February 11, 1998
My husband and I, and our little boy love to go out to a place called Narrow Cape to watch the Gray whales. Up on a bluff looking northeast, one can see the whales coming from Cape Chiniak. They pass between Narrow Cape and Ugak Island on their route along the east side of Kodiak Island heading towards Unimak pass and the Bering Sea. (Some of the Gray whales go down Shelikof Strait on the west side of the island.)
There appear to be two peaks to the northward migration. The first phase of whales are males and juveniles and have been reported to be passing Cape St. Elias in mid-April, and the peak of this phase passes Unimak Pass in late April or early May. We saw our first arrivals last year on March 18.
The second phase, following a month or two later, consists primarily of females and calves. The peak procession of females and young passing Kodiak may be in mid-May to late June. Given these dates, Dave Rugh, a National Marine Fisheries biologist, projects that the northward migration may continue into July.
Not only do I love to see the whales, but I am the organizer of Kodiak's Whale Fest, a "migration celebration". This year, the second annual celebration will be April 4-12. We are presently busy planning this year's list of speakers, an art show and sale of whale inspired art, children's art, Whale Alerts and more. Whale Fest is our way to celebrate the Gray whale migration as well as all the other whales and marine mammals that we have here in Kodiak. Designed to be fun and educational, Whale Fest is also a way of enhancing our local economy in an environmentally friendly way. The past few years Kodiak has experienced some upheaval in our fishing based economy partly due to poor returns and low prices for salmon, herring, crab, and other species of fish.
My favorite part of Whale Fest last year were the Whale Alerts. Daily, volunteers called in their whale sightings from Narrow Cape, Fort Abercrombie State Park and Cape Chiniak to the local radio stations and newspaper for broadcast. Soon even people not signed up as volunteers were calling in whale sightings from around town. Last year during Whale Fest, as in years previous, the Killer whales (a pod of 3-4) made their visit to the Kodiak harbor for a Steller Sealion snack. Called into the radio station immediately, there was an opportunity for a first hand encounter with this great but gruesome event.
Yesterday, we had our first Whale Alert. Last week on Thursday February 5 the pod of Killer whales was spotted in the boat harbor near the sealion haulout on the breakwater. There were 3 this time. One had a crooked fin. According to Kate Wynne, our local marine mammal specialist with the Marine Advisory Program, State of Alaska, these were the Killer whales that regularly come into the harbor, about 4 times a year(the same pod I spoke of in my report). Kate said these are transients and the harbor must be on their route. They have been seen at Marmot Island where there is ongoing research observing the Stellar Sealion rookery there. In Hidden Basin in Ugak Bay they were seen 3 years ago. They came in as a pod of 3 and left as a pod of 4; the woman that spotted them was convinced that there had been a birth at that time. About that time they came into the Kodiak harbor with a calf the size of a dolphin.
I am not a whale expert, but I am a biologist working for the National Marine Fisheries Service here in Kodiak. Our office is responsible for the Bering Sea crab survey. Before the birth of my son, I participated in our dive program researching the biological secrets of Tanner Crab and King crab (Chionoecetes bairdi and Paralithodes camtschatica respectively) around Kodiak. Lab and computer work, a forage fish study, and Whale Fest fill my time now.
Signs of Spring in Kodiak
I have already experienced the sweet, distinctive smell of the cottonwoods. It is unusual for this to happen in January. But this January was exceptionally warm with an average temperature of 32.1 F, 2.2 F above normal. Rainfall was also above normal by 6.11 inches with a total of 13.49 inches for the month. No wonder the groundhog did not see his shadow on February 2 here in Kodiak! Despite this warmer than normal weather, the snowshoe hares and the Ptarmigan (Rock and Willow ptarmigan are on Kodiak Island) are still white. Today, February 11 we have 9 hours and 8 minutes of daylight; sunrise is at 08:49 and sunset, 17:57. We are gaining 5 minutes of daylight a day.
Remember this is the Year of the Ocean, the United Nations' international focus on Earth's oceans. I will next be reporting from Kodiak on February 25. Talk to you then.
Braham, H.W. 1984 Distribution and migration of gray whale in Alaska. pp. 249-266 In: M.L. Jones, S.L. Swartz, and S. Leatherwood. The Gray Whale, Eschrichtius robustus. Academic Press, Inc.
Poole, M.M. 1984. Migration corridors of gray whlaes along the central California coast, 1980-1982. Ibid.