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Gray Whale Migration Update: Mar. 14, 2012
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In a whale of a week, large pulses of northbound grays swelled counts. The first mother/calf pairs are making their way up the California coast and the first whales have now reached Washington. Hear what this baby whale likes, and see why 19 whales were tagged in Mexico last week.

This Week's Update Includes:

Image of the Week
Baby gray whale with mouth open, showing baleen and tongue
Image: Christopher Match
Happy Baby
News: Full Steam Ahead!
Whales are flooding northward! One California observer reported seeing 20 passing whales day on March 8, with conditions "so perfect that we could actually hear them when they exhaled." The season's first sightings of cow/calf pairs have created big excitement in California. While the earliest whales have reached Hat Island, Washington (48.52N). The magnify tool on our MapServer allows you to zoom in on the cluster of exciting reports in that area. Read and enjoy!

Counting the Whales Passing California
Post #7 has had a huge week, and one day they saw 27! In fact, Gray Whales Count has tallied 152 of their total 197 whales in the two weeks since our last report. One day they counted 27! They're still happily awaiting their first cow/calf pair.

At the ACS/LA Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project (Post #6), they have spotted 122 of their 206 northbound gray whales in the last two weeks. Director Alisa Schulman-Janiger notes: "We are now firmly in the northbound migration phase, with just a few southbound grays occasionally spotted. We spotted our first northbound cow/calf pair on March 11; they were swimming with another adult whale, which is unusual. Usually our cow/calf pairs travel by themselves; during
peak migration periods we may see two or three cow/calf pairs traveling together."

Next time: Biologist Wayne Perryman starts his 19th annual cow/calf count on March 26, just before our next report. See Post #8 field notes for his 2012 prediction!

Lagoons: Spring Training, Whale Tagging
At Laguna San Ignacio (Post #2), Chris of Baja Ecotours reports mothers and calves working on swimming lessons and controlled movements of the flukes (tails). Last week five researchers from NOAA joined the whale watchers at Post #2. They wanted to place satellite tags on 20 of the gray whales before the whales start the journey north back to Alaska. In two full days of work, they tagged 19 whales, and we can watch their progress with satellite data on the web. "Scientists hope the tags will stay on for a full migration but they often fall off in a month," explained Chris. You can explore more at NOAA's tracking website.

Next?
Now we've seen the turnaround period and the first cow/calf pair at several places. What's next? We look for the migration to peak. Stay tuned!

Read Field Notes
Click on the route map to see the migration route and Observation Posts. Click on each red dot to read the Field Notes at that post. You'll discover counts in the lagoons and wonderful details about the behaviors of migrating whales!

Big Spout and little spout indicate a mother and her baby gray whale migrating at sea.
Photo: Jeanne Jackson
Big Spout Little Spout
 
Barni got his nickname because he has barnacles only on the left side of his head.
Photo: Allen Vinson
Meet Barni
 
Bam-Bam, a baby gray whale in Laguna San Ignacio
 
Watch Out, Bam-Bam!
 
Tail of young gray whale sticks out of the water as it dives and learns to "plow" food from the bottom.
 
Bottom Feeder Training
 
Map of Varvara's travels as of Feb. 16, 2012.
Update on Varvara
 
Gray whale migration route
Map: Journey North

Route Map

This week's field notes: Observation Posts #2, #6, #7, #8, #9

See the MapServer too!

Explore: The Migration Route Treasure Hunt
You've heard the news from many of them. Now, what discoveries can you make about gray whale migration by visiting each of the Observation Posts along the route? Team up for our Treasure Hunt challenge and some fun surprises. Collect facts on the note-taking chart, then share and compare with other teams: How many facts did you find? How many were unique to your group? How many were the same as other teams found? Tally scores and celebrate your new knowledge of the whale trail!

Treasure Hunt Instructions for exploring the whale migration route
Tracking the Migration: Using Daily Data
What BIG changes do you notice in the daily data at these two California point-count sites? Compare data to data from this time period last year by scrolling down the data page. This week, identify pulses and predict when the northbound migration might peak. What questions do you have?

How to track gray whale migration with Journey North

Gray whale migration analysis chart
Access Data
Record Data
The next gray whale migration update will be posted on Mar. 28, 2012.
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