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Whale watches surface

Museum offers events to see many marine mammals passing through Orange Coast during January.

January 18, 2008|By Kelly Strodl

In the whale-watching community, January marks the peak of the spectator’s season, when the waters off the Orange Coast become prevalent with the passing-through of the largest mammals on the planet.

Well, for the next three months the Newport Harbor Nautical Museum brings an extensive overview of the history of these magnificent creatures, some of their prehistoric ancestors, and the history of whaling.

The four-part program includes multimedia and interactive elements that best examines the diversity of whales and other local marine mammals, said Curt Abdouch, the museum’s educational consultant.

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“We’re taking a look at what’s in the water outside our front doors,” Abdouch said.

That’s just what the first part of the program explores, the animals, be it seals, sea lions, whales or dolphins, that visit the waters of Newport Beach on a regular basis.

Also, the exhibit offers information about new visitors to the shores and explains how environmental changes are affecting those marine animals.

Another part of the presentation deals with the origins of whales and their ancestors. Their distant ancestors probably were land-based amphibians that developed special adaptations and habits that allowed them to be almost completely marine, Abdouch said.

Some of their findings along the coast of Newport Beach have been pretty strange to say the least.

The Desmostylus, a hippo-like animal complete with four tusks and columns of cylindrical teeth was believed to be both land- and water-based.

“If you imagine several rolls of pennies in your fist, stacked vertically,” that’s similar to the dental set-up of this large animal.

Also, “it’s so strange we don’t even know what it ate — was it a plant eater, scavenger, or a meat eater? With the tooth arrangement it’s anyone guess.”

A third portion of the exhibit covers the history of the whaling industry along the California coast. During the 1800s, hunters harpooned the whale often near land, which was called shore/lagoon whaling. That was their strategy because the much-sought-after California gray whales migrated close to shore.

It was an enormous industry from Northern California all the way to northern Mexico, about 20 whaling industries covered the waters near to land, Abdouch said.

And, finally, the presentation ends with a conservation celebration where “we look at the current status of certain populations,” Abdouch said.

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