download a map and/or brochure of Sonoma Coast State Park.
If you want to combine a drive along the coast with whale watching, consider traveling north to Gualala Point Regional Park, the public access trails at Sea Ranch, or Stillwater Regional Park. Other good view spots: Fort Ross State Historic Park, Kruse Rhododendron State Nature Preserve, and Salt Point State Park.
You might also opt for a whale-watch boat trip, which can offer wonderful opportunities to get relatively close to whales while staying at a safe distance (not only for you, but for them, too). Bodega Charters has two trips per day from January through April; the cost is $50/adults and $35/children 13 and under. Fish On Charters also gives two trips per day at $55/person (including children), December through February.
And if you can’t make it this winter, never fear. The whales begin their northward journey beginning in February, so you’ll have a second chance in a few months.