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Gray Whale Migration Update: March 8, 2000

Today's Report Includes:

News Flash: No Salt Plant for Laguna San Ignacio!

Gray Whale Nursery Lagoons
(Click on face of map)

Thanks to a huge outpouring of public concern, Mexico's President Zedillo vetoed the plan to build a salt production plant in the last untouched gray whale nursery, ending five years of controversy. The Mexican government and Mitsubishi, partners in the plan, agreed in early March not to start up the plan in the near future, if ever.

Millennium Baby Behavin'
From Laguna San Ignacio, whale-watch guide Kristin "Ellie" Kusic writes news from the nurseries:

Dear Students:
"Many of the mom/calf pairs have retreated to the shallow areas of the lagoon. It is too dangerous for the calves to be around the overzealous adult males, whose minds are on courting and breeding.

"We can identify the millennium baby, which was born on either December 30th or 31st, by a light gray birthmark on her left side near the dorsal knuckles. By now, she is gaining independence and approaching the boat while her mother stays below. On one of her surfacings the baby whale, mouth open, showed us her baleen and a lot of sand. Apparently her mom is teaching her feeding techniques. The baby seemed more excited to have the sand in her mouth than to use her baleen to strain out any food. Luckily she has 6 more months of nursing before she has to feed for herself."

Challenge Question # 7:
"How long might the millennium baby whale live if she has a normal life span? How do scientists determine the age of a whale?"

(To respond to this question, please follow the instructions below.)

Copying the Big Guys
Kristin continues her whale tales about the growing babies:

Photo Copyright Keith E. Jones

"As the babies continue to grow, we're seeing more adult behavior, just as expected. When an adult whale breaches, 3/4 of his body crashes down with a huge splash. As I watched the adult whale breaching, a baby whale tried out her breaching skills. It is hard not to giggle as the small whale jumps out of the water and comes down with a wimpy splash. By the baby whale's sixth breach, we see her turn 90 degrees before she splashes back into the water. She's catching on!

"The baby whales seem more playful every day. Maybe because they're larger, the mothers allow them to come closer to the boats. The young whales spy-hop and lounge near our boat and I wonder what they are thinking as they peer into the panga (Mexican fishing boat) filled with people. Sometimes the mom & baby push the boat. They may even raise the boat out of the water by pushing it up from below. The babies sometime disappear below their mothers, possibly to nurse, although milk is never seen in the water. (Whale milk is thick and rich so it sticks to the baby's baleen. This helps ensure that every bit of nutrition goes into the calf.) Like children everywhere, the baby whales stay close to their mothers. A calf often rolls along the mom's back as she surfaces for air, or rests on its mom's back. That's all for now!"

Kristin "Ellie" Kusic reporting from Laguna San Ignacio

Nursery News from Laguna Ojo de Liebre

Photo Copyright Keith E. Jones

Keith Jones took this recent photo of a baby whale in Laguna Ojo de Liebre. He said,

"This big baby kept hurling himself out of the water time after time. He Just couldn't get enough of that high flying! We saw hundreds of whales, a few up really close. One very large mother and her youngster approached us and stayed just out of reach for at least five minutes. We could look the baby in the eye and there was no doubt that he was checking us out as well."

Try This!
What if your heart weighed 285 pounds (130 kilograms)? What if your eyeball was the size of a baseball? You might be a gray whale! Given verbal clues, can you draw a gray whale? For instructions and more, see:

Latest Highlights from the Gray Whale Observation Posts
The first northbound whales have reached Vancouver Island, British Columbia(49.50N -125.50W)! That means Susan Payne is keeping a close eye on her shores at Kodiak Island, Alaska. Meanwhile, at the ACS census site at Long Point, California (33.74 N, -118.39 W), windy weather and bad visibility continue making it hard to see and count whales. The increase in northbound activities is still slight, with no surges of northbound whales and NO cow/calf pairs yet. One unusual sighting was a skinny, lone calf, swimming around the dock in Ventura harbor (34.73 N, -119.26 W.) Could it be the same baby reported four days earlier in the Los Angeles harbor (33.74 N, -118.28 W)? As of March 4, the ACS reports 254 northbound grays, compared with 246 in 1999. In the last 20 years the range has been 116 to 551 northbound grays, with 1262 in 1984, the first year of the census. Think about these up-and-down numbers and see how you will answer:

Challenge Question #8:
"What might be some reasons why numbers of northbound whales on a given date changes from year to year?"

(To respond to this question, please follow the instructions below.)

Just Hanging' Out
Are you wondering about the latest news of the gray whale Keiko? Susan's full report has an update˝along with more about the San Ignacio salt works decision and how some surfers discovered that gray whales have BAAAAAAD Breath! Check out the description by Strawberry Isle Research Society about gray whales feasting at the halfway point of this, the longest of all mammal migrations. Why are folks hoping a young whale will move on and leave Grice Bay alone? For these and more highlights, see:

After reading comments of Strawberry Isle Research in Susan's full report above, what's your answer to:

Challenge Question #9:
"Why do some gray whales hang out all winter in the open ocean off Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia, with no apparent desire to migrate north or south?

(To respond to this question, please follow the instructions below.)

Thar' She Blows! Discussion of Challenge Question #4
"What causes a whale's blow?"

When a whale inhales, it takes in large amounts of air. The blow is not a fountain of water, but a mist that condenses from the warm, moist air as it is exhaled under high pressure from the whale's lungs. In a single big blow, a whale may expel almost 100 gallons (378 liters) of air! The spray can be quite high, and visible over a long distance. But if the whale exhales slowly, you hardly see the blow. Because baleen whales have two blowholes, the spray from a gray whale can look heart-shaped (except on windy days, when the wind mixes it up). That's how you can tell spouts of baleen whales from those of species with only one blowhole.

Discussion of Challenge Question #5
Last week we didnÝt know that the long-awaited decision about the saltworks was just days away. We asked, "What will the salt be used for if a saltworks is built at San Ignacio? Could you end up using some of that salt?"

The human body can't produce salt on its own, and salt is necessary in both human and animal diets. Some of the salt would be for table salt. But salt is also used to de-ice (melt ice) on sidewalks, highways, and roadways. It is used in food processing, food preservation, chemical production. You no longer have to be concerned that you might use some of the salt produced at Laguna San Ignacio!

Discussion of Challenge Question # 6
"How do adult gray whales feed? When and where do they feed?"

Gray whales feed primarily during the summer months of long daylight hours in the cold Arctic waters of the Bering and Chukchi seas. They feed primarily on benthic (bottom-dwelling) amphipods (shrimp-like animals about 1/2 inch long). The whale dives to the sea floor, rolls on its side, and sucks up an area about the size of a desktop and a foot deep. Sometimes this makes pits on the ocean bottom. The whale expands its throat to hold huge amounts of seawater and food, then compresses its throat and pushes the water out through the baleen plates in its mouth. Water and sediments squirt out through the fringe-like baleen, but the food stays trapped inside. Then the whale uses its tongue to lick food off the baleen, much as you might suck peanut butter off the roof of your mouth, and swallows it.

Some observers believe that gray whales eat nothing from the time they leave the Arctic in autumn until their return there in the spring. Recent research at Laguna Ojo de Liebre has shown that there are critters in the muddy bottom upon which the whales may feed. At least one noted authority on gray whales believes the animals feed wherever and whenever they find food. It's clear that we still have much to learn about gray whales.

How to Respond to Today's Challenge Questions:
Please answer ONLY ONE question in EACH e-mail message.

1. Address an e-mail message to:
2. In the Subject Line of your message write: Challenge Question #7 (or #8 or #9).
3. In the body of EACH message, give your answer to ONE of the questions above.

The Next Gray Whale Migration Update Will Be Posted on March 22, 2000.

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