The gray whale moms swimming with their babies spotted along Southern California’s coastline this weekend were more than a cute sight – they were a sign of hope.

The multiple sightings on Saturday, Jan. 9, with whale watching charters counting five different calf and cow pairs in Palos Verdes, Dana Point and Oceanside, offers a bit of good news for the species that has struggled in recent years.

With current restrictions on gathering because of the ongoing pandemic, it’s going to be harder to judge how the gray whale species is faring this year as hundreds of people who typically volunteer to scan the waters and count the whales won’t be able to take their annual census.

“It’s a good sign, it’s good news there were moms,” said Alisa Schulman-Janiger, co-founder of the Gray Whale Census & Behavior Project that typically meets at the Point Vicente Interpretive Center. “On really bad years, we don’t see many calves at all. We don’t have enough data to know what it means, just seeing calves is a really good thing.”

The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration in 2019 declared an Unusual Mortality Event after an alarming number of dead gray whales – many starved and emaciated – started washing up along the West Coast.

That year, there were 214 gray whale strandings in Canada, the United State and Mexico. In the U.S., there were 122: 48 in Alaska, 34 in California, 34 in Washington and six in Oregon.

Last year was a bit better for the species, with 172 that washed up dead from Canada to Mexico, just 78 of which were in the United States.

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So far this year, there has been no dead whales reported, according to the NOAA website, but deaths typically occur later during their northbound migration from the warm-water lagoons in Mexico back to their feeding grounds in Alaska.

The eastern North Pacific gray whale population that migrates along the Pacific Coast was last estimated at about 27,000 animals. In a typical year, based on data collected since the 1990s, there are only about 35 strandings annually. For the period from Jan. 1 through May 31, the average is 14.8 whales stranded.

Not being able to hold their annual census, which typically starts Jan. 1 in Palos Verdes, has been frustrating, but understandable because of the health concerns during the pandemic, Schulman-Janiger said.

So for the first time in 38 years, Schulman-Janiger has no official log on how many are passing by Southern California – or whether they look healthy.

But the sightings on Saturday signal hope for a rebound for her.

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Source:: Los Angeles Daily News

      

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