The whales are easily visible from the park's bluffs as they trek south to the Baja lagoons from the waters off Alaska and back. According to Karl Pierce, public information officer for the park, the whales typically travel within a mile or two of the coast "“ just outside the kelp forests "“ when heading south, though their return trip is often too far from shore to view from Cabrillo.
Pierce said good weather would help with the viewing, as most sightings are of spouts, not actual whales. The choppier the seas, the more difficult it is to catch a glimpse of the massive mammals en route.
Not to be outdone by some of the best land-based whale watching in San Diego, the tide pools play a big part in the festival. While the whales never enter the park and are not considered a park resource, the rocky intertidal zone is a valuable part of Cabrillo open to the public year-round.
"We thought it was important to highlight [the tide pools] more, but given the long history of whale watching here, we didn't want to do away with it," Pierce said. And due to a lack of funds, he continued, it has not been possible to hold separate events.
While there will not be tours of the tidal area, there will be ranger staff and volunteer tide pool educators on hand to answer questions.
"[The volunteers'] function will be "¦ to help visitors understand what they're seeing and spot tide pool life but also to protect the tide pools," Pierce said.
To encourage visitors to check out the tidal area, a free shuttle will run between the monument and the parking area for the tide pools between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.
The two-day event also offers lectures and films among its highlights.
"On the Edge of Land and Sea: The Tide Pools of Cabrillo National Monument" will run at 10 a.m. both days. The 21-minute film, produced in-house by the National Park Service's media specialists at their Harpers Ferry Center with contributions from park staff and volunteers, was debuted at last year's festival and features footage from Cabrillo's tide pools.
"First Breath: Gray Whale," a film by Hardy Jones and Julia Whitty, will show at 4 p.m. both days.
The films are just one part of the event, called "A Whale of a Sea-lebration" by organizers, that focuses on the annual 12,000-mile migration of Pacific gray whales from Alaska, past Point Loma, to their mating and birthing lagoons in Baja California.
"They are headed to get that Volkswagen outside of them," Pierce said of the pregnant females, who give birth to calves up to 10 feet in length.
Park volunteers and staff will be on duty to help visitors spot whales at lookout points and explore and understand the tide pools.
Low tides of 0.0 are scheduled to take place at 11:48 a.m. on Saturday and -0.6 at 12:46 p.m. on Sunday.
On both days there will be guest speakers focusing on subjects related to the gray whale migration, the tide pools and plant and animal life in the intertidal zone. Saturday's include:
"¢ Birch Aquarium's "Life on the Rocks is No Day at the Beach" presentation about survival strategies of intertidal invertebrates at 11 a.m.
"¢ Rosemary Troian of NOAA Marine Fisheries Service will discuss the whales and their migration at 1 p.m.
"¢ Bernardo Alps of the American Cetacean Society will talk about gray whale behavior in the San Ignacio Lagoon at 3 p.m.
Sunday's events include four presentations:
"¢ "Life on the Rocks" by Birch and the NOAA talk about migration will be repeated at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., respectively.
"¢ SeaWorld's education department will talk about whale diversity at noon.
"¢ Serge Dedina, executive director of Wild Coast, will talk about his book, "Saving the Gray Whale," and experiences with the whales in Baja California, Mexico, at 3 p.m.
At 2 p.m. on both days, the interactive puppet show "A Whale of a Tale," will be presented for children. The story follows a mother and her calf up the coast on their migration.
More than 9,000 are expected over the weekend, and public transportation is recommended. Admission to the event is included with the normal entrance fee of $5 per vehicle and $3 for motorcyclists, bicycles and walk-ins.
Cabrillo National Monument is located on Point Loma at the end of Catalina Boulevard. For additional information, call (619) 557-5450 or visit www.nps.gov/cabr.