Field Notes 2013
Goleta, California, USA
(Coal Oil Point, a.k.a."Counter Point")
Director Michael H. Smith of Gray Whales Count reports daily throughout the spring season. Volunteers survey the whales through the nearshore of the Channel Islands.
May 19: 8.00 hours. 4 whales l 2 calves. Today was a Fiesta Finale to cap a wonderful, wondrous season full of the unexpected, concluding with lots of Gray whale mothers and calves. This is the second highest total of calves we have counted in our nine consecutive surveys from 2005 through 2013! We started with a bang: three Humpback whales out near Platform Holly; followed by sparklers: 300 Common dolphins spraying their way through the wind across Counter Point. A pair of Bottlenose dolphins slid through Slip Steam announcing the stars: two pairs of Gray whale cow/calf pairs, blowing like trumpeter Louis Armstrong and his All-Stars! The four arrived together, stayed together, rolled, jumped, and posed together. It could not have been a better to event to conclude our 2013 survey. Thank you.
May 18: 8.00 hours. 3 whales l 1 calf. Our first "pair" today seemed to have spent their extended time in the Baja California Snorkeling School. They learned well. Perhaps they were practicing their Killer whale evasion on the Bottlenose dolphins right next to them. They were easy for us to track; they just didn't show much to the observation crew on the Point. This was a rare above-the-surface exposure: momma arching before a dive with calf #130 just visible in front of the splash.
This occurred very soon after we started the day; and we were excited to add another calf before the end of the survey. Our second "pair" surely was a pair because we saw what appeared to be a calf head, but the essential momma eluded us. The calf was entered as a juvenile and not calf #131. Maybe tomorrow: our last chance for 2013.
May 17: 8.00 hours. 0 whales l 0 calves. A lot of zeros today and the first no Gray-whale-day for a full day of counting since just about the beginning. That is as it should be because we are nearing the end of the survey. We try to encapsulate the migration. If we are successful at that, at the beginning and the end, there should be very few whales to count. Though it is not as much fun, it appears we are being successful, with only two days left to count.
May 16: 8.98 hours. 4 whales l 2 calf. Counters enjoyed the day that started as we were setting up with our first Gray whale cow/calf pair. We scrambled to get the ID and be sure there was a calf along for the ride. Sure enough, but no images. We were thinking it might be our last of the survey, but no ... Just before 11:00 we tracked another cow/calf pair across the Point. Another cow/calf pair showed up at noon. They were a bit further offshore but just a half mile out: Humpback whales, here to feed, having completed their migration. Actually, they did seem to be traveling up the coast. Very fun to get such a good look at Humpbacks. Three days to go ...
May 15: 6.57 hours. 2 whales l 1 calf. It's getting very near the end. We had fog and brief time outs in the early morning, but about 1:00 we saw a marvelous Gray whale cow/calf pair make its way around Campus Point, along the kelp, across Counter Point, inside the stick, and off towards Ellwood and Naples Point, west heading for Point Conception. Good observation quality followed, but these were our only whales for the day.
May 14: 3.42 hours. 2 whales l 1 calf. Total to date: 738 whales, including 126 calves. Before the winds came up and sent us home, we saw Bottlenose dolphins, three Humpback whales (perhaps the same whales we saw yesterday), and a Gray whale cow/calf pair. Today we also read the most amazing story about a Gray whale that was seen by researchers in the ocean off Namibia. Yes, that is the Atlantic Ocean, the South Atlantic Ocean, and Namibia is a country in the southwest of Africa. Please follow this link to share in A Rare and Mysterious Visitor in Walvis Bay.
May 13: 8.00 hours. 2 whales l 1 calf. We have begun our last week of the 2013 Count. When the action happend today, it all happened at once.: A whole bunch of Bottlenose dolphins were traveling east, from right to left across the Point, through Slip Stream. Then a whole lot more, at least fifteen, with five calves, came back west, left to right across the Point.
In the midst of tracing a whole bunch of dolphins an observer called "blow," and it turned into our second and best sighting of the year of Humpback whales. There were three, with two blowing thin and straight and the third blowing fat and messy. We watched breaching, pec-slapping, and lunge-feeding only a mile and a half offshore. Thre were also four Killer whales including one large male with a tall dorsal fin. No photos; sometimes we all like to just look! The Orcas drifted south away from us into whitecaps and we lost track of them, but looking at the whitecaps, we realized many were splashes: Common dolphins, about 400, spread out, moderate travel, heading east. We thought any second it would be fast travel in any direction away from the Killer whales. Instead, the dolphins kept chasing fish in the direction of the Humpback whales who seemed to like the notion of a noontime ball of fish. The Humpbacks said "Thank you very much" after a truly big gulp.Then an observer said, "More than 50% sure ... a blow at Campus Point." We whirled and confirmed a big and little blow of a Gray whale cow/calf pair heading our way. We did not see the Killer whales again and, as far as we know, there were no killer whale interactions with the other marine mammals.
May 12: 3.00 hours. 4 whales l 2 calves. For a while it looked like Mother's Day action was going to be on the wrong side of the curtain. However, just after 1:30 the fog started to evaporate and we saw our first pair: mother and calf northbound Gray whales in remarkably good observation quality, considering that moments earlier there was no visibility. Trailing by twenty minutes was our second pair on the day. Tomorrow we begin our last week of the survey. It has been very good to date, with lots of total whales and lot of calves. We hope the fog stays away and we can add to our 2013 Count.
May 11: 0.48 hours. 7 whales l 3 calves. FOG!
May 10: 8.00 hours. 4 whales l 2 calves.
May 9: 8.00 hours. 6 whales l 3 calves. We added three more calves to our 2013 Count today. The first appeared just after opening, another at 11:30 and the third at 3:45. Number three was not easy to see, but was definitely right there, alongside mom, being shy. Maybe he or she was concerned about a big group of Bottlenose dolphins that were charging around off the kelp at Sands.
May 8: 8.00 hours. 9 whales l 4 calves. It was warm, the ocean blue and green clear water, and little wind. The northbound Gray whale cow/calf pairs were spread throughout the day, with a juvenile single riding through the middle, between our second and third pairs. Some of the whales gave us good looks; others did not. One mother spent a lot of time blowing across the surface with her calf peeking at us as momma dove. The third pair had a large group of Bottlenose dolphins that had at least three calves in the group of ten heading west.
May 7: 8.00 hours. 8 whales l 4 calves. A full day counting four cow/calf pairs of northbound Gray whales! Before 1:00, three pairs showed up traveling together toward Counter Point. The tangle of young whales and their moms chose Slip Stream (our pathway through the kelp to our left), which brought them very close to the Counters who delighted in the task of figuring out how many whales were in the dynamic group. In contrast, at the end of the day, just before closing, another pair almost made it past the Point, when a sharp-eyed, veteran Counter caught them trying to slip by.
May 6: 0 hours. NO COUNTING. Not much rain nor wind. Unfortunately, the Counters were notified that the Count was canceled for the day. The caller made a bad call; We'll give it a try tomorrow.
May 5: 0 hours. 00 whales. NO COUNTING: Too windy!
May 4: 7.32 hours. 9 whales l 4 calves.
May 3: 8.04 hours. 10 whales l 5 calves. Today we recorded our 101st pair, and named the calf 101 North. The mother was leading her calf along the northbound Gray whale cow/calf trail that continues along the Gaviota Coast and adjacent to US Highway 101—a fun coincidence! We managed to count four additional pairs on the very warm, calm day in the Santa Barbara Channel.
May 2: 8.00 hours. 8 whales l 4 calves. Our sightings of four pairs of northbound Gray whale cow/calf pair were spaced nicely. The whales traveled at a fine example of "slow travel." Most accommodated our attempt at photo-ID with a suitable, if not exemplar arch in front of Counter Point.
It was wonderful to see the old Condor out at Counter Point with a load of passenger from around the world. The North Pacific is is the only place where people can see Gray whales, and they got a special treat today: a mother with calf, making its first journey north.
The original Condor is hard at work while the Condor Express is being refurbished after a fire. We are hoping the Express will be back in service for the summer season.
May 1: 8.05 hours. 10 whales l 5 calves. A "stick" out in the water marks the pipe that carried oil to the barge that used to transport the oil from Platform Holly. The barge is no longer used but the stick remains, even though the mooring buoys that sea lions hauled out on were removed as a navigational hazard. We used to indicate on our datasheet if the whales traveled inside the buoys (between the buoys and shore) when they were swimming towards Ellwood. This was a common route for cow/calf pairs. Without the buoys we now use the stick. We think the stick, which it very hard to see, is a greater hazard; but that is another story … Because of the afternoon glare, we could not tell if the last pair of whales traveled "inside the stick." But, we do think the calf may have jumped over it. Happy May Day!
April 30: 8.00 hours. 7 whales l 3 calves. The strange image at right labeled "Apr. 30: Photo ID" is a northbound Gray whale cow. It is a rare (for us) left-side ID with a major white mark at the dorsal ridge, overlaid with kelp, that should not interfere too much. We also got very good right-side ID-images of both the calf and cow. Sometimes we joke that certain whales are camera shy. Not this pair. They traveled through Slip Stream, the river through the kelp that brings the whales quite close, right in front of us, where they posed. Thank you, thank you.
We did not have the late-afternoon rush we have benefitted from recently. In fact we spent much of the last hour searching for a pair that got lost in the kelp at the entrance to Slip Stream and were never seen again, despite pretty good light, great sea conditions, and four pairs of experienced eyes desperately scanning, believing any second they would pop up ...
April 29: 8.43 hours. 13 whales l 6 calves. Our first whale was a single that almost got by the outside before a Counter caught it through the haze. That was about noon: a very quiet morning after a very active yesterday. An hour and a half later we counted two pairs separated by about two miles. Then at 4:00 we counted another pair that brought our total to seven just before the "rush" at 4:50 p.m., when three pairs of northbound Gray whale cow/calf came into our range with blows at Campus Point. At first we thought it was one pair, then two, and finally three pairs. The second and third pair were together, but apart for a bit and in the bubbling roil of bodies that included five Bottlenose dolphins, we thought we might even have four pairs in the late string. No, three was it, and a very dynamic trio, especially the whales and dolphin mix in Slip Stream, with the whales heading back towards Santa Barbara, then turning west toward the late afternoon sun. Bottlenose dolphins were sprinkled throughout the day, and often approached the migrating whales. Sometimes it seemed to bother the whales, other times not.
April 28: 8.00 hours. 22 whales l 11 calves. Today we were at the dance: a major league promenade of Gray whale mothers and calves gracefully, boldly and lovingly circling around Campus Point, most cha-chaing along the kelp, with one mamboing straight ahead, then dipping-right towards Ellwood. It was sometimes difficult to keep track of the players without numbers. Some that came around Campus Point first were behind at the time they got to us. Boats seemed to want to cut in a few times. No chance. The boat drivers turned away and went about their business while the whales waltzed on. Truly, we were out of breath at the end of the day: six pairs in the last hour and a half! Exhilarating! Challenging and very fun.
April 27: 8.06 hours. 12 whales l 5 calves. In Jean-Michel Cousteau's film The Gray Whale Obstacle Course, he probably did not include stand-up paddlers, although he certainly included other human activities. We don't think he included Bottlenose dolphins either. The paddler chased the four Gray whales (two cow/calf pairs) from Campus Point to the edge of the Isla Vista kelp (perhaps1-1/4 miles). The dolphins came up from behind the whales and actually leaped over the group from behind. To be fair to the paddler, when we first saw this unlikely grouping, the whales popped up surrounding the guy and they blew a fence around him. It must have been a bit scary, then very exciting.
In addition to five cow/calf pairs today, we observed two single Gray whales. One was clearly a single. The other behaved very like a cow, but without a calf. We would not be surprised to find out it was there...
April 26: 8.00 hours. 11 whales l 4 calves. The pair in the image is luxuriating on a beautiful day in the Santa Barbara Channel. The water was sparkling clear, the sky blue, and no wind in the morning, light whitecaps in the afternoon. It was a day to stretch out in Slip Stream.
For whatever reason, that was not in the plan for our other northbound Gray whales. Our first "pair" was so shy and we saw so little of the calf, it had to be "not determined" (two whales but not a calf in our records). Three other pairs were almost as hard to see, but we saw enough to elevate them to full-fledged cow/calf pairs. The odd duck was a single juvenile that passed further offshore.
We saw our last pair just before 1:00. The timing, the spacing were not in our favor today. At 3:00 the Condor left the Santa Barbara Harbor on their regularly scheduled whale-watching trip. They saw 18 Gray whales, including nine delightful calves with all the right moves. Unfortunately for us, they will pass Counter Point after it is dark.
We usually do not know about such a great sighting that will evade our Count, but a Counter tipped us about the armada, when some of the whales were east of the Harbor and heading towards the Condor. On the boat was another Counter who recounted the spectacle. What a treat for all of us to know that so many Gray whale calves are making their way north. We will be out counting tomorrow.
April 25: 8.53 hours. 19 whales l 9 calves. We saw our first whales at almost 11:00 a.m.. It was a short parade of two pairs, followed by a single, then back to dolphins. At 12.30 we enjoyed another wave of whales: four cow/calf pairs in three groups, then more dolphins. And, it was dolphins through the afternoon, until our last wave at 4:30: three cow/calf pairs in three groups that took us well into overtime.
April 24: 5.11 hours. 11 whales | 5 calves. It got drizzlier and foggier as the morning progressed. After noon, our equipment was soaked (included eyeglasses, binos, and datasheets; and, visibility was next to nothing. Even so, we were in a parade of whales. A Counter's granddaughter named our first calf Cutie, and she was. Right away there was another pair, followed by a single that was a very adept fluker: high, bold, and straight.
Somehow we saw a blow, then more blows at Campus Point. The group took forever. We saw them occasionally through our spotted lenses. When they got to the kelp to our left the two cow/calf pairs rolled en masse, held up their heads (mothers and calves) in a very grand commotion at the entrance to Slip Stream. Unfortunately, we had to seek cover for an hour and 45 minutes. During that time, we know from the Condor (and an extraordinary Counter onboard) that six more whales passed, including a breaching calf. Quite a parade.
We managed to go back on-effort for another hour-plus and counted another cow/calf pair that popped up right in front of us. (Guess we could not see very well.)
April 23: 8.00 hours. 10 whales | 5 calves. For a while, we thought we might make a run at 20 calves on the day. We counted four calves in the first two hours. The furious pace, however, contrasted with the nature of the day and whales, which was peaceful, slow, and quiet. There was no surf and we were astounded there were no surfers. Even when there is no surf there are always surfers just sittin' on their boards. Not today. No kayaks or Stand-Up-Paddlers. It was quiet and calm. No wind at all for most of the day. What wind there was was a whisper. The whales fit that mood. The third and fourth pairs did not blow at all. When they surfaced, they barely disturbed the water.
We probably should have anticipated the lull: between 11:00 and 4:00 there were no whales; just a couple of Bottlenose dolphins and a single Harbor seal in siesta mode. It was that kinda day. Around 4:00 we saw a big blow at Campus Point, and not long after, the small blow. They paused a bit, then actually blew along a fairly direct path just off the kelp. Smooth, calm, easy. Couldn't be complicated on this day.
April 22: 8.37 hours. 12 whales | 6 calves. We were surprised by the fog that smothered our counting yesterday, and pleasantly surprised that it was not around today. The NOAA forecast called for fog all week, and we were trying to figure out how that would work. Of course, it wouldn't work at all. But, we did work. We got the whole day in with low clouds (not fog) in the morning and sunshine after 11 AM with good observation quality. Even so, some of the pairs appeared just to the east of Counter Point: surprise! We counted six terrific northbound Gray whale cow/calf pairs @ 9:13; 10:59; 1:44; 2:09; 3:03; 3:50; and 4:50, which we identified before 5:00 and continued tracking (and trying for photo-ID images) until 5:37 when the whales entered the glare west of us. We would have added an image here, but the electricity went out at the Point office. We got some good ones. We hope you enjoyed a glorious Earth Day.
April 21: 3.43 hours. 2 whales | 1 calf. We added a single, northbound Gray whale cow/calf pair in the morning before fog rolled in. Like the fog, these whales tip-toed across the Point on little cat's feet, barely disturbing the water along the kelp. We managed to track them as they glided beneath the mother and calf trail, very close to shore. Fog later came back and didn't go away, so no more Counting...
April 20: 8.22 hours. 15 whales | 7 calves. Sometimes Common dolphins disrupt what going on. In this case, approximately 2,000 dolphins were spread out between Counter Point (lead) and Campus Point (end). We estimated it was two-and-a-half miles of dolphins. That's a lot of disruption. What they did for us today, however, was bring about some order. When we saw the dolphins, we had counted five northbound Gray whales in three groups, including two cow/calf pairs. When the dolphins passed, we saw another cow/calf pair and it was all cow/calf pairs after that, all following along about two-and-a-half miles apart. If the dolphins had anything to do with that we thank them for a wonderful start to our Earth Day Celebration Weekend in the Santa Barbara area.
April 19: 8.00 hours. 4 whales | 2 calves. Our first cow/calf pair was special. They were very slow by Counter Point, and they spent a lot of time at the surface. When a UCSB research boat passed by outside the whales, they dove for only a short while, and then resumed their closeness. The calf stuck its head up many times, mini-breached, and dove under mom as you see in the image (right). We believe the calf was nursing. The image in our minds of this pair will stay with us.
USCB research vessels have become among the most attentive as they pass by Counter Point and the kelp off Sands and Isla Vista. Here they generally travel 100 meters off the kelp, giving the whales maneuvering room when approached by vessels. Our second and last pair of the day appeared out of nowhere in Slip Stream, right in front of us. Of course, if they can appear out of nowhere, they can disappear to nowhere, which they did.
April 18: 8.53 hours. 14 whales | 7 calves. We all agreed it was a great day. Our first whales weren't seen until after noon, a cow/calf pair. Observation conditions were excellent , but this pair was a snorkeler. We were able to track them, but just barely; and we saw only just enough to know it was a northbound Gray whale cow/calf pair. Everything changed about 2:45, including the weather. Whitecaps, and more whales, appeared, making trackinginteresting—especially the first in the string of six pairs, including two pairs traveling together. It was as if they were not sure which turn to make and didn't have a GPS. They took a long time finding their way around Campus Point. Then, coming almost straight at us (which is the common course), they bumped into the IV kelp, emerged in a "lake" (a clear patch in the kelp), and both came up adorned with kelp. They bumped around for a bit, then found their way under water through the kelp and into and out of Slip Stream, which presented the whales to our door step. Very nice, indeed. We managed a photo-ID image of the mother.) It was a terrific day, overflowing with whales, sun, cookies (thank you), and calves.
April 17: 4.02 hours. 5 whales | 2 calf. The calves are coming. Of course, the wind is here to greet them. Between noon and 1:00 we counted two cow/calf pairs and the Beaufort went from 3 to 5. Before noon, we only had one sighting of a northbound Gray whale. We saw it pretty far away and watched its regular pace and "stuttering" blow for a very long time. What may have been an older Gray whale passed in front of the oil platform as a crew boat was arriving. The approach of the very large and noisy vessel may have altered the whale's rhythm. We did not see it surface again.
April 16: Count canceled today because of high winds and big boats in the way (see April 16 photo).
April 15: 4.26 hours. 7 whales | 1 calf. The big breeze stayed offshore for most of the morning. Steadily, the wind gradually filled in. The whales were spooked—not by wind, but by Common dolphins, which swarmed very close to the Point. The buzzing dolphins were foraging, sometimes flipping upside-down to chase fish just under the surface. The behavior allows them to keep their head underwater and echolocating: good for the dolphins, not so good for the fish, and maybe scary for the whales. The dolphins plowed through the cow/calf trail in front of us, where a cow/calf pair and a very young juvenile were traveling (not together). Another single juvenile surfaced, surfaced again six minutes later, and disappeared. Just before noon, with the wind getting much stronger, we spotted a pair and a single Gray whale. It was not so easy, but we tracked them to right in front of us. Then, they too, disappeared in the mix of white horses, sheep, and good-old-American whitecaps whipped up by the winds.
April 14: 8.00 hours. 7 whales | 0 calves. This is the end of week nine, with five more weeks to go. We are more or less at the end of Phase One of the northbound migration: the General Migration (not calf-associated); and we are awaiting the flow of Phase Two: the Cow/Calf migration. In spite of haze, fog, and wind, we have the second highest Count to this date in our nine surveys.
Our first Gray whale today drew simultaneous wows. We picked up the blow and all were watching through binoculars as the whale arched before a dive. It happened that the whale was in a trough of a wave and the whole right side was exposed and it was about 75% white. (See photo.) We named the whale "White-sidEr," short for White-side Esrichhtius robustus (Apr. 14 photo). Our second sighting was a group of three, way outside, big whales charging along as if they were late for lunch (which they are). A pair of not very visible juveniles came next. They surfaced twice with no blows, no flukes. Another juvenile was our last Gray whale sighting at 4:00. At least this whale fluked.
April 13: 6.18 hours. 31 whales | 0 calves. While we waited off-effort in the fog, a drama was unfolding outside the Santa Barbara Harbor, eleven miles east of us: a Gray whale cow was entangled in a lobster or crab trap, line, and buoy. The cow was escorting her calf. We do not know how long the whale has been entangled, but any time is too much. This whale is hungry, trying to nurture her two-month old calf across a lot of ocean to Alaska. Without help soon, that journey will not be possible for either. The pair was spotted by Dave Beezer a captain on the Condor whale watching boat, just starting their morning excursion out into the Santa Barbara Channel. Immediately calls were put out to mobilize a team to disentangle the mother. From about 9:15 to 11:00 the condor stayed near the whales so the when the team gathered resources and arrived on the scene they would be able to "hand off" the whales, which they did.
Unfortunately, the injured whale and her calf eluded the rescue team and presumably continued on towards Point Conception. At Counter Point, we saw the boats, apparently searching for the whales three to four miles offshore of our survey. We never saw the whales. In good conditions it might have been possible. We did not have very good conditions. We are hoping a rescue effort can be made to tomorrow as the whales slowly move up the coast. We sighted our lone Gray whale for the day at 4:20.
April 12: 8.00 hours. 3 whales | 0 calf. Our northbound Gray whales were a single and a pair, all juveniles, with the pair much easier to track. (Not only do we have an idea how fast they travel, they also surfaced and blew at relatively short intervals.) We seem to be in the traditional lull between phases of the migration. In the late afternoon we got a call from a Counter at Santa Barbara Harbor, 11 miles east of Counter Point. He was watching a cow/calf pair just outside the Harbor. Those whales will pass Counter Point sometime this evening, when we are off duty. We hope they are leading a vanguard that gets the cow/calf migration moving!
April 11: 8.46 hours. 4 whales | 1 calf. It was a long day with mostly haze then, later, wind, whitecaps, and chop — and whales that did not care to be documented. At 4:45 we saw a big blow — the biggest we have seen in a while — east of Campus Point. The whale took "forever" to get on the western side (our side) of Campus Point. In a moment, we saw why: big blow/little puff. It was momma and her calf, and they were taking their own sweet time. The calf was having fun with a number of spyhops to check out the Counters on the hill. We saw the others (juveniles) just enough to get a few positions and close the book for today.
April 10: 8.00 hours. 13 whales | 0 calves. Observation quality was considerably better than many recent days. With all that, our first four sightings were difficult. A single northbound Gray whale made small blows and irregular surfacings. If that sounds like a juvenile, that is what we decided too. Our second sighting was further outside by the oil platform. We saw them once, bigger, mature whales. The third and fourth sighting were almost intermingled. Actually we do not know what happened to the fourth sighting. We got one good look and that was it (another young whale). The third sighting was a trio of two very young juveniles and a slightly bigger Gray whale. They were calf-like, goofy, all over the place and each other, but not calves. Who says migrating can't be fun? Our final six whales were trios that were easier to track and managed to blow at the same time at least once for each group to let us know exactly how many whales were there. Thank you, whales.
April 9: 8.00 hours. 8 whales | 2 calves. All sightings today were in 3 (sometimes 4!) Beaufort sea conditions. Quite a difference from yesterday! We could have had more whales in our count. Unfortunately, in the afternoon glare and haze, we were unable to identify 3 Unidentified Large Whales. We do continue to see whales from the general population in groups and single, as well as cow/calf pairs.
April 8: 0.00 hours. 0 whales | 0 calves. No chance for us today (photo). Huge winds screaming along our coast. Even so, it is just another day (but more difficult) for the Brants on their migration.
April 7: 4.21 hours. 10 whales | 4 calves. A blitz day … Before we were blitzed by the continuing winds, a blitz of Gray whales, including four calves crowded past Counter Point. Between 9:30 and 10:00 two pairs of northbound Gray whales were sighted. The initial pair was two small juveniles. The second pair, maybe two miles behind, was a cow/calf pair. Just before 11:00 and before 11:30, three cow/calf pairs arrived. The first pair was about a half-mile ahead of the trailing two pairs.
April 6: 4.40 hours. 7 whales | 0 calves. A group of four Gray whales opened our day. Just before noon, we sighted a pair of younger whales with synchronized blows, exactly the same size.A mature, northbound Gray whale surfaced the other side of the kelp at Sands, just past Counter Point. The whale was part of a group of four, socializing through the Santa Barbara Channel: may spring break never end. Our last whale was likely a yearling that broke through a thin kelp wall and traveled through Slip Stream, which is the shortcut we named through the kelp right in front of us. The big advantage for us is that Slip Stream takes the whales very close to us, and we are glad to see that it might be used again this year. Once again our day was curtailed by strong winds.
April 5: 4.40 hours. 8 whales | 0 calves. We had quite a lot of action in a day shortened by very strong winds. It is not a coincidence that two sightings recorded Unidentified Large Whales, instead of smallish juvenile Gray whales (which they likely were). However, since we could not see the bodies, we do not really know if they were smallish, let alone Gray whales. Juveniles do continue to dominate the sightings. There were pairs and singles mostly fairly close except for two sightings that passed just inside of the oil platform. Our breaching Gray whale was showing off for the surfers closer to shore. We ended our day at 1:40 PM in a 25 knot wind.
April 4: 8.07 hours. 19 whales | 1 Calf. Juveniles continue to dominate the sightings. There were pairs and singles mostly fairly close except for two sightings that passed just inside of the oil platform. Our breaching Gray whale was showing off for the surfers closer to shore. We found a Harbor seal and a smallish group of 150 Common dolphins, which always seem to be larger than life. We ended our day at 1:40 PM in a 25 knot wind.
April 3: 8.07 hours. 19 whales | 1 Calf. While we have entered Phase Two of the northbound Gray whale migration, the Cow/Calf Phase; we have not entirely left Phase One, the General Population Phase; or, maybe it would be more accurate to call this, Phase 1b, The Juvenile Scatter Groups that Disappear Phase.
Several times our whales came in groups of groups. We watched their approach and saw appropriate blows and arching bodies and sometimes flukes. Then as they passed by, they disappeared, sometimes in zero-Beaufort, flat-calm water. We do not know how we could not track them.
Yes, one group was under water when a sportfishing boat speed over the whales, and another time a commercial urchin diving boat did the same thing. However, it also happened without vessel interactions. We do not know how they manage to evade us like that.
At the end of the day, we saw a small whale very close to us. Never saw it again. Then a pair of whales surfaced a half-mile further out. Never saw those whales again, either. It was getting dark and choppy, but we have found whales in those conditions and much worse.
I guess that is why they call it The Juvenile Scatter Groups that Disappear Phase.
Quasimoda, our Grand Dame of Note and Bottlenose dolphins, graced us with an encore appearance: a very slow, regal, left to right pass along the IV kelp and inside the kelp and through the surf at Sands.
We saw a Harbor seal and lots of California sea lions, many in big groups porpoising. A large, single male was alongside one of our disappearing Gray whales at the end of the day. We had no trouble tracking the sea lion.
April 2: 8.0 hours. 17 whales | 1 Calf. A wonderful, full day, with island views for the first time in a long time! It was fun seeing big whales, again, traveling in groups, socializing on their way to dinner. We also found some shy juveniles and even a mother and calf, pretty much the full slate. One of our big, outside whales breached on the approach to Platform Holly. It brought a smile and shriek from passersby from Idaho, who had never seen a whale. It brought a shriek from our experienced, sophisticated Counters as well. One observer estimated a ga-zillion Bottlenose dolphins plus some calves. And, we saw at least one Harbor seal.
April 1: 5.47 hours. 10 whales | 0 Calves. We were excited to see our Bottlenose dolphin Queen, once again with three other dolphins making a foursome. She has a volleyball-sized hump the forces her dorsal fin to flatten down to the right. Wrapped around her back- and-forth wanderings, we had seven sightings of northbound Gray whales! Two might have been cow/calf pairs, but we could not see them well enough to make the call. Observation quality again today was not good. Thick fog kept us off-effort for most of the morning. When it cleared we had some residual haze and then 15-knot wind (with kiteboarders— always a sign of strong winds). Two different Harbor seals were sighted just before the fog temporarily put us into Time Out. Right after we resumed counting, we sighted a group of 15 Pacific White-sided dolphins.
Mar. 31: 4.411 hours. 1 whale | 0 Calves.
Mar 30: 8.00 hours. 7 whales | 0 Calves.
Mar. 29: 5.36 hours. 13 whales | 3 Calves.
Mar. 28: 8.00 hours, 27 NB whales. The survey conducted some one hundred miles south of us at Palos Verdes, the ACS/LA Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project, sighted seventy-four northbound Gray whales on Wednesday. Wow. That is a lot of whales for most weeks. Alisa Schulman-Janiger, the Census director, told us to expect a lot of whales today. We certainly did. By noon, we had two sightings of four whales: not what we were expecting. We did not have very good observation quality, but that was not the problem. There just were not whales streaming by.
We have always tried to figure out how long it takes a whale to go from Point Vicente, on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, to Counter Point. The best we can say is that it varies. It varies mostly with the route, either along the coast or further off the coast in a straighter path. It definitely varies with the particular whales migrating. Some, like recently impregnated females, seem to just want to get there. Mating groups take more time. Juveniles seem to wander and mothers with calves stop a lot (for nursing time) and wander a lot. It is about 100 miles, plus the wandering.
We ended our day with 27 northbound Gray whales. All but our first sighting at 9:02 — a group of what appeared to be mature, relatively large whales traveling further out — were juveniles. There was one group of three young whales; we don't know how long they had been traveling as a group. All the rest were singles and pairs. From 12:30 it was a steady stream. Perhaps, it will continue long into the night.
That is the nature of a sample. We are on-effort only a third of a day. And, that is why more sampling stations are better.
So, it may not have been what we anticipated, but it was a very interesting, complicated and exciting day, and the day that produced our highest daily count for this year. Maybe tomorrow we'll see a bunch more!
Mar. 27: 8.00 hours, 25 NB whales. The whales came in bunches, and then, as a Counter noted, they may have taken some nap time. We did have some extended periods with no whales. From 3:15 to 4:30 was tough, until a very sharp-eyed Counter saw blows just inside the horizon to the east. It was near closing time and they were a long way away, so identifying them might not happen for a long time. Then, at the same bearing, but much closer, a gray whale popped into the binoculars. At least that whale would not take a lot of time. (A good thing, too, because we never saw the juvenile again.) There were a lot of juveniles today. A characteristic is their erratic downtimes and, consequently, the difficulty they create for us tracking them. A few juveniles were singles and two were pairs of young whales. One was a young whale paired with a bigger whale. We listed it as Calf, not determined; but, there really was nothing other than size that made us even think it was a calf. So, back to our final group: With our spotting scope, we could see they were, indeed, Gray whales, shooting water into the air like a European fountain of six whales, charging at us abreast, in a chorus line. We retied our string of 20+ whales per day with a remarkable total of 25!
Mar. 26: 8.00 hours, 7 NB whales. We broke our string of 20+ whales per day, even with the best visibility in a long time. We have been talking a lot about the vessel interactions the past few days, and today an interaction may not have been fun for the whales, but it did help us find them: A sportfishing boat we had seen a few times before was hurrying east when all of a sudden it turned left and stopped. It was trying to avoid the whales. It did, narrowly, and the whales popped up for all of us to see. We made the ID, and so we could enter the pair to make seven whales for the day.
Mar. 25: 6.51 hours, 28 NB whales | 1 Calf. We enjoyed a much better experience with our calf today. We saw it a number of times and a boat did not run over it. However, boats did go over the top of other whales during the day. One young whale seemed to take offense and breached four times in the wake! The boat driver was oblivious. In addition to 28 northbound Gray whales, including a calf making its first journey north, we saw Common dolphins and Bottlenose dolphins and at least one Harbor seal three times. A fun, busy day.
Mar. 24: 8.00 hours, 20 NB whales FIRST CALF! Like yesterday, it was whales all day—including our first calf! Unfortunately we did not have a lot of time to savor the experience. A fast moving boat drove right over the submerged whales only 75 meters offshore. The boaters did not see the whales, and probably had no idea there might be whales in the area—but there were, right under the boat in shallow water. Apparently, momma did not look back (or blow along the way). We searched and searched across the calm water and could not see the mother and calf. We believe they are both OK, just shaken by one of the "obstacles" the Gray whales must deal with on their migration. A big difference today was in the size of the whales we saw. In addition to the calf, we also counted at least five yearlings or 2-year-olds. One was hitching a ride with two older whales at the end of our day. We think the natural oil and gas seeps that can make considerable noise were rattling the whales today.
Mar. 23: 8.01 hours, 23 NB whales! A full day, full of whales right up to the end. Nice work! We had little singles, big singles, two pairs, two foursomes, and a fiver! Mid-day was huge. By 2:00 PM we had a dozen northbound Gray whales. At 2:30 we spotted a group of five blithely rolling along. A big single slowly cruised by closer to us. We turned back to see more whales approaching. Then, the breaching started: four for the four whales in the group! Our last whale was spotted at 4:30 beyond Campus Point and not confirmed as a Gray whale until 5:01. Nice work, indeed.
Mar. 22: 0.0 hours, 0 NB whales. NOAA forecast 25 to 35 knot winds with gusts to 60 knots (SIXTY!!) for an area including Counter Point. Todya's count was cancelled.
Mar. 21: 5:23 hours, 10 NB whales. In the day's whitecaps and chop, we counted 10 grays before the wind finally pushed us off the Point after 2:00. We heard there might be more coming through Goleta Bay, which is largely blocked from our view by Campus Point, but there were too many whitecaps with conditions at Beaufort five heading for six.
Mar. 20: 7.04 hours, 16 NB whales. A Today was front-loaded with a dozen whales before noon. Yesterday was back-loaded with a lot of whales after noon. Last night's traffic through the nearshore of the Santa Barbara Channel might have matched LA's dreaded Highway 405. We started the morning a touch early in poor conditions because a whale was jumping out of the water begging us to get started. We found this group to be two whales. Another pair and a juvenile (not traveling together that we could tell) and then we picked up another pair and the above trio. The observation quality improved a bit and we heard a "heads up" message from the Captain of the Condor, which is ably standing in for the Condor Express, undergoing repairs from their disastrous fire. Soon we were tracking a group of four northbound Grays for almost two hours.
Mar. 19: 8.00 hours, 10 NB whales. A breaching northbound Gray whale — a large whale — two miles straight out, on the approach to Platform Holly was our first whale of the day at 10:30 and only whale of the morning. We were seriously wondering what was going on! We usually have lots of whales going by as we hit the first days of spring. At 2:30 we saw our second, third, and fourth northbound Gray whales. A young single, apart from the trio, followed. At 3:30 another pair passed the Point. Our final trio appeared 20 minutes later.
Mar. 18: 8.00 hours, 10 NB whales. In a full day, we were able to find some whales in mostly poor observation quality, which lasted all day. It was heavily overcast; but, not foggy, just dark, with very low contrast. All ten of the whales we saw passed well inside Platform Holly. There may have been whales further out, but we do not think so. We caught a couple of juvenile singles at different times of day. They were very shy, one faint blow and down: difficult to see, difficult to track. Counters were actually excited by the challenge!
Mar. 17: 4.00 hours, 1 NB whale. Five weeks completed and a leprechaun is now playing tricks on us. Thick fog covered our morning. The lingering haze did not help us see better, but there was not much to see. Where are the whales? We are not giving them a very big window to parade in front of us: four hours today. We did see a single for a moment. That was it.
Mar. 16: 8.00 hours, 9 NB whales. We had a thick marine layer that was, fortunately, elevated from the ocean surface. We had visibility — not great — but we could see, and we were able to record a full day! Along the way we counted nine northbound Gray whales. We had a pair at a quarter to noon. They were in relatively close and finished inside the oil platform. Immediately after, we sawfive whales with a trio leading a pair. They were only three quarters of a mile offshore and passed well inside Platform Holly.
Mar. 15: 0.00 hours, 0 NB whales. It may sounds odd to say that we think the weather is getting better, when we report zero whales with zero time counting. The past few days have been very thick fog that broke up a bit. Today, was not so dense, but much of the time we could not see the oil platform 1.7 nautical miles offshore and at no time could we see the horizon. It is not fog season for this area. We'll see (we hope).
Mar. 14: 2.34 hours, 4 NB whales. Because of heavy fog, again we had to delay opening the Count. We started about 2:30 and with no fog, we had surprisingly good visibility. At almost 3:30 we saw our first whale, a single northbound Gray whale. It had been in the kelp early, but we could not get a position. We think it may have been a yearling trying to feed. With the camera at the ready … breach! And, just in case we missed, two more breaches. An hour later, we saw three more breaches heading west. There were three whales, but we believe it was only one of them that breached. It was nice to get some on-effort time in and find four whales out there.
Mar. 13: 1.38 hours, 0 NB whales. This was not a rerun of yesterday. Yesterday we saw an otter. Today we did not. today we had more fog, and more dolphins: four Bottlenose as opposed to zero yesterday. Again, no whales. The most interesting moment was catching some sport-fishers illegally fishing in the fog in front of us when they were in the Marine Protected Area. When the fog dissipated they immediately stopped. We figure they knew what they were doing.
Mar. 12: 6.25 hours, 0 NB whales. We started in a fog and could not see much. Then it cleared, and came back, and cleared again. We got in most of a day, and when it was clear, we could see a lot, just not whales or dolphins. But for the first time since Gray Whales Count 2011, we did see a Sea otter (Enhydra lutris)! It appeared right in front of us, cruising east on his back, and then it did the otter twist, stuck his head way up, looked all around, dove and was not seen again. Almost as if it never happened. But, it did. Now that this is a Marine Protected Area (MPA): there could be lots of lobsters underneath that kelp. As far as we know, this is the first Sea otter documented in this MPA. Perhaps the otter folks will let us know.
Mar. 11: 5.45 hours, 10 NB whales.The whales we saw after the fog cleared were way outside. If anything passed in the morning, we did not have a chance to Count them. Fortunately, we could see in the afternoon. Three groups: a 3 + 2 fiver, a single, and a 2 + 2 foursome gave us 10.
Mar. 10: 8 hours, 25 NB whales. The whales were up early and we counted three groups in the first hour. Two were exceptionally far from shore. We are fortunate that we had good observation quality and a "quality" observer to pick out the blows. The train of northbound Gray whales continued almost all of our full day with nary a whitecap to dodge. (Quite different from yesterday.) Very difficult times for the Condor Express … In addition to the death last week of Captain Fred Benko, the owner of Condor Cruises, the Condor Express caught fire in the afternoon yesterday, with extensive damage to the wheelhouse. It will be quite some time before the boat is back on the water. Our hearts go out to the "Condor" family.
Mar. 9: 1.12 hours, 6 NB whales. It seems wind puts a charge in everything. We even started 2 minutes early as a sharp-eyed Counter picked a blow (then many blows) out of a frothing sea. We entered the northbound Gray whales as three groups, but it certainly could have been recorded as one, spread-out group of six whales. The trio was furthest out, with a pair in mid-ground, and a single closest to us. Six whales is not so much for a day, but it was fast and furious for a half-hour before wind shut us down for the day.
Mar. 8: 3.53 hours, 11 NB whales. We had the wind today. Our first whales — an expressive group of six, popping along in a line of pairs — got to us from the east about the same time a barrage of whitecaps got to them from the west. It didn't seem to bother them much, and at that level of wind, we really had no trouble tracking their many, many blows only a mile offshore. A young single proved more difficult. It blew once straight out from us. We got the ID, but that was the last we saw. Bottlenose dolphins filled the gap to the next whales — a foursome playing through the Channel, nearshore course. They were a touch more difficult because the wind was about 20 knots at this time, and the glare was glaring. (See image Windy Day: See Whale? at right). We canceled the afternoon.
Mar. 7: 7.45 hours, 6 NB whales. The Channel, the whales, and our community lost a great friend last night. Captain Fred Benko, owner of the Condor Express died last night.
His impact on whale watching and appreciation for all marine mammals, especially whales brought new and profound attention to these magnificent animals and the need for conservation. Thousands of people saw whales, dolphins, and porpoises and pinnipeds and birds from the deck of the best boat with the most concerned and respectful captains and crew in the business. They set the standard. Thank you, Fred. We will miss you.
It is fitting that today we saw our first Humpback whales of the year. I will always think of Fred exclaiming to the passengers of the Condor Express upon seeing a whale breach in the distance: "That's a Humpback whale up ahead. Either that or a house just fell in the water."
Our Humpbacks today were between four and five miles offshore, the horizon for us. Their blows popped out from the island backdrop. We called the Condor Express and Captain Mat got a chance to show the eight whales to an awestruck group of passengers.
The Condor passengers also saw some of our northbound Gray whales we had Counted. We tallied six for the day, from three groups: a trio, a pair, and a single.
In the morning we were impressed by a very large group of Common dolphins charging through relatively calm waters in front of us. Late in the day we saw Bottlenose dolphins, again, with calves. Very fun.
A highlight for us was a visit from Petra Diemer, an esteemed member the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission. She is on her way to San Ignacio Lagoon for her 8th time.
Mar. 6: 7.49 hours, 19 NB whales. Today was a gift: almost a full day Counting whales and a rainbow instead of a wash out.
Dolphins were scattered across the morning. A big group of Common dolphins chased fish from right to left across the Point. They came in quite close to us and almost bumped a mother Bottlenose escorting her calf into the kelp. We charted three more groups of Bottlenose in the morning, one included three more calves. Perhaps this was a return of some of the larger group that included nine calves a few days ago.
Our first northbound Gray whales were traveling as five, with a single chauffeuring four in the backseat playing around: lots of huffing and puffing, and rolling and "sharking" (whale on its side with pectoral fin in the air and a fluke carving a wiggly path, imitating a shark's tail fin: mating behavior.)
An orderly pair followed.
As the pair passed in front of us there was another blow to the left, which we perceived as following the pair. Not so … breach to the left, again, again. Three more. Blow. Fluke. Slow travel east (southbound). Our bouncing whale seems a bit late for the party but having a good time along the way.
Still no rain, even though there was rain all the way on the drive to the Point.
Our next group was another mating group of three. We have talked about how, no matter what else they are doing, Gray whales continue to migrate. Yes, these did, but there seemed to be more emphasis on rolling, rather than rolling along. Three other groups passed us and the trio before we stopped tracking them into an afternoon sprinkle.
A rainbow appeared at Campus Point, two miles east and our day was restored after a short, eleven-minute downtime.
Another group, a pair, was spotted way to the east. As we tracked them, another appeared in the east, bringing our day's total to eighteen.
Just before closing, a large, northbound Gray whale came close to the Point and displayed lots of white spots on his or her back: nineteen northbounders, a very nice gift.
Mar. 5: 7.55 hours, 13 NB whales. We tracked a very large group of Gray whales blowing and rolling west through the Channel on their way north. it included nine big whales—a sub-group of six led a sub-group of three passing just outside oil Platform Holly. There was a long pause, then we found a shy pair of Gray whales just before it reached the oil platform. Late in the last hour, we found another pair that surfaced regularly and blew big and faint many times, closing out our day with 13 NB whales.
Mar. 4: 8.00 hours, 11 NB whales. This was our first day of double digits and a very good representation of the general population phase of the northbound migration of Gray whales through the nearshore of the Santa Barbara Channel. Our whales were close to shore and far away, in a big group (six) and a single and two pairs. Three of the groups were in front of us at about the same time (close, mid-way out, and outside the oil platform) the other group was apart from others. The single was a young juvenile. The pairs seemed like older (bigger), young whales. The large group was mature and mating: rolling, spy hops, fluking, a breach, generally all over the place and themselves; and yet, all the while, they pushed west (northbound).
Mar. 3: 6.41 hours, 2 NB whales. Our two whales were spotted early in the day, very early in the day. We were finishing setup when an observer spotted blows past the Point and close to shore, just outside the kelp. Another observer spotted two blows a bit further on towards the Ellwood kelp. Gray whale. Two. Big blow/little blow, in close, along Sands, along the kelp, towards the Ellwood kelp. This is the trail of mothers and calves, but this is way early. Could it be? We concluded that we do not know. We never saw the body of the littler whale. We doubt seriously that it was a cow/calf pair, but this is how we expect cow/calf pairs to behave, and we do enjoy a little speculation … If it had been April 3rd, it would be likely. We got reports of a string of Gray whales in the east Channel but thought it was unlikely that they would make it to us before closing. The wind wiped out what ever chance we had.
Mar. 2: 8.17 hours, 7 NB whales. No Gray whales were counted until the end of the day, when we saw blows pretty far east. Then there were blows eveb further east: two groups! It was clear there were a lot of whales coming to Counter Point. At 5:14 we had confirmed two groups of three northbound Gray whales. We almost missed these whales. At 4:00 what turned out to be the tail of the fog wisked past us, sweeping way our oil platform and sections of our ocean, but for only five minutes. Very strange. We thought we might be done for the day and we were left with clear skies and moments later SIX whales. All of this was great, but top dog for the day was a nursery group of Bottlenose dolphins consisting of at least 23 dolphins and no less than nine calves. They hugged the shoreline, weaving between startled surfers and the waves and kelp … an astonishing sight.
Mar. 1: 8.00 hours, 3 NB whales. We saw nine —but unfortunately, only three went into the books as positively identified northbound Gray whales. A reason is that the warm sun created heat waves, distortions, and mirages, which made it hard for us to see details, especially at distance. Whale number three was close and also very rhythmic: every 8 minutes, four blows, a fluke and down for 8 more minutes, and so on. Very nice!
Feb. 28: 8.17 hours, 5 NB whales. The migration is generally building at this time. We are in the developing, first phase where the general population consisting of males and females, young and old, charge back to the feeding waters off northern Alaska. There is usually plenty of time for socializing on the way and the whales take different paths through the Southern California Bight and even different paths though our nearshore of the Santa Barbara Channel. Today, for whatever reason, was the inside track. At just after opening we saw a close blow, just outside the Isla Vista kelp, coming toward us. This is the cow/calf track, and this was a small single. We decided it was likely a yearling following the trail momma laid down in their 2012 passage. The young whale is alone now and seemed to be handling the very long migration quite well. At 2:30 we saw some larger blows — a pair of big, northbound Gray whales with regular surfacing and fluking. The passed well inside the oil platform.
Just after 4:00 a juvenile, single Gray whale cruised by, no more than a mile out, again, close for this time in the migration. A boat motored over the whale when it was down, underwater, and the whale stayed down for an extended period before popping up, also well inside the oil platform on its way west.
At the very last second before closing, we caught a blow near Campus Point: another close-in Gray whale. And, this whale also had to endure a fast moving boat, noisily speed over it. We began to think we lost it when almost right in front of us it surfaced without blowing beside the kelp.
Feb. 27: 8.00 hours, 7 NB whales. Right around noon we saw blows and tracked a single from about three miles east of us past oil Platform Holly. Then, thanks to a "something up ahead" tip from the Condor Express, we identified a pair and tracked them outside the oil platform. Common dolphins were all over the place, mostly spread out, but, at times in a parade line, then a chorus line, and almost all the time with their heads in the water foraging. Must have been a lot of fish. The Harbor seals seemed to notice, too. With a shift change at three we saw a single blow two miles out that in about six minutes became two pairs that, for that position, surfaced together and blew together and three of the four fluked together. Wonderful. It made it easy for us to know how many there were. We followed them outside the platform and across the flat-calm water into and across the sun path.
Feb. 26: 8.00 hours, 5 NB whales. Today we got to track whales northbound Gray whales. We followed a single for 40 minutes in the morning and finished observing the whale pass inside oil Platform Holly. Bottlenose dolphins crossed back and forth during the day with one locked into a Devereux swell, pushing through the kelp to our left. Our Harbor seal was napping not far away. About 3:30 we picked up a single blow pretty far out, approaching the Point. The next breathing sequence revealed it was four adult Gray whales, two and two, blowing ever brighter blows into the afternoon sun. We saw them for a long time, well over an hour!
Feb. 25: 8.00 hours, 2 NB whales. We, again had really good observation quality and trained, experienced observers who found whales, sometimes a long, long way away, and then could not find them again. Didn't make sense and caused some genuine frustration. How could we not see them? Well, they did enter the books as two (today) single whales. They could have been more, but we only saw them as singles and we had not enough tracking to find more. Until the end, we saw no other animals than the whales that we could not find to follow. Bottlenose to the delight and rescue: a group of six cruised past the Point and with a flourish, one made a gentle ten foot leap that brought back smiles.
Feb. 24: 7.58 hours, 5 NB whales. We have counted a lot of whales for the end of week two. In spite of some wind and bad weather that has cut into some of our counting time, we have enjoyed some very good and — like today — excellent observation quality. All the counters remarked about it. In the morning, one counter put it to use spotting a whale about four miles east of us. We tracked, what turned out to be a mating group of three, for more than 2.5 hours. That is a long sighting! This afternoon we picked up what we identified as northbound Gray whales due south of us, and tracked them for almost an hour, in spite of long downtimes, into the western sun path.
Feb. 23: 2.03 hours, 2 NB whales. The day was made even more beautiful because we had whales: two northbound Gray whales moving steadily west into the wind. Yes, wind. There was not much when we started, but before 11:00 it was 25 knots (28 mph!)and building … building! Day #13 was short.
Feb 22: 8 hours, 6 NB whales. A very nice day in the Santa Barbara Channel, and we had whales to count. We started soon after opening with a pair that blew regularly and was easily tracked inside the oil platform. When we turned around there was a single whale approaching Campus Point east of us. Actually, we thought it might be more than one because it blew a lot. That made it also easy to track until it stopped blowing. We think all that blowing was prep for a long dive, just over twenty minutes. A whale under water is not easy to track. Fortunately, the seas were calm and glassy and we saw the surfacing and waved it on: whale three on the day. In mid-afternoon, we tracked a trio as it traveled outside the oil platform.
Feb 21: 8 hours, 9 NB whales. After a day of no counting because of wind, it was wonderful to put in a full day on the Point with not much wind and water punctuated by whales in a pretty exciting, eventful day!
Feb. 20: 0 hours. It was a very picturesque day in the Santa Barbara Channel with a bright blue ocean was quilted in whitecaps and glossed with golden sun. Unfortunately for Gray Whales Counters, it is too hard to see a whale. We took the day off.
Feb. 19: 4.33 hours, 2 NB whales. NOAA predicted an 80% chance of rain for the day. Counters know, however, that we cannot pay too much attention to predictions. Today was a perfect example of why not. The morning was nice, with good light and just a slight breeze on the ocean surface. So nice that while observing dolphins, we also saw blows quite far offshore. A pair of Gray whales going northbound were slowly making their way across our survey area.And, this was a day we were not expecting to be able to count. But we got blown off the Point at 1:33 by 25 knot winds.
Feb. 18: 8.0 hours, 0 NB whales. It's Day 08 and we put in our first 8-hour day. By the end of the month, we will be seeing whales regularly, but not today. For a long time we couldn't find any marine mammal other than a Sea lion. Later, we did see Bottlenose dolphins and then Lags with Sea lions following close behind. Our final few sightings were Harbor seals patrolling the surf.
Feb. 17: 7.55 hours, 3 NB whales. With our first week behind us, we are off to a terrific start of maybe our best year of Gray Whales Count!
Feb. 16: 7.58 hours, 4 NB whales. Another unseasonable, warm, not windy, beautiful, lucky day on Counter Point. Our season total went from 7 to 11 northbound Gray whales with a foursome in the last hour of today's watch. We have noticed that all sightings of northbound Gray whales have occurred between 4:00 and 5:00.
Feb. 15: 7.45 hours, 0 NB whales
Feb. 14: 5.33 hours, 3 NB whales. Fog caused some time out today. Once we were surprised by a fast moving fog bank that obscured the ocean and oil Platform. It almost as quickly vanished and revealed a distant trio of northbound Gray whales approaching the bearing of oil Platform Holly, but about a mile further out. Even though they were so far out, the blows were backlit by the late afternoon sun and were visible for a long while. Some nice fluking helped us count and identify the 3 northbound gray whales.
Feb. 13: 7.54 hours, 0 NB whales. Just blue water.
Feb. 12: 7. 5 hours, 0 NB whales. Excellent observation quality most of the day, but no northbound Gray whales.
Feb. 11: 7.34 hours, 4 northbound (NB) whales. A very nice way to start our 2013 Gray Whales Count!