Field Notes from Susan Payne
Hello from the migration trail!
Whales In the News
Susan Payne with her family Don Dumm, and Will
Ross H. Dumm
Hanging Out in San Francisco Bay. According to the Associated Press, San
Francisco Bay is attracting a larger than usual number of gray whales. These may
be seasonal residents who have decided to stay in the Bay rather than migrate further
north. Apparently, Humboldt County is thought to be the southernmost area for summer
feeding whales. The Oceanic Society is coordinating a survey over the next five years
to determine why the gray whales are choosing to stay in San Francisco Bay. They
will identify individuals and look at what they feed on, including bottom sediments,
movements and habits.
Ban Upheld on Trade of Whale Meat. In Nairobi, Kenya on April 20, CITES, the
United Nations Convention on International trade in Endangered Species, upheld the
current ban on the trade of whale products. Norway and Japan proposed resolutions
to allow trade in the meat of minke and the northeastern Pacific gray whales. Commercial
whaling was banned by the International Whaling Commission in 1986, but allows whaling
for scientific purposes.
The ACS Census Reports 1011 Northbound Whales!
Alisa Schulman-Janiger, coordinator of the American
Cetacean Society (ACS) Census at Long Point (33.74 N, -118.39
W), reports a total of 1011 northbound gray whales as of Sunday, April 30. Of those,
16 were cow/ calf pairs. April 24 was their largest northbound day with 13 grays
since April 1; otherwise their counts have been from 1 to 8 northbound gray whales
a day with 1 to 3 northbound cow/calf pairs. Comparing this year with the other census
years: the 993 northbound grays as of Friday, April 28, is the fifth lowest year,
and the 13 cow/calf pairs is the third lowest in the sixteen years of the census.
Alisa feels that it is a late migration this year as she hears that there are still
20 cow/calf pairs in San Ignacio Lagoon. Usually, all whales have left the lagoons
by mid-April. Alisa has also heard that there are still many grays off La Paz as
of a week ago. On Sunday, April 30, Fred Benko reported six blue whales and four
gray whales feeding on abundant krill off San Miguel Island (34.03N, 120.40W). Alisa
confirms that the group of transient orcas spotted in Santa Barbara includes some
of the transients she has seen in Santa Cruz and the same ones that Nancy Black saw
in Monterey in April 1999. One of the males was CA160. Apparently, it is uncommon
to see such a large group of transients unless they have been feeding on a gray whale.
Last Thursday, April 28 a pilot saw an attack by eight killer whales on a cow/calf
pair off the Channel Islands (32.49N, 118.45). Alisa thinks that maybe the large
group of transients may have gathered as a result of that kill, attracted by a dead
calf. On April 20, over 1000 bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus)--that's
six miles of dolphins--was spotted off Point Vicente near Catalina Island (33.30N,
118.30W). This is perhaps the largest congregation of bottlenose dolphins ever seen!
Other California Counts
and Winston report yet another stranding of a malnourished gray whale
off of Sunset Beach. Officials say it was 3 tons underweight. On April 17, Mike reports
that an aerial survey on the east end of Catalina Island (33.30N, 118.30W) spotted
2 large 40-foot gray whales traveling side by side. Also spotted was a sperm whale
(Pyseter catadon), a school of 100-200 common dolphins, two groups (60 and 200-300)
of bottlenose dolphins, and Rissoís dolphins.
Our report from Shauna Bingham at theChannel
Islands Marine Sanctuary, had a sighting of a "superpod" of the
transient orcas off Santa Barbara (34.30N, 119.65W) on Monday, April 24 aboard the
Rachel G. They estimated over 30 in the pod, including two large dominant males.
The whales were moving pretty fast, but they did come up pretty close to the boat
and were bow riding and breaching. The last sighting of gray whales by the Rachel
G appears to be on March 31 when they saw three whales displaying some surface action,
perhaps mating activity.
Monday, April 24 is the latest report I have from Wayne Perryman of the Southwest
Fisheries Science Center. From the census at Point Piedras Blancas in San
Luis Obispo County (35.67N, 121.28W), Wayne writes: "counts of cows with calves
is still slow." They had counted 43 by the end of the week, April 23, which
was up from last year's count of 25 at this time, but down from their usual count
of 120 by that date.
Nancy Black of Monterey
Bay Whale Watch is seeing few gray whales now, but a lot of humpbacks and
dolphins in their tours (36.67N, 122.00W). They are looking for killer whales, but
have not seen any lately. They are hoping the transients seen off Santa Barbara will
Up the Coast to Washington, Oregon, British Columbia
John Calambokidis of Cascadia Research
in Olympia, Washington, writes: "We have had our 6th stranding of gray whales.
While the total remains well below last year's record of 28, but it remains early
in the year and we appear headed for above normal levels of mortality. Although we
are well past the peak of the migration, gray whales are being seen regularly in
a number of areas around the state. Whale-watching boats operating out of Grays Harbor
have not had to go out on the ocean this season and continue to observe more than
a half dozen gray whale inside Grays Harbor. Whales are also being seen all around
Puget Sound. The most unusual sightings come from Bellingham Bay (48.73N, 122.55W)
where 3 to 5 whales have been hanging out right in the harbor raising concerns about
their exposure to contaminants. We currently estimate more than a dozen whales around
Geoff Grillo of Advantage Sport Fishing in Westport, Washington writes: "Whale
watching in our community is way down this year. The main migration has definitely
gone by us. We still have 6 whales in the bay that seem to be the focus of most of
the whale watching." Not reported in our April 19 report, Geoff saw a cow/calf
pair on 16 or 17 April.
Rod Palm of Strawberry Isle
Research Society in Tofino, British Columbia (49.11N, 125.88 W) reports that
the migration on the west coast of Vancouver Island is now past its peak so they
are in a bit of a lull waiting for the slower traveling new moms with their calves.
He notes that there are only a few animals passing by in an hour. For the last couple
of months they have had two gray whales interrupt their migration to hang out in
Clayoquot Sound's inland waters.
On May 1, Brian Congdon of Subtidal Adventures in Ucluelet, British Columbia
(48.50 N, -125.30W) saw no migrating whales in his survey of 20 miles of Vancouver
Whale Sightings In Alaska
In Sitka, Jan Straley, a humpback researcher with the University of Alaska,
was on Prince of Wales Island last week and heard of gray whales passing by.
Here in Kodiak, the Narrow Cape (57.43N, 152.34W) sightings have been slow in coming
in now that Whale Fest is over. Our last sightings there were on April 19 when 18
grays were seen. Another group of whalewatchers, Eva Holm and Claudia Anderson, saw
36-43 gray whales; some were feeding, standing on their heads, and rolling on their
sides. Of that group they saw one gray heading north. I hope to visit there in the
next week or so. We seem to be having some sightings from within Chiniak Bay like
the two grays spotted off Spruce Cape (57.83N,-152.35W) on April 25. Fortunately
Eric Stirrup, on the F/V Tenbears
keeps me posted on his activities. On Friday, April 28 he saw a very distinctive
gray whale they nicknamed "Spot." Eric writes, "while grays are mottled
in color, this one was fairly uniform in color except for the very large white circular
spot, both right and left side just forward of the dorsal hump. This large adult
was traveling with three other adults and a younger whale off Long Island (57.46N,
152.26W) in Chiniak Bay (57.72N, 152.37W)." On April 29, Eric spotted killer
whales off Spruce Island (57.97N, 152.51W). The pod consisted of one bull male, one
smaller adult, one subadult about half the size of the two adults, and two very young
calves. Eric believes these may be one of the groups that visited the Kodiak harbor
earlier in the season. Out at Cape Chiniak (57.62N, 152.17W) on April 22, Eric saw
seven grays despite bad weather conditions that prevented him from continuing the
trip around Ugat Island. Please see the data table for more Kodiak sightings.
Nelson Lagoon School's Candid Camera
John Concilus, the principal of the Nelson
Lagoon School on the north side of the Alaska Peninsula (55.92N, 161.35 W),
writes, "We went to the beach twice to get video, and no whales...BUT, every
time I don't have a camera I see them. They are increasing in regularity. The weather
has been bad the last week, but we plan on taking five of our kids and just WAITING
with a video camera NEXT NICE DAY! Some are just 30 to 50 FEET off the beach."
A Sighting of 500!
Here's a news flash from James Browning of the Alaska
Department of Fish and Game in Dillingham, Alaska, who sighted at least 500
gray whales on April 18 on an aerial survey for herring of the northern shore of
Bristol Bay: "It was pretty out there yesterday. And like clockwork (except
for 1999 -the late one) on April 18 (of 1997, and 1998), between Right Hand Point
and Summit Island (58.90N, 160.18W), we saw the mud boils and sure enough, blows
and gray whales! Lots of them! Then, when we got down to the channel between Hagemeister
(58.63N, 161.00W) and High Islands, it was calm with high sunlight and you could
look out across the surface and see a group of disturbances; we flew out there and
saw more blows and gray whales. The 500 number is obviously an estimate. The group
could have been relatively continuous from Right Hand Point out to Hagemeister and
numbered more than that."
Brrrr! Don't Get in the Water!
In my last report from Jim on April 26, he reports that there still are 500 whales,
perhaps more, actively "bottom feeding" in the outer Togiak Bay. Some large
whales are also between Hagemeister and High Islands, and the usual area between
Right Hand Point and Summit Island. They also note 25-50 sea lions and some seals
in their reports from April 27 and 29. Actual water temperature taken from the vessel
Aleutian Falcon at Hagemeister Island was 0 degrees Celsius early morning of April
27. It had risen to 1 degree in the afternoon. The water temperature on the morning
of April 29 morning at Anchor Point was 35 F/ 1.7 C. Summit Island and Kulukak both
reported a water temperature of 36 F/ 2.2 C.
Department of Fish and Game in Bethel, Alaska, will start aerial surveys
for herring of southern Kuskokwim Bay this week.
Belugas and Bowheads at Point Hope, but no Grays
Charles Lean Alaska
Department of Fish and Game in Nome, Alaska, reported on Wednesday, April
26 that the belukhas (or belugas) and bowheads are up as far as Point Hope (68.33
N, 166.75W) but no grays yet that he is aware of. In our last report, Sheila Gaquin,
a schoolteacher in Point Hope, reported that on Sunday, April 9th there was no open
water. The National Weather Service ice
maps of the Bering Sea will tell you more.
Compare your daylight to ours in Kodiak; sunrise on May 3 is 0512 and sunset
References Used in Preparation of "Beast Feast" in Today's Update
Darling, J.D., Keogh, K.E., Steeves, T.E. Gray Whale (Eschrichtius Robustus)
Habitat Utilization and prey species off Vancouver Island, B.C. Marine Mammal Science,
14(4): 692-720. 1998
Nerini, M. A Review of Gray Whale Feeding Ecology. p. 423-450. In: The Gray Whale,
Eschrichtius robustus. Ed. Jones, Swartz, Leatherwood. Academic Press, Inc.
National Marine Fisheries Service
Alaska Fisheries Science Center
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