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Whale of an Outing

Festival at Sycamore Cove Park an ideal way to see migrating cetaceans.


There'll be lots of opportunities for cetacean-watching--and some music and history to boot--at Sycamore Cove Park on Sunday as the 2001 Whale Festival unfolds.

Whale-watching at the park is like having a seat on Main Street for the Memorial Day parade or on the 50-yard line for the big game. And this weekend is the right time to see the migrating mammals--last year, 20 gray whales were thoughtful enough to put in an appearance for this event. Visitors can bring binoculars, but the whales are easily visible to the naked eye as they pass by just outside the surf line.

Gray whales, which average 40 feet in length, migrate annually from the Bering Sea to the warm waters of Baja California, where they mate in secluded lagoons, usually giving birth to calves that can weigh up to 2,500 pounds. Protected since 1946 after being hunted nearly to extinction, there are now approximately 20,000 gray whales.

Cruising the ocean still has its downside, however. These migrating cetaceans bring their own bad neighbors with them--a group of hungry and mean killer whales always on the prowl for a stray. In addition to the whales and the occasional orca, a pod of black Pacific bottlenose dolphins that look just like Flipper also frequent the area, giving the occasional bodysurfing demonstration.

This event is the brainchild of state park interpreter Cara O'Brien, who was going through the files one day and noticed that a Whale Festival used to take place in the '60s. She revived the event, and this will be the fifth annual.

"The attendance for this event has grown every year," O'Brien said. "Last year, 3,500 people showed up, and they're expecting 4,500 this time around."

You can park at Sycamore Cove or across the street in Sycamore Canyon Park. A shuttle will provide transportation across PCH.

There will be entertainment throughout the day by Flash Packet, costumed reenactors who will recount the history of whaling with songs, skits and audience interaction. Julie Tumamait is a Chumash interpreter who will describe the lifestyles of the locals long before all this. And Ohana Puanahi will demonstrate Hawaiian and Polynesian music and dance.

Ventura folk singer J. Peter Boles will play his acoustic country-folk tunes. Boles, who just released a self-titled CD, has a repertoire of about 300 songs.

There will be lots of interactive stuff for kids at this event, including a sheriff's helicopter and a fire truck. Several of the expected 40 booths will sell food, with everything from kettle corn to coffee to vegetarian cuisine. There will even be prizes, with the winner of a drawing taking home a whale print by Christian R. Lassen.

But the main focus is awareness of the marine environment and an appreciation for those big gray travelers. Naturalists will be on hand to explain the passing seagoing scene, and various marine-related agencies--including the Surfrider Foundation, the Ventura County Maritime Museum and the Channel Islands Marine Resource Institute--will be staffing booths.

Sycamore Cove Park is approximately 15 miles south of Oxnard or five miles past Mugu Rock. It's a unit within Point Mugu State Park, which also includes Sycamore Canyon Park, Thornhill Broome Park and La Jolla Canyon.


The fifth annual Whale Festival at Sycamore Cove Park, 9000 W. Pacific Coast Highway, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday; free, but $3 for parking; 488-1827.


Bill Locey can be reached by e-mail at

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