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Birds' Eye View: Drones Catch Blue Whales, Gray Whales in Surf

You can't help but feel like one of our fine feathered friends soaring over these majestic animals. It's an entirely different way of seeing them.

A blue whale. Patch file photo.
A blue whale. Patch file photo.
From Captain Dave's Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari in Dana Point:

Here's what you'll see ...

1. Blue whales
Early in May excited whale watchers on a high-tech catamaran sailboat operated by Captain Dave’s Dolphin & Whale Safari spotted three giant blue whales 2.5 miles off the Dana Point coast. Captain Dave’s cetacean identification catalog helped provide a history of one of the blue whales, which further enhanced the whale watching experience for passengers on board.

Explains Captain Dave, “That was the first blue whale we've ever filmed with a drone. I could not believe what I was seeing as I looked through the special goggles that allow me to see from the drone’s POV. This one whale was massive, probably over 80 feet long. And it was coming right at me in the drone! Wow! I hated to bring the drone back and lingered so long I barely made it back to the boat before the battery ran out. At one point we had three whales on the viewfinder it was just amazing. They are twice the size of the gray whales we have been seeing and our whale watching boat had just left a mother and calf gray whale when this giant trio was spotted by Chuck Gathers, one of the crew.”

Using photographic mark-recapture research, one of the blue whales has been identified. The whale, nicknamed “Dana”, was encountered multiple times last year. In August it was seen interacting with a pod of bottlenose dolphin who seemingly enjoyed “bow riding” with the whale! And last October whale watchers saw Dana being “chased” by another blue whale in a type of courtship behavior. That indicates it’s a possible female.

During the summer months Southern California hosts the largest concentration of blue whales in the world. Blue whales are found off Dana Point through October feeding on krill, a very small shrimp-like crustacean.

2. Gray whales
Meanwhile baby gray whales have a play date in the surf near Dana Point while their moms and whale watchers ashore enjoy the show. Migrating gray whales are still being seen off the coast of Southern California. “We’ve seen more gray whales this season than any year before,” says Capt. Dave. According to recently published reports by the Gray Whale Census Project of the American Cetacean Society of Los Angeles, this is their highest northbound gray whale calf count in 31 seasons!

It is rare to have two gray whale cow calf pairs swim together, never mind see them playing and foraging for food and hiding in the kelp and beautiful coves off Dana Point and Laguna Beach.Up to 35 per cent of gray whales are eaten by killer whales so the moms intentionally keep their calves near the kelp to hide from killer whales. There is very little for gray whales to eat on the migration from Baja to Alaska so the moms only forage occasionally until they get up to the Oregon Coast. The calf feeds on mother’s milk and grows at a rate of about 50 pounds a day. Gray whales primarily feed on amphipods found in the mud on the bottom. They suck the mud up into their mouth and force it back out through the baleen and filter out the amphipods. But these moms may be training their calves to feed along the way. They sometimes forage on the bottom of the lagoons of Baja where these calves are born, even when there is nothing to eat. The foraging seen in this film may be a training moment, though for the calves, it appears to be more of a play date. This amazing, one of a kind footage was captured recently from a small air-borne drone and from our whale watching boat as well.

3. Megapod of Common Dolphins
Also included is rare and exciting footage of a concentrated mega-pod of common dolphin, churning the waters below and racing over to Lily, our newest Whale Research & Rescue vessel, to surf on the bow of boat, surrounding our excited whale watching passengers. All of these animals were seen on one trip last Thursday, though this mind blowing footage had to be filmed over several days.

All laws were obeyed and no animals were disturbed to bring you this footage that will change the way you see the dolphins' and whales' world!


Guy May 18, 2014 at 02:13 AM
Captain Ahab's new toy :-)
Eileen G. May 18, 2014 at 10:32 AM
Very Cool!
imcjl May 18, 2014 at 11:21 AM
How sad that an otherwise great story ends with a legal disclaimer... The US now lives in constant fear of predatory faciast attorneys... Pathetic that the writer would even need to close with that statement.
Dallas Harris May 18, 2014 at 03:18 PM
The Drones Are Coming, The Drones Are Coming To Spy On Us!! :(
phil May 19, 2014 at 10:38 AM
drones............what could possibly go wrong?

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