There’s nothing unusual about some of the world’s largest and most endangered whales passing by the South Bay and Long Beach coasts.
Each winter, hundreds of pregnant 40-ton gray whale mothers and potential mates schlep past Southern California on their annual migration to their long-held birthing and mating grounds in Mexican lagoons — as they’ve done for at least a century.
About a decade ago, 100-ton blue whales discovered that the San Pedro Channel and surrounding coastal waters aren’t just a convenient highway to cooler or warmer water, but also offer a veritable buffet of their favorite prey.
The late-summer visits from blue whales have taken hold in the South Bay so much that a new festival is planned in their honor at the Redondo Beach Marina on the afternoon of Sept. 8. The Big Blue Whale Bash will feature a life-sized inflatable blue whale — a display that highlights the blue whale’s most impressive feature: It is the largest mammal ever known to live on Earth.
“The Big Blue Whale Bash was designed to connect our community with the magnificent, but endangered, blue whales that have become regular visitors to our coastline,” said Diane Alps, president of American Cetacean Society’s Los Angeles chapter. “We hope to inspire awe and fascination, along with respect and safety.”
ACS-L.A. is hosting the festival, which will include arts and crafts, live music and information about safely watching blue whales, Alps said.
But the only local regular whale-watching trips now are on boats out of Long Beach, where Harbor Breeze Cruises has cornered the market in observing marine mammals. Since July 11, Long Beach boats have spotted at least one blue whale per trip each day.
By Friday afternoon, passengers on the Triumphant, a new Harbor Breeze Cruises 90-foot catamaran, had seen four blue whales just off of the Palos Verdes Peninsula in eyeshot of Trump National Golf Club and the Point Vicente Lighthouse, Capt. Dan Salas said.
“There’s no comparison to a blue whale sighting,” Salas said. “It’s just incredibly big. Gray whales are awesome but (blue whales) just take it to another level.”
Blue whales can be found in oceans around the world in areas where there are high concentrations of krill — their main diet, a kind of small red shrimp. There are believed to be about 10,000 living blue whales worldwide, with the largest concentration of roughly 2,000 off the west coast of the United States. These whales numbered in the hundreds of thousands until whaling decimated their populations. They were given protection in 1966 from whalers and, since then, the population has been rebuilding very slowly.
“They need to consume massive amounts of krill to support their large size,” Alps said. “Therefore they need to follow the prey wherever it is. While krill is seemingly quite abundant, it is patchy in distribution.”
One of the purposes of the Blue Whale Bash is to educate the public about ways to safely observe whales because of recent incidents in which kayakers, paddleboarders and people on personal watercrafts have been photographed approaching within feet of the animals.
“Whales, especially blue whales, also have very large, powerful tales,” Alps said. “They are wild animals. There is no doubt that a close encounter with a whale would be thrilling but they should be viewed with caution and respect. For your safety and their health, give them space.”
By Sandy Mazza, Daily Breeze