Compass readings yelled out at the Point Vicente Interpretive Center in Rancho Palos Verdes are no longer for military maneuvers at the former shooting range. Volunteers are tracking gray whales.
Whale watching season began this month, and as of last week, volunteers say they have spotted 28 whales, twice as many as the same time last year, as they migrate from Alaska to the warm waters of Baja to mate and give birth.
"That was seeming to indicate, as much as you can predict these things, that we'll have a good whale-watching season," said Carol Carson, the whale watch coordinator for the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro.
Carson could not offer an explanation for the heavy turnout. "Being wild, they do what they want to do," she said.
An estimated 24,000 whales make the annual journey, but last year, Point Vicente observers spotted only about 2,000. The rest of the whales go around Catalina Island.
From December to May, volunteers staff the interpretive center's balcony from dawn to dusk, seven days a week, looking for the 40-ton, 40-foot-long mammals as they spray, jump and dive their way south.
When volunteers spot whales, they yell out the compass readings found on their $800 Fujinon marine binoculars so that others can verify the sightings.