Whale of a visit to Seal Beach

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Flocks of local whale watchers gather on the jetty to catch a glimpse of two whales (see insert) that visited the San Gabriel River between Seal Beach and Long Beach this week. Photos by Dave Smithson

Two grey whales decided either to have a little fun or feed themselves Monday as they were spotted swimming the San Gabriel river channel between Seal Beach and Long Beach.

The visiting whales caused quite a stir throughout the city. The constant whirling of copter blades sent many a resident and business owner into the streets before word spread around town about the two whales.

Television news helicopters as well as a couple of aircraft from other agencies hovered overhead for hours after the whales were first spotted about 10 a.m.

Residents walked to the jetty and there was a hubbub of activity until about 7 p.m., when one of the whales went back to sea.

Approximately 200 local residents quickly gathered near the jetty to stand on the rocks in an attempt to get a glimpse of the whales.

Marine experts said the whales were not calves but neither were they fully-grown whales. Onlookers said the whales were about 25 feet long. Fully grown grey whales can grow to about 50 feet long.

According to Seal Beach Marine Safety Chief Joe Bailey, the two grey whales were either scratching barnacles off in the shallow water or feeding themselves. Bailey updated the city council about the incident during Monday night’s meeting.

Onlookers were less sure about the exact time the second whale departed Seal Beach but by Tuesday morning, both whales were ocean bound. The huge whales swimming in the shallow water prompted only mild concern from biologists and other marine authorities. The whales “seemed to be having a good time” and never seemed trapped or having difficulty, officials say.

While it may indeed be unusual to see whales in such shallow water, the marine experts say that it’s not unheard of, given the whales migratory patterns of leading their calves back north along the southern California coast.

Whale of a visit to Seal Beach