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Gray Whale Migration Report: March 22, 2000

The big news this week is that northbound gray whales have been reported in Alaska! Mike Mckerne, of the M/V Renown in Seward, and Jo Harlan, skipper of the F/V Deliverance in Kodiak, have the satisfaction this year of spotting the first northbound gray whales in Alaska.

American Cetacean Society Census: Has the Northbound Migration Peaked?
The American Cetacean Society is seeing mostly northbound whales now, and only an occasional southbound gray. They have not spotted any cow/calf pairs to date! ACS counts are down due to fog; compare the ACS counts with those of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center census at Point Piedras Blancas.

Alisa Schulman-Janiger, coordinator of the ACS census at Long Point (33.74 N, 118.39 W) reports a total count through Sunday, March 19 of 606 northbound gray whales with no cow/calf pairs and 491 southbound grays. In the last two weeks the largest count of 55 northbound gray whales was on Monday, March 6, with zero southbound whales. Alisa says that the peak should be happening right now! However, the numbers from last week are down because of persistent fog making visibility very poor. The peak week, on average, occurs anywhere from the last week of February to the last week of March. The average peak day over all years has been on March 18. According to Alisa, the total number of northbound whales as of Friday, March 17 was 585 compared to an average total of 628 grays over the past 10 years. The first five years of the census saw an average total of 1000-2100 gray whales. It is not unusual for the census to see no cow/calf pairs by March 18. In the 17 years of the census, only eight years have seen cow/calf pairs by March 18; in five of these eight years only one cow/calf pair had been spotted. Last year, there were eight cow/calf pairs spotted by March 18!

On Thursday, March 16, a charter vessel reported an unusual sighting of an estimated 200 northern right whale dolphins. The news from Baja last week is that there are still a lot of cow/calf pairs in the lagoons.

Monday, March 20 was the first day without fog in a week and Alisa is anxious to see the counts. You can see the effect of fog on the counts listed below, compiled with the help of ACS census volunteers, Mike and Winston:

Wayne Perryman of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center began his shore-based survey of northbound gray whales and cow/calf pairs from Point Piedras Blancas in San Luis Obispo County (35.67N, 121.28W) on Monday, March 13. That first day, they saw 85 gray whales, but no cow/calf pairs. Fog hampered their efforts on March 14 and 15. As of Monday, March 20, Wayne is still seeing 70-80 adults and juveniles per day. In response to our question regarding sleep in gray whales and predation on killer whales, Wayne replied, "I have never seen anything that looks like sleep in gray whales. When they stop, the activity has a distinct sexual slant to it. That can go on for hours with several 'obvious' males in attendance. We have seen two groups of killer whales feeding on a gray calf during the six years of our study, once in 1994 and once in 1996, as I remember."

News from Channel Islands and Monterrey Bay
We have no report this week from Shauna Bingham at the Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary. Her news will be very exciting next report!

Nancy Black of Monterey Bay Whale Watch had a break in the weather on Saturday, March 18, and they saw 22-27 northbound gray whales in their 3-hour trip (36.67N,-122.00W). This count is up from our last report, where she was seeing 15-18 northbound gray whales in a 3-hour trip on March 4.

Christy Sallee from Marine Discovery Tours in Newport, Oregon has been out five times in the last two weeks and each time they spotted whales heading north. This weekend they could not go out because of weather. Here are their sightings:

Whales Streaming Past Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia The Whale Watch Spoken Here census happens this week, March 18-25. Trained volunteers look for and report their gray whales sightings from 29 locations along the Oregon Coast. The results of their survey will be posted soon.

Over the weekend, a large ocean swell has prevented whale watching off Tofino, BC (49.11N, 125.88 W), according to Rod Palm of Strawberry Isle Research Society. Even so, Rod believes that 4 to 5 northbound gray whales are passing there per hour as of Sunday, March 19. Two migrating whales joined the resident gray whale in Grice Bay (49.10N, 125.73W).

Brian Congdon of Subtidal Adventures in Ucluelet, British Columbia (48.50 N, -125.30W) is seeing more and more whales, but the weather this last weekend and last week has been terrible.

The Gray Whales Reach Alaska!
In Sitka, Jan Straley, humpback researcher with the University of Alaska, still has not seen any gray whales in her near shore surveys, nor heard of any gray whale sightings off shore. The weather last week was not good for sighting whales. Jan says that past Sitka (57.05 N, 135.33 W) the main migration corridor is about 20 miles off shore in the Gulf of Alaska. But we have other gray whale sightings to report, including in Seward and Kodiak!

Leslie Hines of Kenai Fjords Tours in Seward, Alaska (60.05N, 149.43W) called to report the first gray whale sighting in Seward, Alaska. Mike Mckerne of Renown Charters had the sighting on March 11! I have not made direct contact with Mike. In a whale watch trip on March 13, Leslie did not see any gray whales.

On March 16, our first sighting in Kodiak was called in by Joe Harlan of the F/V Deliverance. Joe saw 15 gray whales heading toward Kodiak from Marmot Bay (58.03N, 152.30W). The crew of the F/V Deliverance also saw killer whales in the Kodiak channel (57.80N, 152.38W) on Sunday, March 19. These are the same transient killer whales that come every year to feed on the Stellar sealions in the harbor. These same three killer whales were seen on Friday, March 17 and, the week before, on Friday, March 10, in the channel and Gibson Cove. We can repeatedly identify these killer whales because the male has a dorsal fin that is flapped over. The Whale Fest KodiakWhale Alert program is up and running, so these whales were reported on KMXT radio. Eric Stirrup of M/V Tenbears saw no gray whales on a charter Friday, March 17, but he did see returning seabirds like black legged kittiwakes, parakeet auklets, pigeon guillemots, and cormorants in their breeding plumage.

Nelson Lagoon School May Show You the Whales!
John Concilus, the principle of the Nelson Lagoon School on the north side of the Alaska Peninsula (55.92N, 161.35 W) tells me that they are ready for the whales and will have some surprises for us when the whales arrive. The school has a streaming video focused on the Bering Sea, and they are hoping to video some gray whales as they pass by.

First Day of Spring in Kodiak
We finally had some sunshine in Kodiak this last weekend, but also wind, rain, and snow showers. Last week, I noticed that some of the blueberry bushes were just about to bloom!

Compare your daylight to ours in Kodiak; sunrise on March 22 is 0704 and sunset is 1930.

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