California’s Big Sur may have been a place of refuge for famed novelist Jack Kerouac, but its rocky cliffs and dense kelp forests also provide temporary shelter to migrating marine life. Right now, dozens of gray whales and their young are cruising past the coastline, and the resulting aerial footage is truly something special. 

This rugged stretch of coastline is famed for its beautiful scenery, and the towering cliffs offer a sweeping view of the Pacific Ocean below – the perfect platform for watching whales go by.

This clip of a three females and their calves (with a cameo appearance by a bottlenose dolphin) was posted to Facebook by Blue Ocean Whale Watch – and it's not the only footage to emerge recently of gray whales cruising through the kelp.

Earlier this month, local wildlife and landscape photographer Tim Huntington, of Webnectar Photography, posted this serene clip of the huge marine mammals moving north through the kelp beds.

With a clifftop perch providing plenty of elevation, both clips were filmed without the use of drones, which are often prohibited in ecologically sensitive areas and protected habitats. "For most of my shooting, using a drone would be either violating national park rules, state park rules, FAA guidelines or marine sanctuary rules," writes Huntington on Facebook.

Two adjoining marine protected areas stretch along the Big Sur coast, and the waters here harbour an abundance of life. The vast offshore kelp forests provide nurseries for juvenile fish and the perfect habitat for sea otters.

You can spot gray whales in Big Sur from December through April, and at this time of the year, the giants are heading back towards the Pacific Northwest, often with young calves in tow.

With one of the longest migrations of any mammal, gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) travel many thousands of miles each year, along a back-and-forth route between their Mexican breeding grounds and the cold, nutrient-rich waters of Alaska. Recent estimates put their numbers at around 26,000 – an incredible comeback after more than one brush with extinction in the past 200 years.

The arrival of the whales in California's Monterey Bay has been drawing in hungry predators recently, with orcas converging in unusually high numbers this year to hunt the young whale calves.

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