Gray Whale Migration
From California Observation Posts
Data Courtesy of the American
Cetacean Society LA
Whales Count, a
joint research and education project of UCSB's Coal Oil Point Reserve,
Goleta, CA; American Cetacean Society Channel Islands, CA; Cascadia
Research Collective, Oympia, WA;
and Scripps Whale Acoustics, SIO / UCSD, La Jolla
record, graph, and analyze migration data that is being collected daily
this spring by volunteers at one or two observation posts in California.
By monitoring migration past any single place, scientists can get ideas
about a migration's progress along its entire route. Data collected
at two sites provides valuable opportunities for comparisons.
migrate the farthest of any mammal. Their spring journey from the
birthing lagoons in Mexico to their frigid arctic feeding grounds is
more than 5,000 miles! Journey North follows the migration of these
gentle giants and their new babies up the Pacific Coast. Climb
to a cliffside post on the the California coast near Los Angeles and
whales with the dedicated volunteers of the American
Cetacean Society (ACS) Gray Whale Census. Farther north, join
volunteers from the mainland shore at Coal Oil Point, Goleta, California.
There the mainland touches the northern extreme of the Santa Barbara
Decide if you will track the migration past the Los Angeles Observation
Post, the Channel Islands Observation Post, or both. (The Lost Angeles
Post has a greater number of sightings.)
these blank datasheets and graphs:
the season begins, students should have these "big picture"
whales migrate along the Pacific Coast between Mexico to Alaska.
gray whales are still migrating south when Journey
North's season begins in early February!
Gray whales do not travel together or at the same time. In general,
groups of whales travel in “pulses.” The pulses generally
move up the coast in this order: (1) newly pregnant females, (2)
males, juveniles from the previous year and non-pregnant females,
(3) cow/calf pairs.
whales are hard to see during migration! We can’t follow a
single whale or group of whales. This fact is very important to
remember when interpreting migration data.
whale migration is complex. There are many exceptions to the general
notes above about migration patterns.
will watch for key migration events:
the turnaround date when northbound whales outnumber
southbound whales, and the end of the southbound migration (Los
Angeles post only); identifiable pulses; the first
northbound calf (with its mom); peak migration
dates for adults and juveniles as well as for the cow/calf pairs;
and the first whales sighted in the Gulf of Alaska at Kodiak.
of data from Los Angeles and Gray Whales Count (at Goleta, near Santa
Barbara) will be compiled and provided in each migration update for
your convenience. Students
and revisit with each migration report as they:
Record Migration Data: A link to this migration
data page will be included in each update.
Graph the Data: See these examples:
vs. Northbound (Los Angeles only) (example)
Analyze the Graphs: Guiding questions will be provided
in updates to help students analyze migration patterns and predict key
events. Students will routinely revisit their predictions and explanations
with each new update.
Connections — Journaling and Discussion Questions
should maintain a journal
through the season to respond to Journey North Journaling Questions
in updates as well as to reflect on observations, experiences, and data.
They can use journals to speculate and put forth opinions, theories,
and hypotheses. Suggestions:
What patterns did you see? How did they compare with your initial predictions?
In what ways was the migration different than you predicted? Explain
what you did not know originally that caused your prediction to be
• What did you learn about geography and climate from the migration?
• What did you learn about whale biology and adaptations?
What unanswered questions do you have about gray whale migration?
Use the Making Predictions
Using Data rubric as you listen to discussions, review student journals,
and see how students revise predictions.
suggestions available in Reading and Writing Connections. (Look for to see which activities are accompanied by these
rich lessons.) Some will be presented in migration updates throughout
the season. They are also listed on our Resources