An upside of climate change? Gray whales abundant in California

whale watching epic season orig_00001108
whale watching epic season orig_00001108

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    Whale watchers celebrate epic season

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Whale watchers celebrate epic season 01:18

Story highlights

  • "This season has just been magical, there's just no other way to describe it," says boat captain
  • Gray whales are making their annual migration south from the Arctic Ocean to Mexico

Los Angeles (CNN)The cheering, clapping fans are greeting them with choruses of oohs and ahhs, hero worship for the rock stars of the sea: whales.

Whale-watching boats out of Southern California are reporting almost every excursion returns to harbor with giddy patrons carrying images of large marine mammals in their cameras and minds.
"This season has just been magical, there's just no other way to describe it," said Dan Salas, a captain for Harbor Breeze Cruises. "And this is just the beginning of gray whale season. It's going to go all the way until May."
    The gray whales are making their annual migration south from the Arctic Ocean where they feed, down to Mexico, where they breed during winter and late spring.
    "We know that the ocean is changing, the Earth is warming, the ice melting, and this might be giving the gray whales more (easier) access to food," said Kera Mathes, marine biologist with the Aquarium of the Pacific.
    "With more access to food, the gray whales might be able to leave the Arctic waters earlier."
    During a recent Salas trip, the captain closely followed two gray whales making a parallel journey south near Long Beach.
    The whales flipped their flukes out of the water and took dives, while dozens of eyes and cameras followed each move.
    Salas left that pair of migrating gray whales to search for a second set of gray whales, a rarity, a mother and her brand new calf.
    "There's mama and there's baby," the captain shouted over the boat's loudspeaker. "The baby was born today. Happy birthday."
    The mother and baby cetaceans dipped underwater and reappeared, often with a spritz from their blowholes.
    On this trip, the gray whales did not breech out of the water completely, looking like some sort of slick television commercial.
    Those picture postcard breeches are uncommon, according to biologists and whale tour boat captains, but any sight of any part of a whale caused celebration.
    "CNN had that pretty interesting documentary, "Blackfish," and it brought a lot of attention to our customers, to where they mentioned how excited they were to see the whales in the wild, their natural environment," said Salas.
    "Since that documentary our business has increased and we will hear the kids cheering, 'They are free.'"
    Orcas, killer whales in captivity, were the subject of "Blackfish."
    Free-swimming orcas have been spotted this season in Southern California along with some Humpback whales and the usual preponderance of a variety of dolphins playfully jumping in clusters.
    Wide-eyed and smiling children chattered with each sighting.
    "I've been seeing Mother Nature and the birth of a new whale," said 11-year-old Connor Parrish from Missouri. "And the awesome dolphins, which are my favorite ocean animal, so it's been good."