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Gray Whale Migration Update: Mar. 28, 2012
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The parade of northbound Eschrichtius robustus is in full swing. Whales in the lead are now passing Canada's Vancouver. The satellite-tagged whale Varvara is one of them! In California, high daily counts indicate phase 1 is peaking. Moms and babies will be next, as phase 2 gets underway. Got questions? Ask the Expert opens Friday!

This Week's Update Includes:

Image of the Week
Photo of gray whale rescue that took place March 23, 2012 off Dana Point Harbor in California.
Photo: Dolphinsafari.com
Gray Whale Rescue
News: A Peek at a Peak?
In stormy seas, high winds, fog, clouds, rain or clear weather — the whales are heading north! From Vancouver, Canada, Kati (Post #15) shares news of good whale watching, including the celebrity whale Varvara: "Varvara was traveling very quickly as she passed along the British Columbia coast, moving at about I00 miles per day." Kati also said they're expecting to see their first cow/calf pair any day: "With Observation Post #6 (ACS/LA volunteer observers on Palos Verde Peninsula, just north of LA) having reported calves March 20/21, we will expect to see some moms & babies off Tofino about three weeks later." Take note and mark your calendars!

Familiar "resident whales" are back in Washington, and Oregon’s coast-wide Whale Watch Week is March 24-31. Ranger Kate Scopellet shares a sample of the whale counts by volunteers at several spots along the Oregon coast. See her field notes for our map's Post #12: How far out are the whales?

Counting the Whales Passing California
Imagine seeing a whopping 50 whales in a single day! That's the news from ACS/LA (Post #6). "We have had two VERY large northbound count days: March 19 (50 whales) and March 26 (41 whales)," reports Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project Director Alisa Schulman-Janiger. "Both occurred on Mondays after either a very windy day (last week) or a stormy day (this week). Therefore, we saw 91 of our 437 northbound gray whales (nearly 21%) in just two days." They spotted two more northbound cow/calf pairs last week; that's three so far.

At Post #7 Michael Smith also reported several good days, including this one: "Gray whales all over our area, just about all through the day. We saw them way offshore and very close to shore. There were big ones and little ones, in groups and singles. Twenty-three were northbound and one was southbound, yes, southbound." Gray Whales Count has tallied 394 whales but still awaits a first cow/calf sighting. When will it be?

Wayne Perryman is the government's leading expert on gray whale calf production. He has just begun his yearly calf count for the 19th season at Pt. Piedras Blancas, CA (#8). See field notes for Post #8 and Mr. Perryman's 2012 prediction. We expect big news next time!

Baja Lagoons: Tourist Season Ending
Friendly moms and playful calves are still entertaining visitors to the lagoons, but not for long. From Laguna Ojo de Liebre (Post #3) Keith "Baja" Jones sends the final report for this tourist season. He sums up: "Between the three lagoons there were about 1,000 confirmed baby gray whale births this year." Read more in the Field Notes for Post #3 as Keith wishes us good whale watching.

Next?
Alisa Schulman-Janiger explains: "We are now likely in the middle of the peak of the first northbound migration phase; not cow/calf pairs, who come by in peak numbers about 4-6 weeks later in the second northbound migration phase. Calf counts should begin to increase in number over the next few weeks, usually peaking near the end of April." 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. The comments of all our observers make you feel as though you are there!

Map of Varvara's travels as of Feb. 16, 2012.
 
Update on Varvara
 
Gray Whale identified as "Patch" through photo ID
Photo: Michael H. Smith
Patch Returns
 
Young gray whale swimming near ocean floor.
Video: RIPproductions9
Flukes and Fins
 
A herd of gray whales off San Diego in March
Photo: Audrey Evans
A Herd?
 
Gray whale mother and her calf approach the tour boat in Laguna Ojo de Liebre in March.
Photo: Eric Zimmerman
Here They Come!
 
Gray whale migration route
Map: Journey North

Route Map

This week's field notes: Observation Posts #2, #3, #6, #7, #8, #12, #15

See MapServer too!

Observe and Wonder: Ask the Expert
Explore the life of a gray whale through images in this photo gallery. As you look, what do you wonder? How can such a huge animal float? How can a baby whale drink milk in the ocean? Is the water ever too cold, too warm, too polluted, too turbulent? Challenge yourself to ask at least two questions about each photo. Our whale expert, Kim Shelden, eagerly awaits your questions.

Ask the Expert
Special thanks to marine biologist Kim Shelden for sharing her time and expertise again this year to answer your questions about whales. Starting Friday, March 30, you will have two weeks to prepare and submit your questions to Kim. She will have the answers!

Ask the Expert Will be Open
March 30 - April 13, 2012.

Gallery of Photos of Gray Whales to Spark Curiosity
Research: Challenges to Whales' Survival  
The rescue of Bart (top of this report) made world headlines on the Internet. "Unfortunately this is not the first time we've experienced animals caught in gill nets," said Melissa Sciacca, a spokeswoman for the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach, whose staffers took part in the rescue. "When marine mammals become entangled, they are not always able to surface properly to breathe, which can result in drowning."

With a lifespan up to 80 years, gray whales face many perils in their annual migrations. But they are astonishing survivors. What are some challenges to a whale's survival? Which are human-caused? Which are natural? How can people help protect whales and their habitat? These pages help you find out:
Tracking the Migration: Using Daily Data
What exciting story do the data tell this week? What was the largest day for whale sightings at both point-count posts? This week, predict whether phase one of the northbound migration has peaked. What do you think will happen next?

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 April 11, 2012.
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