Guess who’s coming to town? That’s right, the gray whales, and we have some tips for finding them

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You think that’s some sort of fluke? You’re right. A gray whale turns tail during one of Captain Dave’s tours off Dana Point. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The winter gray whale season has begun in California, with dozens of sightings signaling bigger things to come, and peak numbers arriving in January, when the animals flee the cold Alaska winter for their warm breeding grounds off Mexico.

An estimated 20,000 to 25,000 Pacific gray whales migrate through the channels off Southern California every year. To check their comings and goings, tap into the daily tally taken by the American Cetacean Society, a nonprofit organization that has kept a gray whale census along the Palos Verdes Peninsula since 1984. To volunteer, call (310) 519-8963.

Meanwhile, whale-watching outfits are gearing up for the season, which really jumps into gear around Christmas (and makes for a good holiday gift).

Options are as close to Los Angeles as the local piers. Harbor Breeze Cruises runs tours out of Long Beach, near the Aquarium of the Pacific, usually at noon and 3 p.m. Adults, $45; children 3-11 $40; under 3 free. Info: (562) 432-4900.

Dana Point Harbor, 90 minutes south of L.A., is always a hot spot of whale-watching excursions. Captain Dave’s Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari fleet offers a Plexiglas bow that allows passengers to climb down beneath the water’s surface for an aquarium view. Adults: $65; children 1-12, $45; infants, up to 12 months, $20. Info: (949) 488-2828.

An hour north of Los Angeles, in Oxnard, Island Packers and Channel Islands Sportfishing Center offer whale-watching excursions. Island Packers offers 3 1/2-hour trips with morning and afternoon departures from Channel Islands, Oxnard and Ventura harbors. Adults: $38; seniors 55 and older: $34; children 3-12: $28; 3 and under: free. Island Packers, (805) 642-1393.

Channel Islands Sportfishing Center provides half-day morning whale-watching excursions out of Channel Islands Harbor. Adults: $50; seniors: $40; children under 12: $30. Channel Islands, (805) 382-1612.

Tips for first-timers:

  • Dress in layers
  • Wear skid-resistant shoes
  • Morning departures are generally less rocky than afternoon trips
  • Bring sunscreen, even in winter

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