Identifying wildlife can sometimes be challenging when you can see the entire animal, but that rarely happens when whale-watching, unless you’re lucky enough to witness a breach. Most of the time, you’re probably looking at less than 5% of the whale at a time as it swims below the surface.
One identifying characteristic is the blowhole. Did you know that toothed whales (e.g. sperm whales) have a single blowhole, while baleen whales (e.g., grey whales) have a double?
In the above image, you can clearly see the double blowhole, which helps to identify this as a grey whale.
As I watched this grey whale calf play in a cove yesterday evening, I got the feeling that it was practicing its moves. For example, in yesterday’s post (“Watch the Birdie,” 03.17.15) the whale is lunging out of the water, and I watched it do this several times, but it never did a full-on breech.
Likewise, I watched it spyhop several times, but it never came up out of the water far enough to actually look over the surface of the ocean. It came up very, very slowly–over perhaps 10 seconds, to the height in the image above, hovered there for about five seconds, and then very, very slowly sank straight down again.
It really seemed to me that the calf was trying out these new maneuvers, and they weren’t yet second nature to it. I imagine there’s a learning curve to whale ballet, and while the adults seem to perform it quite effortlessly, maybe the young ones’ muscles aren’t developed enough, and/or their coordination is still lacking.
If you’re reading this and you know more about whale behavior than I do, I welcome your comments. I still have much to learn.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to shameless anthropomorphize until someone sets me straight!
How else are you going to get a grey whale calf to smile for its portrait?
I watched this calf play in a cove for about an hour this evening. There was no sign of mom, though I’m sure she was in the vicinity. The calf made several leaps out of the water, and also practiced spyhopping. It put on quite a show.
The grey whales are migrating just off the coast of California right now. The moms are heading north with their calves, and they come much closer to shore on their way north than when they’re heading south to give birth in the lagoons on the west coast of Baja.
The calf is resting on its mother’s back. This scene reminded me of taking a walk with a toddler: they’ll run circles around their parents, then insist on being carried!
I took this image this evening about an hour before sunset, from land. Yes, they were THAT close: inside the surf zone. Unfortunately, heavy overcast didn’t make for the best light, so the image is soft…but too sweet to not share.