from Observation Post #7
Coal Oil Point, Channel Islands, California, USA
News from the 2010 Season
|Meet Michael H. Smith of Gray
Whales Count! See the view and join the whale
watchers at this California counting point with the feature
video clip "Waiting for Whales" from
the Ventura County Star newspaper. It's almost
as good as being there!
Thanks to Michael H. Smith, we
share selected highlights from the site of Gray
Whales Count (click link for
searchable blog of daily reports
to see them all!). The 2010 counting season runs
daily Feb. 8 to May 23 from 9 to 5, weather permitting.
SEASON SUMMARY: On May 23, day 105 and their
final day this spring, Gray Whales Count had tallied
a total of 544 northbound gray whales through the Santa
Barbara Channel. The total included 33 calves. Volunteers
worked 2,348 hours and 15 minutes between February and
May 12. As Director Michael H. Smith said, "Well
done." Thanks to every one of them for their dedication
11: The wind, yet again, got
the best of us. Though we put up a fight, we saw no marine mammals
on our short 3-hour day except for a few sea lions. Our totals
for 2010 are now 541 (33 were calves).
10: The wind — very strong wind — continues.
We were forced to close up before 1:00 with no animal sightings
for the day.
9: Occasionally we see late, southbound whales
and we wonder what that whale is thinking. It is likely
a juvenile that does not know what to think and is just
trying to find more whales to point out the correct path.
Today, we found out about a southbound, gray whale. This
whale was not in the Santa Barbara Channel, though. This
particular whale was just off Herzliya Marina and heading
south, in the direction of Tel-Aviv ... Israel, in the
eastern Mediterranean Sea. Talk about a lost whale! And,
this whale will be talked about for quite a while. MORE. Meanwhile
back on Counter Point, the wind howled and made surveying
difficult to impossible. We had to pack
up before two without seeing a gray whale. We did see some
distant humpback whales, the same pair we have sen many
times over the last two weeks. We also saw some bottlenose
dolphins and many, many whitecaps. It is truly crazy out
there. Season total: 541
( 33 calves).
8:The Santa Barbara Marine Mammal Center arrived with
a net and the sea-lion pup was rescued
in a flash (see photo at right). It will be well-cared for before
being released. That was the big event of our day. No
saw 4 gray whales, including 2 calves. (All four animals are
image at the right. See labels.)
a bit, moved around in the kelp, and push on through the
oil barge buoys that were occupied by two boats making
preparations for the new barge. Total now: 541 whales
including 33 calves.
6: May weather can be strange, including fog,
heat waves, haze, rain, glorious sunshine, and wind.
Some of the
previous are trouble for us, and so we are very glad
to get another eight hours of surveying in. Today we
saw another gray whale cow/calf pair.
We also saw our harbor seal in the surf in front of Counter
Point, and many sea lions patrolling the water around
5: No whales. Counters stood next to the ocean in
no wind. Weird: a rare experience for us. We were surprised,
that we could see well enough in the choppy sea with spray
trailing off the waves.
In the morning we had trouble seeing as the fog spread
over our ocean. During the time out for fog, we discussed
what is and is not going on this year. We have had whales.
number of northbound gray whales will likely exceed last
year's, but we are very low on calves. The last three years
have not been good years, last year being the worst. This
year we will struggle to match that 2009 calf count. But
... we are not finished, and our count is raw. The data
need to be analyzed to make any meaningful assessment,
which we are looking forward to.
We are also eager to get at the acoustic data (see March
1, below) and correlate it with our visual observations.
promises to be very
interesting, and it will likely lead to a range of questions.
4: A huge difference for this survey-year became
even more different today. We have been amazed that almost
every day we have seen common dolphins. In past years,
we have been lucky to see the splash
machines seven times in one-hundred-five days of surveying.
In training, we say the dolphin we see most commonly is
a bottlenose dolphin. We see common dolphins rarely. We
the point by saying that 99.9999% of the dolphins we see
in the kelp, just outside the kelp, or in the surf-zone
are bottlenose dolphins. Today, we had the exception — .0001% — that
proved our rule: about 200 common dolphins foraging in
the kelp and just outside the waves. They were so close,
see the little fish jumping in front of the surging dolphins.
Maybe that is why we didn't see bottlenose dolphins today
Maybe, also, that is why the gray whale cow/calf pair was
so timid. We saw the pair about fifteen minutes after the
dolphins had moved east (towards the westward whales). We
got only two looks at the calf, but very glad to count it
and cheer them on their way.
3: Another beautiful, fun day with no wind and eight
hours of counting. Our cow/calf pair of gray whales arrived
at high noon and seemed intimidated (like the surfer) of
all the activity in the water. It did not help that an urchin-diver
vessel came up from behind and almost ran over them. (We
doubt the boat captain even saw the huge animals.) The capper
was likely the seeps, which also seemed very active bubbling
and seeping oil, which was very evident in the water.
The whales moved on through without apparent incident, but
they did not linger either, as many cow/calf pairs do. The
calf was shy, or perhaps, momma wanted the little one to
keep a low profile. We got a number of good looks, so we
were happy to add them to the count.
The afternoon was very much the same as the morning but without
2: We arrived and there was no wind. Hooray!
We got all eight hours in with not a single whitecap all
The haze cut down on visibility, but we could certainly
see well enough. Right away, a gray whale cow/calf pair arrived
heading ever-so-slowly west. Huge cheers!
again! The wind made a very confused and messy sea. We held
our ground until almost 2:00, when we had to shut down
without seeing a gray whale.
30: We could see once again, and we saw blows and more
blows. They all belonged to humpback whales, but it was fun to
be tracking whales.
29: Zero! The wind eviscerated all descriptions
of our 3-hour day, in which their were no sightings
of marine mammals.
28: One cow/calf pair for a season total of 529
The big leaf blower in the sky aimed at the Santa Barbara
Channel today. That took care of the fog, but the continuous
super-blast made it impossible to see anything. During the
cow/calf phase we do not need to be able to see as far out
in the Channel, so we alter our protocols for
surveying a bit. We do not expect to see cow/calf pairs further
offshore. Yes, we do know there are exceptions, but very
few. So, if we can see right along the kelp, we count. We
did find a cow/calf pair this morning. The wind kept building.
We stopped the Count with less than three hours done. No
other marine mammals
were sighted in the water. There was a sea lion on the sand
at Counter Point, and we helped
Peter Howorth of the Santa Barbara Marine Mammal Center rescue
the little guy. We hope it was just tired and hungry and
that with some rest and nourishment (and a break from the
gale), it will be ready to get back out there.
27: Again, we were shut out of gray whales. It appears there are
few whales traveling through the nearshore right now.
There are some, though, because we do get reports. Some are described
as cow/calf pairs. We cannot count them because the whales need
travel past Counter Point and be identified to be entered. Even
so, it is nice to hear. Season northbound total Count:
527 (26 calves).
The Zalophus Gang was out in force. Some groups included about
fifty sea lions porpoising and tumbling and rolling back and
forth across our vantage.
we arrived, Venoco's oil barge, Jovalan, also arrived for
its third, "final" voyage, filling
up at the Ellwood Marine Terminal at our doorstep. The barge
is a single-hull that has been in need of replacement for
a long time. They say (as they have been saying) that this
is the last trip and the new, double-hull, bigger barge will
be in service in May. We'll see.As you might be able to tell
from the image, seeing was a problem today. The blurry blotch
between the barge and boat is Platform Holly, which usually
dominates our visual seascape. Adieu, Jovalan. We can't say
that we will miss you. But then, we’ll always have
There were no gray whales at any time.
25: No two days are exactly alike; however, today was
pretty similar to yesterday, but not as pretty. We had a virtual
zero Beaufort all day; and once again, sea lions
were everywhere. We waited and waited for a gray whale; and,
like yesterday, after 4:00, a cow/calf pair rounded
Campus Point and headed west towards usAt first, it seemed
like they were going to just cruise on by, but just like the
pair yesterday afternoon, they stopped
just past Counter Point, rolled around a bit, headed east, then
west, then east, then west, inside the oil-barge buoys on their
way towards Point Conception.
24: We broke the spell (dry spell) at 4:06
and enjoyed the gray-whale cow/calf pair for the rest of the
hour. When we first saw them, they were moving steadily towards
us. Just past Counter Point, they put on the brakes and moved
back and forth, making very close contact, perhaps nursing.
It was awesome! What a treat. (photo, right)
23: No whales of any color or hump on this day.
22: Happy Earth Day! (photo, right) Today was the third day
of this storm in the Santa Barbara Channel. Things were actually
times), and we got most of the day in with only two time outs
for rain. Our only whales were sighted just before the first
time out and we could not identify them. We told the captains
of the Condor Express the location and they identified them
as humpbacks. That was our guess. We entered the group on our
datasheet as unidentified large whales. Nice to know, though,
that they were humpbacks.
21: In our brief survey today we sighted a harbor
seal heading out beyond the surf into the very choppy sea.
pan and fire.) It began raining just after ten and we headed
inside. (Think: run for cover.) We stayed around and kept trying.
however, was constant and the rain intermittent. Not much of
a survey today.
20: We were told there was a pretty good chance of sprinkles,
and we got some surprisingly heavy rain. We couldn't count
until almost two-thirty. There was some wind, but it was beautiful
and clear and the gray whale cow/calf was also a beautiful
sight. (photo, right)
19: Just the right touch of sunlight, kelp, breeze, and ocean
created a water color that had us entranced most of the day.
The bonus was blows. At 10:00, everything happened at once.
Common dolphins were all over the place, a vessel cruised close
Counter Point, a
whale surfaced close to Counter Point, and a humpback breached
about a mile off the Point. Zowie! The whale close to Counter
Point was a gray whale; make that three gray whales. We, at
first, thought it might be a cow/calf
pair, but the pair of large whales were much more interested
in each other than the little one following along. We figure
it was a yearling and the two big whales were OK to show the
way north. Later came a pair of gray whales that we did not
see much of, then a single that we did not see much of, then
a single that
we did not see. It blew just past us, then dove immediately
without showing any body. It moved into the afternoon glare,
blew, and went down. That was the last we saw of the unidentified
large whale that was surely a gray whale. Perhaps we'll get
it next year.
18: Saturday was beautiful in the Santa Barbara Channel with good
observation quality most of the day except for a fifty-one-minute
time out for fog. It was nice it was short because our second
cow/calf pair arrived not long after the clearing. Dolphins
were around much of the day with sightings in the morning and
afternoon of bottlenose dolphins and an afternoon group of
common dolphins that approached inside of one mile. We saw our
harbor seal and did not see a sea otter.
The Condor Express told us about four gray whales, including a
probable calf, but they did not make it to Counter Point before
17: There was haze all day, but we could see well enough.
There just were no gray whales.
16: Gray whales very young and old enough had a day in
the Santa Barbara Channel. Our datasheet was
pretty-well taken up with gray whales. They arrived early and late
and through much of the day. There was a bit of a lull between
1:00 and 4:30, but we did see what may have been a yearling
making its way solo. At 4:30 we saw the blows of a gray-whale cow/calf
pair at Campus Point. Not far behind, the Condor Express appeared
the other side of Campus Point with another cow/calf pair behind.
It was great to spend some extra time watching the two pairs head
into the late-afternoon
15: Good things come to those who wait, and we think two
cow/calf pairs plus a bonus single are pretty good things. We did
wait for these guys. We were told about them just after
noon by the captain of the Condor Express, when they were
seven miles from Campus Point, two miles east of Counter Point.
the first blows of the five at 4:45. They were taking
their own sweet time. Prior to the late five, we had an interesting
pair of gray whales that started together. Then the smaller, perhaps
to roam in a circular manner, then preforming a perfect spyhop.
14: Humpbacks all day ... all day, and the last half hour we tried
not to watch as one threw its tail around the nearshore with lavish
splashing. It may have been the exclamation point; the exclamation
was gray-whale cow/calf pairs maneuvering through some difficult
Our first pair encountered a trio of unaware guys fishing The boat
was traveling west to east. The whales were slowly
traveling east to west. They almost met right in front of us, much
great surprise of the guys in the boat, who did move in for an
even closer look. Mom whale reacted by turning completely around
and putting her body (heading east) between the boat and her calf
guys must have felt a bit uncomfortable, and moved on.
The oil barge Jovalan was
moored between the buoys in the process of being filled with
from Platform Holly.
One of our last data-entries when tracking northbound, gray
whales is to indicated if the whales passed inside or outside
oil platform two miles offshore; and did the whales travel
outside the oil-barge, mooring buoys or inside the the buoys
the buoys and shore) or through the buoys about 200 meters
offshore. Surprising as it may be, some whales do travel through
when the barge is refilling; not many, though.The usual route
for cow/calf pairs is inside the buoys, then along the waves
at Sands. We were relieved to see the mother
and calf being playful in the waves at Sands Beach. They
passed inside the buoys without surfacing, perhaps being cautious.
The later cow/calf pair had no incidents moving by Counter Point,
but became very hesitant approaching the buoys before sliding
by between the barge and the shore.
13: On a mostly warm and mostly little-wind day we sighted
four pairs of whales: two were northbound, gray whales, and two
were humpback whales. Neither of the gray-whale pairs included
a calf. Nonetheless, we had a plethora of young ones who lined
up the size of a mature, gray whale: about 46 feet:
12: We began the day (almost) with a gray whale cow/calf
pair, and we ended the day with a gray whale cow/calf pair. In
between we sighted a pair of gray whales that were not a cow/calf
pair and a pair of humpback whales that traveled back and forth,
east and west and east and west and east, about a mile and a
half out all afternoon. Each time they changed direction, the
wind kicked up a notch until we were holding on at the end. Good
thing we did. The morning c/c pair glided through the calm surface
while the late pair smashed its way through a big swell
and billowy whitecaps, making its way west. Spectators watched
as the calf breached off Sands Beach.
11: How many whales did the Counters see? The answer,
my friend, is blowin' in the wind. We spent a lot of time trying
find a way through the chop and slop. Maybe some gray whales
managed. We didn't.
April 10: Four whales were in a line, traveling the same path,
the same distance from shore, and even behaving, for the most
part, in similar fashion. The were separated by about one mile,
and so we sighted each and recorded each as a single whale. Yes,
there were four whales, and we added only three to our Count
because we never actually saw the body of the trail whale. The
conditions were not great, but we could have seen the whale in
front of us. It did not surface until well past, and very briefly.
So, it was an unidentified large whale as the caboose in the
April 9: Platform Holly, the oil platform that is two miles offshore,
was disappearing, and the prospect of a full day was quickly
fading into the fog. But things change ...The skies opened a
little, which made it possible for us to see the blows almost
on top of Counter Point. We never enjoyed good observation quality,
but we enjoyed what we could see, and we saw gray whales for
the first time in three days: Nine of them!
April 8: Again, we put in a full day and we, again, saw no gray
whales, with good to fair observation quality. We saw lots, just
no gray whales.
April 7: The good news is that we got eight hours in, and it
was warm and beautiful; but we did have to contend with those
bizarre mirages caused by offshore winds and heat waves. We don't
think they were a factor in being shut out of gray whales. We
saw humpbacks in the morning and afternoon and we were able to
track them easily. There just were not any gray whales coming
by Counter Point between nine and five.
April 6: There was no wind, and it was gorgeous. More important
we got a full eight hours in and added three cow/calf pairs of
gray whales. And, we heard about another. The Condor Express
saw a cow/calf pair by the harbor on their late trip, but those
whales would not make Counter Point before dark. Nice to know
they are making their way. Each cow/calf pair is a unique experience.
A constant is the bond between mother and calf, and our second
pair was a powerful embodiment for all of us on Counter Point.
There were no playful, goofy moments, no photo opps, just the
April 5: Rain, wind too blowy to count.
April 4: It was quite a day, all day. We saw humpbacks throughout,
some breaching, some slapping their pectoral fins, and lots of
blowing. We were forced to pay attention, to check to be sure
they weren't gray whales. Sure enough, that is where we found
our first pair of northbound gray whales, among the humpbacks.
Actually, the grays were going by; but, at first, they appeared
to be in the company of the humpbacks. While the humpbacks traveled
west and then back east, sometimes with a band of common dolphins
splashing nearby, we spied Welcome-Back otter on his back, dining
in the original Otterville. Our second gray-whale cow/calf pair
arrived too. This exceptional day included a total of 8 gray
whales (2 calves), the rare sighting of a huge fin whale and
our first blue whale from Counter Point!
April 3: We were able to add a gray-whale calf
to this year's total (now 4), before the wind pushed us off the
Point. Our gray
whales were accompanied by sea lions and bottlenose dolphins,
that made for a merry, if slightly confusing grouping of mammals.
The calf, however, stood out with a series of mini-breaches and
a finishing smile. Impressive, indeed. PHOTO!
April 2: About a quarter to three, a pair of
gray whales cruised right past the blowing machine of humpbacks.
Neither seemed to
acknowledge the other, at least from our vantage. Perhaps they
did have something to say to each other; and if they did, they
were right over the HARP, which recorded every audible detail.
We are looking forward to listening in. Just before that pair
of gray whales, another pair of gray whales swam closer to Counter
Point. We got just enough good looks to
confirm our third, cow-calf pair of the year! In our full day
without significant wind, we also sighted two, large groups of
common dolphins and two small groups of bottlenose
dolphins. Counters recorded a harbor seal. No otters.
1: Today is the halfway point of our Count:
7 whales, 0 calves, and 434/2 for the season. It
felt like we were shot into
hyperspace. We went from a gentle, 3-knot breeze to a howling
30-knot gale. It happened as we were trying to figure out
a whale that lingered around Campus Point to the east of us.
It was taking forever, meandering and not moving towards us.
Was it feeding? A humpback? A gray whale cow/calf pair? Holding
on to our hats, goggles, and sandwich wrappers, we decided
that it was a single, northbound, gray whale that may
snacking or may have been cautious, heading into the sudden
wind. Yes, there is a chance it could have been a cow/calf
we never saw a whole lot of the whale and did not see any evidence
of a companion, let alone a calf. We noted the question and
entered the lone whale just before we shut down for the day,
31: Not a full day, but more time than we expected. The
wind kept building and we saw four northbound gray whales before
calling it quits after six hours, 18 minutes. Of course, the
kiteboarders were happy. The wind and choppy seas are actually
not too hard on the whales. All they have to do is dive fifteen
to twenty feet and the water is calm.
uno — Our first calf of 2010! Very exciting.
The little one bobbed along the kelp to the east as we were trying
to track a large group of mature whales to the west of us. We
already had the necessary data on those whales, and so we quickly
turned our attention east. They took a long time to pass, us and
we got some wonderful looks. Mother was very attentive and
junior kept close, mostly on the
flank, but sometimes head and head, which seemed pretty cute.
We noted that mom has a nasty scar on her back, neat the dorsal
ridge. Apparently she is managing nicely.
16: Twenty whales! It was a beautiful day to see
gray whales, common dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, sea lions,
harbor seals. And, if one is into big ugly things, the oil barge
arrived between the buoys to fill up with oil from Platform Holly
by way of onshore storage tanks. Immediately, common dolphins grabbed
our attention away from the barge as they again charged across
the Point, very close and headed to Campus Point east of us.
Gray whales tried the thread their way through and under
line of splashing, clicking, and whistling dolphins. The whales
appeared to slow down and take some long downtimes between blows. After
the dolphins left, the high-pitched noise continued as a
research boat was mapping with side-scan sonar. This, too,
to affect the whales with more long downtimes, and some erratic
progress. In the afternoon, though, we were treated to some more
regular progress and even breaching, a spyhop, rolling, and sharking. (We
became aware of the term "sharking" from the National
Geographic Special about blue whales breeding and mating at
the Costa Rican Dome. It is a mating behavior in which a whale
on its side so that a pectoral fin and fluke extend out of
the water and appear like a shark [big shark] swimming.)
15: It was a nice, weird day on Counter Point because the
heat waves make
observation of things in the distance difficult. It is like
looking through a shower door. But, we also notice that we
can see things beyond the horizon that we cannot normally see,
like oil platforms. Yes, they are distorted, but we can see
them. We wondered about our sightings. Yes, the whales were
definitely difficult to sort out and identify. Perhaps, though,
we were seeing animals that we could not see under normal conditions.
the parade progressed, some things became clear. A small breeze
helped tone down the mirages in the afternoon and we counted
20 gray whales today!
the afternoon at 12:45 we saw our first gray whales, a trio,
not far offshore, moving smoothly west. Many gray whales
followed, along with the same humpback pair that kept showing
up right where we wanted to find gray whales. Today: 18 grays!
13: Terrific. Terrible wind most of the day, and we saw at
least 16 whales.
March 12: 16 today. Before noon, we had 11
whales, all gray whales, all going north. And, like yesterday
shuffling between groups and one did a disappear/reappear trick
after a small boat set out to get up-close-and-personal. Same
as yesterday, the gray whales had to work their way through some
vigorous foraging by a LOT of common dolphins. We conservatively
estimated 1,500 but there could have been twice that many, easy.
very spread out in a huge area, perhaps ten square miles.
Afternoon was toned down. We saw three single, gray whales, then
that took us into overtime to check if it might be
a trio. Not so.
11: Today: 19 whales in all! The day was beautiful
from the onset with good observation quality that held through
day. Two, single gray whales tried
to make their way through gauntlet, and they seemed to be doing
their best to hide, if not from the dolphins, from us. The whales,
with one about a mile ahead of the other, were traveling about
two miles offshore and then angled in closer with mostly one
blow and down from eight to ten minutes. They were difficult
to track through all that was going on. A third single tried
to sneak by on the inside with no-blow and down. After that we
saw not much of anything for two hours. From 1:30 on it was all
whales: sixteen. The first two groups were especially interesting.
We saw the lead when they were about four
miles away. The second group was about a half-mile behind. There
was a lot of blowing and tails in the air so they were easy to
track and count, even though they traveled more than two miles
off Counter Point. It got a tad confusing when they were straight
out from us. The first group consisted of two pairs, and we watched
as a pair turned
around and joined the trail whales, changing that group from three
to five. The seven whales continued on as far as we could see them,
and we saw them for a long time, almost two hours. During and after
the whales kept coming. Some traveled pretty far out, well past
Platform Holly, while others cruised by just beyond
10: After two hours 38 minutes the gusts became a sustained
gale that forced us to abandon our post for the day. Today: 4
9: Too windy! No counting.
morning until 11:00 was whale-free. Nothing. At noon we sighted
a pair of gray whales northbound, and we knew
trouble (in the form of wind) was coming. Our northbound pair
disappeared a mile west of Counter Point in a troubled sea. Not
long after that, a Counter spotted blows straight out, maybe
two-and-a-half to three miles. We were able to tell there was
at least three whales, but there could have been five; and we
never saw a body to identify them as gray whales. By this time,
we were up to our eye balls in 30 knots of trouble and we had
to pack up. Total today: 3.
March 7: We were lucky with the first whale. The only time we
saw it was when it blew and dove in front of us. We were surprised
to get the good look and make the ID, and not too surprised that
we could not find it as it moved west into the wind.
After some time, we saw blows at Campus Point to our left (east).
It seemed like two groups, but we were having trouble holding
our binoculars still enough to get consistent readings. A pair
of gray whales headed right at us, very close to Counter Point,
and once again we were able to almost-easily make the ID. Not
too much later we saw a blow again to the east and we realized
that this must be the other group.
Unfortunately, the wind was now approaching 30 knots and getting
stronger. We managed to see approaching blows two or three times
as the whale (or whales) approached, but that was it. Though
this animal must have passed very close to us as well, we could
not find anything in the roiling water. It was very likely another
gray whale (or gray whales), but for us it was an unidentified
large whale.We were forced to conclude the survey for the day
at 11:15 with 3 northbound whales.
6: The instability of the atmosphere eventually brought
rain to Counter Point about 3:30. It was also windy and dark.
However, before we fled, we saw five, northbound, gray whales
and a large group of bottlenose dolphins, very close in the surf.
March 5: We had one unidentified, two humpbacks, and three gray
whales. Our pair of gray whales blew as we were preparing to open
the Count. At the time, we were watching the tug manuevering
the Venoco oil barge through the nearshore to a mooring between
the buoys just west of our survey site. The whales popped up
in the wrong place, ahead of the tug starting its turn. There
was no collision, but the whales made a quick dive, and we never
saw them again.
whales today. Our whales were mostly big and traveled mostly
in groups: one
single, two pairs, and a trio. At times we could see pretty
far. We saw blows from a pair at 9:55 and they crossed in front
of us an hour and ten minutes later. They weren't dallying.
We saw the blows perhaps five miles away. Amazing ...We
also wonder about the singles and even the groups were describe.
Many times the groups and singles travel a mile, sometimes less,
apart. Are they all parts of the same "group?" We are
hoping we might get some recordings of vocalizations between these
animals. It won't solve the question, but it would be interesting.
3: The rain reached us a bit after 4:00 p.m., but not before
ten whales swam our season Count past 100!
1: Season total so far: 85 northbound gray whales.
Today was special! It is not just that we sighted 15 northbound
that swim by Counter Point are chatty because just before we
began today's count, scientists
Whale Acoustic Lab aboard the Channel Islands
National Marine Sanctuary research vessel R/V Shearwater deployed
a HARP ((High-Frequency
Acoustic Recording Package). This instrument will be listening
and recording underwater sounds 24/7 for two
months in the
Channel about one mile south of Counter Point.
Our sightings were
spread across the day in such a way that we had few minutes
without an active sighting.
We did have some difficult minutes with whales disappearing,
then re-appearing, then splitting up, then moving on. Behind
the surface curtain they could have been feeding or exploring
the bubbles at a nearby natural oil and gas seep or doing
what whales do, in this case holding their breath and swimming
25: At 10:40 we saw a pair of northbound gray whales.
They moved along to Counter Point, where they blew several times,
then disappeared. Usually we don't see such oxygenating, but
I guess they really wanted to traverse the major seeps under
water. In any case, we did not
see them again. At one, another pair cruised by with no attempt
to hide. They even slipped through the oil barge buoys to
our right and we
caught them headed toward the Ellwood oil pier (likely the kelp
offshore of the pier). Then, passing in the other direction was
a southbound gray whale. Our final pair of northbounders were
sighted at four o'clock. None of the whales appeared to be mature
whales. Some were bigger
than others, but it is likely they were all young.
Feb. 18: Seven northbound whales!
15: Total of 17 northbound whales so far.
12: Our second northbound gray whale of the 2010 Count may
have been the smallest solo whale we have seen in all our
surveys. At first, we were not completely convinced it was
a whale. The little guy spent a lot
of time wandering in the kelp forest. Most of the
time, it seemed to be feeding or at least trying to. Perhaps
this was the little whale that left Santa Barbara day before
yesterday (see video clip below). If so, it has not progressed
very rapidly. If not, that makes two little whales. In any
whale, or whales, sustenance, stamina, and strength to make
the journey north to Alaska.
Smith sent this link to a video
clip about a young whale
that was seen alone in Santa Barbara Harbor.
11: First northbound gray whale! It's
Day 4 of our Count. About 10:50 a.m. we saw a blow to the east
not far offshore.
We knew right away it was a gray whale heading our direction
(west), meaning it was northbound. It was a juvenile,
maybe making its first or second solo. We tracked it for about
minutes as it stayed close to shore and swam though the array
of oil-barge buoys.
Yes, that was certainly our highlight,
though we can't really say the migration has
begun. Juveniles are wild cards that have a mindlessness all
their own. As if
to prove the point, we saw another juvenile heading south later
in the day. How far south the whale goes, only the whales knows.
There is not much for a young whale to do in Mexico, so when
it gets hungry (which it probably is right now) it will turn
north. We'll add it to our northbound count then.
Oil Point, California
8 Sea Lion Pup Rescue
Michael H. Smith
7 Two C/C Pairs!
Michael H. Smith
28 Sea Lion Pup
Michael H. Smith
24 cow/calf pair
Michael H. Smith
Earth Day! April 22
Michael H. Smith
April 20 Calf
Michael H. Smith
April 3 calf!
Photo Michael H. Smith
Mr. Smith and volunteers interviewed
at Counter Point on KCLU Radio, broadcast March 15, 2010.
Outlook from Coal Oil Point ("Counter
Photo Michael H. Smith