Musings on the Coast

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Spectacular Creatures in Our Midst

By Michael Ray
By Michael Ray

As loyal readers of this column know, I am a Laguna Beach waterman.   I venture to my local (secret) cove almost every day the weather allows, kayak, snorkel, hang out with the other locals, and enjoy this wonderland we call home.

The best thing we locals really like, or should I say, over which we freak out, is spotting whales close offshore. Or dolphins. If you see some, you paddle after them as fast as you can and marvel at their beauty and strength.

After a while, we began to research these creatures and here is what we found right off our own waters:

Dolphins

There are two types of dolphins: big ones and little ones. The big ones are called bottlenose dolphins. They grow to 12 feet and 1,100 pounds. They have short, stubby beaks (hence, the name “bottlenose”). They can swim up to 18 mph and dive to 800 feet. They travel in small pods and are friendly.

The little ones are called Pacific white-sided dolphins. Fully grown, they are about eight feet and 300 pounds. They are very fast and love to leap out of the water and do flips. Their pods are large, off Laguna about 30 or more, but in northern climes, in the hundreds.

Sea lions

Fully-grown sea lion females weigh about 400 pounds, males 600 pounds. Alpha males fight over the females and have harems. Both sexes can dart through the water at 24 mph. A few years ago, scores lived on Seal Rock, a big reef about a quarter mile off Crescent Bay Point. Now most are gone and no one really knows why. Various theories abound: poisoned by Fukushima radiation, new types of viruses, lack of local food, deliberate poisoning, and so on. Laguna’s Pacific Marine Mammal Rescue Centers rescues, rehabilitates and releases them.   Personally, I think they’ve simply moved to Newport Harbor, which now is a refuge for them.

Blue whales

The largest creature ever on planet Earth, weighing up to 200 tons with tongues alone weighing more than fully-grown elephants. Mature ones are 100 feet long and a twice the size of the largest dinosaurs.   Underwater, they look blue. They can communicate over 1,000s of miles, meaning every blue whale on the planet can be in communication with every other. They travel alone or in pairs and typically stay several miles offshore.

Gray whales

Mature ones weigh 40 tons and are 50 feet long. They typically are covered with barnacles that make their snouts and backs look like crusty ocean rock. They filter their food through baleen, a comb-like strainer on plates in the upper jaw.   They migrate a stunning 12,000-miles round trip from Alaska to Mexico and back. They are migrating south right now.

Humpback whales

Weigh in at 20 tons and 50 feet. They have stocky bodies, an obvious hump, and elongated pectoral fines. They are known for their spectacular breaching and are rare off Laguna. However, in recent years, this seems to be changing as more local sightings are reported, including a truly spectacular series of breaches one afternoon off our cove.

Orcas

They often are called killer whales but are part of the dolphin family. They are the largest and most powerful predator in the ocean. They feed off fish, squid, seabirds, seals, sea lions and even other whales. By whale standards, they’re not that big: mature orcas are about 30 feet long and weigh six tons.   Like all dolphins, they travel in pods and are known for their distinctive white belly and face patches and their large dorsal fin, which when it droops, it is thought, demonstrates unhappiness.

They are very social and frolic joyfully, even with humans, playing tricks like moving objects humans are chasing. Off Laguna or Newport, they are rare but recently there have been a flurry of sightings and they seem to be increasing.

More

Obviously, there are many, many more species off Laguna and we are lucky our local ocean has been declared a no-fish zone, so marine life is increasing.

One local, Rich German, almost daily SUPs for hours, venturing out miles in search of dolphins and whales with a GoPro strapped to his head for photos.

Over the last few years, Rich became determined to help save our oceans and started his own non-profit called Project O to do exactly that.   Recently, he published a picture book of his favorite ocean creatures.

Rich took all the photos right off our shores and they are gorgeous.

The book called “Blue Laguna” is hot off the press. Rich is having a book release party at the Royal Hawaiian on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2:30 and 5 p.m. No cover charge. Come by and enjoy not only it, but also live music and the newly renovated Royal Hawaiian.

It’ll be worth it. After all, it is our Laguna.

 

Michael Ray grew up in Corona del Mar and lives in Laguna Beach. He is a real estate entrepreneur involved in many non-profits.

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