DANA POINT, Calif – Whale-watching passengers off the coast of California had a once-in-a-lifetime sighting as they encountered a gray whale giving birth to a calf.
"As far as I know, no one has filmed a gray whale giving birth or even seen it before," said Dave Anderson, owner of Capt. Dave's Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari. "We were right there when it happened. We have footage of the whale bringing her calf over to our boat."
The sighting off the coast of Dana Strands Beach in Dana Point, California, appeared at first to be a typical migrating gray whale. However, Anderson said as the boat slowly approached the animal, his crew noticed it was behaving sporadically.
Passengers and crew saw something colored orange and red in the water that they thought might have been kelp. Instead, a newborn calf came up to the surface.
"For a minute, many of us thought it may be a shark or predatory event," Capt. Dave’s drone operator Matt Stumpf said. "But no, instead of the end of life, it was the beginning of a new one."
It didn't take long for the newborn calf to begin learning how to swim and bonding with its mother, who even brought the calf over to the boats as if to show off her offspring and say ‘hello.’
"Witnessing this gray whale birth was one of the best things I have ever seen," Stumpf said. "And not that it is just coming to the world, but already from the video, you can see its personality. I wish the best for this pair as they make their way down to the lagoons in Baja and then back up to the feeding grounds. It's a long and dangerous journey for them."
According to Capt. Dave's Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari, gray whales prefer to give birth in the warm and protected lagoons of Baja California, Mexico. The lagoons offer safety from predators such as orcas, as well as warm water for calves who have not yet built up a thick layer of blubber. Although some gray whales do give birth in Baja, there are times when calves won't wait and are born during the migration.
Gray whale adults average between 40 to 50 feet in length and weigh 30 to 40 tons. Compared to birth, calves are about 15 feet long when they’re born and will gain over 50 pounds a day feeding on their mother’s milk.