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the water and splashes back down. A 50-foot, 30-ton animal shooting out of the water leaves a lasting impression.


The whale show continues for months, but the annual migration finale hits the Carpinteria coast in April. By then, the pregnant females have given birth and spent a month or two teaching their newborns the necessary skills to make the journey north. “My favorite time of the year is April because you get to see moms bring babies back up̶the main purpose of the migration,” said Kurto. According to Island Packers’ captain Anthony Lombardi, the whale mothers are no-nonsense about the trip north. “Whenever the babies get curious about the boat, the mom says, ‘no, no, no, it’s not play time anymore.’”


The mothers understand the long journey is full of risks. Along the way, pods of killer whales, including those that occasionally patrol the Santa Barbara Chan- nel, may attack. With thousands of years of evolution- ary refining, the killer whales predation skills are as sharp as their piercing teeth. Gray whale calves are easy prey̶if they can be separated from their watchful mothers̶and killer whales swim in circles


century, gray whales were harpooned and stripped of their blubber, which was sold as fuel for lamps and heating.


attempting to pry the mother-baby pairs apart. When overwhelmed by the seasoned predators, the mother gray whales are often left with no means to defend their calves, “They seem to be so frightened, they just stop. It’s awful,” said Perryman. Killer whale mortalities occur each year and are a natural part of the whales’ annual migration, but the most vicious, insatiable predator in the long history of gray whales is the human being. Hunted fiercely throughout the Eastern Pacific in the second half of the 19th


With a reputation for fighting once harpooned̶ thus earning the moniker “devil-fish” in the whaling world̶grays avoided intense whaling pressure until the 1850s, when Charles Melville Scammon found an entrance for his whaling fleet into a birthing lagoon in Baja California. The whalers turned the tranquil maternity ward into a slaughterhouse, plunging the population to near extinction in a matter of a few decades. By the 1920s, “whaling of any consequence” had ended for the gray whales, because the Eastern Pacific population was “economically extinct,” accord-


22 CARPINTERIAMAGAZINE


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