Gray whale spotted swimming in this Central California harbor. Take a look

A gray whale has been spotted swimming around the Morro Bay Harbor over the last few days.

On Thursday, the whale was seen surfacing periodically in the area near Morro Rock, to the delight of paddle boarders and kayakers on the water and visitors on the shore.

Little is known about the whale, such as its age, sex, body condition or why it swam into Morro Bay, but the Marine Mammal Center told The Tribune that it doesn’t appear in distress. It was first noticed on Sunday.

A gray whale surfaces near a kayaker in the Morro Bay Harbor near Morro Rock on Thursday, March 14, 2024. The whale has been been spotted in the harbor for the last few days. Laura Dickinson/ldickinson@thetribunenews.com
A gray whale surfaces near a kayaker in the Morro Bay Harbor near Morro Rock on Thursday, March 14, 2024. The whale has been been spotted in the harbor for the last few days. Laura Dickinson/ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

The center was keeping a close eye on the whale, though, and deployed staff to ensure it was not swimming too far into the estuary to get stuck in the mudflats, according to Giancarlo Rulli, Marine Mammal Center public relations manager.

“It’s not a rare occurrence for gray whales to frequent Morro Bay, especially during their annual migration,” Rulli wrote in an email to The Tribune on Thursday. “The center’s team has not observed any abnormal behavior that would pose cause for concern.”

Justin Viezbicke, the California Stranding Network coordinator for the National Marine Fisheries Service, said the agency is also keeping a close eye on the whale as it remains in Morro Bay.

“Typically, these whales after a few days of exploring will make their way back out and continue their journey, and so we often just try to keep an eye on and let them do their thing,” he wrote in an email to The Tribune. “While harbors and areas like this are not ideal hangouts for whales, they are in their natural habitat, so hopefully this whale can find its own way out over the next few days/week and that people can do their best to maintain a safe distance.”

A gray whale swims in the Morro Bay Harbor on Thursday, March 14, 2024. The whale has been been spotted in the harbor for the last few days. Paul LaRiviere
A gray whale swims in the Morro Bay Harbor on Thursday, March 14, 2024. The whale has been been spotted in the harbor for the last few days. Paul LaRiviere

Whale attracts onlookers to Morro Bay

On Thursday, the whale attracted a crowd of tourists and locals to the Morro Bay T Pier, where people were eager to spot the whale’s spout or flippers in the estuary.

“It’s waving its flippers and just enjoying the view,” said Shell Beach resident Angela Pericic while she watched the whale.

“It’s pretty amazing,” said Steve Bourgholtzer, a resident of Los Angeles who was watching the whale on Thursday. “This could just be a safe haven for it.”

Ron Dickey of Los Osos said it was the first time he’d seen a whale in Morro Bay after living in the area for more than three decades.

A gray whale swims in the Morro Bay Harbor on Thursday, March 14, 2024. The whale has been been spotted in the harbor for the last few days. Paul LaRiviere
A gray whale swims in the Morro Bay Harbor on Thursday, March 14, 2024. The whale has been been spotted in the harbor for the last few days. Paul LaRiviere

Gray whales often seen migrating along California coast

Gray whales, which are listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act, are often seen along San Luis Obispo County’s coast during their journey from their birthing and breeding grounds near Baja, Mexico, to Arctic feeding grounds.

The whales can measure up to about 49 feet long and weigh 90,000 pounds, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They’re typically seen traveling in shallow coastal waters alone or in small groups aggregating around feeding and breeding grounds, according to NOAA’s website on the species.

People watch and take photos of a gray whale swimming in the Morro Bay Harbor near Morro Rock on Thursday, March 14, 2024. The whale has been been spotted in the harbor for the last few days. Laura Dickinson/ldickinson@thetribunenews.com
People watch and take photos of a gray whale swimming in the Morro Bay Harbor near Morro Rock on Thursday, March 14, 2024. The whale has been been spotted in the harbor for the last few days. Laura Dickinson/ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

Gray whales are most threatened by entanglement in fishing gear or vessel strikes, NOAA says. Disturbance from whale watching activities, ocean noise, habitat degradation and climate change are other threats the species faces, according to NOAA.

“The center’s team is asking boaters, kayakers, surfers and watersport enthusiasts to please keep a close eye out on the whale’s whereabouts and keep a safe distance of at least 100 yards away,” Rulli wrote in his email.

A gray whale surfaces in the Morro Bay Harbor near Morro Rock on Thursday, March 14, 2024. The whale has been been spotted in the harbor for the last few days. Laura Dickinson/ldickinson@thetribunenews.com
A gray whale surfaces in the Morro Bay Harbor near Morro Rock on Thursday, March 14, 2024. The whale has been been spotted in the harbor for the last few days. Laura Dickinson/ldickinson@thetribunenews.com
A gray whale surfaces in the Morro Bay Harbor near Morro Rock on Thursday, March 14, 2024, as paddle boarders and kayakers look on. The whale has been been spotted in the harbor for the last few days. Laura Dickinson/ldickinson@thetribunenews.com
A gray whale surfaces in the Morro Bay Harbor near Morro Rock on Thursday, March 14, 2024, as paddle boarders and kayakers look on. The whale has been been spotted in the harbor for the last few days. Laura Dickinson/ldickinson@thetribunenews.com
A gray whale surfaces in the Morro Bay Harbor near Morro Rock on Thursday, March 14, 2024, as paddle boarders and kayakers look on. The whale has been been spotted in the harbor for the last few days. Laura Dickinson/ldickinson@thetribunenews.com
A gray whale surfaces in the Morro Bay Harbor near Morro Rock on Thursday, March 14, 2024, as paddle boarders and kayakers look on. The whale has been been spotted in the harbor for the last few days. Laura Dickinson/ldickinson@thetribunenews.com
A gray whale swims in the Morro Bay Harbor on Thursday, March 14, 2024. The whale has been been spotted in the harbor for the last few days. Paul LaRiviere
A gray whale swims in the Morro Bay Harbor on Thursday, March 14, 2024. The whale has been been spotted in the harbor for the last few days. Paul LaRiviere
A gray whale swims in the Morro Bay Harbor on Thursday, March 14, 2024. The whale has been been spotted in the harbor for the last few days. Paul LaRiviere
A gray whale swims in the Morro Bay Harbor on Thursday, March 14, 2024. The whale has been been spotted in the harbor for the last few days. Paul LaRiviere
A gray whale swims in the Morro Bay Harbor on Thursday, March 14, 2024. The whale has been been spotted in the harbor for the last few days. Paul LaRiviere
A gray whale swims in the Morro Bay Harbor on Thursday, March 14, 2024. The whale has been been spotted in the harbor for the last few days. Paul LaRiviere