ACS/LA Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project 2011-2012
May 20, 2012:The 2011-2012 census ended today! Official Season Summary
• We finished our season with 672 southbound gray whales (including 21 calves), and 1133 northbound grays (including a record 260 calves)!
• We set new record high gray whale counts for both December (194 whales) and May (218 whales)!
• 672 gray whales is our highest southbound count in the past 10 seasons.
• 1133 gray whales is our highest northbound count in the past 15 seasons - and our 7th highest count ever!
• Best of all, our record high northbound calf count of 260 broke our past record of 222 calves, set in 1996-1997; there were SO many nearshore cow/calf pairs this season!
May 8, 2012 Update
BREAKING NEWS: Today we SMASHED our 28-year record high northbound calf
count (222 pairs in 1997): we are now at 223 northbound cow/calf pairs, and
As of May 8, the ACS/LA Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project's trained
volunteer spotters at Point Vicente have counted 1048 northbound (including
223 calves) and 672 southbound (including 21 calves) gray whales since
By May 8 last season, we had counted 677 northbound (including 96 calves)
and 447 southbound (including 26 calves). We have spotted 264 of our 1048
northbound gray whales since April 24; we are just one northbound whale short of our 10 year high count of 1049. We have passed the peak of our northbound cow/calf migration phase. May 1 was our highest count day: We tallied 20 cow/calf pairs! Last season the peak days included just 9 pairs. We have spotted 123 of our 223 northbound cow/calf pairs since April 24. Our past 10 year range of cow/calf counts is 40-165; 223 really shattered that range! We have counted 130 northbound gray whales in May so far, including 62 cow/calf pairs: that is a HUGE count for May! We have held steady at 5-8 cow/calf pairs over the past several days. Because we are still seeing SO many northbound cow/calf pairs, we are extending our northbound census until at least May 20; we typically end on May 15. Last season we missed several pairs that passed our station during those 5 extra days, because the northbound migration (particularly the cow/calf pulse) was VERY late. THIS season there are SO many calves...they are still streaming by, and we do not want to miss them! It is ANYONE'S guess as to how high up this record count will go! WHAT AN EXCITING SEASON!!
Highlights of the past two weeks: LOTS OF COW/CALF PAIRS (up to three pairs
traveling together) - often VERY close to shore and keeping a very low profile: calves on moms' backs, NURSING, calves playing, open mouths, bubble blasts, head lifts, spyhops, kelp decorating bodies, lots of milling and rolling, some came in close enough so that we heard their blows, pods joined and separated. Other species observed: ~14 TRANSIENT KILLER WHALES (including CA217 "Chopfin", who was resighted off of Monterey Bay one week later), fin whales (feeding), blue whales (feeding), humpback whales (BREACHING), minke whales (BREACHING), common dolphin, bottlenose dolphin, Pacific white-sided dolphin, Risso's dolphin, sea otter (two days), ...along with California sea lions and harbor seals.
May 8: RECORD NORTHBOUND GRAY WHALE CALVES!! Seven pairs today brings us to 223 NORTHBOUND COW/CALF PAIRS, TOPPING OUR PREVIOUS 28 YEAR HIGH (222 PAIRS in 1997)! One cow/calf pair rolled in the kelp; both mom and calf surfaced with kelp on their backs. Three of our eight sightings stayed very low profile - difficult to track. Five sightings came very close to shore; all came within half a mile of shore. Three HUMPBACK WHALES came to within a mile and a half to shore; we found them when one of them BREACHED!
May 7: Six more calves today: 216 total cow/calf pairs, just 7 more calves will create a new record high! Many gray whale sightings were low profile, including the two single whales; they were difficult to track. Whales were visible undewater on two of eight sightings. Half flukes showed in one sighting; another emitted audible blows. All sightings came pretty close to shore, but not as close as those seen in the past few days.
May 6: EIGHT GRAY WHALE COW/CALF PAIRS: 13 more will break our 28 year
record! Two cow/calf pairs traveled together in our second sighting; they were rolling, showing sides of flukes. They milled very close to shore, next to the kelp line - emitting audible blows. One calf raised its head and wallowed over its mom's back; it repeatedly dove under her, showing half flukes, and surfaced on her other side - probably nursing. One cow/calf pair milled with a sea lion nearby. Some pairs stayed along the edge of the kelp, while others headed offshore.
May 5: THREE MORE COW//CALF PAIRS, bringing us up to 1003 northbound grays— including 202 calves!! We now have more northbound grays than15 of our last 28 seasons! 21 more calves will bring us to a new record high! We heard blows from one cow/calf pair; the mom dragged her flukes just under the surface. All three sightings came very close to shore, and were visible underwater.
May 4: SEVEN GRAY WHALE COW/CALF PAIRS...199 PAIRS TOTAL AND COUNTING! Bottlenose dolphin swam with two of our seven gray whale sightings: in one pair, whales rolled with dolphin and sea lions, showing sides of flukes for both cow and calf. Sea lions also trailed another sighting. Three cow/calf pairs came by at one time; all were together near Whale Rock, then one pair headed offshore, one pair milled by Whale Rock, and the third pair moved along the edge of the kelp with six bottlenose dolphin keeping pace with them. One sighting emmited audible blows. One sighting included two adult whales. Another sighting kept a very low profile; we counted this as just one whale, since we only saw prints and the back of a gray whale once (there could have been a calf with this one).
May 3: Sea lions accompanied three of our seven sightings. Three sea lions with a cow/calf pair barked frequently, darted in and out; the calf rolled. A calf raised its flukes up very high and raised its head high as a sea lion watched. The third calf later raised its head high, and then swam over its mom‚s back. We heard blows on two sightings, and we observed one bubble blast. Whales were visible underwater in five sightings. One single whales was very stealthy; a small boat approached the other single very rapidly. Then the whale fluked and changed direction.
May 2: One gray whale released a bubble blast. Another mom lifted her head.
The calf rolled in one sighting, showing the sides of its flukes. Whales in four of seven sightings were visible underwater. One sighting included audible blows.
May 1: INCREDIBLE DAY: 20 NORTHBOUND GRAY WHALE COW/CALF PAIRS! At 181 northbound pairs (3rd highest in 28 seasons), we just may pass our record
high of 222 pairs (set in 1997)! One pair swam with some bottlenose dolphin, with the cow in the center of the pod. Another cow rolled, displaying her pectoral fin high in the air. One pair milled VERY close to shore, right down in front of us; as they logged there, the large cream-colored circle on the calf was quite visible right below the surface. We could hear audible blows on two of eighteen sightings. One mom fluked, and one calf lifted its peduncle. Calves in three sightings raised their heads high; another cow raised her head. Most sightings came very close to shore.
April 30: FOURTEEN GRAY WHALE COW/CALF PAIRS - despite being hampered by fog in the early morning and late evening. Of the thirteen sightings today: there were audible blows on five sightings, visible whales underwater on five sightings, kelp on the top of the head of cow or calf on four sightings, a calf lifting its head high on three sightings, and a bubble blast from the cow and calf on one sighting. We also tracked low profile whales on three sightings - some of which required a spotting scope to verify them as cow/calf pairs.
April 29: One gray whale BREACHED twice. A cow/calf pair rolled. There was a small boat near one cow/calf sighting: the boat was on the inside of the whales, but at a respectful distance. The whales swam under the boat and came into the kelp. Two sightings were visible underwater. One sighting kept a low profile.
April 28: Two gray whale cow/calf pairs milled and rolled, showing the side of their flukes; they were accompanied a sea lion. We watched them for over 30 minutes. Another calf came up with its head lying on the water; we could see the whole side of the calf‚s rostrum. One cow/calf pair milled and the mom rolled; then a boat came very close to them and the whales became very low profile. We heard blows on two of ten sightings, and saw flukes on one sighting. One pod included three cow/calf pairs, and another included two pairs. We could see the whales underwater on a few sightings. Our southbound gray whale was a juvenile.
April 27: Most of today's gray whales came by in the last two hours. One cow/calf pair swam went into the kelp; the calf SPYHOPPED and lifted its head several times. The calf came up with a necklace of kelp once, and again with kelp over its blowhole; the kelp flew off when the calf exhaled! The mom came up with her calf over her rostrum once; they milled in the kelp for about 10 minutes before moving on. This pair was still in view when A POD OF THREE COW/CALF PAIRS came around Whale Rock. The mom rolled, with several bottlenose dolphin nearby; we saw her pectoral fin and the side of her very white fluke. Three cow/calf pairs were visible underwater, and one whale blew a bubble blast. A third whale swam with one sighting.
April 26: One gray whale SPYHOPPED through the kelp. In another sighting
(two cow/calf pairs), three of the whales raised their heads up—covered
by kelp. Another calf rolled. We heard blows on two of twelve sightings. Two sightings kept a low profile. All whales came VERY close to shore - perhaps at east partly due to the FOURTEEN TRANSIENT ORCAS seen today! There were two different subgroups: about eight in the first group (including one VERY large male with a huge dorsal fin, as well as a smaller male), and about six in the second group (including "Chopfin" and a calf). We watched them for over three hours as they headed west; they came as close as a mile offshore, but were usually about two miles offshore.
April 25: One gray whale cow/calf pair passed by VERY close to shore; the
calf SPYHOPPED! These whales hung around for about twenty minutes. A pod of
five whales rolled - displaying pectoral fins and flukes - inside the kelp line. We heard blows on two of ten sightings, and saw flukes on one sighting.
April 24, 2012 Update
As of April 24, the ACS/LA Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project's trained volunteer spotters at Point Vicente have counted 784 northbound (including 100 calves) and 671 southbound (including 21 calves) gray whales since December 1; we have already surpassed our final gray whale counts for last season (710 northbound, 447 southbound). By April 24 last season, we had counted 569 northbound (including 48 calves) and 447 southbound (including 26 calves); the northbound migration (particularly the cow/calf pulse) was VERY late last season. We have spotted 244 of our 784 northbound gray whales since April 9.
We are nearing the peak of our cow/calf migration phase. We have spotted 89 of our 100 northbound cow/calf pairs since April 9: 34 (of these 89 calves) in the past 3 days! These are our highest northbound calf counts in many years: last season we ENDED our census on May 15 with 110 cow/calf pairs - and we considered that to be a very good season! Calf counts may increase slightly, stay nearly the same, or begin to drop over the next week. Our northbound cow/calf counts held steady at about 6 pairs/day for several days, until the recent spike. Our highest days so far have been April 22 and April 24: on each of these days we counted 15 northbound cow/calf pairs and 6 singles (36 total gray whales). We RARELY have seen 15 pairs in one day; last season the peak days included just 9 pairs! ! The most amazing day was April 22, when we counted all 36 whales in just 6 hours (the other 6 hours had no visibility due to fog). Could we be on a record pace for cow/calf pairs? We have had four seasons of northbound calf counts that included at least 174 calves; our highest northbound calf count (over 28 seasons) was 222. Since we haven't hit the definitive cow/calf peak yet, we may just approach that record count!
Highlights of the past two weeks: LOTS OF COW/CALF PAIRS (up to three pairs traveling together) - often VERY close to shore and keeping a very low profile: calves on moms' backs, NURSING, calves playing, open mouths, bubble blasts, head lifts, spyhops, kelp decorating bodies, lots of milling and rolling, some came in close enough so that we heard their blows, pods joined and separated. Other species observed included fin whale (feeding) nearly every day, blue whale, humpback whale, minke whale (BREACHING), common dolphin, bottlenose dolphin, Pacific white-sided dolphin, Risso's dolphin...along with California sea lions and harbor seals.
April 24: FIFTEEN GRAY WHALE COW/CALF PAIRS -AGAIN, bring us up to 100 northbound calves for the season!! Highlight of the day: three pairs traveling together, displaying many behaviors. One mom lifted her head up high. They released at least two bubble blasts. The calves rolled around, showing pectoral fins and sides of flukes; we also saw calves come up with their mouths open - showing their yellow baleen on two different occasions. One pair trailed behind, but they eventually caught up and they all milled for over fifteen minutes. A single gray whale that was in the area joined in, making it very confusing for us. Another cow/calf pair swam through the kelp; we saw kelp on both of their backs. Another calf SPYHOPPED, and then milled in the kelp. A different calf swam swam a distance from its mom; she blew a bubble blast, and her calf made a sharp turn back to her. We heard blows on five of the sixteen sightings. Two different sightings swam between Whale Rock and the cliff (EXTREMELY close to shore - only possible at high tide). Two low profile sightings passed further offshore.
April 23: Despite great visibility (no fog) and calm seas, we saw just four gray whale cow/calf pairs (compared to yesterday's 15 that came by during the six hours we had visibility). Three pairs kept a low profile; a boat ran over one pair, which immediately changed to a low profile mode. We heard blows of one cow/calf pair. A sea lion swam with the last sighting.
April 22: 5 GRAY WHALE COW/CALF PAIRS! We may have had even more, but morning fog obscured visibility. A cow/calf milled in the kelp for over an hour; both mom and calf came up with kelp on their heads! The cow released a bubble blast, and her calf raised its pectoral fin into the air. The calf laid on its mom's back; several times they raised their heads up high. Another cow/calf pair milled for a whale, and the calf also raised its head up high; the water turned white next to this pair - the calf must have been NURSING! A sea lion accompanied another sighting. There were audible blows during one sighting, and three sightings milled. Whales raised heads on three sightings; two sightings included kelp on the head of one or both whales.
April 21: We had a lot of fog again today, challenging our whale sighting abilities; it cleared up later. We saw a bubble blast in the kelp, followed by a calf dragging its flukes on top of the water. One cow/calf pair passed us very quickly. There were audible blows during a sighting that followed the edge of the kelp and disappeared into the fog. Four of the six sightings came very close to shore; two were within a half mile of shore.
April 20: Fog really limited our visibility; we had no visibility at all for 3-4 hours. Five of our twelve gray whale sightings were lost in fog. One sighting of 5-6 gray whales included 2 rolling calves. We heard blows during this sighting and during another sighting that was about 100 yards behind them. A single whale headed north, then turned south for a while before returning north; this behavior was like that of a cow/calf pair, but we could only verify one whale before we lost it in the fog.
April 19: All sightings came close to shore; most were found close to Whale Rock. Dolphin accompanied two sightings. We spotted one cow/calf pair that was EXTREMELY close to shore; dolphin and sea lions circled them twice. In the other sighting, the calf rolled - we could see its flukes under the water. One of our two single whales was just ahead of a cow/calf pair; the three of them joined up after they got past us. One cow/calf pair was low profile, passing us a little further offshore.
April 18: A gray whale cow/ calf pair interacted with some bottlenose dolphin, including a calf. The gray whale calf rolled, and its mom swam on her back for a bit. The whales swam along the edge of the kelp; we could see dolphin jumping all around the whales. The calf keep rolling; we could see its pectoral fins, its belly and the side of its flukes. The mom did about five bubble blasts - some while the dolphin were with them, and some after the dolphin left. The whales milled and headed back south for a while. We watched this pair for forty-five minutes. Another calf rolled. One calf had a lot of white on its head; we could see these whales underwater. All sightings came very close to shore, passing very close to Whale Rock. Our single whale kept a very low profile.
April 17: All seven gray whale sightings came very close to shore; most came in to just above the kelp line, and all of the sightings came close to Whale Rock. We heard blows on one sighting. Cow/calf pairs are often low profile and hard to track: a few today were low profile, and our single whale kept a very low profile.
April 16: SPYHOPPING CALF! Fog hindered today's visibility: it rolled in about 8am, and did not start to lift until noon. It came and went for a bit in the early afternoon, then about 5:30pm it rolled back in. First we saw two cow/calf pairs traveling together. Another gray whale calf lifted its head up and then a few minutes later did a spyhop; we could see the calf's eye! Then they milled and the calf rolled, showing the sides of its fluke. We heard blows on three of our seven sightings. Two low-profile sightings included a single and a pair of gray whales.
April 15: Huge swells today - and lots of calves! All twelve gray whale sightings came very close to shore; we saw the whales underwater in four sightings. One cow/calf pair rode the face of a swell. One sighting was low profile and difficult to see due to the swells.
April 14: INE GRAY WHALE COW/CALF PAIRS TODAY - despite lots of wind and high swells; we could see the body of one whale in the crest of a wave! Most of our cow/calf pairs came very close to shore, sometimes just above the fence. Our first cow/calf pair milled for about five minutes, and the calf fluked. Nine cow/calf pairs is a GREAT count; we have had a nine (or more) cow/calf pair day in just eight of the past twenty-five seasons.
April 13: Lots of wind and driving rain throughout the day greatly reduced our sighting conditions. Our first three single gray whales came close to shore. After that, we didn't see any whales between 9:40am until almost 6:00pm. Then five pairs of grays passed us; three of the five pairs were definitely cow/calf pairs. All cow/calf pairs came in very close to shore, just above the fence line. One calf was laying on its mom's back.
April 12: Our first gray whale came in close to shore. We saw it over Whale Rock; it blew twice and then was gone. Next came a very stealthy pair of whales that we found and then tracked primarily by their flukeprints. They raised their heads just enough to expose their blowholes, and then submerged; we could see the whales underwater. Our cow/calf pair came in close to shore. The mom lifted her head up high twice while they were in the kelp. The calf started out on the right side of its mom and then moved to her left side - possibly nursing. After that activity, they moved on and did not show much.
April 11: A pair of gray whales came in close to shore.
April 10: Our two juvenile gray whales came about 2 hours apart. Although they came very close to shore, they were hard to track and did not fluke. One whale milled near our transect for a short time.
April 11, 2012 Update
As of April 9, the ACS/LA Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project trained volunteer spotters at Point Vicente have counted 540 northbound (including 11 calves) and 671 southbound gray whales (including 21 calves) since Dec. 1.
This compares to 459 northbound (including 10 calves) and 447 southbound (including 26 calves) by April 9 last season. We have spotted 103 of our 540 northbound gray whales since March 26.
Our cow/calf migration phase has begun. We have spotted 8 of our 11 calves in northbound cow/calf pairs since March 26. Calf counts should continue to increase in number over the next few weeks, and will probably peak near the end of April. The gray whales continue to come by in pulses: higher count days followed by lower count days and then higher count days.
Highlights of the past two weeks: We witnessed an entangled gray whale that has been "marked" with two large orange buoys the previous evening, notified the disentanglement team, and got to see them free this whale! We also saw lots of cow/calf pairs, bubble blasts, lots of milling and rolling grays (possibly courting or mating), many breaches, some close enough for us to hear their blows, pods joined and separated. Other species observed included approximately 8 ORCAS, fin whales (feeding) nearly every day, blue whales, common dolphin, bottlenose dolphin, Pacific white-sided dolphin, and Risso's dolphin...along with California sea lions and harbor seals.
April 9: Both of our sightings were northbound gray whale cow/calf pairs; each calf stayed on the right side of its mother—closest to shore. We heard the blows
from the first sighting. The calf in the second sighting was traveling a distance from the mom, even swimming in front of her. Then a small motor boat came fairly close to them; the next time they surfaced, the calf was right next to the mom, riding back toward her dorsal ridge in classic cow/calf formation. The mom dragged her flukes on the surface of the water, and one time fluked up.
April 8: A pair of gray whales came within a mile offshore; one fluked at each sounding. The third whale—a very large adult—also approached within a mile offshore; it never fluked.
April 7: No gray whales but we saw ORCAS! We found them at about 2:15pm; lots of splashes turned out to be about six ORCAS and they were doing several SPYHOPS! There appeared to be four females and two males. We spotted them when they were over a mile away; they passed us at about 3/4 mile off. One of the males looked like— and was confirmed by whalewatch boats as — "Chopfin," a well-known transient orca who is missing the top half of his dorsal fin! We watched these orcas for about 45 minutes. After they went out of sight, two large pods of common dolphin came into view, moving VERY fast; we later heard that some of the orcas had been chasing these common dolphin nearby.
April 6: SIGHTING OF THE DAY: One gray whale BREACHED seven times in a row, right down in front of us! A pod of three whales passed us. Since our two cow/calf pairs were not very showy, we were very glad that they came in close to shore - making it easy to identify them. Five sightings came close to shore; another was a mile and a half offshore, and the other one was over four miles away.
April 5: HERE COME THE CALVES! All gray whales came close to shore. One calf was very small and very difficult to see. We saw the head of another calf. The third mom was smaller than the first two moms. Our single whale was a VERY low profile whale that we tracked by its flukeprints; we could see the whale underwater when it was right down in front of us.
April 4: One gray whale SPYHOPPED right in front of us! A pod of three whales rolled - very close to shore. Two of our seven sightings kept a low profile. Two sightings included some large adults. There were three trios, one pair, and the rest were singles. Most whales came in very close to shore; two sightings came within a mile of shore.
April 3: Our gray whale pair came within a mile offshore. These adults has nicely visible blows, and fluked simultaneously once; their long dives lasted about 9 minutes (compared to 3-6 minutes for the average gray whale). One or two fin whales passed within a mile offshore.
April 2: One northbound gray whale went into the kelp; it lifted its head high (nearly SPYHOPPING), with kelp streaming off of its rostrum. Our first gray whale came early in the morning, headed south; the second southbound whale came four and a half hours later. We found four of our eight sightings after they had passed us. One bubbleblast turned out to be a northbound gray whale. The last sighting was a pair of whales that milled down in front of us.
April 1: Lots of strong wind and large waves made it difficult to find and track whales. On our last sighting we saw the gray whales at their first surfacing, but couldn't find them again. All four sightings passed within a mile offshore.
Mar 31: Drizzle and fog limited our morning visibility. Our first pod of three gray whales rolled and slapped their pectoral fins on the water, spun around on the surface, and displayed some spectacular triple headstands - all three with their rears in the air! We watched this probable courtship behavior until they disappeared into the fog. Several whales kept a low profile; we tracked two of the six sightings by following their flukeprints. We heard blows on one sighting.
Mar 30: Our first pod—three gray whales—came in close to shore and rolled, with their pectoral fins waving above the water. Initially they were separated, but then joined up. Next came a juvenile that was not very showy; it came close to shore, and fluked near Whale Rock.
Mar 29: WHAT AN EXCITING DAY despite the fog, which made viewing difficult. First we saw a gray whale COW/CALF PAIR that was swimming along the edge of the kelp; they went into the cove just north of us. Next we spotted two large orange buoys moving northward, about 200 yards offshore: we recognized these as the same ones that we had been were alerted to. They had been attached to an ENTANGLED JUVENILE GRAY WHALE off of Dana Point yesterday! We spotted the buoys at 9:06am; the entangled whale was accompanied by a larger whale. We watched then for about two hours, helping the Voyager whalewatching vessel (the only boat around) locate these whales that were on the verge of disappearing into the fog. The Voyager stayed with the whales for about an hour, keeping them in sight for the rescue team that was en route; during that time the companion whale left and moved on. We were unable to see these whales, but could track them by seeing the location of the Voyager and the three rescue boats and inflatable. At 1:33pm the rescue boats began to depart the scene (after freeing this whale). All seven sightings were within a half mile offshore.
Mar 28: A pair of gray whales interacted with some bottlenose dolphin: we saw a SPYHOP, a few pectoral fins, and lots of rolling around. Another pair of grays reacted to a speeding boat: as it raced past them, they made a sharp turn out toward sea, but then they came back and milled in their original spot before heading north. Three of our ten sightings were low profile and difficult to spot and follow. All whales came within a half mile of shore. Three sightings milled.
Mar 27: Our first gray whale came in very close to shore; it was in "stealth mode." We only saw twice: blows and a flukeprint. Next came a pair that were four miles offshore; we spent nearly an hour trying to verify that there were just two whales, and that they were indeed gray whales.
March 28, 2012 Update
As of March 26, the ACS/LA Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project trained volunteer spotters at Point Vicente have counted 437 northbound (including 3 calves) and 669 southbound gray whales (including 21 calves) since December 1. This compares to 323 northbound (including 4 calves) and 447 southbound (including 26 calves) by March 26 last season. We have spotted 231 of our 437 northbound gray whales since March 13. We have had two VERY large northbound count days: March 19 (50 whales) and yesterday, March 26 (41 whales); both occurred on Mondays after either a very windy day (last week) or a stormy day (this week). Therefore, we saw 91 of our 437 northbound gray whales (nearly 21%) in just two days. We are now likely in the middle of the peak of the first northbound migration phase; not cow/calf pairs, who come by in peak numbers about 4-6 weeks later in the second northbound migration phases. We spotted two more northbound cow/calf pairs last week. Calf counts should begin to increase in number over the next few weeks, usually peaking near the end of April. The gray whales continue to come by in pulses: higher count days followed by lower count days and then higher count days; this causes our migration plot to look more like a step-ladder than a smooth curve. Rain and wind limited sighting conditions on several days - definitely affecting our whale counts and playing a part in these migration pulses. Low-profile whales challenged our tracking skills; we were thankful to see flukeprints that helped us follow these whales.
Highights of the past two weeks: One whale bobbed up and down for hours—open mouth in or near the kelp (apparently feeding), bubbleblasts, several open-mouthed gray whales displaying their yellow baleen, mating grays, lots of milling and rolling grays (possibly courting or mating), gray whales rolling with dolphin and sea lions, many breaches, some came in close enough so that we heard their blows, pods joined and separated. Other species observed included fin whales (feeding) nearly every day, one blue whale, one humpback whale, common dolphin, bottlenose dolphin, Pacific white-sided dolphin, and Risso's dolphin...along with California sea lions and harbor seals.
Mar 26: BREACHERS! 41 GRAYS! One gray whale BREACHED four times; it was
part of a pod of five that came in close to shore and milled for over an hour. They were fun to watch: lots of blows, bodies and flukes. Later another whale BREACHED two times, about a half mile away. Another trio milled close to shore; we could hear their blows and see the sides of their flukes. A pod of four whales rolled, showing pectoral fins. Three whales kept low profiles; we could see one whale underwater, swimming in the kelp. Three sightings were over three miles offshore.
Mar 25: Lots of heavy rain and very strong winds made viewing very difficult! One gray whale passed just beyond the kelpline, and raised its flukes up very high (like a sperm whale); as we watched it fluke, we could see the back of the second whale.
Mar 24: First came a pod of four whales that encountered some bottlenose dolphin. Then the whales started to roll, showing lots of pectoral fins; one whale slapped its pectoral fin on the water, and another whale lifted its fluke and whole peduncle out of the water and then slapped it down. They slashed their flukes a lot, and kept rolling. In another triad one large whale BREACHED twice, and then a smaller whale BREACHED twice; these whales also rolled. All came within a mile offshore, with two sightings very close to shore.
Mar 23: The first two times we saw our first gray whale, it surfaced with its head high up. On its third surfacing, it BREACHED in front of us just
outside of the kelpline - right in front of a boat that was racing over its flukeprints (and then abruptly stopped to watch the whale it had nearly run over). Many whales milled; some whales joined other pods and then separated from them. We heard blows on two sightings. Our last sighting was extremely interesting. This whale was heading south when we first found it. Then it changed direction and proceeded to swim back and forth with its mouth open, displaying its yellow baleen. We watched this behavior for an hour and a half! Most of the time it had its mouth open and was skimming the surface of the water just beyond the kelp and sometimes in the kelp. This whale had a very white head and a dark body. It rolled on its side, showing half its fluke above the waterline. A sea lion sometimes swam with it. Because this whale was southbound when first spotted, we assumed that was its primary direction; it was still swimming back and forth doing surface feeding behavior when we left for the day.
Mar 22: One gray whale BREACHED once - very close to shore. Several observers were looking through binoculars and one person was looking through a spotting scope as they caught this very large surprise breach. The breacher was in a pod of five whales. We first thought that this was a trio, then a quartet, and finally a fivesome - once they broke up into two pods (a pair and a triad). Three sightings circled and milled right down in front of us. All sightings came within a half mile of shore; we heard blows on two sightings.
Mar 21: Our GRAY WHALE COW/CALF PAIR was about a half mile offshore. The mom was very "stealthy." The calf was riding on its mom's back, a behavior
we commonly see with cow/calf pairs. The whales in our last sighting milled very close to Whale Rock and rolled. Five sightings were very low profile; we tracked one by its flukeprints, and on another we could see the whale underwater.
Mar 20: Our last sighting was a GRAY WHALE COW/CALF PAIR that came in very
close to shore; when they were right down in front of us the calf bobbed up with its mouth open, showing its yellow baleen! It must have been riding on
its mom's back because it stayed up with its mouth open for an extended time - as if she was supporting it from below. Once we saw the edges of the calf's flukes (the calf might have rolled). One whale in another pair BREACHED about a mile and a half offshore. Whales in two sightings produced bubble blasts. Seven sightings were within a half mile of shore, while the other four were within a mile and a half from shore. Our southbound whale was low profile and difficult to track.
Mar 19: 50 GRAY WHALES TODAY!! MATING! Ideal sighting conditions helped us to reach our highest gray whale count since the 64 whales we tallied last March 21 (which was our highest count in many years). However, a lot of them passed far offshore; 6 of the 24 sightings (17 gray whales) were more
than four miles offshore. We watched a rolling triad repeatedly splash and show pectoral fins and flailing flukes for nearly two hours. They were definitely mating (penile display). We tracked one sighting by its flukeprints; another slow-moving whale would frequently dive for fifteen minutes (unusually long dives).
Mar 18: BREACHING, ROLLING AND MATING! Nineteen grays tallied today - quite amazing, considering the extremely windy (and cold) conditions throughout our day! We first sighted a gray whale trio that rolled, showed a pectoral fin, and then moved on. Next came a pod of four that was close enough to see underwater. At 12:30pm we found pair that rolled and exhibited definite mating behavior (penile display). They breached a few times and did a lot
of splashing, with constant displays of flukes and pectoral fins. They stayed busy with all of these behaviors, sticking around long enough for another pair to join them at 4pm. All four grays continued rolling around together; they were still in sight when we left at 6pm. While watching the active foursome, we found another pod of four, as well as a single whale.
Mar 17: Due to high winds and rain, it was very challenging to spot and track whales today. One gray whale sighting started out as two sightings (a pair and a single). They joined up and encountered some bottlenose dolphin; the whales were rolling, waving a pectoral fin. These whales were very close to shore - just above the fenceline. All sightings were within a third of a mile offshore.
Mar 16: Two gray whale pods joined up right down in front of us, resulting in five large whales that rolled and milled - displaying sides of flukes and pectoral fins. We could hear their blows. We found them at 10;30 am; by noon they had just made it to the PV buoy - still rolling. Our first whale was a juvenile that bobbed and logged, and then moved on. Another low-profile whale swam along the edge of the kelp. The southbound whale was a juvenile. Four sightings were very close to shore, three were within a mile of shore, and one sighting was about two miles offshore.
Mar 15: We watched a white-headed juvenile gray whale that we nicknamed
"Bobbie"; it went in and out of the kelp, exhibiting feeding behavior, throughout the day. It would often bob its head upwards, mouth open, showing its yellow baleen. When it submerged it would usually blow bubble blasts. Several times it looked like it was pulling kelp through its baleen. Sometimes it would swim at the surface just outside of the kelp, mouth open and head held high, occasionally bobbing its head- looking like a skim-feeding right whale. We first found this whale at 10am, in the kelp at the southern edge of our viewing field just past the cliff (near "Whale Rock"). We watched it for about forty-five minutes before it disappeared - likely around the cliff corner. It came back around the cliff and repeated its previous behavior from about 2:30pm until 5pm: bubble blasts, head bobbing up high with its mouth open and showing its baleen. Occasionally a sea lion would come along and swim around the whale and the whale would roll; we could see the whale's pectoral fin and the edge of its flukes. It never seemed to be down more than a few minutes, staying primarily behind Whale Rock, near the cliff. Usually we would see just see this whale's head, and only occasionally its back - the reverse of typical sightings. Once it almost got to transect, but then it would turn around and go back to Whale Rock. It disappeared around the cliff at 5pm, reappeared at 5:40pm, and then went back behind the cliff at 5:50pm. We heard blows on one sighting.
Mar 14: One gray whale passed us very close to shore, one was about half a mile offshore, and the other pair were about a mile offshore.
March 13, 2012 Update
As of March 13, the ACS/LA Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project trained volunteer spotters at Point Vicente have counted 206 northbound (including
one calf) and 664 southbound gray whales (including 21 calves) since December 1. This compares to 129 northbound (including one calf) and 445 southbound (including 26 calves) by March 13 last season. We have spotted 122 of our 206 northbound gray whales since February 28.
We are now firmly in the northbound migration phase, with just a few southbound grays occasionally spotted. We spotted our FIRST NORTHBOUND
COW/CALF PAIR on March 11; they were swimming with another adult whale, which is unusual. Usually our cow/calf pairs travel by themselves; during peak migration periods we may see two or three cow/calf pairs traveling together. Low-profile whales challenged our tracking skills; we were thankful to see flukeprints that helped us follow these whales. Frequent fin whale sightings in areas of migrating gray whales created confusion; repeated checks with scopes helped keep these sightings separated.
Highights of the past two weeks: Some gray whales close to shore—some so
close that we heard their blows; open-mouthed gray whales displaying their
yellow baleen; milling and rolling grays; gray whales rolling with dolphin and sea lions; a pod of six grays that breached eleven times; and an aborted "rescue" of a "nearly stranded gray whale calf" that turned out to be a juvenile gray whale resting for over an hour in the kelpbed. Other species observed included fin whales (feeding) nearly every day, two blue whales, common dolphin, bottlenose dolphin, Pacific white-sided dolphin, and Risso's dolphin...along with California sea lions, harbor seals, and several sightings of very rarely seen sea otters!
Mar. 13: A pod of six gray whales passed us about four miles offshore. At one point one of these whales BREACHED seven times; a short while later another one BREACHED four times. We spotted another whale when it fluked; then it blew twice and disappeared. We found another whale by spotting flukeprints, seeing one small blow, then tracking it as is prints passed VERY close to shore. Two pods of three whales each came within a half mile of shore. Nine sightings came within a mile of shore. Our southbound whale looked like a juvenile.
Mar. 12: SIGHTING OF THE DAY: One juvenile gray whale bobbed on the surface
with its head held high and its mouth open, yellow baleen clearly visible! It swam in a circle and stayed on the surface for about six minutes; then it took a deep dive and showed its flukes. Then this whale moved north in a normal swimming pattern, passing us within a half mile. Another pair of gray whales was rolling— over three miles away. We had to work hard to find and track today's gray whales. Four of the eight sightings were over three miles away; a trio was over five miles away! We spent a lot of time looking in our spotting scopes to verify that these were gray whales, and then to track them. In addition, there were 2-3 fin whales that would move through this same area; we would have to confirm that they were indeed fin whales, and then get back to trying to track the gray whales. As we were closing up for the day, we got a report that there was another whale on the way, so we stayed longer in order to see it; we only saw it three times, but we were able to count it.
Mar. 11: SIGHTING OF THE DAY: FIRST NORTHBOUND COW/CALF PAIR! First we
spotted two gray whales—then the small head of the calf popped up, making
this a trio. They were very close to shore. One whale fluked every time it sounded. Our next pair of adult whales passed about a half mile offshore; we lost them in the sun line. Saga of our last sighting: we had heard that some people had been watching a "small" whale — a possible calf — in the kelp off Terranea (the resort just south of us - out of our sight). Apparently this whale lingered in that kelp for over an hour, prompting worried calls to the Coast Guard about a "stranded calf." When we closed our observation post at 6pm, several of us went over to Pelican Cove. By the time we got there the whale had moved out of the kelp and was heading up the coast. We drove back to PVIC, where we saw the blow and the back of this juvenile whale once. It was hugging the coast, staying just off of the kelp.
Mar. 10: SIGHTING OF THE DAY: A young gray whale with a lot of white pigment
on its head rolled and milled right down below us at the edge of the kelp
for 30 minutes; it surfaced with its mouth open, displaying its yellow baleen! It was accompanied by dolphins and a sea lion. We lost sight of this whale after a lot of boat traffic went through. Another whale was very low profile; we followed it by tracking its flukeprints. All approached us within a half mile of shore; two came in to just above the fenceline.
Mar. 9: Our first grays came in a trio; one rolled. When another pair encountered some common dolphin, these whales started rolling, waving their
pectoral fins. Two of our seven sightings were very low profile and hard to
track. One sighting was about four miles offshore, another was a mile offshore, and the rest came within a half mile; we could hear the blows from one sighting. Our southbound whale was a large adult.
Mar. 8: Our first large gray whale fluked. The next trio was so close that we could hear their blows. They stayed down for twelve minutes; after they passed our transect, they moved further offshore. One whale joined with a pod of bottlenose dolphin and Risso's dolphin and rolled, showing its pectoral fin and the side of its fluke. It continued to roll with these dolphin, moving behind the nearby cliff and out of our view. When the whale came back from behind the cliff it became very stealth.
Mar. 7: Message from our observers: Although very large swells made tracking
difficult, very clear sighting conditions really assisted us, as seven of our 19 gray whales passed more than three miles offshore; spotting scopes helped confirm IDs. We watched one sighting for an hour and a half. One whale was low profile; we could only see a small part of its head, so we tracked it by its flukeprints.
Mar. 6: BREACHING WHALES - right down in front of us! One gray whale breached three times; another whale did a half breach. Our southbound whales came at different times, moving swiftly; one was small and the other was quite large. Most northbound whales came in pairs; one sighting was a trio.
Mar. 5: Our first gray whale came early this morning: it BREACHED once, traveled with sea lions, and came very close to shore. The next pair of large whales came so close to shore that we could hear their blows. Our final whale traveled low profile about half of a mile offshore. We never saw it blow; we did see the top of its head, and tracked it using its flukeprints.
Mar. 4: Our first pair of gray whales came approached to about two miles offshore, then headed back offshore again. This large whale and juvenile
sounded, but did not fluke. Our second sighting, a small, low profile whale, came very close to shore; we saw it blow just once, and tracked it by following its flukeprints. Our last pair of whales passed us about two miles offshore; they fluked once.
Mar. 3: Some gray whales were quite stealthy: One whale visibly blew just
once (we followed its flukeprints). Another whale fluked and then snorkeled, and a third whale kept a low profile. Our southbound whale came close to shore and fluked frequently. Most sightings came within a mile offshore; one was about a mile and a half offshore.
Mar. 2: Message from our observers: Our southbound gray whale traveled
alone. Our first northbound gray kept a very low-profile; we saw its back
just once. Our next pair was confirmed by a whalewatch boat - about a mile
and a half offshore. The next whale came in very close to shore - just
above the kelpline. Our next pair headed into the sunline and was difficult
to track. Our final gray had very tall blows. All but one sighting passed
within 3/4 mile of shore.
Mar 1: Message from our observers: We saw our first pair of gray whales for
just one set of surfacings; One whale's blow was large, while the other's blow
was very small. Our two northbound whales came separately; they both looked
like juveniles. All passed within a half mile of shore.
Feb. 29: Message from our observers: Our first gray whale was very stealthy;
we saw it just twice. Our other two sightings— both trios— showed up at nearly the same time; we watched these for about an hour. The first trio headed out. The second trio (large adults) stayed closer to shore; at one point one of the whales rolled onto its side, waving its pectoral fin so high that it looked like the dorsal fin of an orca! The most distant sighting was about one mile offshore.
February 28, 2012 Update
As of February 28, the ACS/LA Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project
trained volunteer spotters at Point Vicente have counted 85 northbound and
656 southbound gray whales (including 21 calves) since December 1. This
compares to 68 northbound and 439 southbound (including 26 calves) by Feb
15 last season. We have spotted 34 of our 85 northbound gray whales since
February 13— fewer northbound than we had the previous two weeks!
We are coming out of the turnaround period, with more gray whales going
north than south now. We seemed to first have a rather unusual overlap in
the migrations phases this season, with substantial numbers of grays going in each direction; normally we see a gap between migrations, with few whales seen going in either direction (generally in mid-February). We observed an early northbound pulse. The past two weeks we had a gap between migrations, with three days of no grays at all! On February 10 and 13 saw more northbound grays than southbound grays. Between February 14 and February 22 we saw just 0-3 in each direction, often in even splits; this makes it quite difficult to determine which day will become the official turnaround date. We have had more northbound than southbound grays daily since February 23.
Highights of the past two weeks: Many gray whales close to shore, some so
close that we heard their blows, milling and rolling grays that might have been courting, and one whale did a bubbleblast. Other species observed included fin whales (feeding) nearly every day, common dolphin, bottlenose dolphin, Pacific white-sided dolphin, and Risso's dolphin.
Feb. 28: Our first gray whale was southbound, while the others were northbound. The first was a stealthy juvenile that we found skulking along the edge of the kelpbed. Our next pair included an adult that raised its head high each time it surfaced. The next whales were a trio (possibly four whales) and a single that were on paths that appeared to bring them together; they may have joined up in the distance. The next solo whale passed by very quickly. Finally we had a pair that passed by very close to shore, with audible blows; these were moving fairly rapidly. All passed within one-half mile of shore.
Feb. 27: Fog, cold strong wind, and light rain created poor viewing conditions for most of our day. We did see at least three fin whales that were over four miles offshore, as well as some nearshore bottlenose dolphin.
Feb. 26: All gray whales came solo today. Our southbound whales were both
low profile; we found the second one due to the airplane circling over it.
Our first northbound whale was a small whale that turned low profile after
a boat passed nearby it. The next one was also low-profile. Our last whale
was a large whale that fluked. All came within a mile of shore.
Feb. 25: First we saw a northbound gray whale pair. Then we saw a single
low-profile northbound whale that we tracked by its flukeprints. Our single
southbound gray kept a steady pattern, blowing about three times on each
surfacing and then staying down about five minutes. Our final northbound
trio took nearly five hours to travel the ten miles from the Los Angeles
Harbor to our observation post! Whale watch boats followed them most of this
period, as they rolled, milled, and socialized— possible courtship
behavior. It took them an hour to move about a quarter of a mile right in
front of us: they would advance just a bit, then mill for 15 minutes. They
were still in front of us when we left at 6pm. All came within one-half mile of shore.
Feb. 24: Our first gray whale was southbound. It would surface three times
and then be down for ten to twenty minutes before surfacing again; we
watched it for an hour. The northbound whales came an hour apart. The first
pair showed very well; the larger one fluked on each long dive. The second
pair were a bit harder to track. First we saw a back and a print over Whale
Rock. When they surfaced again we saw side by side prints. On the third
surfacing we saw both whales, and then one fluked. Our last gray whale
headed southbound whale and did not fluke. All whales came within a mile
offshore. VERY WEIRD SIGHTING: Sea lions grabbing pelicans, shaking them,
pulling them underwater — and hitting gulls with their flippers!
Feb. 23: We found our first northbound gray whale after it was well past us;
it was about a mile and a half away and moving further away from us, so we
only saw it twice. Another northbound whale was low profile, but it milled
down in front of us, not far above the fence; we never saw much of this
whale, but it did lift its head up high once. The southbound whale was fast
moving. Most of the whales came within a half mile of shore.
Feb. 22: We saw the blow and the back of our southbound gray whale just once. It must have gone stealth. It was about a mile offshore.
Feb. 21: A whalewatch boat originally found our southbound gray whale pair;
we were able to track them for 50 minutes. They came within a half mile
of shore. One whale fluked each time it took a deep dive.
Feb. 20: Sub-par visibility today: no whales. We did see two pods of common
Feb. 19: Although we had no gray whales (VERY rare for us this time of year), we did see two fin whales that were only about a mile and half offshore, as well as dolphin.
Feb. 18: Several low profile gray whales left flukeprints behind, helping us track them. One whale blew just twice; another whale's flukeprints circled around once, then continued northward. All whales were singles; most came within a half mile of shore.
Feb. 17: First we saw a pair of slow-moving northbound gray whales that were
swimming very close together; we lost track of them as they continued moving north. Over an hour later we found them again; only this time, they were rolling and showing their pectoral fins, sides of flukes and one spyhop! They were over three miles away; we watched them through a spotting scope for fifteen minutes, and then they continued northward. Later we found two low-profile southbound whales. One came very close to shore, showing only a small blow and small flukeprints. The other whale was further offshore; we saw its back and fluke, but then we lost it.
Feb. 16: There were two gray whale sightings. A juvenile would blow once and
then fluke, passing us at 6:30 am. Just before noon we saw a pair of adults; they rolled, showed a pectoral fin, did a bubble blast, and fluked. We watched these slow-moving whales for over an hour and a half, and heard their blows on one occasion.
Feb. 15: Poor sighting conditions today: it was cold, foggy, rainy, and windy. High wind caused rain to come down sideways for a while! No gray whales today.
Feb. 14: We did not see our southbound whale until it was almost past us; it
was about 2/3 mile offshore. The northbound whale was very very close to
shore; it swam in circles several times, and then we lost it in the sun line.
February 15 Update
As of February 13, the ACS/LA Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project
trained volunteer spotters at Point Vicente have counted 51 northbound and 640 southbound gray whales (including 21 calves) since December 1. This compares to 14 northbound and 413 southbound (including 26 calves) by Feb 15 last season. We have spotted 46 of our 51 northbound gray whales since January 31. Although we had record numbers of southbound gray whales in December, we had below average counts for January, which is to be expected if the southbound migration did indeed start earlier than normal. This season we have recorded more southbound whales than during fifteen of the last twenty-eight seasons.
We are right in the middle of our migration turnaround, with gray whales going in both directions. We have to be especially vigilant in tracking our whales, so that we do not get these mixed up as they pass by one another. February 10 was the first date that we saw more northbound grays than southbounders. However, on February 11 we had mostly southbound grays; this flip-flopping is to be expected throughout the next week during this turnaround time - as the southbound migration tails off and the northbound migration picks up. Just yesterday, we spotted 9 northbound and 8 southbound gray whales. We should continue seeing both northbound and southbound gray whales this week. We seem to be experiencing a rather unusual overlap in the migrations phases this season, with substantial numbers of grays going in each direction; normally we see a gap between migrations, with few whales seen going in either direction - generally in mid-February. By next week, we will probably be seeing mostly northbound gray whales. By our next posting (in two weeks), we should be well into the northbound migration.
Highlights of the past two weeks: Many gray whales close to shore—some so
close that we heard their blows; spyhop and a head lift; bubbleblast; surfing whale; milling and rolling grays that might have been courting; dolphin jumping whales' heads; sea lions and bottlenose dolphin seeming to play with the gray whales. Other species observed included fin whales (feeding) nearly every day; we saw them BREACH on several days — very unusual for this species! We also saw common dolphin, bottlenose dolphin, Pacific white-sided dolphin, and Risso's dolphin.
Feb. 13: VERY high wind in the afternoon created extremely tough spotting and tracking conditions. Many larger-sized gray whale pods came by today: one of four, two trios, and two pairs; with one trio, we could see all three underwater. One whale kept a low profile.
Feb. 12: The gray whale cow/calf pair changed directions a few times, then
approached to just above the fence line; this gave us a good look at the calf, which raised its head high as it swam - typical behavior for a very young calf. A southbound whale reversed course - heading north for a while before turning again and continuing south. Our whales came in pulses, with three of the five sightings showing up at about the same time. All gray whales came within one-third mile of shore.
Feb 11: A pair of gray whales milled for an hour and a half, displaying both a spyhop and a head lift! Another whale surfed in on a wave one time. Another pair of whales also milled. One sighting was about one mile offshore; all of the others came within a half mile of shore, including two just above the fence line.
Feb. 10: Sighting of the day: One southbound gray whale encountered a few hundred common dolphin traveling in the opposite direction. This whale lifted its head high and rolled over, continuing to swim on its back; dolphin leaped over its head! It rolled several times, showing the sides of its flukes. It repeatedly raised its pectoral fin, and once slapped it on the water. A sea lion joined the fun. We watched this for nearly 10 minutes within a half mile of shore. Then the dolphin continued north as the whale headed south. Another southbound whale crossed paths with a northbound whale in front of us. All sightings came within a half mile of shore.
Feb. 9: A pair of southbound gray whales rolled and milled down in front of us for over an hour. While we were watching them, another pair of southbound whales came in — joined with one of the two milling whales — and moved on as a trio. The remaining whale continued to mill for another 20 minutes before continuing on. We watched three northbound pods: one was slow-moving, one was fast-moving, and the third appeared to swim at an average pace.
Feb. 8: At one point we were watching two gray whales headed north and two whales headed south. The northbound whales were taking their time, staying down for over 15 minutes and then not moving very far; at the same time the southbound whales breezed right on by. There were three sightings that we did not see until they were almost right in front of us; then we saw them just one or two more times. All sightings were within a half mile of shore.
Feb. 7: Several southbound gray whales swam by at a fast pace. Two nearshore sightings seemed to disappear. One of these whales stuck its head out of the water each time that it came up; it was a juvenile with lots of white pigment and orange lice on its head. Another whale did a bubble blast. Six sightings came very close to shore; some were just above the fence line.
Feb. 6: First we saw a pod of three northbound gray whales that fluked frequently; they came in so close to shore that we heard their blows. Another whale also came in close to shore; we lost it for forty minutes when it went into a nearby the cove. Finally it showed up - escorted by bottlenose dolphin that were jumping over its head! This whale rolled once and then continued on. Next we saw a pair of southbound whales; they got into a lot of interaction with the bottlenose dolphin. We watched them for over forty-five minutes. They came in to just above the fence line, giving us a good look at them while they were rolling: We saw their pectoral fins, bellies, and the sides of their flukes. While we were watching them roll, a northbound whale showed up, making it difficult to keep these sightings separated.
Feb. 5: Our first gray whale sighting came in so close that we could hear the blows. The next sighting milled just above the kelp. One whale kept to such a low profile that all we saw was the area around its blowholes. One sea lion swam with one sighting, with no obvious interactions.
Feb. 4: Dolphin and sea lions accompanied a pair of gray whales; one whale rolled as the dolphin were jumping over its head! Another whale traveled low profile in stealth mode. Later we found a juvenile in the kelp down in front of us. All sightings came within a half mile offshore; about half of them were close to the kelp line.
Feb. 3: We first saw a pod of three gray whales; two large and one small. Next we saw a stealthy whale that came close to shore. The two northbound whales came at separately. One whale milled near our transect — about a half mile offshore — for over minutes. A sailboat cruised right over the spot where the whale had submerged; when this whale surfaced, it continued north.
Feb. 2: Four of our five sightings came within a half mile of shore. A guest visiting the PVIC found one whale by spotting the head of a low-profile juvenile pop up in the kelp. We heard blows on one sighting.
Feb. 1: Our two southbound gray whales came at the same time; they were very close to shore, and we heard their blows and saw flukes. Our two northbound whales came at two different times; one was close to shore, and the other was about a mile offshore.
January 30, 2012 Update
As we start the Journey North season, the ACS/LA Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project at Pt. Vicente has actually been underway since December 1. The 29th consecutive season of the ACS/LA Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project, based at the Pt. Vicente Interpretive Center, started off with some record-breaking numbers. Trained volunteers counted more southbound gray whales in December 2011 than in any previous December! We saw 191 southbound grays this December, compared to only 38 last season. Based upon October and November early sightings, as well as reports—stretching from Monterey to San Diego—of higher than expected numbers of gray whales, this season's southbound migration appears to be running at least one week earlier than normal. January counts started higher than average, then peaked and dropped off early. We should continue to see low numbers of mostly southbound gray whales until mid-February. We will probably have a large gap period in February between migration phases.
Watch for This: The gray whale migration off our area usually shifts from southbound to primarily northbound between February 9-February 21: this is called the turnaround period.
Summary from Dec. 1, 2011 to January 30, 2012 at the ACS/LA Gray
Whale Census and Behavior Project:
- First day of gray whales: December 3 - One southbound AND one
northbound gray whale!
- Southbound gray whales: 542, which is way above our 10-year average
(341) as well as last season (346). We have already surpassed 23/28 previous southbound seasonal counts!
- Southbound cow/calf pairs: 20, which is below our 10 year average (27) but above last season (17).
- Northbound gray whales: 5; we had also seen 5 northbound grays last
season to date.
- Dates for northbound gray whales: Dec 3, Dec 9, Dec 20, and Jan. 13 (2 sightings)