Gray Whale Migration Update: March 11, 1998
Today's Update Includes:
Latest News From Gray Whale Observation Posts
Read the latest field reports from our key Observation Posts, who have been keeping
a watchful eye on the gray whales that are travelling up the coast to their feeding
grounds in Alaska.
At the north end, Susan Payne reports from Kodiak Alaska, that the Gray Whales are on their way, with several sightings in Oregon and British Columbia!
As you read Laura's report from Baja, get out your spanish dictionary and see if you can answer this new Challenge Question:
Field Notes from Gray Whale Nursery in Baja, Mexico
To: Journey North
From: Laura Gorodezky
"Greetings Journey North!
"We flew into Loreto Airport last Friday and rented a truck to drive 2 hours to Puerto San Carlos. The small town was not difficult to find because there were signs along the highway with a picture of a whale and slogan "Ballenas Gris" pointing the direction to Magdalena Bay."
"We woke up early on Saturday Morning (February 28) and hired a "Panga" to take us out to see the whales. We were very lucky because it had been extremely windy with big swells for the past week and the day we went out was perfectly flat and calm. We launched the panga in a protected mangrove area that was rich with bird life. We saw ospreys, snowy egrets, pelicans, herons, caspian terns and Brandts geese."
"We headed out into the bay and saw our first whale blow within 10 minutes. Our first sighting was a Mother calf pair that our Panga driver Enrique called "Berro". The mother had a whitish colored jaw (which they called "mancha") and in the past had approached Enrique's boat very closely. We watched these animals for about 20 minutes and then moved on to some other blows in the distance. We saw one animal breach about 1/2 mile away. We watched this animal through a full breathing cycle. There were about 60 animals in the Bay at the time we visited."
"About an hour into our tour, we saw three pangas in the distance. We went over to see what they were doing and found that they were watching a very friendly mother/calf pair. The mother and calf stayed very close together, sometimes the calf would ride right on top of mom. We stayed with these whales for over an hour and watched them swim underneath and all around the boats. The calf breached four times and the mother spyhopped several times. They swam just a few feet below the boats and both rolled on their sides and appeared to look up at us as they passed beneath us. I took some photos, but it was hard to pull myself away from watching these beautiful beasts to set the camera up and look at them through the small viewfinder. The mom surfaced so close to the boat that her blow covered my camera lens with mist!"
"This was the most wonderful encounter I have ever had with gray whales. They seemed just as curious about us as we did about them. Other behaviors that we saw were tail slaps by the calf. The calf was quite young (its skin was still wrinkly and it did not have much barnacle growth yet). I will remember this special encounter for a long time. Read on for my "News Flash" our latest sightings "
"The right whales are the rarest large whale in the North pacific and the interaction between the two species has intrigued marine biologists. Right whales were hunted to the brink of extinction near the turn of the century before receiving federal protection in 1937. Some experts say that there are as few as 50-100 right whales left in the Eastern Pacific ranging off the coast from Mexico to Alaska. The last sighting was in 1995."
To learn more about this unusual event, you can read the March 4, 1998 Journey North Right Whale Update from Anne Smrcina at Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.
02/29/98 34.094 N, 199.232 W.
Field Notes from Kodiak, Alaska
To: Journey North
At first, I thought it was the location where we go to view the gray whales--
Narrow Cape, a beautiful windswept cliff area on the southeastern most tip of Kodiak
island. Now, however, I am realizing it isn't just a matter of place, but also a
matter of abundance.
When I grew up in Oregon, from 1960-1978, there were half as many whales as there
are now! During the census of southbound whales in 1969- 1970 about 11,000 whales
passed the Monterey area (Rice 1971). In 1978, Dave Rugh estimated the population
to be 17,000 gray whales passing his observation post in Unimak pass, also on their
southbound migration (Rugh 1984). Today, Dave Rugh estimates approximately 23,000
gray whales. This is twice the number of whales as in 1969-1970. No wonder it seems
like there are spouts and backs everywhere if you happen onto a good day of whalewatching.
In 1994, the gray whale was removed from the Endangered Species List because of
their rebound in population; it is the only marine mammal to have been removed from
We still have not had any sightings of Gray whales in Kodiak but they are definitely
seeing them all along the coast south of us. On March 1 Monterey
Bay Whale Watch in Monterey, California had an incredible day as they were able
to watch two Gray Whales mating next to their boat. They were able to observe this
behaviour for 45 minutes. Nancy Black said it was the best trip of the year. She
also says that on the northern migration, they often see mating whales, more than
on the southern migration. This last weekend they saw about 20 whales per their 3
hour trips and the mating activity continues. To sight whales, their boats go 2-7
miles west of Point Pinos off Monterey at Latitude 36.585 N, Longitude 122.089 W.
Nancy thinks this is the peak of the migration.
On March 4, Cecil Vreeland
a volunteer at the Alsea Bay Bridge Interpretive Center (Latitude 44.385 N, Longitude
124.116 W) reported seeing a group of 8 gray whales moving north. She has a view
of the Pacific from her front window--how lucky! This was reported to Journey North
by Mike Rivers from the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. The first report
Mike has had of gray whales along the Oregon coast came from Arch Cape (Latitude
45.800 N, Longitude 124.000 W), 30 miles South of the Columbia river. In the afternoon,
early evening 6 whales were spotted. Mike organizes Whale
Watching Spoken Here, which is a volunteer whalewatching program during spring
and winter vacations. From March 21-28 this year and from 29 locations along the
Oregon coast to Ilwaco, Washington, trained volunteers will give information to visitors
interested in the northward gray whale migration. We will hear more about this program
in my next report.
On Saturday, March 7, Marine Discovery
Tours of Newport, Oregon followed 3 northbound whales swimming slowly at 5-6
knots. They had a whale breeching 4 times in a row just off the jettys to the entrance
of the harbor (Latitude 44.66 N, Long 124.00 W)! And they had a report from a fisherman
of 20 Orcas heading north just south of Newport. Fishermen just started giving them
reports of gray whales last Tuesday, March 3.
Meanwhile, the whales are still passing Vancouver Island as reported by Jamie's
Whaling Station in Tofino, and Subtidal Adventures (Latitude 49.089 N, Longitude
125.916 W) in Ucluelet, British Columbia in Canada. Monday, March 9 Jamie's crew
saw 3 whales in 40 minutes of viewing around noon and again 2 whales later in the
afternoon (Latitude 48.833 N, Longitude 125.416 W).
Signs of Spring
Reminder: Please Help Track Gray Whale Migration
1) Date of first sighting of northbound gray whales.
2) Date of first sighting of northbound gray whale mother/calf pairs.
Obviously, you would need to watch for whales every day to accurately report these "firsts" of the season. Therefore, we encourage you to contact the captain of one of the many whale-watch vessels in your area. These people are lucky enough to be out every day and can provide accurate data for you.
How to Respond to Journey North Gray Whale Challenge Question:
The Next Gray Whale Migration Update Will be Posted on March 25, 1998.
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