January is turning out to be a fantastic month for new babies in California, and for observing them in the wild. We’re talking critter babies, and two extraordinary sightings were made during the first week of the new year: that of a gray whale seen shortly after birth off San Diego, and that of an elephant seal live birth at a Central California rookery.
Both were made Saturday by close Facebook friends, and while these types of sightings are not super rare, they do require being in the right place at the right time. And if someone is going to capture nature channel-caliber imagery, such as that included here, that person must be adept with a camera.
Melissa Panfili Galieti, a naturalist aboard the Privateer out of San Diego Whale Watch, captured the gray whale baby footage with a still camera. The pudgy newborn, its pink tongue and yellowish baleen clearly visible, probably was just a day old and certainly not more than two days old.
Alisa Schulman-Janiger, who runs the ACS/L.A. Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project on the Palos Verdes Peninsula in Los Angeles County, said January is the peak month locally for the southbound gray whale migration from Arctic waters to Baja California nursing grounds.
It’s also the peak month for cow-calf pairs, but very few boaters are able to enjoy sightings as vivid as those made by passengers aboard the Privateer.
Said Galieti: “Mom and calf sere swimming with a couple of common dolphins. The calf repeatedly threw flukes into the air. We even saw it nursing for a brief moment! Got amazing looks at the entire face on several of the calf’s visits to the surface. Good mama and adorable calf!”
As for the elephant seal birth, it occurred at Piedras Blancas at the southern end of Big Sur. Kris Clifford used a video camera to capture the clean and reasonably swift birth of a pudgy mammal that may someday grow to measure 10-plus feet and weigh up to 5,000 pounds.
This is the birthing season, Clifford said, with as many as 50 new elephant seals entering the world each day. “But you can miss them if you are not patient,” she added. “It helps to know what to look for, but sometimes you can watch a female showing signs and never see her birth … yet look over and see another female delivering when you hadn’t even noticed her before.”
Quite a story, considering that elephant seals were once thought to be extinct. Now they’re both a Central California tourist attraction, and a favorite prey item for great white sharks.
But Saturday was not a time to think about that; it was a time for watching babies.