Gray Whale Gray Whale
Today's News Report Your Sightings How to Use Journey North Search Journey North

Field Notes from Susan Payne

Hello from the migration trail!

It's Official! Northbound Migration Underway

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

On February 14, the official northbound migration began, as declared by the American Cetacean Society census at Long's Point (33.74 N, -118.39 W). Northbound gray whales have now been spotted in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary (34.40N, -119.69W)! Farther up the coast, "Seasonal Resident" gray whales, or whales just hanging out, are being seen from Washington to Kodiak, Alaska. Gray whales are in Puget Sound, according to John Calambokidis of Cascadia Research, and these whales may be new arrivals or possibly seasonal residents. Read on for details!

Whale Counts from the American Cetacean Society (ACS) Census
Alisa Schulman-Janiger, coordinator of the ACS census at Long's Point (33.74 N, -118.39 W) near Los Angeles, California, reports counts of 459 southbound grays, including 18 cow/calf pairs and 76 northbound grays with 0 cow/calf pairs as of February 20. According to past data and this year's counts, Alisa has tentatively defined the official southbound migration as taking place from December 1- February 13. The official northbound migration tentatively started February 14!

As of February 18, this year's count of 69 northbound grays compares with 58 northbound grays in 1999 and an average of 69 northbound grays from 1984-2000. Between February 7 and 20, they have seen 56 northbound and 78 southbound gray whales. Counts have been affected by poor visibility from rainy, windy weather as well as the number of common dolphins also in the water.

As ACS Census volunteers, Mike and Winston comment on the seeming slowness of this census period. They call this a transition time because there seems to be no predominate direction to the migration now. Some gray whales are going north while others are on their way south. On February 20, the windy and rainy day was brightened by a gray whale breaching 8 times, close to shore.

Few Northbound Whales at Channel Islands; No News from Monterey Bay
Shauna Bingham, from the Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary reports that the whale watch vessels C/V Condor and C/V Rachel G have seen only 4 northbound whales in 5 excursions since our last report. They have switched the focus of their cruises to northbound whales, which takes them on three hour excursions along the coast instead of three to four day trips out to the Channel Islands to see southbound whales.

I have no news this report from Nancy Black of Monterey Bay Whale Watch, who is bringing a new charter boat up from Mexico. Nancy should have an interesting tale next report as she moves northbound with the whales!

Puget Sound Sightings, Resident Whales, and Exciting New Humpback Research
John Calambokidis from Cascadia Research has emailed me his observations of whales in Puget Sound, Washington:

"There have been several sightings of gray whales in Puget Sound, Washington starting in early February. Sightings have been of one to three whales in shallow waters north of Seattle. These have included sightings near Birch Bay (48.92N,-122.77W) and in Port Susan. This is earlier than the typical period that gray whales arrive in these waters. Each spring and extending into summer, gray whales come into Puget Sound and inland waters north of Puget Sound to feed. In one area around Whidbey Island, the same five whales have been documented returning each spring for the last 9 years. These whales usually show up in March, so the sightings this year are earlier than normal. At this point it is unknown if these animals are early migrants or possibly animals that did not go south to the breeding areas.

"There has been increasing interest in studies of gray whales in Washington State in recent years especially in light of the resumption of whaling by the Makah Tribe. One important issue has been the existence of seasonal Rresident gray whales. These are animals that come to the Pacific Northwest (N. California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia) to feed and stay through the spring, summer and fall. From their extended presence in Pacific Northwest waters and the resightings of some of the same animals year after year, these individuals might be a fairly stable group that does not make the full migration into the northern waters of Alaska where most gray whales go to feed."

Cascadia Research also studies blue and humpback whales. They just recently discovered that humpback whales go farther south than previously suspected! And this is what John said about that discovery:

"I recently returned from Costa Rica where Cascadia Research has been studying the humpback whales that use these coastal waters as wintering area for mating and calving. During this trip I was able to identify several humpback whales that we had previously identified feeding off California. Research the Kristin Rasmussen, Gretchen Steiger, and I have been conducting in association with Oceanic Society has revealed that Central America is an important winter breeding ground for North Pacific humpback whales, especially those that feed off California. Prior to this research, North Pacific humpback whales were thought to use three main wintering areas off Mexico, Hawaii, and Japan. The wintering areas off Central America are farther south than these other areas. Additionally, the waters off Panama and Costa Rica are utilized in our summer by humpback whales from the southern hemisphere. This is one of the few known areas where northern and southern hemisphere whales overlap in their occurrence, although they are there at different times of year."

You can read more about their work with gray whales and "seasonal-residents," and Cascadia Research's work with humpback whales at the Cascadia Research website .

I am excited to say that John Calambokidis will come to share his work with whales at Whale Fest Kodiak on April 15!

Northbound News from Newport, Oregon
Christy Sallee from Marine Discovery Tours in Newport, Oregon has this recent news of gray whales from their whale watch trips.
February 19: 3 gray whale adults heading south in 30 fathoms of water (44.63N,-124.05W).
February 20: 0 grays (44.63N,-124.05W).

Only Seasonal Residents in Washington
Geoff Grillo of Advantage Sport Fishing reports seeing very few whales off Westport, Washington except for the local whales in Grays Harbor. The weather has been beautiful, however.

No Northbound Whales Yet in British Columbia or Ugak Bay
Rod Palm, Strawberry Isle Research Society , says that even though some of the whale watch fleet from Tofino, British Columbia, Canada has been going out, they have not yet seen any northbound migrating gray whales. Both Rod and Jamie Bray of Jamie's Whaling Station are reporting "seasonal-resident" gray whales in the area. According to Jamie, there are 6 grays hanging out in Hesquiat Harbor (49.43N,-126.45W) and Rod says there has been one in Clayoquot Sound (49.20N,-126.01W) all winter.

Still Waiting in Kodiak
The latest news from Kodiak is from Kate Wynne, a marine mammal specialist with the University of Alaska's Marine Advisory Program. Flying marine mammal aerial surveys she again saw the "seasonal-resident" gray whales that have been in Ugak Bay all fall and winter. Kate's sightings:
February 15: About 12 gray whales in Ugak Bay (57.45N, -152.73W). Eight were definitely bottom feeding, with mud plumes behind them.

Prediction: No Whales by Mid May in the Arctic!
And way up north, Charlie Lean from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game out of Nome, Alaska, (64.50N,-165.10W) reports that they had more gray whale sightings last summer than usual. Charlie is predicting that the spring up there will be late again due to an extensive ice pack this winter. He doubts that the whales will be there by May 17 this year. We will have to see!

Record Ice in the Bering Sea
Because it was looking like an extreme year for the Bering Sea ice pack, I contacted Russell Page with the National Weather Service in Anchorage, Alaska to see how it compared with past conditions. He told me that in January the ice was at an all time record, but as of Monday, February 14 the ice had retreated in the three weeks prior, and was now further north than usual. He did say that we have two more months of winter, and that this winter was looking like a winter of extremes.

Here in Kodiak the sunrise is now 0821 and sunset is1826.

Talk to you in a couple of weeks!

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

Copyright 2000 Journey North. All Rights Reserved. Please send all questions, comments, and suggestions to our feedback form

Today's News Today's News Report Your Sightings How to Use Journey North Search Journey North