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White Eyes – The World’s Best Known Blue Whale

Once again White Eyes enters the picture as he is seen again in the Santa Barbara Channel off the coast of Santa Barbara, California on July 7, 2016.

With roughly 10,000 Blue whales left on planet earth they represent a shell of their former population which numbered in the hundreds of thousands. Blue whales are primarily solitary migratory animals and due to their diminished numbers there are few places in the world where we get to see the same individual on both ends of their annual migration. Of all the places where we can see this the Gulf of California also known as the Sea of Cortez down in Mexico and the waters off the coast of California represent the most reliable example. Not that all individuals from California go to the Gulf of California or visa versa, but many do. White Eyes is the most often sighted whale in the past quarter century or so in the winter down in Mexican waters. I should know as I myself have seen him eleven of the past twenty years in my work off Baja California. In fact my now twenty year old daughter Delphi first drew me a picture of “White Eyes our best Blue whale” when she was two years old!

I had seen White Eyes, who is an adult male, four years running from 2012-2015 but did not see him in thirty five days at sea off Baja California this past 2016 season. So it was with joy that I learned that the Condor Express operating a whale watch out of Santa Barbara saw and photographed him on July 7th.

White Eyes who carries a very unique fluke pattern which is dark with a large distinct white patch on each fluke lobe, surely must be one of the most recognizable or easily identifiable Blue whales to be found anywhere in the world. In face he appeared briefly in the recently release Oceanic Preservation Society film “Racing Extinction”. He also will appear in the BBC special due out this fall called “Wild West”. In both cases he dutifully showed up for film crews which were filming off my boat down in Baja California. He seems to be seen about the same amount of years both off Baja and upper California and in a few of those years he has been seen in both places. White Eyes shows us a fine example of habitat preference, usually choosing to make the long swim back and forth between the same general places each year, when other Blue whales vary their migration more. In fact recently a Blue whale was re-sighted by myself down in Baja, that had previously been seen only twenty seven years earlier by the folks at the Mingan Island Cetacean Study, who are based in Canada but used to work the winter season in Baja.

White Eyes also goes by the name “Bunny” in California and the locals in Baja call him “Calabaza”, but after 20 years of calling him White Eyes it is hard to think of him having any other name. Plus I’m confident that his first name was White Eyes, coined by Richard Sears down in Baja in the early 1990’s. He has become the Great Whale Conservancy’s poster child. I have seen him vertical lunge feeding, swimming after females on numerous occasions, and one time pulling his fluke as hi in the air when diving as any Sperm whale does. I sure wish White Eyes the best of fortune in negotiating the busy shipping lanes off the coast of California where far too often the paths of these majestic animals and those of the mega ships merge. We will look eagerly for White Eyes this coming February and March in what will be our 21st season down in Baja.

Attached you will find an image of him taken by Robert Perry on July 7th of this year as well as one taken by me just before sunset in February of 2014 down in Baja. You can play the role of matching the flukes of these two images and coming to the inevitable conclusion that both are of the same individual, the one and only White Eyes. We hope to see White Eyes for many years to come, and with Blue whales believed to live from 70-90 years old perhaps we will.

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