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Baby gray whales spotted off coast
Two baby gray whales were spotted this week by a charter boat in Dana Point, an unusually early debut for calves that are more commonly born in warmer waters in Baja.
The season's first sighting, about a mile and a half off shore in Dana Point on Sunday, was a 10-foot-long calf making its way south with its mother, according to a naturalist aboard a Dana Point Sportfishing and Whale Watching boat.
Then on Tuesday, another newborn – about 11 to 12 feet in length – was seen just a mile off shore in 120 to 200 feet of water in Dana Point, said Dana Point Sportfishing and Whale Watching Capt. Todd Mansur.
"It was a day-old baby, tiny," Mansur said. "They gain roughly 60 pounds a day. I'm think it might have been born today. It was playing and hoping, getting used to having a body outside of the womb."
The gray whale season typically runs from November through April. Last year, 492 gray whales were spotted in O.C. waters.
Steve O'Toole, a naturalist for the American Cetacean Society, said the calf on Sunday looked as if it hadn't figured out it was supposed to follow its mother. The mom would have to go back and get the calf when it fell behind, he said.
The calf spotted on Sunday also was thought to only be a day or two old, according to O'Toole, a photographer who joins the tours every weekend.
"You could see the fetal folds, plump baby skin and distinguished dimples on its face," he said. "The mother was comfortable with the boat and never strayed off her southbound path."
The gray whales are making their migration from chilly Alaska toward the warmer waters of Baja to give birth, passing Orange County along the way. Normally, the babies are spotted on their way back up from Mexico, but these two appear to have been born right off the O.C. coastline.
The calf seen Sunday was staying close to its mother and paused occasionally when the pair passed the boat.
"We saw the calf stumble a few times, not quite strong enough yet, or hasn't figured it out yet, how to frolic too much," O'Toole wrote in a recap. "We saw him also catching a ride on mom's back. It was a wonderful day and brought smiles to everyone."
The calf was so young it didn't have barnacles on its skin yet.
There have been about 33 gray whale sightings by Dana Wharf this year, the majority since Jan. 1.
Dana Wharf general manager Donna Kalez said the season started off slowly, but it's been busy since the new year.
"The new year just opened the floodgates of new whales," she said. "We're really happy, and now we're seeing all these little babies."
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