2012 is the Year of the Dragon; but so far, in parts of Alaska, Hawaii and the Pacific coast, it's already shaping up to be the Year of the Whale:
* The annual southward migration of gray whales began earlier than usual, with grays showing up off Dana Wharf in Southern California on Nov. 26, a month earlier than the previous year. Grays migrate from their Alaska feeding grounds to breed in the warm waters of Baja, Mexico, before returning for the Alaska summer.
Normally, the southward migration peaks off Southern California in the second or third week of January; the northward migration of whales without calves peaks in the third week of March, and that of mothers with calves about a month later. Why the migration appears to have kicked off early is uncertain.
* Farther up the coast, surprised researchers spotted a half-dozen blue whales 30 miles west of Long Beach, Wash. Blues, which were heavily depleted by commercial whaling in the 20th century, likely number around 14,000 worldwide and in certain places may be increasing by about 2 or 3 percent a year - although they are still a long way shy of the approximately 275,000 that existed before whaling began.