A 20-foot-long gray whale helped many beachgoers celebrate the new year when it ventured close to the shore Tuesday morning.
According to reader Sandy Bagley, who posted photos of the whale to the Redondo Beach Patch Pics & Clips Gallery, the whale showed up near the beach between Ruby and Sapphire streets before 10 a.m.
"There was quite a group of people on the beach," she told Patch in an email. "We watched him for over an hour and then followed him south to the (Topaz) jetty."
The whale may have been using the sand to scrape off barnacles and lice that had accumulated on its skin, according to a lifeguard at the scene.
"I've heard of this behavior many times before—such as off Zuma Beach, for example," said Alisa Schulman-Janiger, director of the Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project, when asked via Facebook if the whale's actions were unusual. "All of those parasites … probably cause their skin to be quite itchy!"
This whale was not the only gray whale spotted in the South Bay on Tuesday. Gray Whale Census volunteers counted 10 southbound gray whales from Point Vicente in Rancho Palos Verdes on the same day, bringing the total spotted from the coast to 192 since the official start of the season on Dec. 1. It's not known whether the whale from Tuesday morning was one spotted by census volunteers.
Averaging 10,000-14,000 miles roundtrip from the Bering and Chukchi seas to the lagoons in Baja California, the gray whale migration is one of the longest migrations known to man. The 30- to 40-ton baleen whales can grow up to 50 feet in length.
Four orcas were also spotted off the coast. Eric and Cody Martin of the Roundhouse Aquarium in Manhattan Beach confirmed that the four transient killer whales were part of the CA51 group, which has been spotted in the area multiple times over the last year.
The presence of the transient orcas—which eat mammals, unlike resident orcas found in Northern California—may have led a pair of gray whales to hide in the kelp off the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
The gray whales "rolled in the kelp, showing their pectoral fins and the sides of their flukes," according to the daily report on the American Cetacean Society - Los Angeles Chapter's website. "We watched them for about two and a half hours! Several times we saw kelp hanging off of the rostrum of one or both whales. One whale raised its rostrum high out of the water, like a sideways spyhop—possibly feeding. Some behavior looked like possible courtship."
Additionally, census volunteers "tracked a few fin whales out in the Redondo Canyon area."
Passengers aboard the Redondo Beach-based Voyager whale-watching boat saw eight fin whales, a minke whale, and common and bottlenose dolphin during the Tuesday morning cruise.