Field Notes from Susan Payne
Hello from the migration trail!
It's Official! Northbound Migration Underway
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!
Susan Payne with her family Don Dumm, and Will
Ross H. Dumm
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
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
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
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!
National Marine Fisheries Service
Alaska Fisheries Science Center
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