To: Journey North
May 1, 1998
During the week of April 20, we went to Narrow Cape (latitude 57.425N, longitude 152.338W) and camped out for a night. My report for Wednesday, April 22 is 3 pods of 3 gray whales in each pod. We watched for 3 hours from 1800-2100. Breaching whales were in the first pod. The next day, April 23 from 0800-1300 we saw 9 pods and I averaged 2 whales per pod (some pods had one whale and others 3-4). Both days this averaged out to 3-4 whales per hour. Unfortunately, my volunteer program has fallen apart so I am not getting regular reports from people. One volunteer report that was sent to me reported seeing a possible mother/calf pair on April 7 at Narrow Cape; she reported seeing a small and large blow side by side.
The same week, in the harbor of Kodiak Kodiak (latitude 57.785N, longitude 152.405W) the killer whale event of the year occurred! This will be all third hand, as I did not see the event and have not talked to someone that was there. My report comes from Kate Wynne, the marine mammal specialist in town who works for the University of Alaska's Marine Advisory Program. Apparently, over 100 people were watching on Tuesday, April 21 as 6-7 killer whales working in two distinct but tight groups, came and attacked the Stellar sealions that hang out on the docks.
It sounds as if several sealions were taken, tossed up into the air, and eaten. The sealions were hiding under the piers between the pilings. One whale actually grabbed a sealion from under the pier. Another story was that some sealions came out from under the pier while the killer whales were on the other side of the harbor and were able to escape.
Kate said that the Killer whales were spotted in the harbor Monday and Tuesday and again on Thursday and Friday of last week. It would be difficult to know all the stories unless we were there and we were not! According to Kate most of the sealions in the harbor are males who stay for the winter and migrate to the rookery at Marmot Island (latitude 58.218N, longitude 151.835W) around May 1. So that may have been the killer whales' last sealion snack in the harbor for awhile...
Telephone calls to the Bering Sea area have put the northern extent of the gray whale migration near Nunivak Island (60.100N, 166.400W), Nelson Island (60.616N, 164.366W). Charles Burkee from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) heard that they were "bumper to bumper" there last week, April 26, from a local pilot. I spoke to Charle Lean from ADF&G in Nome who explained that the gray whales follow a corridor of open water along the shore created by the Yukon River. The gray whales follow the bowhead whales by about a month.
Sheila Gaquin, a teacher in Point Hope, explains that only the whales without dorsal fins, the beluga and bowheads, come into the floe ice. Whales with a dorsal fin, like the gray whale must wait for clear ice-free waters. The bowhead whales have arrived near St. Lawrence and have been taken by the hunters (unfortunately, I do not have more information on this).
Clinton Booshu, the City Clerk for the city of Gambell on St. Lawrence Island (63.500N, 170.166W), said that this morning they have zero visibility and the island is surrounded by ice, open water is 15-20 miles south of them. Perhaps, next week we will have some news from Mr. Booshu. Take a look at the Bering Sea sea surface temperature map.
Confirmed cow/calf pairs are showing up off the shores of Seward, Alaska. Madelyn Walker of Kenai Fjords Tours reported the first gray whale cow/calf pair in Resurrection Bay spotted at 1300 at latitude 58.000N, longitude 149.133W. They watched the pair for twenty minutes while they played on the surface. Other boats are also reporting pairs coming through regularly now.
Meanwhile, to south, whale watching is no longer the main focus of the Monterey Bay Whale Watch. Nancy Black says that they are looking for killer whale attacks on the gray whale mother/calf pairs for an ongoing research project. They have seen 4 of these attacks in the last week. "The calves have been killed and the mothers leave afterwards". Nancy says, "It has been incredible but sad to see such events". From reports that Nancy has received there are 2-6 mother/calf pairs passing by a day.
In Newport, Oregon I spoke with Christy Sallee of Marine Discovery Tours. She went out yesterday, Thursday, April 30 and saw 3 gray whales in two hours; 2 of them were a mother/calf pair (Latitude 44.583N, Longitude 124.000W). Christy says the sightings have been sporadic lately.
Today, I spoke to Geoff Grillo of Advantage Sport Fishing and he was on a halibut charter on the opening day of Halibut season. Off Westport, Washington, they are seeing scattered sightings of cow/calf pairs and they are still seeing 8 resident gray whales regularly in the bay at Grays Harbor (Latitude 46.933N, Longitude 124.833W).
The last couple days (April 29 &30) Jamie's Whaling Station in Tofino, British Columbia has seen a few cow/calf pairs in their 2 hour trips (approx. Latitude 49.083N, Longitude 125.916W). The five days before they had seen nothing.
Brian Congdon of Subtidal Adventures in Ucluelet, British Columbia (48.916N, 125.500W) has no reports of migrating gray whales. Their trips are focusing on the resident gray whales in the area.