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A Splashy Day
Dance to Our Eyes and Ears
by Sophie Gayot

The magic moment

We have all heard about whale watching season, which in Southern California runs from the end of December through March. This year, instead of missing yet another season, we suggest you hop in a car and drive up to Oxnard, which is easily accessible from the surrounding areas, via the Pacific Coast Highway or the 101 Freeway.

Open your eyes

Pacific gray whales (scientifically called Eschrichtius robustus) spend their summers in the Arctic Ocean in the high northern seas of Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort. During the winter months, they migrate to warmer waters along the coast of the U.S., heading for Mexican lagoons. The pregnant females give birth in this protected environment and raise their calves. Others travel to find mates or just to enjoy warmer temperatures. The annual migration lasts two to three months, and the whales can migrate distances of 6,000 miles each way. During their long journey, they pass through the Santa Barbara Channel.

After a 40-minute boat ride, on a Speed Twin boat, keep your eyes peeled and be prepared to spot whales: first the breathing spray, then the tail. It goes fast, but wait another two to three minutes, and there it goes again. The spout of the gray whale rises ten to thirteen feet above water, and the blow is so noisy that it can be heard half a mile away. The boat captain follows their slow path for a while, so you can see more of the graceful dance. They usually congregate in small pods of about two or three. Larger groups form in feeding waters, but these are loose, temporary associations.

Orca ballet

Pacific gray whales only have three natural predators: orcas (killer whale), large sharks and humans. You can expect to find the first two during your mini-cruise. The day we went, we encountered the black and white predators. Unlike gray whales, which swim at the slow speed of two to three mph, orcas, the faster member of the dolphin family, can reach top speeds of thirty mph. And like dolphins, they enjoy—or at least it feels like they do—playing around the boat. They go so fast that you never know when and where they are going to resurface.

Don't try to touch them
Kids are enchanted

Dolphins are known to swim in the area, and you are likely to encounter them as well. Prepare your cameras in fast mode and wear warm clothes for a boat ride—and a great family trip—to remember!

Channel Islands Sportfishing
4151 S. Victoria Avenue
Oxnard, CA 93035
Daily tours in season 9 a.m. to noon; and 1 p.m. to 4 pm. $25 for adults, $15 for children under 12, $20 for seniors. Snacks available on board.

(All photos where taken during our trip)

(Posted: 02/10/06)

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