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Gray Whale Migration Update: March 10, 1999

Today's Report Includes:

Latest News From the Gray Whale Observation Posts
The northbound gray whale migration is nearing it's peak along the California coast, reports Susan Payne, including a first calf sighting off Morro Bay! Further north, early gray whales have already been sighted in Oregon and British Columbia. The highlights of Susan's report are provided below:

This Week's Highlights from the Migration Trail:

Northbound Sightings
339 northbound gray whales have been counted by the American Cetacean Society (ACS)census from Point Vicente (33.44N,-118.24W) on the Palos Verdes Peninsula near Los Angeles, as of Sunday, March 7. Alisa Schulman-Janiger, the coordinator for the ACS census, thinks the peak will pass there this week.

Slightly north on March 6, Darby Neil reported his first sighting of gray whale calves in Morro Bay, CA (35.20N,-120.51W). They were within a huge pod of 30 whales with approximately 5 calves. Nancy Black of Monterey Bay Whale Watch (36.67N,-122.00W) also reported high numbers, seeing 20-30 northbound whales per 3 hour trip from March 5-8.

Further north in Oregon, Christina Folger, the Science Director for Marine Discovery Tours in Newport, OR (44.64N,-124.00W) reported a few northbound gray whales on February 14 and March 6 & 7.

Northbound whales were also reported from Vancouver Island! In Ucluelet, B.C. (49.08N,-125.91W) Brian Congdon of Subtidal Adventures says he saw his "first" northbound gray whale on March 1; the northbound migration usually starts there on February 28. In Tofino, B.C. (49.10N,-125.93W), Rod Palm, the principle investigator for the Strawberry Island Research Society, reported three northbound whales in 12 miles of shoreline on March 7, and estimated 10-12 northbound whales in a 24 hour period.

Jamie Bray of Jamie's Whaling Station also reported having whales all winter on Vancouver Island, but these would likely be "residents", whales that do not travel further south. Gray whales have been reported to stay all along the coast throughout the winter.

No gray whales in Kodiak yet, but we are thinking of their return in our planning of Whale Fest Kodiak 1999, April 16-25. 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!

Southbound Sightings
As expected, far fewer southbound sightings have been reported. From Point Vincente (33.44N,-118.24W), 1 southbound whale was reported on March 7. And in Westport, WA (46.53N,-124.06W), Geoff Grillo of Advantage Sport Fishing is reporting "lots of whales" and it appears they are heading southbound. Are these whales milling around or are they heading South?

Food, Food, and More Food
Discussion of Challenge Question #2

Susan Payne with son Will Ross H. Dumm

Last time I asked why most gray whales make such a long journey of 10,000-12,000 miles each year, leaving southern waters for northern seas? Food, food, and more food is what many classes said:

Scott Young P.S. Fifth graders, Steph, Kate & Danielle from Ontario said "We've been researching a lot lately. We looked back in our notes and found out that the gray whale will travel 10-12,000 miles each summer to feast in the cold Arctic waters. They feast on shrimp (krill), invertebrates and fish." (

Another class wrote that "they bear their young in the south part of their migratory route. And food is most plentiful on the northern part of their route. So they migrate for such long distances to get food and to give birth."(

Nice work! Gray whales travel to the Bering and Chukchi Seas to feed on the rich benthic communities of the sea floor. Gray whales are predominantly benthic feeders, but have been known to feed on crab and herring larvae. This leads to the next Challenge Question:

Challenge Question #3
"What is "benthic"?

(To respond to this Challenge Question, please follow the instructions at the end of this report.)

Talk to you in two weeks. Until then, good whale-watching!

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

Report your FIRST Gray Whale Sighting to Journey North

Report the FIRSTnorthbound Gray Whale you see this spring to Journey North!

If you live along the Gray Whale migration route on the West Coast, we hope you'll help provide gray whale migration data this spring. To track the whales' trip to their northern feeding grounds we are collecting the following information:
  • Date of first sighting of northbound gray whales.
  • Date of first sighting of northbound gray whale mother/calf pairs.

Helpful Links and Special Thanks!
Today's data and observations were generously shared by the many people named in Susan's Field Notes, and by the following organizations:

How to Respond to Today's Gray Whale Challenge Question:

1. Address an e-mail message to:
2. In the Subject Line of your message write: Challenge Question #3
3. In the body of the message, give your answer to the question above.

The Next Gray Whale Migration Update will Be Posted on March 24, 1999.

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