Natural La Jolla: It’s a new year and a new migration season!


Spending an afternoon in La Jolla at the seaside just watching for wildlife can give you some calm after a hectic holiday season. Many of the animals in our area are gearing up for migrations, breeding seasons and spring.

January is when we start to see southbound gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) in big numbers. Some of them are even traveling with calves, born early before their mothers could reach the safety of the calving lagoons in Baja, Mexico. We can watch one of the great migrations on the planet, right from our shoreline!

Thousands of whales will make the migration, traveling more than 10,000 miles a year, from cold Arctic waters south to Mexico and back again. Scanning the horizon during the late afternoon, both nearshore and offshore, is the best way to spot a blow. You’ll be able to spot several whales passing by, swimming alone or in small groups. You may even get to see them breach out of the water. The bluffs in La Jolla give a great vantage point.

Gray whales have an elongated and pointed head, covered in mottled gray and white skin with barnacles. They lack a dorsal fin, so you’ll only see a long back as the whale dives down. They also have short pectoral fins, unlike humpback whales (which may also be seen here at this time of year).

In the early evening, pelicans roost along Coast Boulevard across from Goldfish Point. They are developing breeding plumage with their pouches becoming bright red and their eyes turning a light blue. They’ll nest offshore in March. The sea lions have been a raucous bunch lately with large groups mingling on the outer edges of Ellen Browning Scripps Park near the Bridge Club.

And once again, seal pupping season has begun with some very fat seals lying on the beach at the Children’s Pool. The pups will begin arriving soon. It’s always a sight to see the little ones emerge right there on the sand and then take a swim with their mothers very shortly after being born. We have a lot to look forward now as our days become longer into the spring, and a lot of wildlife to see.

Kelly Stewart is a marine biologist with The Ocean Foundation who writes about the flora and fauna of La Jolla. She may be reached by e-mail: