Gray Whale Migration Update: April 18, 2001
They're BAAACK! Whale Webcam at Nelson Lagoon
You can also zoom into that webcam on school days Monday through Friday to see what you can see! It's not the "main parade ground," but the whales DO come in past the camera from
Mr. Concilus adds, "We are also setting up a display of gray whale bones so that visitors can focus and zoom our other camera on the bones. They are huge. The visitors will have to steer the camera around to see the bones. This is the movable camera that YOU can steer:
"And here's one curious note: At least 10 community members reported spotting whales (not sure what kind) spouting lots in JANUARY...as we had no sea ice this year. Usually we have ice that prevents our seeing them." You can take a look for yourself at the sea ice and open waters. How far can the northbound whales go this week? See:
More Whales in Alaska
Although some gray whales linger to feed in Kodiak's coastal waters, most just pass through on their 11,000-mile annual journey to and from summer feeding grounds in the Arctic. From late March to May, gray whales can be seen along Kodiak's eastern and southern shores, heading north from the lagoons of Baja California. The whales haven't eaten much for months, mostly fasting until their arctic feeding grounds are once again ice-free. The Whale Fest site says that the first northbound gray whales to pass Kodiak are pregnant females, followed within a few weeks by adult males and immature grays of both sexes.
Near Seward, Leslie Hines (Captain and Education Coordinator at Kenai Fjords Tours and Marine Science Explorer Program) is seeing more gray whales each week, but still no cow calf pairs. Here's the migration news along the whale trail south of Alaska.
First Calves and Cows Reach British Columbia
Jamie operates whale watching tours from Jamie's Whaling Station in Tofino, British Columbia, where there's been some great whale watching. Jamie writes:
Also in Tofino, BC, Researcher Rod Palm hasn't seen any calves and expects none for a month or so. He says,
Mating off Washington?
Geoff Grillo of Advantage Sport Fishing has seen plenty of action from his area off the coast of Washington state: "After a lull in the whale activity we are again seeing many whales both in grays harbor and many more in the ocean going by. On April 8th we had a great sighting of approximately 30 whales in a very close area. We viewed 3 mating groups at the same time with many other whales seeming to be watching or trying to get involved. It was truly one of the most spectacular sightings I've had in over 10 years. The local whales have again returned to feed in the bay and move predictably in and out of the bay with the tides."
Counts in California
The ACS counts at Pt Vicente and Wayne Perryman's counts at Piedras Blanca are the ongoing studies, and here's what they report:
Dr. Wayne Perryman of NOAA's Southwest Fisheries Science Center has this good news! "Finally got some cows with calves last week, for a total of 6 calves. This is the latest start for the cow/calf part of the migration in the 8 years that we have been monitoring this phase. Still seeing significant numbers of adults and juveniles last week, up to 80 per day. This slowing down a bit today (Monday, April 16)."
The official ACS Gray Whale census, located on Palos Verde Peninsula (33.44N,-118.24W) reports seeing only 4 more cow/calf pairs since the first one was spotted on March 29. Here's the official ACS sighting summary since our last update. How many southbound and how many northbound whales have been reported? Why do you suppose whales are still seen going south? What was the top day for sightings in this period?
Thanks to ACS volunteers Mike & Winston for the daily reports.
How big is this baby? Mike reminds us that "a calf grows rapidly and can put on up to 100 pounds a day while nursing on its mother's rich milk. It is believed that the calves nurse for about 7 months. At about 1 year of age, the gray whale can reach a length of 28-30 feet. The growth rate slows down in the second year, but the whales will continue to grow for about 30 years. They reach a maximum length of 40-45 feet, with females larger than males." Here's a question for you:
Whales Still in Baja
Down south in the Baja lagoons, Keith Jones reports, "When I was at Laguna Ojo de Liebre last weekend (April 7th, 2001) there were still many whales hanging out inside the lagoon--an estimated 200 to 300 whales still present. This is quite a few animals for so late in the season. A local fisherman and diver believes the water is much warmer than in past years. This might be influencing some of the whales to hang around. Nobody really knows."
Acting Like a Gray Whale
"We literally know more about the solar system than we know about the social dynamics of whales," said whale biologist Kenneth Balcom. Why are whales so difficult to study? Researchers can only view them for limited amounts of time. For many species, their whereabouts are known for only a few months out of the year. Whales spend over 90% of their time below the ocean surface, so visual tracking is difficult. But understanding their migration is an essential part of identifying and protecting whales' habitats.
How do we learn about whales? We can't interview them, but we can watch them at every chance. The migration of the gray whale close to the North American coast presents an unequalled opportunity for whale-watching. This report is full of observations. As you read, what did you gather about the social dynamics of whales? Below are some observations sent by observers at Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary near Santa Barbara. We've teamed them with some facts. How do these observations support known facts?
Observation: A pod of three gray whales, probably a mating pod, were swimming very close together. They seemed to be swimming leisurely along and seemed comfortable with the boat following them.
Fact: It is not known how much of the mating and calving activity is restricted to lagoons along the Pacific coast of Baja California. Calving and mating are sometimes seen during the migration too. Females are frequently found in the company of one or two males (termed a "courting triad"). Mating activity continues during much of the northward migration, since the males and the females without calves are together during this time.
Observation: A group of three gray whales stopped to feed in a kelp bed.
Fact: Although it used to be believed that gray whales did not feed during migration, this has now been disproved.
Observation: A pod of gray whales was swimming together with a pod of common dolphins.
Fact: By most reports, gray whales get along peacefully with most other marine species, with the obvious exception of their predators. Whale researcher Rod Palm has even seen a sea lion grabbing a quick ride on the back of a gray whale, although the whale quickly dove to get rid of the unwanted hitchhiker. Many types of sea birds perch on gray whales' backs, apparently attracted to the food items stirred up by the whales' feeding.
Observation: Two gray whales were snorkeling along the surface in the fog. They were underwater for about 4 minutes and then come back up, but gave a very small blow of air at the surface. We could watch them run about 1-1/2 feet under the water.
Fact: An adult gray whale can stay submerged up to 15 minutes.
A REAL Survivor
Gray whales can live 30 to 50 years. Some may live 60 years. If a gray whale could talk, just think of the stories it could tell! Earth Day is a good time to think about it. Imagine a gray whale whose life began 30 years ago in the Baja lagoons, and write its life story:
Grays in Kodiak! Discussion of Challenge Question #5
On Feb. 21 we asked," "When do you predict the first gray whale will be sighted in the Gulf of Alaska, near Kodiak?"
Last year (2000) the date was March 16. From Kodiak, Susan Payne recently provided the answer! "Finally, we are having some positive sightings of gray whales:
Congratulations to Mona and Nicole from Iselin Middle School Team 7B for the CLOSEST prediction date of March
Tales told by Tails: Discussion of Challenge Question #10
Keith Jones took this photo, saying, "Notice the rake marks from killer whale teeth, and also the notch (bite) out of the left side of the fluke. This was a full grown adult, pregnant and cruising inside the inner lagoon area." Forget the TV show---THIS is a real survivor!
Heaviness Helps: Discussion of Challenge Question #11
"What advantages does their huge size provide to whales?"
Their huge bodies help whales generate and hold heat, an important adaptation in the ocean where icy water can zap away body heat up to 20 times faster than on land. Animals generate body heat in their organs and tissues and lose body heat across their body surface area. As an animal increases in size, there is proportionately less skin area exposed relative to their total body mass, and therefore, less heat loss to the environment. If a gray whale lived on land, overheating would be a serious problem since it would have a small surface area relative to its body size. But since whales lives in water, they quickly lose the large amounts of heat that their huge bodies generate.
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