Whale-watchers fear population dip

gray-whale_120410

Gazing past the rolling whitecaps in the middle of San Diego’s whale-watching season, boat captain Bill Reese was dismayed by what he wasn’t seeing.

“Where are the whales?” said Reese. “Where are the whales?”

Long held as an environmental success story after being taken off the endangered list in 1994, California gray whales draw legions of fans into boats or atop cliffs to watch the leviathans lumber down the coast to spawning grounds in Baja.

But whale-watching skippers became alarmed after sightings dropped from 25 a day in good years to five a day this season. Such anecdotal evidence has left conservationists and state officials worried about the whale’s future, especially now.

The federal government’s monitoring of the mammals has fallen off in recent years. And the International Whaling Commission in June will consider allowing 1,400 gray whales to be hunted over the next decade.

The decision will rely on a report that says the population is flourishing