The following is a letter to the editor, published here as opinion. The opinions expressed in this letter are those of the writer. If you would like to submit a letter to the editor feel free to write to [email protected].
March is upon us and while winter is still making itself known with a recent series of storms, spring is right around the corner. How could you miss it? The days are getting longer and – surest sign of all – the gray whales are visiting our shores again.
These schoolbus-size leviathans honor our neighborhood twice each year as they circuit through on their annual 12,000 mile migration – the longest in the mammalian kingdom – between their feeding grounds off Alaska and their breeding and birthing grounds in Mexico. Right now the grays are heading north, many with new calves in tow, and in Mendocino County that means it’s time for the Whale Festival!
The fast-growing Noyo Center For Marine Science in Fort Bragg has prepared an array of activities for this year’s festival season that are sure to inform, entertain and astonish visitors about the extraordinary lives and capacities of the gray whales and the many other cetaceans that visit our coast. Putting an emphasis on education, trained docents will be guiding visitors on free “Whale Walks” along the headlands every Friday, Saturday and Sunday between March 4 – 26. Participants will have a good chance to view gray whales and their calves and, frequently, humpbacks and other whales can be spotted too.
The Noyo Center’s downtown Discovery Center, which always has a variety of permanent exhibits on display, will also be hosting noted area author/artist Larry Foster who will be available to discuss, sell and sign copies of his beautiful work The Art of Discovering Whales on March 18. On March 19 whale acoustics expert Jeff Jacobsen will play and discuss humpback whale songs he recently recorded off the Mendocino Coast. For those preferring to participate remotely, the Noyo Center will host a Zoom presentation on March 15 on Whale Safe, a technology designed to prevent whale/ship collisions; on March 23 area marine experts Scott and Tree Mercer will discuss the gray whale migration.
Marine science enthusiasts who followed the exciting story of a Noyo Center-led effort last summer to recover the remains of a deceased juvenile sperm whale will not want to miss a presentation on this fascinating saga by the Noyo Center’s Stranding Coordinator, Sarah Grimes and Jeff Jacobsen at the Slack Tide Cafe on N. Harbor Drive on March 18. The presentation will include video footage of the whale’s present location off Noyo Harbor, where it continues to be studied as a valuable example of “whale fall.” One of the participants in the recovery effort, local vessel captain Sean Thornton, will also be offering a whale watching trip aboard the Telstar on March 16, weather permitting. Wrapping up the week on March 19 at the cafe will be Christopher Oates and his musical marionettes presenting the “Ocean Commotion Show” at 11 am and 1 pm. All ages welcome – $5/person at the door.
And there’s more. The Crow’s Nest, the Noyo Center’s seaside facility on the bluffs, will offer a variety of exhibits throughout the Festival season. Of particular interest will be the skeleton of a beaked whale that washed ashore at Jug Handle beach last spring.This elusive and extremely rare denizen of the deep sea is rarely seen alive and only a few deceased specimens have ever been recovered. Also on display will be a baleen rack from a young humpback that stranded here last summer as well as the mandible (jaw bone) of a blue whale that died here in 2009 in a ship collision. Its death subsequently inspired the establishment of the Noyo Center. Docents and staff will be on hand to tell amazing (but true) tales about each of these fascinating animals.
For up-to-date information about specific times, dates and locations of each of these events please check the Noyo Center’s website: www.noyocenter.org/whale-festival-2023.
Oh, and about that gray whale migration. To honor the whales’ epic 12,000 mile round trip journey past our shores, the Noyo Center is trying to raise $12,000 in March to support its work on marine science research and education. They’ll track the campaign’s progress by symbolically showing a mom and newborn gray whale calf’s progress on a map of the route. Care to join the Gray Whale Migration Challenge and make a donation to get mom and the calf to their goal? Visit www.noyocenter.org/gray-whale-challenge to donate to the challenge.
Peter O’Donohue is on the board of the Noyo Center for Marine Science.