Field Notes from Susan Payne
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.
Mike and Winston are volunteers for the ACS census. Mike has an incredible report of:
The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary reports this week come from the Whale Corp aboard the M/V Condor. A few highlights are:
Virg's Landing of Morro Bay is finished with the whale watch charters for this year. But Darby Neil was out fishing and saw:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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