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Field Notes from Susan Payne

March 10, 1999

Susan Payne with her family Don Dumm, and Will Ross H. Dumm

Northbound whales are being reported from Vancouver Island! As of Sunday, March 7, 339 northbound gray whales have been counted by the American Cetacean Society (ACS) census from Point Vicente on the Palos Verdes Peninsula near Los Angeles. The peak may be passing Monterey, California, however, the ACS census is still expecting the peak to arrive there, perhaps this coming week. Many whales are seen off Westport, Washington maybe heading south, milling around, or what?

No gray whales in Kodiak yet, but we are thinking of their return in our planning of Whale Fest Kodiak 1999, April 16-25. Four of our seven speakers will come from out of town. They will speak on culture and communication of killer whales, fin whales, humpback whales, and Cook Inlet Beluga whales. There will be lectures on identification of Kodiak's whales, Alutiiq and commercial whaling around Kodiak and even a shark dissection. "Oceans of the Whale" will be the theme for children's art, a poetry reading, and the local Art sale on Saturday, April 16. Once again, volunteers will call in Whale Alerts from around Kodiak to be announced on the radio and in the newspaper. In another three weeks the whales should be showing up near Kodiak. How exciting!

Alisa Schulman-Janiger, the coordinator for the ACS census at Point Vicente on the Palos Verdes Peninsula (33.44 N,-118.24 W) thinks the peak will pass there this week. She says the northbound migration did not peak last week. This year's whale counts and timing seem to be about average when compared to the last 16 years. The census is conducted daily from 0530-1800.

  • March 7: 29 northbound gray whales, 1 southbound. 339 total northbound whales to date. No cow/calf pairs.
  • March 5: 36 northbound (the highest northbound count to date), 0 southbound

Mike and Winston have some news from Baja. Apparently, cow/calf pairs are fewer this year in Laguna San Ignacio and the other breeding lagoons. The whales seem to be traveling around Cabo San Lucas into the Sea of Cortez. Two weeks ago Alisa had told me the same and that some years this occurs. Mike also reports:

  • March 1: A juvenile spyhopped in the surfline along Redondo Beach (33.74 N,-118.22 W).
  • March 1: A juvenile gray whale in Long Beach harbor thrilled the "Queen Mary"(33.83 N,-118.38 W).
  • February 28: A juvenile in the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Base harbor.

Nancy Black of Monterey Bay Whale Watch reports that they may be seeing the peak of their migration.

  • March 5-8: 20-30 northbound whales per 3 hour trips (36.67N, -122.00W).
  • February 28:60-100 "offshore", fisheating, killer whales (36.67N, -122.00W).

Christina Folger, the Science Director for Marine Discovery Tours in Newport, reports that they have finally been able to go out on the ocean and are only seeing a few whales.

  • February 14: two northbound gray whales were spotted south of Newport by fishermen(44.64 N,-124.00W). This was their "first" sighting!
  • March 6: four northbound gray whales were spotted south of Newport, 2.5 miles offshore (44.64 N,-124.00W). Only whales seen in an hour and a half of viewing.
  • March 7: two northbound gray whales and ten harbor porpoise.(44.64 N,-124.00W).

In Westport, Washington, Geoff Grillo of Advantage Sport Fishing has been out dungeness crab fishing the last three days. Finally the weather has allowed some fishing. He is reporting "lots of whales" and it appears they are heading southbound in 20-30 fathoms of water. These whales could be milling around or are they heading South?

Rod Palm, the principle investigator for the Strawberry Island Research Society, reports from Tofino, B.C:

  • March 7: Three northbound whales in 12 miles of shoreline. Estimated 10-12 northbound whales in 24 hour period (49.10 N, -125.93 W).

Jamie Bray of Jamie's Whaling Station, a contributor to Journey North last year, reports a month of bad weather. He says they have had whales all winter. These would likely be "residents", whales that do not travel further south.

  • March 6: Two whales (48.83 N, -125.41 W).

Our Ucluelet, British Columbia contact is Brian Congdon of Subtidal Adventures. His outfit has not made any whale-watch trips yet because of the "miserable" weather. The northbound migration, he says, usually starts on February 28. On a daily trip to the lighthouse to measure the water temperature he saw:

  • March 1: "First" northbound gray whale (49.08 N, -125.91 W).

The sightings of northbound gray whales in the last three reports has been hindered by fierce storms along the West Coast. Here in Kodiak we have enjoyed a cold and clear winter. On March 10 sunrise is 0740 and sunset is 1901. The days are noticeably longer now and I can feel the spring rush starting. Talk to you in two weeks. Until then, good whale-watching!

Susan Payne
National Marine Fisheries Service
Alaska Fisheries Science Center
Kodiak, Alaska

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