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Gray Whale Migration Update: April 19, 2000

Today's Report Includes:

Latest Highlights from the Gray Whale Observation Posts

Click on map to enlarge

There's exciting migration news from California to Alaska since our last report! The American Cetacean Society (33.74N, -118.39 W) spotted their first cow/calf pairs on April 4 and 5. Calves are appearing at the other end of the migration trail too! Calves were seen on April 13 in Seward (59.53N,-149.28W) and in Kodiak (57.41N,-153.53W) on April 10. The first gray whales showed up in Nelson Lagoon on April 8. The school is on the north side of the Alaska Peninsula (55.92N,-161.35W), a great place for whale watching. You're invited to check out the school's video cam to see the whale action live in the sea!

Bones From Stranded Whale

In Kodiak, the annual Whale Fest is in full swing, with many whales to welcome and lots of festivities. The migration peak has passed Oregon and Washington, where they're seeing more whales just feeding. But all is not peaceful along the migration trail. Killer whales are lurking, and many strandings have been reported.(Stranded whale photos by: James Browning of Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Dillingham)

The number of whale deaths from strandings were unusually high in 1999, but the official count won't be published for a few more weeks. These events, while grim, are facts of life for whales. In Susan's full report you'll find more about strandings and killer whales. Check it out and send us your answer to:

Challenge Question #15:
"What are some reasons why whales get stranded?"

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

You can read all about the Kodiak Whale Fest events in Susan's full report, as well as details of whale sightings all along the Pacific coast. You'll find out about some unusual marine mammal sightings that have folks in Tofino, BC exclaiming. Figure out how Susan's Notice to Mariners can help gray whales. Find all this and more at:

Only As Far As the Ice Allows
How far north can the gray whales go before they hit the ice pack? Check out a picture of the latest ice situation at:

You may remember that gray whales don't have dorsal fins, but instead have 6 to 12 knuckles or bumps along the dorsal ridge. When you think about the whales' migration route, can you make a connection between the ice and the gray whale's lack of a dorsal fin? That's:

Challenge Question #16:
"Why don't gray whales have dorsal fins? Do you think this feature of their anatomy is an adaptation? Explain your answer."

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

Whale Hunts Coming
Last time Susan Payne's report gave you a preview of the bowhead whale hunts and all the students who are eagerly awaiting their muktuk treats. Has the whale hunt happened yet? Who else is hunting whales? These whale hunt updates are from Susan's latest report:

School teacher Sheila Gaquin in Point Hope (68.33 N, -166.75W) saw no open water when she flew along the coast from Kotzebue to Point Hope on Sunday, April 9th. But Sheila says a strong wind could open a lead at any time. What does this mean for whales and whalers? Sheila says, "The whaling crews are prepared to hunt the bowhead whales when they appear. The skins have been sewn on the boats, the tents, grub boxes and whaling equipment are ready, and now everyone is waiting on the wind and water currents to open the leads."

Susan also reports that in Neah Bay, Washington (48.37N, -124.60W), the Makah Tribe will resume their gray whale hunts this week, a tradition that was guaranteed under a 1855 treaty with the United States Government. The traditional hunt resumed in 1999 with approval by the International Whaling Commission. The Makahs received a 10-day permit on Monday, April 17 to start this year's hunt. The Makahs are allowed a take of 5 whales again this year. Four or five families are planning to take part in the hunt with their traditional cedar canoes.

Challenge Question #17:
"When so many whale species are endangered, why is the Makah Whale Hunt approved?"

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

Sheyna Wisdom Listens to Whales

Sheyna listens to whale sounds

What kinds of sounds do gray whales make? How does a baby gray whale learn all the sounds that gray whales use during their lifetimes? Whale researcher Sheyna Wisdom wonders. Journey North is excited to share what we learned when we spoke with Sheyna, pictured here recording whale sounds. You heard a bit about Sheyna in Ellie Kusic's final report from Laguna San Ignacio, where she was recording gray whale sounds with a hydrophone (underwater microphone). Thanks to Sheyna, now you can hear what she heard under the water in the whale nursery lagoons!

Try This! Can you imitate gray whales? Use body parts or instruments to make the whale sounds you hear in Sheyna's recordings.

Can We Talk?
Sheyna had no idea what sounds gray whales made--until JJ the whale came along. Her studies started with JJ, the gray whale calf that stranded on the coast of Marina del Rey, California in January 1997. At Sea World San Diego, Sheyna recorded JJ's sounds and also exposed the baby whale to sounds of other gray whales to help prepare JJ for her release. After JJ's release in March 1998, Sheyna continued her project with calves in the wild. Her project is called "The Development of Sound production in Gray Whales." She traveled to Laguna San Ignacio in 1999 and 2000 to monitor the development of sounds in the calves. Today, Sheyna has discovered a sound that has never been described in gray whales before, and it is the first sound to be associated with a behavior!

What questions does Sheyna wonder about as she studies whale sounds? Why did she choose the nurseries for her project? What unexpected findings has Sheyna discovered? What parts of her work have been most challenging? What has been most rewarding? What questions do kids most often ask Sheyna? How could YOU be a whale researcher some day? Get the answers to these questions and more by reading Sheyna's full interview!

Then send us your answer to:

Challenge Question #18:
"Scientists don't know what gray whales use sounds for. What's your guess? (Hint: compare the social system of gray whales to sounds of other animals like dolphins or wolves to see what ideas you come up with.)"

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

Which Direction? Discussion of Challenge Question #13
"Why are whales on the NORTHBOUND migration seen traveling SOUTH near Cheval
Narrows (59.77N, -149.52W)?"

This was a tricky question to answer! Susan Payne describes exactly what happens to explain this change in direction. You'll get the picture better if you look at a good map as you follow her description:

"Gray whales follow the coastline closely during their northbound migration along California, Oregon, Washington, and Vancouver Island in British Columbia. In some areas they are often seen just outside the kelp line. The majority of gray whales tend to cross from cape to cape across large bays like Monterey Bay and, here in Kodiak, across Chiniak Bay from Afognak Island to Cape Chiniak. As we learned from Jan Straley, the main gray whale corridor in front of Sitka is 20 miles offshore. Whales swim along the Kenai Peninsula, passing by Rugged Island and Cape Resurrection. This is where they are often seen by our contacts in Seward. Then, when they cross from the Kenai Peninsula to Afognak Island over open water, they change their generally northerly migration route to a westerly direction across the Kenai Peninsula and to the southwest along Kodiak Island. Some gray whales may swim down the Shelikof Strait instead of on the east side of Kodiak Island. they more or less continue this southwestly direction until they swing northerly through Unimak Pass or through False Pass. The gray whales then actually head east along the north side of the Alaska Peninsula past Nelson Lagoon before they swing north again across Bristol Bay."

Muktuk With Mustard, Please: Response to Challenge Question #14
Last time we asked, "What is muktuk?" See who knew the answer!

"Muktuk is whale blubber," answered Briana from Mrs. Patterson's Class, Ashley Academy
Fourth Grade (

SoMyung Choi answered: "Muktuk is 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." (

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 #15 (or #16 or #17 or #18).
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 May 3, 2000.

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