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Field Notes from Susan Payne

April 7, 1999

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

Northbound whales are being reported from Los Angeles to Kodiak, Alaska. Expect to see whales from the False Pass school on Unimak Island in Alaska! As of Monday, April 5, 1202 northbound gray whales and fourteen cow/calf pair have been counted by the American Cetacean Society (ACS) census from Point Vicente on the Palos Verdes Peninsula near Los Angeles. The first cow/calf pair was sighted at Point Piedras Blancas(35.66 N, 121.28 W) on Sunday, April 4.

Alisa Schulman-Janiger, the coordinator for the ACS census at Point Vicente on the Palos Verdes Peninsula (33.44 N, -118.24 W) saw the peak around March 23 and is seeing fewer whales now. As of April 5, this year's northbound whale count (1202) is above average compared to the last ten years' counts, but lower than the 15 year average and the 1998 count (approximately 1300). This year 14 cow/calf pairs have been counted by April 5. The peak of the cow/calf count on average is around March 22-24. Alisa tells me that the first cow/calf pair was sighted at Point Piedras Blancas(35.66 N, 121.28 W) on Sunday, April 4. The last southbound count was on March 23. The census is conducted daily from 0530-1800.

  • March 23: The highest northbound count of 51 gray whales; 1 southbound.
  • March 24: Forty-seven northbound gray whales; 0 southbound.
  • April 4: 9 northbound, including a cow/calf pair; 0 southbound.
  • April 3: 16 northbound, including a cow/calf pair; 0 southbound.

Mike and Winston report that on April 1 a dead calf washed up on the beach a few miles north of the ACS census site. The whale has been buried in a 25 foot deep hole. See a brief story and picture. Captain Frank of the M/V Voyager saw a single whale start tail lobbing after a jet ski went by. Mike has new reports from Baja that there are still fewer whales in the northern breeding lagoons and more whales in the Sea of Cortez.

The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary reports this week come from the Whale Corp aboard the M/V Rachel G. They have seen a total of 24 northbound gray whales between March 17 and March 30. I will just touch on the highlights of their reports.

  • March 30: One gray whale heading East! One juvenile heading 260 degrees magnetic (34.38 N,-119 67W).
  • March 24: Five gray whales in a courting/mating pod (34.35 N,-119.67 W).
  • March 22: Northbound mother with second year calf (34.38 N, -119.72 W) and three gray whales spyhopping and showing flukes.
  • March 20: Humpback whale off Arroyo Burro Beach (34.40 N, -119.73 W). Two pods of 3 whales, mating and occasionally showing tail flukes (34 20.31 N, -119 39.34 W).
  • March 18: Two fin whales feeding on krill associated with Common dolphins (34.32 N,-119.83 W). Three gray whales in the area possibly a mating group, showing flukes many times.

Virg's Landing of Morro Bay is reporting only a few whales, but he has only gone out twice in the last two weeks because of weather.

  • April 2: One whale at 1100 and a group of six gray whales at 1400 (35 18.60 N,-120 53.99 W).
  • March 24: Two adult and one juvenile, northbound (35 18.60 N, -120 53.99 W).

Nancy Black of Monterey Bay Whale Watch reports 10 northbound gray whales per three hour trip last week, March 29-April 2 (36.67N, -122.00W). When I spoke to Nancy on Monday, April 5, they were not sure they would be able to leave Monterey Bay because a good south wind was blowing. Fishermen reported to Nancy:

  • April 2: Fifteen killer whales were seen chasing and attacking two gray whales, thought to be a mother/calf pair. Their attempt was apparently unsuccessful.

Christina Folger, of Marine Discovery Tours in Newport says the whales have moved closer to shore since our last report. They have been unable to get out on the ocean since March 29 due to weather conditions.

  • March26-29: Four whales in two hour tours, 2-3 miles offshore in 27 fathoms of water (44.64 N, -124.00W).

Check out the Whale Watch Spoken Here program out of Newport, Oregon. The preliminary results, from the March 20-27 census, are now available.

In Westport, Washington, Geoff Grillo of Advantage Sport Fishing has not been on the ocean this reporting period. Wind and sea-swell are preventing the whale watching businesses from getting out on the ocean regularly. Four-seven gray whales continue to be seen inside Grays harbor (46.50 N, -124.50.0 W). These are probably the same whales as in the last report. 

  • March 29-31: Geoff's friends that run charters estimate 8-10 whales per hour.

Unfortunately, this week I was unable to make contact with any of my Vancouver Island contacts because of phone difficulties. These contacts are Jamie Bray of Jamie's Whaling Station in Tofino and Brian Congdon of Subtidal Adventures in Ucluelet, British Columbia. I was also unable to contact by phone Rod Palm, the principle investigator for the Strawberry Island Research Society in Tofino (49.10 N, -125.93 W). However, on March 26 he emailed me that the Tofino fleet was mostly prevented from getting out on the ocean because of storm conditions, but that when it was possible they were seeing 3-4 whales passing there per hour.

  • March 20: Rod reports a gray whale off Victoria that was dragging three Dungeness crab pots. The whale was heading their way and they were ready to respond, but bad weather once again kept them onshore.

In Sitka, Jan Straley from the University of Alaska, has still not had any reports of gray whales, but she told me they usually arrive there by mid-March.

My contacts in Seward, Mike Brittain of the M/V Renown and Leslie Hines of Kenai Fjords Tours are really keeping track of their sightings for me. Weather continues to be a factor in the sighting of gray whales in Seward like elsewhere.

  • March 23: M/V Renown saw Orcas just West of Rugged Island (59.85 N, -149.39 W).
  • March 24-26: Weather blowing March 24 and 25, 0 gray whales. On March 26 M/V Renown did get around Rugged Island and saw 0 gray whales (59.85 N, -149.39 W).
  • March 27: Captain Richard Jacoby of Kenai Fjords Tours reports three-four gray whales between Aialik Cape (59.71 N, -149.53 W) and No Name Island, another 2 grays heading south, 2 humpbacks off Cliff Bay(59.73 N, -149.60 W), and Orcas in Resurrection Bay near Caine's Head(59.98 N, -149.39 W).
  • March 28: Four-five gray whales at Pilot Rock (59.74 N, -149.48 W). Orcas between Callisto Head (59.92 N, -149.47 W) and Hive Island (59.88 N, -149.38 W); one possibly identified as AB-11 of the AJ pod by Captain Jacoby.
  • March 29: M/V Renown sights three gray whales at Cheval Island (59.77 N, -149.52 W) and another four in the Chiswell Islands (59.60 N, -149.60 W).
  • April 1-2, April 5: Orcas identified as belonging to the AJ pod were seen at Thumb Cove (59.99 N, -149.33 W) in Resurrection Bay.
  • April 3: Three gray whales off Pony Cove (59.75 N, -149.55 W) and orcas identified as AJ pod off Thumb Cove (59.99 N, -149.33 W).

Congratulation to Briana Lawson, Marc Witteveen, and Bridget and Harry Dodge for their "first" gray whale sightings in Kodiak on March 23. The Whale Alerts are on the air thanks to the local radio stations and in the newspaper. As you can see we do have sightings from Kodiak! To count whales from Kodiak the best place is Narrow Cape about 40 miles from Kodiak town. There you can climb the bluff and look down on the gray whales as they pass between Ugak Island and Narrow Cape. They continue on their way along the east side of Kodiak Island towards Unimak Pass and the Bering Sea. >From Abercrombie State Historical Park (57.79 N, -152.41 W) near town, we occassionally see gray whales if they swing inside Marmot and Chiniak Bays.

  • March 8: One Humpback whale in Kupreanof Strait at Last Timber Point (57.98 N, -152.99 W) spotted by Ron Kutchik, Captain of the R/V Resolution.
  • March 23: Three gray whales were seen approximately 2.5 miles northeast of Spruce Cape (57.41 N, -153.53 W). And at Cape Chiniak (57.62 N, -152.17 W), one gray whale was seen near the beach.
  • March 28: Two groups of gray whales, at least 6-8 whales total, on the east side of Long Island (57.77 N, -152.27 W).
  • March 28: Group of two and a group of 4 past Narrow Cape between 1430-1530 (59.71 N, -149.53 W). From approximately 1830-1930, 0 were spotted in the same area.
  • April 2: At Narrow Cape, 13 whales in an hour from 1430-1530 (57.43 N, -152.34 W).
  • April 3: Cape Chiniak (57.62 N, -152.17 W), 0 whales. Gray whales were passing Narrow Cape, but they were not counted (59.77 N, -149.52 W).

We have exciting new contacts from False Pass, Alaska (54.86 N, -163.41 W). John Concilus and his class have a live video feed of Isanotski Strait right from the school! You too can see the view from their False Pass classroom and maybe you will be the first to see the "first" gray whales to pass by there. From what I can gather, the main body of the migration goes through Unimak Pass (54.33 N, -164.83 W), but according to John Concilus, "the grays do come so close to our dock that they sometimes have to swing out to miss it".

On Easter Sunday, a cold day of snow squalls, the only signs of Spring I could detect around our home was the shrill song of the varied thrush and the acrobatic soaring of bald eagles, possibly preparing for their mating season. However, on Monday April 5, all of a sudden I could feel spring in the air; we saw a couple of snowshoe hares and they were just beginning to turn from white to brown. The days are lengthening: on April 7 sunrise is 0622 and sunset is 2003 for a total of 13 hours and 48 minutes of daylight. Is this possible? Where will the whales be our next report? How is the ice in the Bering Sea?

Answer #3: Eschrichtius robustus is the scientific name for gray whale. The genus name, Escrichtius, comes from the Danish scientist D. F. Eschricht. The species name, robustus, means strength or strong in Latin.

Helpful Links

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

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