IF YOU HAD TO MAKE A GUESS, on Christmas morning, about whether there were more bits of paper and ribbon and tape strewn about your den, or whether there are more gray whales sighted in the Santa Barbara Channel during a migratory season, what would your answer be? Hint: It's B. It's always B, and we say that even if you claim your den, after the opening of the presents, is filled to the ceiling with scraps of discarded wrapping paper. Many, many Pacific gray whales pass through the scenic channel -- some 20,000 to 25,000 in a season -- and they have an official kick-off date, 'round Oxnard, which is one of the major launch points to go and see if you can see them. That date is always the same, and it comes with bells on: Dec. 26. So best grab the stretchy XL trash bags, and clean up the happy aftermath of the holiday, for there is nature to commune with, out on the big water, just hours after Christmas bids adieu for another year.
YOU CAN HOP ON A BOAT... with either Island Packers, the official concessionaire for Channel Islands National Park, or Channel Islands Sportfishing, and head out for either a 3.5-hour trip or a half-day excursion, all with the hopes of seeing a fluke rise out of the water (or, fingers and toes and everything crossed, a lot more whale than its magnificent tail). Will you spy a gray? Maybe, if they're passing by at the opportune moment. But count on admiring many aquatic denizens, from sea lions to seals to the occasional playful dolphin (a beastie that is truly so playful that the dolphin population should probably just trademark the term). Birds aplenty will be out, both perched on the rocky outcroppings of the channel islands to swooping near your boat. It's a grand and brisk day out on the water, with whales as the heart. You could stick to the couch in the days after Christmas, wondering if you should try to take the tree down or you could go in search of some of the largest mammals on the planet.