The next time you’re down in Pismo Beach or visiting the Oceano Dunes, keep your eyes peeled — you might just get a whale of a tale to tell.
The South County shores have played host to some particularly dramatic humpback whales in recent weeks, with numerous sightings from the beach every day.
According to Pismo State Beach interpreter Francesca Manheim, there have been about three to four sightings of breaching whales each day for the past two weeks.
“It’s crazy ‘cause people will walk on by and not look out, but then you get one of us out there, especially in uniform, pointing and like ‘look, pay attention out there,’ and you do get a crowd,” she told The Tribune via phone on Friday.
The most common remark from those spectators?
“’Is that really a whale? That close in?’” Manheim said with a laugh. “I kinda think people don’t know what’s in the ocean. They might come out here every day to walk next to the beach and not know what’s happening out there.”
The sightings have stretched from the Oceano Dunes to Shell Beach, Manheim said, noting it’s likely the whales can be seen in Avila Beach as well.
A video posted to the local State Parks district’s Facebook page on Wednesday showed a humpback whale breaching close to shore near the Oceano Dunes.
Manheim said the humpback whales are in the area right now thanks to an upwelling — when cool, nutrient-rich water brings plankton to the surface of the ocean. Small fish feed on the plankton, and then larger animals such as birds, sea lions, dolphins and whales gather to feed on the fish.
“We call it a bait ball,” she said. “You’ll get whales, pelicans, all sorts of activity.”
Folks who want to check out the frolicking whales should keep an eye out for pelicans diving into the ocean, Manheim said. Often that’s a marker of a large pod of fish and potentially a site where whales will gather, she said.
Mornings are best for whale viewing, Manheim said, because the waters are calmer. She also advised getting to a higher perspective, like on top of a sand dune or the Pismo Beach Pier, for a more elevated view of breaching whales.
“They are slowly moseying along the shore,” Manheim said. “You have to be patient too, cause they’ll go under for a while.”
On Friday, pods of dolphins and whales could be seen from the Pismo Beach Pier — much to the delight of the crowds gathered on the newly renovated structure.
Though they are fun to see, Manheim urged people to remember that whales and other marine animals are protected by the law, and should not be approached, especially on personal watercraft or kayaks.
“We want everyone to respect them,” she said.