Field Notes from Susan Payne
Wayne Perryman of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center has completed the third week of survey effort from Point Piedras Blancas in San Luis Obispo County (35.67N, -121.28W). They have had no sightings of cows with calves. Wayne says this is not unusual; normally their first sighting is the first week of April.
ACS Census: In the Doldrums
Alisa Schulman-Janiger, coordinator of the ACS Census at Long Point CA (33.74 N, -118.39 W) says they are in the doldrums between the adult and the cow/calf phases of the migration. Through Sunday, April 2, they have counted a total of 883 northbound gray whales with no cow/calf pairs and 497 southbound grays. In the last two weeks the largest count of 35 northbound gray whales was on March 20, with zero southbound whales. Visibility has been good and they continue to see common and bottlenose dolphins. On March 24 and 25, they spotted a humpback that breached 12 times and lobtailed 40 times (see Mike and Winston for a description of these activities). Some of the gray whales have been milling around. March 28 was a notable day: a gray whale breached 26 times and a group of seven, the largest group of whales seen in the last couple of weeks, was displaying some mating and courtship behavior.
First Peak Passes Channel Islands and Monterey Bay
Shauna Bingham reports from the Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary with a lot of information from the M/V Rachel G in the data table this week. They are seeing groups of 1-6 whales, both juveniles and adults, traveling at an estimated 3-5 knots. There were several reports of friendly whales and a lot of surface action with flukes and rolls. On March 18, they saw an estimated 1000 common dolphins, along with one juvenile gray.
Nancy Black of Monterey Bay Whale Watch is seeing about 12-15 grays in their three-hour trip (36.67N, -122.00W). The peak of the first migration pulse has passed Monterey without any cow/calf pairs yet. They've had several days with Risso's dolphins playing around the whales, which seems to entice the gray whales into mating behaviors.
Up the Coast With Exuberant Whales
Christy Sallee from Marine Discovery Tours in Newport, Oregon (44.61N, -124.08W) has been out seven times in the last two weeks and each time has spotted gray whales heading north with many whales spotted on March 23-26. Rough ocean conditions and bad weather prevented them from going out every day.
The Whale Watch Spoken Here program will be posting the summary from their March 18-25 sightings very soon. Watch for that posting!
John Calambokidis of Cascadia Research says, "The migration is in full swing and many whale-watch boats are operating out of Westport, Washington at this time. Based on sighting reports and a survey last week, we now have at least 6 seasonal-resident whales feeding in northern Puget Sound around Whidbey Island (48.00N, -122.44W). Additionally we have at least 2 gray whales moving around the waters of southern and central Puget Sound including two seen off Seattle (47.60N, -122.33W). We thought we had our first gray whale stranding of the year in Washington last week, but when we went to examine the animal it turned out to be an adult female sperm whale."
Geoff Grillo of Advantage Sport Fishing in Westport, Washington reported 10-20 grays per hour on March 15, and at least 5-10 per hour on March 21. Geoff also thinks the resident gray whales have been more active than usual, moving in and out of Grays Harbor to the ocean, perhaps, visiting their migrating friends. This week Geoff reports, "The whales are very abundant here now. We may have 10 to 25 per hour during the day anyway. The whales are as numerous as ever but the whale watchers are sure fewer than past years in our harbor. I've been crabbing most of the last 2 weeks and whale numbers have been very consistent daily."
Off Tofino, BC (49.11N, -125.88 W), Rod Palm of Strawberry Isle Research Society , reports that they are "getting right into full swing with the migration, and are seeing 15 whales passing by in an hour with as many as nine in a group. Today (Monday, April 3) the Grays seem particularly exuberant with a lot of breaching going on."
All Kinds of Whales in Alaska
In Sitka, Jan Straley, a humpback researcher with the University of Alaska, had her first report of gray whales on Saturday, March 25. They were off Puffin Bay on Baranof Island (56.27N, -134.79W), about 40 miles south of Sitka (57.05 N, -135.33 W). On March 12, Jan had an unconfirmed report of a gray whale feeding in the bay along the Sitka road system, but there were humpbacks in the area as well.
North or South? Leslie Hines of Kenai Fjords Tours in Seward, Alaska (60.05N, -149.43W) has many sightings. March 25 they saw 3-5 gray whales pass Barwell Island (59.86 N, -149.29 W). On March 26, they saw no gray whales but did see the AB pod of 12 orcas at Kings Head. On April 2, they saw their first humpback sighting of the season, along with one gray whale heading southbound near Cheval Narrows (59.77N, -149.52W). Whales traveling southbound here are actually heading towards Kodiak on the northbound migration. Remember gray whales follow the coastline on their northbound migration, often crossing the large bays, traveling from cape to cape.
Also, reporting from Seward is Mike Brittain. Mike is monitoring a remote hydrophone set up on the north point of Thumb Cove (59.90N, -149.33W) to listen for killer whales. He is working with Craig Matkin and Eva Saulitus of the North Gulf Oceanic Society. On March 18, Mike saw one gray whale between Cape Resurrection (59.54N, -149.29W) and Rugged Island (59.86N, -149.39W). On March 22, they heard orcas on the hydrophone, so they went looking and instead found 5 gray whales instead in groups of two and three, a half-mile south of Rugged Island (59.86N, -149.39W). From March 14-23, the AJ orca pod, a group of "residents" or fish-eating orcas, was seen in Resurrection Bay (59.93N, -149.39W).
Kodiak Sighings Increasing
In Kodiak, the sightings are increasing. The weather this past weekend was terrible for whale sightings and made us think that winter would never leave. Monday, April 3 was beautiful and warm and the blueberry flowers and salmonberry buds will soon be open. Kate Wynne, Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program's Marine Mammal specialist, reports three gray whales outside the northeast corner and one on the northwest corner of Twoheaded Island (56.90N, -153.31W) on the west side of Kodiak on March 27. Kate covers a lot of territory on her aerial surveys and also reports fin whales in Uyak Bay (57.61N, -153.92W) on March 25 and 27. They are also in Uganik bay (57.88N, -153.55W). On March 23, she saw one feeding gray and two others in Ugak Bay (57.45N, -152.73W).
Migrating whales are being reported from Narrow Cape (57.43N, -152.34W) by Whale Alert volunteers! On Friday, March 31, 4 unidentified whales were spotted in Chiniak Bay (57.72N, -152.37W) in the afternoon. In the morning, a local pilot, Mark Blakeslee saw six gray whales between Cape Chiniak (57.62N, -152.17W) and Narrow Cape. Pete Cummiskey, the same day, saw 30-40 gray whales in an hour, in an area from Pashagshak Point (57.42N, -152.49W) to Ugak Bay (57.45N, -152.73W). He also said whales could be seen coming through the passage between Narrow Cape and Ugak Island (57.40N, -152.32W). At Narrow Cape, Pete also saw 6 swans, which is a sure sign of Spring! On April 1, approximately 15 gray whales were spotted on the bluffs at Narrow Cape. Again, on Monday, April 3, Patrick Saltonstall reported 3-5 grays in an hour passing Narrow Cape; one was apparently feeding in the kelp. He saw another 5-7 grays on his drive away from the Cape.
Orca Alert. On Saturday, April 1, I was listening to the radio at 1100 am and heard the Whale Alert for 4-5 killer whales, including a small calf, in the Kodiak Harbor (57.80N, -152.38W). Apparently, they stayed in the area for 25 minutes. Again, on April 2, the Kodiak Daily Mirror, had a photo and report of four adult orcas and a calf in the Kodiak channel. Kate Wynne saw a group on March 12, which included two females, a male, and a calf; this may be the same group she recognized from years past. In our last report, there were several sightings of orcas in the Kodiak harbor and at that time I thought they were all the same group. However, on March 16, a group of 5 orcas including 3 males was reported in the channel. From this information and from Kate Wynne's observations it appears we may now have two separate groups of killer whales visiting Kodiak.
Marcus Tunohun of Old Harbor School writes that "Sunday, April 2, Loren Peterson spotted a gray whale near Cape Kiavak (56.57N, -153.55W) which is southwest of Old Harbor (57.20N,-153.31W). Charlie Powers spotted some whales across the bay in Port Otto, but could not determine what type they were. They were smaller than humpbacks, fins or grays but were obviously filter feeders. Locals call them black fish or herring whales." According to Kate Wynne, these are probably minke whales in our area.
We have no report from John Concilus, the principle of the Nelson Lagoon School , located on the north side of the Alaska Peninsula (55.92N, -161.35 W). Check out their live streaming videocam. Any gray whales yet?
Bowhead Whale Hunt: Important Cultural Tradition
Sheila Gaquin, a school teacher in Point Hope (68.33 N, -166.75W), reports that the sea is still frozen. "It will be weeks and weeks before we see any gray whales, but bowhead whales are already beginning to move through the small leads in the ice that open and close during this time of year. The bowhead is important to the Inupiat People and the continuation of their centuries old culture. This spring, as they have done for at least 2000 years, the people of Point Hope will put skins on their driftwood boat frames and haul them out over miles of sea ice to the open water. In these leads they will hunt for bowheads. If the village is lucky, two or three whales will be taken and there will be a bounty for all. The meat, and organs of the whale are important subsistence foods which are shared throughout the village. Baleen is prized for the tools and art objects that can be fashioned from it, but the most welcomed treat of all is muktuk, the skin and subcutaneous fat or blubber of the whale. Muktuk is a good food, high in energy and vitamins, and it tastes good too! My 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade students have this to say about muktuk:"
"Here is a picture of a whaling crew on the ice cutting and hauling muktuk.
As you can imagine, a 20 or 30 foot bowhead whale will yield tons of muktuk. It takes
many many people working for hours and hours to cut, haul, and store all the muktuk.
Meat, organs and blubber are stored in ice cellars dug down into the permafrost under
Copyright 2000 Journey North. All Rights Reserved. Please send all questions, comments, and suggestions to our feedback form