By Daniel Larios
Special to The Lookout
February 5, 2014 -- There could be a good chance to spot a Pacific gray whale swim past Santa Monica this month, and Heal the Bay’s Pier Aquarium will try to make it easier.
With record-breaking numbers of whale sightings along the Southern California coast this year, the aquarium will hold its “Whale of a Weekend” celebration on February 15 and 16 from 12:30 to 5 p.m. at the Marine Science Center on the beach level of the Pier.
A wildlife observation station at the west end of the wooden structure will be staffed by aquarium naturalists and representatives of the American Cetacean Society, according to aquarium officials.
“Those who stop by are welcome to look for whales through binoculars and field guides will be on hand to identify local birds and other marine life,“ said Randi Parent, the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium’s outreach manager.
The Pacific gray whale will be completing one of the first legs of the longest migrations of any species, traveling from Alaska to the warm waters of Baja Mexico. Once they arrive at the great lagoons of the Sea of Cortez, they will give birth to their calves.
By April, they will begin heading back north on the return trip to their summer feeding grounds in the cool Artic Sea. This migration takes the whales past the Santa Monica Pier -- sometimes within viewing distance from the west end observation deck.
Visitors to the aquarium will also get a closer look at the largest creature on earth. During the Whale of a Weekend, they can “feel the heft of a whale rib, check out bristly baleen and try on a layer of simulated whale blubber for warmth,” Parent said.
The event will also provide interesting facts about these gentle giants during story time, film screenings and presentations about the gray whale’s migration habits.
Kids will get the chance to have their faces painted and make a visor in the shape of a whale that they can take home.
City Councilmember Bob Holbrook, who has been a veteran whale watcher for years, has seen the annual migration from both California and Mexico.
“One time I was in a small bay in Ensenada, Mexico and three of them swam up to a group of people playing in the water, who didn’t see them coming,” Holbrook said
“When they did notice, I haven’t seen anyone run that fast out of the water in my life,” he chuckled.
There won’t be that close a call during the Whale of a Weekend, but visitors might get a glimpse of the great behemoths swimming by.
Aquarium admission is free for children 12 and under when accompanied by an adult. For those 13 and older, admission is $5. For groups of 10 or more, the fee is $3 per person.
For more information about the event, call (310) 393-6149 or visit Heal the Bay’s website at www.healthebay.org/smpa.