December was a record breaking month for encountering gray whales off the coast of California. Many whale watching companies report seeing almost double the number of California gray whales compared to last year. Several other whale species and their main predator, the orca, are also being sighted more frequently. Clear, warm weather during the month made conditions ideal for viewing the whales.
Gray whales make an annual migration along the west coast of the United States from Alaska to their birthing areas in the warm Gulf of California. Along the way, they stop to feed whenever food is plentiful. According to the International Science Times, climate change may be partly involved in the increased off-shore population. With warmer waters off of California, krill and squid may have become more plentiful.
Other theories include the fact that more people may be out whale watching because of the ideal conditions. This would mean that there are more people being able to view and count the whales even from a far distance. It could also mean that the whales are migrating closer to shore than usual. Or, it could be a real population boom. Gray whales were once very plentiful not only in the Pacific Ocean, but the Atlantic Ocean as well. They went extinct in the Atlantic several hundred years ago. Currently, only a fraction of the Pacific population remains.
There are several ways to watch whales in San Diego. One way is to take a tour on a boat or take out your own boat. If you take your own boat out, be aware that it is against the law to approach or chase the whales, though they are allowed to approach you on their own accord. Whales can also be observed from the shoreline, especially in places like the Cabrillo National Monument, the Birch Aquarium (who also host their own whale watching tours), and Torrey Pines State Reserve. Other areas with high cliffs and good view of the water can be good places to view whales, especially on a clear day.