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Whale watching from shore? Volunteering may be just for you

January 2, 2009 |  9:35 am

A humpback whale breaches.

Imagine yourself propped in a chair with one or two others atop the Palos Verdes Peninsula, gazing out over the windswept Pacific. It has become wintry and cold and there are no other people around, and no boats on the water.

Then it happens: a humpback whale launches out of the ocean and breaches dozens of times in succession. You're in awe, but you take careful note of what's happening.

Then the whale sinks out and you resume your duties, awaiting more sightings, perhaps of a lone gray whale, of a majestic blue whale,  of thousands of dolphins or perhaps a great white shark or a pod of orcas.

This is the day in the life of a volunteer for the Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project, which is in its 26th season of tracking numbers and trends -- and in dire need of volunteers.

(Schedules are flexible but there is an urgent need for Sunday mornings, Mondays and Fridays.)

No experience is necessary; you'll be trained on site and meet other nice people with a deep appreciation for the ocean and its mammalian critters. Spotters man the patio from sunrise to sundown at the Point Vicente Interpretive Center, and have already counted more than 60 gray whales during a migration that has yet to reach its peak locally.

Soon mother whales will begin appearing with calves. These pairs generally travel closer to shore and spotters may note mothers directing her calves or protecting them from  perceived threats.

Also spotted, occasionally, are blue whales, fin whales, minke whales, sperm whales, killer whales and many species of dolphins; and, of course, California sea lions, which abound off Southern California.

If this seems like a rewarding way to spend a few hours one or two days each week please contact Alisa Schulman-Janiger, the program's director, at (310) 519-8963 or via e-mail at janiger@bcf.usc.edu.

You won't regret it.

-- Pete Thomas

A blue whale reveals its fluke.

Photos: A humpback whale breaches (top photo, by Spencer Weiner/Los Angeles Times)  and a blue whale reveals its fluke (Credit: Fred Benko/Condor Express). Both species of whales, and many others, can be seen off Southern California