On a clear and calm day a few months ago, we traveled from Diablo Canyon northwest toward Point Buchon, located just south of Montaña de Oro State Park, on one of the nuclear power plant’s research and monitoring vessels.
Two gray whales suddenly surfaced in the kelp beds that line the rocky coastline. To me, these whales resembled colossal sea serpents as they ascended to blow out, than breathe in the maritime air.
Their blows can be visible from miles away. That’s because the air they exhale is quite warm from the whale’s internal body heat and when it collides with the cooler air that typically exists along our coastline, it immediately condenses into a visible spout or cloud of water vapor.
According to PG&E marine biologist Sally Krenn, gray whales were hunted to the brink of extinction in the late 1800s when whalers discovered their calving lagoons in Baja California. The whalers named them “devil fish” because of their reputation for overturning boats when attacked. Today, there are over 25,000 individuals and the gray whale has been removed from the endangered species list.
Gray whales can live up to 70 years. In summer, they are primarily found in the arctic where they feed on bottom-dwelling organisms. When the days grow shorter in fall, the whales start their journey southward to the balmier climate and warm coastal lagoons of the southern Baja peninsula to give birth and mate.
Along the Central Coast these cetaceans can be seen in December and January on their southern migration. During this migration, they tend to stay farther out to sea. However, on their northward journey which occurs in March into early May, cow and calf pairs hug the shoreline in order to avoid killer whales. Last year, a pod of orcas killed a calf off Morro Bay.
This past Saturday, the weather conditions were nearly ideal at the Point San Luis Lighthouse for whale watching. I noticed quite a few gray whales on their journey northward. Many of these magnificent mammals will travel between 9,000 and 12,000 miles on their round trip. Some of these whales never make it all the way to Baja, but turn around in mid-migration and head back north.
This is truly one of the longest migrations of any creature on the face of Earth. In fact, according to a study published by Oregon State University, a gray whale last year traveled nearly 14,000 miles from Russia to Mexico and back again. This epic journey took 172 days with an average speed of about 3.4 mph.
There are a lot of great locations along the Central Coast to view whales from the shore. Two of my favorites are the Point San Luis Lighthouse and Point Buchon. You can also take a whale watching cruise from commercial charter boats out of Port San Luis or Morro Bay.
Gov. Jerry Brown has announced an executive order establishing the most ambitious greenhouse-gas reduction target in North America. The new goal aims to reduce emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.
PG&E applauds the governor’s leadership in setting this new goal. PG&E believes it is bold and, with the right structures in place, attainable. It demonstrates why California has been a leader in technology, the environment and innovation for decades, and the governor’s vision will fuel future economic growth and innovation.