DANA POINT— On Jan. 2, whale watching passengers onboard Capt. Dave’s Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari boat in Dana Point witnessed the scene of a lifetime when they encountered a gray whale giving birth to a calf.
At first, the sighting appeared to be a normal migrating gray whale. However, as the boat slowly moved closer to the animal, the crew noticed it was behaving sporadically. Passengers and crew saw the color red in the water and thought it might have been kelp— they were wrong. It was a newborn calf coming up to the surface.
“For a minute, many of us thought it may be a shark or predatory event,” says Matt Stumpf, Capt. Dave’s drone operator in a statement. “But no, instead of the end of life, it was the beginning of a new one.”
After surfacing, the newborn calf began learning to swim and bonding with its mother. Finally, the cow brought the calf over to the boat, almost as if she wanted to show off her baby and say hello.
“As far as I know, no one has filmed a gray whale giving birth or even seen it before,” says Captain Dave Anderson, owner of Capt. Dave’s Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari. “We were right there when it happened. We have footage of the whale bringing her calf over to our boat.”
The timing of the entire birth is unknown as it was only occurring for a couple of minutes when the whale watching boat arrived.
Gray whales migrate annually along the U.S. west coast, swimming 10,000 to 12,000 miles round-trip. It is one of the longest migrations of any mammal. The whales travel from their feeding grounds in the Bering and Chukchi Seas near Alaska to Baja’s mating and birthing lagoons and back again.
Gray whales prefer to give birth in Baja’s warm and protected lagoons. The lagoons offer safety from predators such as orcas and warm water for calves who have not yet built up a thick layer of blubber.
Although most gray whales do give birth in Baja, there are times when calves won’t wait and are born during the migration.
“Witnessing this gray whale birth was one of the best things I have ever seen,” said Stumpf. “And not that it is just coming to the world, but already from the video, you can see its personality. I wish the best for this pair as they make their way down to the lagoons in Baja and then back up to the feeding grounds. It’s a long and dangerous journey for them.”
Gray whale calves are about 15 feet long when born and will gain over 50 pounds a day from feeding on their mother’s milk. Gray whale mothers can lose 30 percent of their body weight by nursing one calf on milk that contains over 50 percent fat.
Gray whale adults average between 40 to 50 feet in length and weigh 30 to 40 tons.
With a variety of year-round whales, more dolphins per square mile than anywhere in the world, pristine coastline, calm seas, the first and longest-running annual Festival of Whales, and a captivating harbor minutes from the open ocean, Dana Point, California continues to earn the title as the Dolphin and Whale Watching Capital of the World.
To watch a video of the mother and her calf visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=umajENuHqaw.