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Gray whales passing near the SoCal coast

January 20, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
The skies are gray, the waves are choppy, and a frigid breeze nips at your skin. Perfect tourism weather if you're a gray whale. A majestic pilgrimage is underway off the Southern California coast."We've pretty much doubled the numbers that we saw last year," said Michele Sousa, Marine Mammal biologist for the Aquarium of the Pacific.

Sousa said the gray whales are passing through our waters on their annual pilgrimage to Mexico's warmer digs. To show off these huge creatures, the aquarium offers whale watching tours.

The areas along the coast, like San Pedro and San Vicente, are familiar territory for gray whales. In fact when it comes to gray whale migration, marine biologists say this is the real Pacific Coast Highway.

Biologists have already counted more than 250 whales moving through on the first leg of a round-trip, which is an enormously long voyage.

"You're looking at 12,000 miles that they're going down to lagoons, giving birth, then coming all the way back up," said Sousa.

The grays aren't the only attraction on the tours. Some of Southern California's year-round residents often like to steal the spotlight.

"We also saw some bottle nose dolphins that were doing some flips and pillars out of the water," said Sousa.

"It was terrific," said whale watching tourist Patty Mulcahy. "Just seeing them up close you just don't realize how big and how powerful the whole thing is."

And also how fleeting. But if you miss the gray whales this winter, marine biologists say you can catch them on their return trip in about three months from now.

Just don't blow it.