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JAUNTS: Ventura County

Pleasures of the Harbor

Celebration will honor whale migration with photo exhibits, lectures and floating-lab excursions.

January 29, 1998|JANE HULSE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's peak season for the migratory gray whales as they cruise along our coast--reason enough for the Channel Islands Harbor to launch its Celebration of the Whales program this weekend.

For two months, the harbor pays tribute to these hefty creatures with a series of goings-on for whale and marine fans--everything from eyeballing whale photos to touching live sea animals aboard a floating marine lab.

Of course, the reason for all this hoopla is out in the water. The gray whales--about 22,000 of them--leave Alaska in October, swimming south to the warm-water lagoons of Baja California, where they give birth to their young. By the end of March they've cruised back through the Santa Barbara Channel on their return trip to Alaska.

If you can't take a whale-watching trip and see them glide through the water firsthand, you can still appreciate them from afar during Celebration of the Whales.

It begins today when the Ventura County Maritime Museum opens its newest exhibit: a photo display by Bob Talbot, well-known for his close-up photos of whales, dolphins and other marine critters.

His work may look familiar. His posters sell worldwide, his photos appear in such magazines as National Geographic, and his film credits include "Flipper" and three "Free Willy" movies.

Talbot and his crew, based in San Pedro, spend enormous amounts of time on and under the water waiting for just the right moment to photograph these animals, according to the museum's operations manager, David Leach.

The museum will have 30 poster-size photos including breeching whales, dolphins leaping out of the water, otters and seals, and an underwater shot of gray whales so close their eyelids are visible. The display will run through March 23.

In connection with the exhibit, the museum is also presenting a lecture series, "All About Whales," on weekends (Feb. 7, 21, 28, March 7, 14, 21, and 28). Speakers will cover everything from an update on J.J., the baby whale rescued by San Diego's Sea World, to a look at the gray whales that don't migrate. The lectures, $3 apiece, will be at 3 p.m. at the museum.

For those who want a touchy-feely ocean experience, the Channel Islands Marine Floating Lab will be docked near the museum Feb. 14, 15 and 16 for 30-minute harbor outings from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For $5, people can get a glimpse of what this new floating lab is all about. It opened Jan. 1 to take school kids and other groups on 3 1/2-hour excursions around the harbor to study marine life.

Under the direction of a naturalist, they lower nets and haul up sea animals--lobsters, rays, even sharks. A dredge pulls up sea stars, sand dollars, snails and worms from the ocean floor. The kids rotate through a series of stations where they measure water quality or examine plankton under a microscope.

On board the 60-foot boat are holding tanks for the day's catch, and shallow wells where kids can touch the sea creatures. When they're done, they return the animals to the ocean.

"People don't realize when they look at the surface of the water what's down below," said Frank Ursitti, who owns the boat and operates the program. "Everything we get, we get right in the harbor." Ursitti bought the boat in 1990 to run sportfishing charters, which he does when he's not using it as a floating lab.

For the short harbor outings on Feb. 14-16, passengers won't haul in any marine life, Ursitti said, but the touch tanks will be filled with about 20 varieties of sea animals. Passengers will be able to take a turn at the microscope to examine the tiny, squiggly plankton.

That same weekend, as part of Celebration of the Whales, the museum will mark its seventh anniversary with a number of activities: videos about whales and the Channel Islands, demonstrations by model ship builders, musical entertainment, kids doings including Capt. Mike Bradley's Pirate Academy. A U.S. Coast Guard vessel will be on hand, along with commercial fishing boats equipped for oil-spill cleanup.

BE THERE

Here are a few highlights from the two-month Celebration of Whales.

Thursday, opening of photographer Bob Talbot's exhibit at the Ventura County Maritime Museum, 2731 S. Victoria Ave., Oxnard. Museum hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursdays through Sundays. For information, call 984-6260.

Sunday-March 29, weekly farmers market at the harbor features nature-oriented kids corner.

Feb. 14-16, museum's anniversary events, including outings on the marine floating lab. For information on the lab trips, call 382-4563.

March 1, chowder cook-off at the harbor farmers market with sampling starting at noon; awards at 1 p.m. Information, 652-2089.

March 8, "Run With the Whales II," 10K race and one-mile fun run, at the Whale's Tail Restaurant, 8 a.m. Information, 382-8200.

March 15, Pacific Corinthian Yacht Club open house, 2-5 p.m. Information, 985-7292.

March 28, Anacapa Yacht Club open house, 2-5 p.m. Information, 984-0211.

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