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Field Notes from Susan Payne

April 21, 1999

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

In the north, as of Monday, April 19, gray whales are now between False Pass and Nelson Lagoon, north and on the Bering Sea side of the Alaska Peninsula (55.92 N,-161.35 W)! John Concilius, of the False Pass school, talked to a pilot from Nelson Lagoon (55.92 N,-161.35 W) who said he saw several gray whales on the Bering Sea side of the Alaska Peninsula as he was flying to False Pass. On Sunday, April 18, fishermen spotted gray whales near False Pass on the Pacific side of the Alaska Peninsula near the Ikatan Peninsula (54.73 N,-163.21 W). In California, as of Monday, April 19, 1305 northbound gray whales and sixteen cow/calf pairs have been counted by the American Cetacean Society (ACS) census from Point Vicente on the Palos Verdes Peninsula near Los Angeles(33.44 N, -118.24 W). Also, eleven cow/calf pairs have been seen at Granite Canyon, just south of Carmel (36.52 N, -121.92 W).

Here in Kodiak we are in the full swing ofWhale Fest Kodiak, a weeklong migration celebration. Besides an Oceans of the Whale art sale, this weekend had a big line-up of speakers. Barbara Mahoney, of the National Marine Fisheries Service Protected Resources, spoke on The Status of the Cook Inlet Beluga Population and shared interesting tracking information of other Alaskan stocks of beluga whales. Jan Straley, a Journey North contributor, with the University of Alaska in Sitka, spoke on her research and the Population Characteristics of Alaska's Humpback Whales. Dr. John Ford, Director of Marine Mammal Research at the Vancouver Aquarium and Adjunct Professor of Zoology at the University of British Columbia, spoke on Killer Whale Societies: Cultures and Communication in the Northeastern Pacific. Along with the Vancouver Museum, John started Orca-Fm, the first radio station dedicated only to live whale sounds and other underwater noise. Sally Mizroch, a Fishery Biologist with the National Marine Mammal Laboratory in Seattle, presented new information on Fin Whales of the North Pacific. Sally is the coordinator of the North Pacific humpback whale photo-identification collection and she showed us the steps that they go through to match fluke characteristics with their database of 25,000 other fluke photos. On Monday night, April 19, the Kodiak Middle school made a presentation about their Baja '99 Adventure. Whale Fest 1999 continues throughout this week with more lectures, kids activities, a poetry reading, movies, radio and television shows, museum exhibits, and children's and local art shows. This Friday on the radio we will interview Nancy Black, of the Monterey Bay Whale Watch, about her study of killer whale predation on gray whales. Nancy is also a Journey North contributor.

Alisa Schulman-Janiger, the coordinator for the ACS census at Point Vicente on the Palos Verdes Peninsula (33.44 N, -118.24 W) is seeing far fewer whales now. As of April 19, this year's northbound count is 1305 gray whales; cow/calf pair count is 16. As of April 17, 15 cow/calf pairs were counted compared to 94 by that date in 1998. The peak of the cow/calf count on average is around March 22-24, but Alisa predicts that the peak will be at the end of April this year since the counts are way behind the average. The census is conducted daily from 0530-1800. Alisa also told me about 7 dead gray whales washed up on the Washington coastline reported in the news on April 19; California has seen 13-15 dead gray whales this northbound season. Here are a few of the latest counts. For more check out the ACS daily count.

  • April 19: Three northbound grays.
  • April 18: Three northbound grays; one cow/calf pair, the first since April 8.
  • April 16: Fourteen northbound grays.

Mike and Winston are volunteers for the ACS census. Mike has an incredible report of:

  • April 16: The ACS counted 10,000 common dolphins; it took 2 hours for them to swim by Point Vicente (33.44 N, -118.24 W). Also, 6 Dall's porpoise were seen on that day, but not with the dolphins.

The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary reports this week come from the Whale Corp aboard the M/V Condor. A few highlights are:

  • April 8: 800-900 Common Dolphins spotted 1 mile east of position (34.40 N,-119.65W).
  • April 7: First cow/calf pair seen by Whale Corp (34.78 N,-119.73 W) in a group of three total.
  • April 10: Two separate whales swimming in circles chasing and feeding on krill(34.38 N,-119.63 W); one spyhopping. Cow/calf pair seen traveling just outside of the kelp bed (34.40 N,-119.78 W)
  • April 18: Cow/calf pair (34.40 N,-119.67 W).

Virg's Landing of Morro Bay is finished with the whale watch charters for this year. But Darby Neil was out fishing and saw:

  • April 16: Three whales, two being a cow/calf pair, were swimming tight to the beach inside the kelp line at Estero Point, twenty miles north of Morro Bay (35 18.60 N,-120 53.99 W).

Nancy Black of Monterey Bay Whale Watch reports 3-4 northbound gray whales per three hour trip last week, April 12-18 (36.67N, -122.00W). Nancy is currently working with National Geographic on a film featuring Nancy's study of killer whale attacks on gray whales. Nancy says that she has not seen any cow/calf pairs herself, but that 11 cow/calf pairs have passed Granite Canyon, just south of Carmel (36.52 N, -121.92 W), where a National Marine Mammal Laboratory census is underway. Last year, by this time, this census saw 120 cow/calf pairs.

  • April 17, 15, 13: Transient killer whales, Pod CA20, were seen in the area, but were not seen attacking gray whales. These whales have been spotted as far north as Glacier Bay National Park (58.75 N, -136.33 W) in Alaska.

I was unable to reach Christina Folger, of Marine Discovery Tours in Newport, by phone.

In Westport, Washington, Geoff Grillo of Advantage Sport Fishing is happy to report a week of beautiful weather. Seven gray whales continue to be seen way up inside Grays harbor (46.50 N, -124.50.0 W), bottom feeding on ghost shrimp. In addition, Geoff saw:

  • April 13: On a three hour oneway trip north along the coast from Westport (46.88 N, -124.10 W), Geoff saw 27 grays.
  • April 14-17: On the ocean, 8-20 per 3 hour trip (46.88 N, -124.10 W).
  • April 16-17: Three gray whales inside Grays Harbor (46.50 N, -124.50.0 W)

We have made contact again with Rod Palm, the principle investigator for the Strawberry Island Research Society in Tofino (49.10 N, -125.93 W). They have had two dead whales wash up on the beach near Tofino; the whale they were able to take a look at was a mature bull with no signs of entanglement. Also, in the last couple of weeks, 30 whales have been in Clayoquot Sound (49.20 N, -126.10 W); some have been seen bottom feeding. In Hecate Inlet and Sidney Inlet, 20 miles north of Tofino, 20 whales have been seen feeding on herring spawn. Rod says that the whales are going by in patchy groupings, so it is difficult to get an accurate per hour count without spending all day on look-out.

  • April 14: 13 per hour (49.10 N, -125.93 W).
  • April 18: Gang of 5 Transient killer whales, an adult female (T68) with her four offspring (T68 A,B,C,D) were seen in Clayoquot Sound (49.20 N, -126.10 W).

My contacts in Seward, Steve Clausen of the M/V Renown and Leslie Hines of Kenai Fjords Tours continue to have exciting sightings. The weather has been a hindrance to whale-watching out of Seward.

  • April 18: M/V Renown saw two grays near Rugged Island (59.85 N, -149.39 W). In Resurrection Bay (59.99 N, -149.33 W), a pod of seven killer whales were seen, identified as the AN pod.
  • April 16: M/V Renown reports two humpback whales seen between Bear Glacier and Rugged Island (59.95 N,-149.55 W).
  • April 6-11: Kenai Fjords Tours reports orcas of the AJ pod with one AB male, and some Transients in Resurrection Bay (59.98 N, -149.39 W).
  • April 17-19:Kenai Fjords Tours again sees Transient killer whales in Resurrection Bay(59.98 N, -149.39 W).
  • April 17:Two gray whales at Cape Resurrection (59.53 N, -149.28 W) by Kenai Fjords Tours
  • April 13:Three gray whales at Cape Resurrection (59.53 N, -149.28 W)by Kenai Fjords Tours
  • April 8:Three-four gray whales at Cape Resurrection (59.53 N, -149.28W) by Kenai Fjords Tours

The Whale Alerts in Kodiak keep the town informed about whale sightings. Whalewatching has been really good between storms, however, the groups of whales seem to be coming through sporadically; there are periods without whales and then other times when many are observed. The sightings seem to be steadier this last week when not confused by stormy weather.

  • April 5: 7 gray whales per hour swimming along the kelp bed at Narrow Cape (59.71 N, -149.53 W) between 1400-1500.
  • April 7: 12 grays per hour at Narrow Cape (59.71 N, -149.53 W); one observed for an hour nearshore in the surfline.
  • April 9: 56 gray whales at Narrow Cape (59.71 N, -149.53 W) between 1600-1815. Ten gray whales spotted Northeast of Long Island (57.77 N, -152.27 W)between 1200-1500.
  • April 10: Twelve grays from 1600-1800 at Narrow Cape (59.71 N, -149.53 W).
  • April 11: 10-12 grays at Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park (57.79 N, -152.41 W). Two reports from Cape Chiniak(57.62 N, -152.17 W) of 6 and 10 whales (showing more tales than usual). Seven whales heading towards Narrow Cape (59.71 N, -149.53 W)
  • April 13: At Narrow Cape(59.71 N, -149.53 W), 6 grays an hour; rain and windy conditions. Two humpback whales in Kupreanof Strait near Eagle Rock (57.14 N, -153.10 W).
  • April 14: At Narrow Cape(59.71 N, -149.53 W), 6 grays an hour; rain and windy conditions.
  • April 16: Rain and windy conditions, three gray whales spotted in an hour at Narrow Cape (59.77 N, -149.52 W).
  • April 18: Nine gray whales from 1300 to 1430 at Narrow Cape (59.77 N, -149.52 W). The M/V Ten Bears, on a whale-watching trip, saw 12 gray whales at the end of Long Island, three miles East of Humpback Rocks (57.76N,-152.26W); some appeared to be yearlings.

This afternoon John Concilius of the False Pass school, talked to a pilot from Nelson Lagoon (55.92 N,-161.35 W) who said he saw several gray whales on the Bering Sea side of the Alaska Peninsula as he was flying to False Pass. On Sunday, April 18, fishermen spotted gray whales near False Pass on the Pacific side of the Alaska Peninsula near the Ikatan Peninsula (54.73 N, -163.21 W). This sighting is only a couple miles from the school. This "first" sighting seems fairly accurate because John went looking by plane on April 14 and did not see any whales at that time. Keep an eye on the live weather camera on Isanotski Strait to see gray whales pass the False Pass classroom (54.86 N, -163.41 W). It is an exciting time in False Pass with gray whales approaching and the eruption of the volcano Shishaldin (54.75 N,163.97 W) on Saturday, April 17 and a big blow on Monday, April 19. The volcano is on Unimak Island behind the school. John says school may be closed on Tuesday, April 20 because of the ash in the air. Apparently, the ash may disrupt air traffic on a major North America to Asia route.

On Monday, April 19, I spoke with Jim Browning of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Dillingham, Alaska. He is in charge of the herring management in Togiak and the aerial surveys looking for those herring. He flew the day I spoke with him, April 19, so we have the latest news from his post. Jim reports that from Cape Constantine (58.40 N,-158.85 W) to Cape Newenham (58.65 N,-162.03 W) there is ice for as far as the eye can see. They fly fifteen miles offshore and are able to scan another 25-30 miles south of them. This information tells us the ice stretches at least 50 miles south of Bristol Bay's shore. During their flight they saw no marine mammals. The last three years they have seen gray whales by the 17th and 18th of April.

This Sunday, April 16, we went out to Narrow Cape with people interested in joining the Audubon whale-watch walk put on for Whale Fest. The weather appeared miserable in the morning and Audubon postponed until next Sunday. However, we decided to go on out with a few hardy souls including Dr. John Ford. When we arrived we saw whales right away. Visibilty was good, but the wind was blowing the whale blows away pretty quickly. The day was my first opportunity to see the newly constructed Kodiak Launch Complex, built by Alaska Aerospace Development Corporation to launch satellites into polar orbit. Last year during Whale Fest there was only roadwork going on; this year, buildings are present. The first launch occurred in early November. We also saw our first newly growing pushki, the local name for Angelica. There is still a lot of snow on the ground, and if not, it is brown grass, so we were thrilled to see this sign of Spring! Along the way to Narrow Cape, we saw about 26 swans, either Trumpeter or Tundra swans. The days continue to lengthen: on April 21, sunrise is 0544 and sunset is 2034 for a total of 14 hours and 50 minutes of daylight.

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

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