A Whale of a Tale

Posted at 3:01 pm March 15, 2007 by Cindy Spiva-Evans

The Zoo’s Girls In Science groups spent their last day of the season together at sea! We generally take a field trip each spring and have visited the Wild Animal Park, SeaWorld, and the La Brea Tar Pits, but this is the first time we’ve gone whale watching!

Boarding a fishing boat at Pt. Loma, we set sail on a three-hour tour (a THREEEE HOUR TOOOOOR!) and headed due west about ten miles. Our usual suspects were joined by 14 alumnae and a slew of chaperones from Roosevelt Middle School and the Zoo. Many of us had never been on a boat and didn’t quite know what to expect. A few others were seasoned sailors and knew to stay at the stern and avoid the spray.

Needless to say, the ride out to sea was bumpy and wet. The girls at the bow ended up soaked to the skin but had the time of their lives laughing and riding the waves. The girls at the stern were calmer, drier, and warmer, but still had a good time. A few poor souls ended up with Land Lubber’s Tummy, but even they managed to pull it together when we finally encountered what we were looking for: migrating gray whales! We were looking for “footprints” (smooth spots on the water’s surface that are left when a whale submerges) and spouts.

The whales that we saw were likely juveniles, smaller than the 40 feet in length that the adults can reach. And they didn’t seem to be heading north in any particular rush! In fact, they appeared to sort of dawdle where they were for a while. Gray whales have the longest migration of any mammal: more than 5,000 miles from their summering grounds in Alaska to the warm winter birthing lagoons of Mexico. They head south in the fall and migrate northward up the Pacific coast in the spring. Gray whales don’t travel all together. Instead, they move northward in small groups. Generally, the newly pregnant females head north first, followed by yearlings, non-pregnant females and males. Cow and new calf pairs head north last.

We watched for a while and got a few really good photos. Researchers who track whales photograph their flukes, or tails, because the markings on each whale’s flukes are unique. Gray whales also tend to wear lots of barnacles, and the patterns made by these little critters are great for identification, as well. The girls were absolutely thrilled and applauded both the whales and the boat’s crew as we turned around to head back to shore.

An amazing time was had by all. It was so nice to connect with our alums and see how they are all doing. They’re so grown up! And we’re graduating 11 8th graders who will join that elite group next year.

Until next fall!

Miss Cindy

Cindy Spiva-Evans is an educator at the San Diego Zoo.

Girls In Science is a program for Roosevelt Middle School girls which creates science-based experiences with professional women at the San Diego Zoo. The program is funded through the generosity of the Wells Fargo Foundation.

Read about previous Girls In Science activities.

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One Response to “A Whale of a Tale”

  1. nancy says:

    these girls are so lucky to have this science program and to be able to experience so many wonderful things!

    I would have given anything to have been able to have something like this when I was a young girl. needless to say, living in michigan is not a very good place to be able to have programs like this!!! to see these whales is so exciting. I haven’t seen the grey whales but have seen the humpback whales in hawaii! I was just enthralled with the whole experience. it was a mama with her calf and two suiters following behind! the calf was very healthy and was breaching and breaching much to our delight! I am sure these kids will always remember their whale watching trip; I did!