Going whale watching can be an extraordinary way to observe the behavior of incredible sea creatures. But whale watchers in California got more than they bargained for on a recent trip off the coast of Dana Point. Everyone aboard the boat, including the crew, was left stunned as they witnessed a gray whale give birth to a calf right before their eyes.
Initially, those aboard Captain Dave's Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari thought they might be witnessing a predatory event after seeing a gray whale thrashing in the water. But, after seeing what they thought was red and orange kelp in the water, a whale calf came to the surface. It was then that everyone realized the once-in-a-lifetime event that they had the privilege to see.
“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 Captain 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.”
In a video posted online, passengers on the boat can be heard expressing their amazement as the whale approaches with her baby. Over the speaker, a crew member announces that no one on board had ever witnessed such an event, as gray whales typically give birth in the warm waters of Baja. But, it looks like this calf was ready to make its way into the world before its mother finished her migration.
Alisa Schulman-Janiger, who runs the Los Angeles chapter of the American Cetacean Society's Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project, shared her insights about the video with NPR. “The mom is holding the calf up, supporting it so the calf can rest and actually helping it be able to take a breath,” she explained. She also noted how important these initial moments are for bonding between mother and calf.
The calf is seen nuzzling against its mother to create a bond. While whales can't smell each other like land animals do, their skin is quite sensitive, so the rubbing creates a sensory bond. As it takes 24 hours after birth before the soft fluke of the calf becomes rigid, the mother also needs to guide it through the water. This is why the calf often appears to be riding on its mother's back in the video.
As the gray whale spent quite a bit of time close to the boat, everyone aboard got the honor of being involved in the special moment. It is a day at sea that they'll never forget.
Watch as a gray whale and her newborn calf greet whale watchers in Southern California.
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