Happy National Park Week from aboard National Geographic Quest in the Channel Islands National Park. Tweet tweet…the ship’s morning larks were rewarded today. The clear horizon and calm state of the sea allowed us to see Santa Barbara Island to the south, quite a rare phenomenon. We could hear the barks of California sea lions from the shore, and squadrons of cormorants pursued schools of sardines outside the kelp beds. And the coup de grace… is that….yes it is… it’s…three gray whales, just 100 meters off the stern of National Geographic Quest! Two adults and one calf engaged in what appeared to be feeding behaviors in 37 feet of water. My oh my, how the calf has grown in the months since its birth in the lagoons of Central Baja–twenty feet plus is a rough estimate, compared to a length of approximately twelve feet at birth. A successful six thousand mile migration hinges on this kind of rapid growth and development.

Guests headed to shore later in the morning for a number of different hiking options on the island, including coastal plain walks, canyon hikes amongst the oaks, and for the hale and  hearty….hikes to the Torrey Pines grove. These pines are endemic to the island, and they are considered remnants of the last Ice Age. The removal of introduced grazers from the island has improved the health of the grove dramatically in the past 20 years, evidenced by the sapling growth. These pines were just one of the many endemics encountered by hiking groups today. Endemic organisms are one of the many memorable strands that make excursions to the Channel Islands so special.