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Whale Insight

March 28, 1994|TERESA WILLIS

WEST HILLS — For six weeks, the fourth-graders at Pomelo Drive Elementary School weren't able to escape whales.

They learned about them in science class, wrote poems about them for English and created multiplication and division problems using the creature's weight.

And then, armed with binoculars, cameras and an assortment of packed lunches, 122 students, their teachers and 13 parents set sail from Cabrillo Marina in San Pedro to meet the object of their lessons.

Their focus: The Pacific gray whale, which migrates from Baja California every winter and returns to the Mexican coast in early spring traveling nearly 12,000 miles round trip.

"This is fun . . . (but) all I'm seeing is water," said a disappointed Robert Vanlingen after about an hour of watching and waiting.

Miles out at sea, under overcast skies, the students aboard the Monte Carlo and Islander spotted the first signs of the whales--a "footprint" in the water. A whale traveling under water leaves what are known as footprints, when the vertical flapping motion of its tail causes the water to smooth out.

The waiting was over at noon, when a gray whale's fluke glided upward out of the ocean. "Free Willy, free Willy," the students yelled.

Cameras clicked and students jockeyed for the choice spots to view the gray whales. For others, the excitement quickly wore off.

"It's kind of hard to get a picture when everyone's like crowded around," said Liska Jacobs, 10. "I just wish they'd start breaching. I want to see how big the whale really is."

Liska and the entire crew got their wish when one of the two gray whales that had been entertaining them leaped into the air and fell backward.

"Whales don't breach often when they're migrating," a tour guide said over a loudspeaker. "It's been a good two years since I've seen that."

Only one hat flew overboard, and though several students complained of feeling nauseous, no one became seasick and many were eager to return.

"I think I'm going to come back 10 times," Steven Willet proclaimed.

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