LOS ANGELES -- The North Atlantic right whale is near extinction. Around the world, other whales like the sperm whale are endangered. The gray whales of California are a different story.
Gray whales are both majestic and mysterious and typically, they're a rare sight. But not this year.
Whale watch naturalist Bobbie Hedges says they're seeing a lot more gray whales along the California coast than is usual for this time of year.
"Five times better! Normally, they're just few and far between this early in the season," Hedges said.
From the shoreline, so-called whale census takers have spotted more gray whales heading south than they have in 30 years – nearly 500 since the beginning of December.
"We continue to see big numbers. We saw 18 gray whales yesterday, including two calves. I expect the peak in a weak or two,” said Alisa Schulman-Janiger, director of the Gray Whale Census Project, a group of volunteers who count whales migrating to Mexico.
Why are they coming closer to shore?"It could have to do with currents, it could have to do with temperature or salinity. It doesn't have to do with food because they don't eat on south- or north-bound migration," Schulman-Janiger said.
But it's not just gray whales. California is seeing more whales of every kind. And it’s breaking out boatloads of amateur whale watchers who, in some cases, have gotten too close.
Could the number of people out chasing the whales have an impact later on what route they take in the future?
"Absolutely! If you have a younger whale that is having a bad experience with boats it isn't going to want to choose that near shore route in the future," said Schulman-Janiger.
So far there is no evidence the gray whale population is one the rise. When the migration is over, scientists hope to have a better understanding of why these whales appear to have chosen the scenic route.