DANA POINT, Calif. - A group of whale watchers off Dana Point in Southern California got a front-row seat to an incredible moment in nature on Monday: a gray whale giving birth.
"Yesterday afternoon we celebrated a new year and a new baby whale!" Capt. Dave's Dana Point Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari shared on Facebook on Tuesday, as the tour company posted video of the spectacular event.
The group explained that the encounter was the first in the more than 25 years of whale watching for the crew. "This is a first for all of us," the tour leader was heard saying on the intercom to the passengers on the boat. "We've never seen this actually happen."
Spectators got to look on as the bonding between cow and calf happened instantaneously, and the newborn began using its swimming skills in the great new world it had entered, as it gracefully glided around and on top of its mother.
And it got even more spectacular when the majestic 35-foot mother seemed to share the joy of her arrival with the passengers and crew of the tour boat.
"The female even brought her calf over to our boats as if to show off her offspring and say hello!" the group said.
In a previous post, Capt. Dave's explained that the encounter was preceded by the sight of blood in the water, which the whale experts explained, "is not usually a good sign. It often means something predatory."
The boat’s captain, Gary Brighouse, described how the mood changed drastically once they realized the miracle before them.
"It went from horror to pure joy and astonishment," Brighouse told the Orange County Register. "It moved me to my core." he said.
The experts noted that it’s not uncommon for gray whales to give birth as they migrate from Alaska to Mexico. But the mammals do prefer to give birth once they reach the warm and protected lagoons of Baja California, Mexico, where they can find safety from orcas and other predators. The warm waters are also beneficial for calves who have not yet built up a thick layer of blubber for protection.
"There are times when calves just won't wait and are born during the migration," the tour group explained, and called it "an encounter we'll never forget."
The Associated Press contributed to this story, which was reported from Oakland, Calif.