from Observation Post #6
Los Angeles, California, USA
News from the 2010 Season
North thanks Alisa
ACS/LA Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project
Census-takers on the patio of the Point Vicente Interpretive
Pictured are: Natalie Massey,
Linda Jebo, and Alisa Schulman-Janiger (left
Counts At the ACS/LA
15: Season ends with a record low count of northbound
whales: 521. Read Alisa Schulman-Janiger's season summary here.
12: ACS/LA Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project
trained volunteers at Point Vicente have counted 312 southbound
and 520 northbound
gray whales since December 1. Our northbound count to date remains
our lowest in 27 years, about 150 gray whales
less that this time last season. Again, this does NOT mean
that the gray
whale POPULATION has dropped to an alarmingly low number.
A larger proportion of gray whales may be traveling offshore,
beyond our spotting capabilities. Also, we continue to have
an unusually large number of extended wind events: multiple
days of high winds that whip
up the waves and blow the whale blows away, definitely impairing
abilities to spot and track whales — expecially cow/calf
pairs. Wind and
fog really frustrated us; we can't count what we can't see!
We have counted 41 northbound cow/calf pairs, compared to 48
pairs at this
time last year. We have spotted 17 northbound gray whales over
the past two weeks; 12 of these are due to 6 NORTHBOUND COW/CALF
PAIRS, considerably lower than we typically see during this time
period. (We generally spot just 2 gray whales daily at this time
We hope to pick up a few more gray whales before this
season's census project ends this Saturday, May 15. I'll
update our final counts and this page with my season summary, posted
during the summer. Several of us will
continue to whalewatch periodically throughout the summer: seasonal
treats often include nearshore blue whales and fin whales, as well
as several species of dolphin. Please come join us on the patio
at Point Vicente Interpretive Center!
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE PAST TWO WEEKS:
We watched gray whale calves nursing and milling and spyhopping,
fin whale and humpback whale cow/calf pairs, breaching humpback
and minke whales, spyhopping killer whales, and lots of dolphin.
Our favorite gray whale sighting for this period was a cow/calf
pair that came in close to shore and repeatedly raised their
heads out of the water during our annual potluck picnic. The
food had to wait while we watched this active pair!
cow calf pair was first spotted at 6:30 this morning. They
were about a mile and a half off
shore and they had managed to
get past us before we discovered them.
10: No gray whales today - but we did see ORCAS.
Just after 2pm, we found a pod of 9-12 orcas about a mile offshore;
one spyhopped! We watched them for about 30 minutes until they
went out of sight, and then some of us drove down the coast to
continue to track them. A whalewatch boat off Long Beach got
on them, and Channel 7 News shot aerial images.
variety of whales: one gray whale, one humpback whale, and one
minke whale. The gray whale came close enough
that we could see its abundant
white mottling underwater. The highlight of the day was BREACHING:
both the humpback whale and the minke whale breached several
times - over
four miles offshore.
no gray whales passed our way, we did see a fin whale cow/calf
pair. The calf did a mini-lunge each time it went on a deep dive!
gray whale cow/calf pair came so close to shore that we could
see them underwater. The calf kept switching from one side of
its mom to the other — probably nursing; a sea lion swam with
them for a while.
pairs highlighted our day! Our four gray whales traveled together:
these two cow/calf pairs stayed right along the edge of the kelp
and milled. They milled again further up the coast for over 20
minutes, spyhopped, and fluked; we watched them for almost an
hour. Then a fin whale cow/calf pair pair passed us a mile offshore.
Finally we spotted a humpback cow/calf pair that moved westward;
both fluked twice.
5: Although we did not see any gray whales, we
did see a lunging fin whale.
4: No whales today: thick fog blocked our field
of view from 6am-11am, and again from 3:30pm until dark. During
the break in the fog we spotted a pod of common dolphin and some
nearshore bottlenose dolphin.
we did not see any gray whales, we did see common dolphin and
bottlenose dolphin, as well as lots of sea lions and harbor seals
on nearby rocks.
we enjoyed our annual census volunteer picnic, over 40 avid whalewatchers
were treated to a very special close approach by a gray whale
cow/calf pair. They came into the kelp just below us — milling
with bottlenose dolphin and sea lions for over 20 minutes.
The cow lifted her head in a partial spyhop, and so did her calf
— sometimes in unison! The cow came underneath her calf and lifted
it up; the calf rolled, displaying its pectoral fin and flukes.
A blue whale came within half a mile offshore, and a fin whale
approached to just over a mile offshore.
we did not see any gray whales, at different times we saw at
least two fin whales within a mile of shore.
30: Our first two gray whales came by about five
minutes apart; one was large and the other was small. Our third
sighting was a gray whale cow/calf pair that came close to shore,
just beyond the kelp line. The calf swam on one side of its mother
and then switched to the other side — possibly nursing
— and then spyhopped. The cow rolled, showing her pectoral fin;
the calf dove and turned its flukes.
29: Very high winds kicked up lots of whitecaps and
high waves, and blew any whale blows away before we could spot
28: The two gray whales came by separately, close
Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project trained volunteers
at Point Vicente have counted 312 southbound
and 503 northbound gray whales since December 1. Our northbound
count to date is our lowest in 27 years, and 124 fewer gray
whales than last season to date.
However, this does NOT mean that the gray whale POPULATION is
at its lowest point in 27 years; most gray whales actually
travel offshore our area, so this likely
means that a larger proportion of gray whales may be utilizing
this offshore migratory route this season.
Our northbound calf count, however, is still
running higher than last season: we have counted 35 northbound
cow/calf pairs, compared
to 32 pairs at this time last year. We have spotted 37 northbound
gray whales over the past two weeks; 20 of these are due to 10
northbound cow/calf pairs. We generally count 2-10 gray whales
daily at this time of year. Our census project runs through May
will have a late rush of gray whale cow/calf pairs.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE PAST TWO WEEKS:
One calf swam with two adults; this is unusual, as cow/calf
pairs almost always travel by themselves. A few calves and
their mothers lingered in the nearshore kelp bed. We saw several
calves surface repeatedly close to their moms, switching sides
each time; this is an almost sure sign of nursing. One calf rolled
and blew a bubble blast. Another calf breached five times!
favorite sighting for this period was that
of a VERY energetic gray whale calf that SPYHOPPED at least
50 times — sometimes
with its mouth open and
sometimes with kelp on its head! Seeing even one gray whale spyhop
during migration is quite rare. This youngster set a
new spyhopping record!
April 27: Today's single gray whale was so low-profile that we
never saw a blow, although we did see its large back.
April 26: No gray whales today — or any other types of
whales either, although we did spot common dolphin, bottlenose
dolphin, and Pacific white-sided dolphin.
April 25: Our gray whale cow/calf pair was so low profile that
we tracked them mostly by their fluke prints. We did see the
calf's head, and once we saw a blow.
April 24: We needed our spotting scope to verify that the gray
whale sighting we spotted half of a mile away was a cow/calf
April 23: The gray whale calf traveled with two adults; they
rolled, and one whale raised its flukes high into the air. Our
other gray whale kept a low profile.
April 22: The gray whale came in close to shore, fluking each
time it sounded.
April 21: High winds and large swells challenged our whale tracking
skills. Three of our four gray whale sightings came before 7:30am;
April 20: The three gray whales came by early in the morning,
near noon, and shortly before we closed. One stayed just beyond
the kelpbed. We tracked fin whales and blue whales
most of the day.
April 19: Our gray whale cow/calf pair came in to just beyond
the kelp bed. The calf rolled a few times, showing us the sides
of its flukes. It also did a bubble blast. The calf switched
from one side of its mother to the other - probably nursing.
April 18: Our first gray whale fluked and came
in close to shore. The gray whale cow/calf pair kept a low profile
and were hard to track - mostly just by flukeprints.
April 17: Both cow/calf pairs moved steadily past us. The second
pair were swimming in the kelp; the calf kept changing from one
side of its mother to the other - probably nursing. A sea lion
swam close to them twice.
April 16: Our first gray whale of the day had no visible blows,
which is unusual. The second gray whale did a bubble blast, rolled,
April 15: We started out the day at 6am with our only gray whale,
who kept a low profile.
April 14: Four gray whale cow/calf pairs today
- a record for this season! Our first calf stayed in the kelp
with its mom for
over a half an hour. It spyhopped at least fifty times, sometimes
with its mouth open and sometimes with kelp on its head! The
next two cow/calf pairs swam close to each other, but came up
at different locations and times. Our last calf treated us with
five breaches when it was less than a half a mile away! Today's
most unusual sighting was a 8-12 foot shark that swam within
a half mile of shore, often staying near the surface and displaying
both of its dorsal fin.
13: ACS/LA Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project
trained volunteers at Point Vicente have counted 312 southbound
and 466 northbound and gray whales since December 1. Our
northbound count to date is our lowest in 27 years. At least
part of this can be attributed to recent wind and rain hampering
our ability to spot and track whales; also, our counts can
fluctuate tremendously. Our northbound calf count, however,
is running higher than last season: we have counted 24 northbound
cow/calf pairs! This compares to 17 pairs at this time last
Highlights of the past two weeks:
We have spotted 61 northbound gray whales and 1 southbound gray
whale over the past two weeks. We generally count 5-15 gray whales
daily at this time of year. We have counted 15 NORTHBOUND GRAY
WHALE COW/CALF PAIRS OVER THE PAST TWO WEEKS, including three
pairs each on April 3 and April 4 (this is VERY early in the
season for us to see this many cow/calf pairs) and 2 more today
(April 13). Over the next two weeks we should have our highest
gray whale cow/calf counts of the season; most of the gray whales
that we see from
now on should be cow/calf pairs.
was a very busy day — a
fun day to observe whales! One of our GRAY WHALES did a BUBBLEBLAST,
a small SPYHOP, and then ROLLED OVER so that we saw its belly
and pectoral fin. Another gray whale circled twice just outside
the kelpline. Some BOTTLENOSE DOLPHIN escorted one GRAY WHALE
April 12: There were large swells from wind and storm surge.
Our northbound gray whale swam in from about a mile offshore
to just above the kelpline, headed offshore, turned and came
back in toward shore, and swam inside the kelp and among the
surf and rocks. To our relief, it eventually turned around and
headed back offshore.
April 11: Our gray whale cow/calf pair milled, and then the cow
fluked. Once they passed us they went low profile and we only
April 10: The gray whale calf rolled its fluke and then disappeared
with its mother into the next cove up the coast.
April 9: We found our only gray whale close to shore about 10am.
April 8: We started our whalewatching early, with our first sighting
at 6:30 am: a gray whale cow/calf pair, and both of these fluked.
Our second sighting was so close to shore that we heard the blows
from the two whales. We found our last sighting by nearshore "whale
rock"; then a sportfishing boat
drove very close to the whale, and we never found it again.
7: We saw a cow/calf pair that stayed very close to
the kelp and went into the next cove up from us. We spent most
of our time looking at fin whales; at one point we had three
different sightings ranging from 1-3 miles away.
April 6: Our first gray whale cow/calf pair was very slow moving,
so we watched them for some time. The mom did a bubble-blast,
and then dove under her calf and lifted it up partially out of
the water. A sea lion swam with them for a short while.
April 5: Our viewing today was hampered by wind,
rain and fog. Our only gray whale came in close to shore. From
3pm onward we kept seeing large splashes three miles offshore.
Once we got a spotting scope on the splashes in time to see a
minke whale BREACH completely out of the water and land on its
back, flashing its white belly!
April 4: We spotted three more gray whale cow/calf pairs today.
One included a very small calf with a white rostrum, which appeared
to be circling and resting with its mother. Another cow/calf
pair was very low profile. One pair came in very close to shore
April 3: Most sightings were difficult to find and track. Three
northbound gray whale cow/calf pairs today — our highest
this season! The gray whale calf in our last sighting was quite
April 2: Our gray whale cow/calf pair was well past us before
we discovered that it was a cow/calf pair; sometimes the calves
are difficult to spot. One of our gray whales was a small whale;
we lost track of it for almost twenty minutes before it showed
April 1: We watched one sighting of gray whales
for almost an hour before deciding that there were really three
whales in the group.
March 31: Viewing was difficult due to the high winds frequent
whitecaps. We watched a pair of gray whales for an hour.
29: We had another southbound gray whale today.
Most of the gray whales came really close to shore; a half
was the farthest.
March 28: The gray whales were all less than a mile offshore
March 27: One of the cow/calf pairs milled right down in front
March 26: Our gray whales included a trio and later a single,
low-profile whale that came in close to shore and eventually
March 25: We saw several large gray whales and a few small whales.
One sighting was very low profile, We watched most sightings
for about half an hour each.
March 24: Hazy morning skies and afternoon wind
made tracking whales difficult. Some of our gray whales came
in quite close
to shore, including our first gray, which was a very large adult.
The cow/calf pair came in very close to us; the calf even rolled
around. One gray whale did a huge bubble blast directly in front
of us. Another gray fluked each
time it submerged.
March 23: We saw our first gray whale just after
7am. It was escorted by dolphins and came in close to shore.
We saw a cow/calf
in the morning that also came close to shore.
March 22: Improved visibility and more activity today. All seven
gray whales came by before 11am. The cow/calf pair hugged the
coastline, with both showing their pectoral flippers at times;
a sea lion traveled with them. Our sixth gray whale was a small
juvenile. The last one kept a low profile, marked only by prints.
March 21: Fog hampered our visibility again; we heard blows of
some whales but we were never able to see them. Our last two
whales milled in front of us before heading offshore, accompanied
by a sea lion.
March 20: We stared at fog for the entire morning, finally spotting
our first gray whale at 11:55, shortly after the fog started
to lift. Two pairs of whales came by before the fog rolled back
March 19: We spotted a pod of four gray whales; one of these
did a partial breach. Then a single whale joined them. When two
additional gray whales showed up,
all seven whales were within a half mile of shore.
March 18: All of our gray whales fluked; many were adults. A
pair of gray whales accompanied by dolphin came within a quarter
of a mile and milled for over one-half hour, showing their
flukes on nearly every dive. As these two whales were starting
to move on, two more large gray whales showed up and milled right
in front of us.
March 17: We spotted our second northbound gray whale cow/calf
pair. Many grays traveled in low profile mode, making it tough
to track them.
16: FIRST cow/calf
pair of the season! The
mom was very large and the calf was very small. A boat ran
over top of them and the whales headed off shore. Mom carried
the calf on her right pectoral fin, and they then went stealth.
15 Two-week Summary: ACS/LA Gray Whale
Census and Behavior Project trained volunteers at Point Vicente
278 northbound and gray whales since December. Our northbound
counts as of March 15 have ranged from 103-598 (using the
past 10 years' data). This season's northbound count
is more than 100 whales behind last season's count to date.
However, last season's migration peaked earlier than usual.
2O northbound grays on March 15 — higher than recent
days; this high count matched that on March 4. Since our northbound
generally peak in mid-March, perhaps this signifies the beginning
of the northbound migration surge. We also struggled with quite
a bit of wind and rain over the past two weeks, which greatly
affected our ability to spot and track sightings; weather conditions
must always be taken into account when comparing raw counts
March 15: Larger pods helped push today's
count up to 20 gray whales: one pod of five, one pod of three,
four pods of two whales, including
several large adults. When we closed up at 6pm, two large grays
were still milling right below our observation point.
March 14: Dolphin escorted one of our gray
whales. We watched another gray whale for over an hour. We
last gray sighting after
5:30pm, nearly 5 miles offshore.
March 13: A slow day for gray whales: our
last one showed up one minute before we were about to close.
great looks at 2-3 lunge-feeding
fin whales that came within 1/3 mile offshore.
March 12: One small gray whale ROLLED ON ITS
SIDE, showing its pectoral fin.
March 11: Hugging the shoreline directly in
front of us, ONE OF OUR GRAY WHALES DID AN EXTENDED SPYHOP,
whales often do in the
Baja California nursery lagoons nursery but rarely during
migration. For over an hour and a half, we watched a very slow-moving
whale that often fluked.
March 10: High winds made it difficult to
locate and track whales, as did a very large sun glare. Many
of our gray
whales were close to shore: one pair was so close that you
could see them underwater.
March 9: Gray whales in our first two sightings
displayed bushy blows that were easy to track, and another
trio was within a half mile
of shore. Our last gray whale was
difficult to see because of the high winds, but because it
was close to shore we could track its small bushy blows.
March 8: We watched one gray whale for almost
two hours. Two pods of three whales came close to shore and
fluked. Fin whales transected
our field of view most of the day, keeping us busy telling
their tall blows apart from the shorter, bushier gray whale
March 7:The wind whipped up about 10am and
stayed up for the rest of the day, making it difficult to track
A sea lion escorted one
of our low profile gray whales. The only "showy" gray
whale was the southbound gray that fluked in front of us.
March 6:Three gray whales came together and
started rolling and milling right in front of us (POSSIBLE
COURTSHIP BEHAVIOR). We watched
them for almost an hour, until a rain downpour interrupted
March 5: We watched THREE GRAY WHALES ROLLING
FOR ALMOST AN HOUR; at one point common dolphin appeared to
be swimming amongst the whales.
March 4: All gray whales came within a mile
offshore - many times just beyond the kelp line. We WATCHED
A POD OF SIX GRAY WHALES
TWO HOURS; they came within a half mile offshore, milled for
25 minutes, headed north, then
3: Volunteers trained by ACS/LA Gray Whale Census
and Behavior Project at Point Vicente have counted
and 136 northbound
and gray whales since December 1, very similar to last season's
count at this time (286 southbound and 140 northbound). Two southbound
gray whales on March 1 brought the southbound count to 303,
breaking the record for the lowest southbound count.
The northbound gray whale migration is well underway, although
we will likely spot 10-30 more southbound whales before the end
of the season. The official migration turnaround date occurred
around February 20: nearly every day since then has had primarily
northbound gray whales.
Highlights of the past two weeks:
We have spotted 98 northbound and 21 southbound gray whales
over the past two weeks. We have seen northbound gray whales
daily and fin whales nearly daily, as well as various species
and a breaching humpback whale!
March 1: One gray whale did a head-lunge! Another
pair of gray whales milled. The other grays were low profile.
28: We recorded this
season's highest count of northbound gray whales: 17, as
well as a southbounder.
February 26: A pair of very active gray whales did
several lunges and a tail slap; they milled about a
half mile offshore.
two very low profile whales: one was quite visible as it
swam just under the surface, while the other one left visible
that aided our tracking efforts. We saw a nearshore juvenile
gray whale that was swimming with some bottlenose dolphin.
February 23: Today is the first day that all gray whales
were northbound, most in pairs or trios. Two pods were
miles offshore. One of these encountered dolphin and began
rolling; unfortunately, they were over four miles offshore
and we had
to watch them through a spotting scope.
February 20: Some of our northbound gray whales were large;
at least one was a juvenile. Whales in two separate sightings
up; we watched both of these sightings for over an hour.
February 19: Midday brought many whales within two hours.
While watching a southbound gray whale, two northbound
by, then a third northbound whale, followed shortly by
yet another northbound whale.
February 18: One northbound juvenile gray whale kept lifting
its head in a partial spyhop! This whale encountered
a southbound whale; they circled, rolled, and then disappeared.
Another whale popped up in the nearshore
17: ACS/LA Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project trained
volunteer spotters at Point Vicente have counted 38 northbound
and 265 southbound gray whales since December 1 (compared to 49
northbound and 275 southbound at this time last season). We
spotted our first northbound gray whale on December 19 — pretty
early for a northbounder. We have spotted 32 of our 38 northbound
gray whales since February 2.
At 275, our southbound numbers are on track for a record
We have seen 17 southbound cow/calf pairs, compared to
season. We have had many more rainy
and reduced-visibility days this season compared to last season.
However, even on good visibility days our southbound counts were
down. I think that many of our southbound gray whales passed
us further offshore this season, outside of our observation window.
The migratory corridor shifts from season to season; the gray
whales tend to utilize a more nearshore northbound corridor
off our area.
We are right in the middle of our migration turnaround, with
gray whales going in both directions. From December
1 - February 10, most of our gray whales were headed south (except
3). Since February 11, most of our gray whales have been northbound
(except for Feb. 15). We have to be especially vigilant
our whales, so that we do not get these mixed up as they pass
Highlights of the past two weeks include a spyhopping juvenile
gray whale rolling with bottlenose dolphins on Feb. 9. It did
a very high spyhop — a rare sight during
migration — as
it arrived in front of us. As it fluked, we realized that
some bottlenose dolphin
were interacting with it. The whale rolled over and swam on
its back as the dolphins jumped around it. Staying at one spot,
whale would come up, blow, and then roll on its back again;
it repeated this behavior three times. We
watched for nearly an hour before it moved on, out of
our view. Click
here to read each day's
highlights for Feb. 3-14!
2: Since they began watching on Dec. 1, ACS/LA volunteers
have counted 17 newborn whale babies heading south with
their moms. They spotted the first southbound baby late
on January 8: "We watched the cow/calf pair for about
an hour and a half; they
did not go out of sight until the sun had set. They came
near, just beyond the kelp just down in front of us. We saw
both mom and calf rolling.The calf was riding
on mom’s back. Many times mom
had to turn around and go fetch the calf. At one point
she was going back for the calf and fluked (dived,
showing her tail flukes). The calf was very small. The
mom and baby circled around the whale watch boat that
January 8 they saw three more cow/calf pairs heading south.
"One of the cow calf pairs milled in front of us for 15 minutes.
The calf rolled, semi-spyhoped, rode mom’s flukes or
pectoral fin. The calf was very young because we could see
the fetal folds with the scope."
more whales are still heading south at this time. (See graph
at right.) It is early, and just a few adults or juveniles
have started heading north.
SEASON SUMMARY (Dec. 1, 2008- May 15, 2009)
season was a
slow year for gray whales. Both northbound and southbound
counts were our second lowest on record. Although our
cow/calf numbers dropped, we still saw more southbound
and more northbound cow/calf pairs than in nine of the
seasons. In 2009 we counted 18 southbound calves and
calves. Previous northbound
calf counts have ranged from 11-222. Fog and wind during
peak times of expected northbound calves probably affected
What will 2010 bring? Stay tuned!
Graph as of May 10, 2010
This cliffside post is the census site of the American
Cetacean Society LA. Volunteers count migrating whales from the patio of the Point Vicente Interpretive Center,
125 feet above kelp beds and rocky shoreline. The seafloor
drops off abruptly nearshore.
of the public are invited to join in and help spot whales at
the Point Vicente Interpretive Center; call (310) 377-5370