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30th Annual Mendocino Whale Festival

Photo: Oregon State University Marine Mammal Program

There are over 70 species of whales. But we are going to talk about the gray whale.

At one time there were three gray whale populations; a north Atlantic population, now extinct, possibly the victims of over-hunting; a Korean or western north pacific stock now very depleted, also possibly from over-hunting; and the eastern north pacific population, the largest surviving population. Hunted to the edge of extinction in the 1850′s after the discovery of calving lagoons, and again in the early 1900′s with the introduction of floating factories, the gray whale was given partial protection in 1937 and full protection in 1947 by the International Whaling Commission (IWC). Since that time the eastern north Pacific gray whale population has made a remarkable recovery and now numbers between 19,000 – 23,000, probably close to their original population size.

The gray whale is a “coastal’ whale that migrates along the North American Pacific Coast between arctic seas and lagoons of Baja California, Mexico. Frequently visible from shore, gray whales provide a unique opportunity for land and boat observation, and commercial whale watching has become a major industry along its migration route. Visitors to the calving and breeding lagoons sometimes encounter the phenomenon of the “friendlies” gray whales that closely approach small boats and allow themselves to be touched by humans.

As Mendocino, Little River and Fort Bragg are getting ready for the upcoming 30th Annual Whale Festivals on March 3 & 4,  and March 10, 11 and March 19 & 20, 2012, little is known about how the whale wars before the Whale Festivals were started. Back in 1976, the cause was saving the remaining great whales from slaughter from Japanese and Russian commercial whale fleets. The inspiration started in June 1975, when a Greenpeace Foundation patrol boat located a Russian whaling fleet killing sperm whales off Cape Mendocino. They captured dramatic film footage of a canon-fired explosive harpoon flying over their heads and striking a whale. When the film was broadcast on national TV news, some Mendocino locals were inspired to get involved in stopping the whale slaughter off our shores. Byrd Baker, a local wood sculpture, was probably the one who came up with the name “Mendocino Whale War”. Byrd and friends began campaigning to save whales, and many other locals joined in on the effort. Byrd with other locals formed the Mendocino Whale War Association in December 1975, with Byrd as one of the founding trustees.

Major coverage began early in 1976 with a big feature in the Detroit Free Press which hyped the idea of Mendocino, a small coastal town in California declaring war on Japan and the Soviet Union. This was especially important since this was the height of the Cold War. The Mendocino Whale War Association organized the 1st Whale Festival in Mendocino in March 1976. The goal was to make the public aware that the whales were still being hunted.

Several years after the first whale festival, it was decided to continue on the efforts of the founding members to educate and keep the public informed on the ongoing situation of the whales.

Here is a list of activities of the upcoming whale festivals:

Mendocino (March 3, 4)

  • Wine Tasting (Saturday Only)

Taste some of Mendocino county’s finest varietals!

  • Chowder Tasting (Saturday Only)

Sample chowder from some of the best chefs on the coast!

  • Wildlife Art Exhibit at the Mendocino Art Center

Experience the talent of a variety of artists in one room!

  • Plein-air Display – (Weather permitting)

See artists in their natural habitat and in action!

  • Point Cabrillo Light Station Educational Activities

Learn about the coastal history and marine wildlife!

  • Mendocino Whale Festival Concert (Saturday)

An evening of wood and steel – former members of the Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers, Van Morrison Band, Jesse Colin Young Band, Sons of Champlin, Moby Grape, and more… Steven Bates, Roger Fritz, David Hayes, Gene Parsons, and James Preston. Show starts at 8:00 pm and continues to 11:00 pm. $25 at the door. Crown Hall, 45285 Ukiah Street, Mendocino. 800-585-0095.

Little River (March 10, 11)

  • Food & Wine Tasting

Taste Mendocino County wines paired with tasty hors d oeuvres!

  • Open Art Studios

Check out the art studios nestled in the redwoods!

  • Whale Watching Walks

Docent led walks to view the majestic California Gray Whale!

  • Sea Cave Kayak Tours

Explore a side of the coast most visitors don’t experience!

  • Photography Workshop

Learn from one of the coast’s most talented photographers!

  • Van Damm State Park

Experience the pygmy forest and fern trails!

  • Little River Inn Concert Series

John Reischman and the Jaybirds fashion a stylish, elegant take on bluegrass that is at once innovative and unadorned, sophisticated and stripped-down, happily old-fashioned, yet unselfconsciously new. A genial blend of story-telling and side-show humor provides the backdrop to their studied performance of original songs. With a unique traditional sound, the mandolin master and his band are known for powerful original songs and instrumentals, soaring vocals and refreshing interpretations of songs from the old-time repertoire presented with their own bluegrass twist. $20 Proceeds benefit the Albion Little River Volunteer Fire Department

Fort Bragg (March 17 & 18)

  • Chowder Tasting (Saturday Only)

At Town Hall, (corner of Main and Laurel Street) Saturday from 11:00 am until the chowder runs out.

  • Beer Tasting (Saturday Only)

At Eagles Hall, 210 N. Corry Street. Saturday from 12:00 – 5:00 pm. Local brewers are sampling some of their finest beers, and a few not yet on the market.

  • Whale Run and Walk

On Saturday, the race starts at 8:00 am at the Skunk Train parking lot.

  • Whale Cruises from Noyo Harbor

Whale watching from a charter boat offers a once in a lifetime viewing opportunity. Because whales are close to shore, sightings usually occur within a short 5-15 minute ride.

  • Whale Watching by Horseback

Miles of visually stunning beach, with migrating whales on the horizon — awesome! Call Ricochet Ridge Ranch for details, 707-964-7669 or 888-873-5777 (toll free)

  • Whale Watching at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens

Cozy up and view Gray Whales from the Garden’s rustic Cliff House, nestled into the bluff along the ocean’s edge — or stroll along the large expanse of ocean-side bluffs for unobstructed views. Hours: 9am-5pm.

  • Point Cabrillo Light House

Docents on hand with whale watching binoculars, 10am – 4pm on Saturday March 17 and Sunday March 18. Other activities: see a tide pool aquarium, light station history presentations, a life-size gray whale jigsaw puzzle for the kids, Audubon Society-led morning bird identification walks. Hot drinks, cookies, lunch available for purchase in the lighthouse lobby.

For dinner phone 707-937-2810 or online at urban spoon.

For lodging phone 707-937-2810 or online at reservations.

For spa reservations phone 707-937-2810 or online at Indigo Eco-Spa.


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