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Gray whales arriving early in record numbers

December 28, 2011 | 10:14 am

Gray whales have shown up in record numbers

Gray whales have shown up so early for their migration through Southern California waters that they are astounding many longtime observers.

Whale spotters stationed at Point Vicente in Rancho Palos Verdes have logged a record 163 sightings so far in December, more than they have seen at this point in 28 years.

By this point in December last year, the observers had spotted 26 gray whales. The previous record was 133, observed in 1996.

PHOTOS: Whale-watching gallery

The season doesn't typically start until the end of December, but the huge number of early arrivals is delighting tourists, boaters and divers as the animals travel south along the coast to Mexico.

"I've seen some pretty good years but never anything like this," said Joyce Daniels, a volunteer who heads the whale census from noon to dusk.

Volunteers for the American Cetacean Society/Los Angeles Chapter Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project work from sunup to sundown between Dec. 1 and May 15, using binoculars and high-powered spotting scopes to detect whales and log their numbers from an overlook at the Point Vicente Interpretive Center.

On Monday alone, she said, there were more than two dozen whales spotted -- so many, that she was having trouble figuring out which whale was which.

"It's a real adrenaline rush to have so many whales," she said.

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-- Tony Barboza in San Pedro

Photo: A gray whale reveals its fluke while diving Tuesday. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

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