Every year, gray whales migrate north along the Western United States coast, coming up from the waters of Central America to make their 10,000 mile journey to the rich feeding grounds of Alaska. This year is a particularly special one for the small calf and cow families. The gray whale count is the largest that it has been in more than 15 years thanks to an exceptional birth rate. The numbers of gray whales estimated to be migrating this year are 20,000.
The birth rate has been record-setting and nearly 1200 calves have been counted so far. The numbers spotted last year were only about 600 and the year before saw only 200 calves in the entire migration. Since the early 1900s, gray whales have been endangered, but these new counts suggest that these mammals are making a striking comeback.
Gray whales are popular for being some of the most curious of all the whale species, often approaching the boats of whale watchers to watch them back. They began filtering into the California waters in March and should be continuing through early May. Since they travel so close to shore while making their trip, whale watching along the California coast is very popular. Whale watching companies are reporting record-breaking numbers of sightings and some very happy customers.
Even though this increase in numbers is a cause for celebration, the migrating mammals must still survive the long and sometimes perilous journey to the safety of Alaska. Fishing nets, shipping traffic and aggressive killer whales hunting calves are all dangers that can reduce populations once more. Still, it looks like the gray whales may finally be out of harms way – a small but significant success for people who fight to help these creatures recover from the damage caused to them by human beings over the years.