from Observation Post #7
Coal Oil Point, Channel Islands, California, USA
Meet Michael H. Smith of Gray
Whales Count! See the view
and join the whale watchers at that counting point with the feature
video clip "Waiting for Whales" from the Ventura
County Star newspaper.
It's almost as good as being there!
Here are highlights from some
of Michael's reports at the Gray
Whales Count site:
this final day of the Count, we were able to wish a bottlenose
dolphin "Happy Mothers' Day" as she escorted
her calf past the Point with a dozen or so of her friends and
For total whales we had a record 647.
The Counters had a terrific year. Their dedication and enthusiasm
melded into an extraordinary team effort.
Counted our 59th calf. It was not a good year, so far, for
calves. We do hope more are coming and
they will be noted by Wayne Perryman and the Piedras Blancas group.
Two, northbound, gray-whale cow/calf pairs reminded us: "We
aren't done yet."
Our first pair was sighted just after nine. We got a call from
Captain Dave Beezer on the Condor Express as they were approaching
Campus Point from the east. We could not see them in Goleta Bay,
but not much later we saw the boat and two whales gently making
their way along the kelp and around Campus Point towards Coal Oil
Point where we were adding them to the Count.
At the end of the day, another whale-watching boat, the Speed
Twin, appeared on the other side of Campus Point. Moments later we saw
what they were watching: our second, gray-whale cow/calf pair of
glad the captains got to show some folks the new generation of
May 9: Zero whales! We are approaching the end of our survey.
Sunday (Mother's Day, May 12) is our last day on the Point for
year. We do
expect to have some
zero days at the end. Even so, we want more calves to be coming
by. If we can manage five calves over the weekend, it will be
a 15 percent increase from last year. While it is not up
to where it might be, that is pretty OK. And, while we are closing,
Pt. Piedras Blancas, NOAA's official calf estimation site, will
remain open for another two weeks. We hope
they see some good numbers.
morning gray whale cow/calf pair was reticent, and now wonder:
they were advancing towards the buoys with the oil barge
being maneuvered into place. Yes, the oil barge. It was here
last Friday and back again today. Needless to say, we did
not cheer its arrival. Our cheers were reserved for the gray
whales. We have now seen more whales in one year (635) than
in our previous years of Counting — and we have barely
surpassed the low calf-count of last year. Both good.
five days to Count, we have tied some finishes. 2006 has
been our best of the three previous years, and today
we Counted our 633rd northbound gray whale.
It was one of three that we sighted at about 4:30 — two
large whales and a calf. Actually, one was quite big, with
whale, and a very little guy. The little
one was our 52nd calf of this year. It ties our very
low calf-count last year. The good news is that there are five
days left for us. And, even though we will conclude our Count
on Sunday, May 11, Wayne Perryman's group in Piedras Blancas
will be working for two more weeks to catch more of this late
5: Today there were more visitors to Otterville. We counted
twenty-seven residents plus a gray whale calf from our first
cow/calf pair of the day, sighted in the kelp about 11:30. We
had two other pairs, one at one and the final pair at four-thirty.
Our calf total for the year is now at fifty. Climbing...
3: Eleven whales today. As we were tracking our first whale,
a single northbound gray whale, we spotted four humpbacks 2.5
miles out in the haze. Our remaining six whales were all cow/calf
gray whale pairs. The first (12:40) traveled directly
across the Point to some kelp just right of us. The mother and
calf began to move in and out and around the kelp. A second pair
caught up and it was playtime with lots of rolling, spyhops by
adults and children, and some mini-breaches. The whales slowly
moved west and along the waves inside the buoys. For 40 minutes
the four whales played in the surf and nearshore before
slowly heading west toward Point Conception. Our third pair,
our final whales of the day were sighted in the kelp to the east
just before three. They must have disturbed
the kelp beneath Otterville because all the otters made quick
2: The calves continue to pass by. We Counted four gray
whale calves among nine northbound whales today. Our first pair
was there when we were, so we started
five minutes early. We tracked the pair through the buoys where
hours before the oil barge and assorted support vessels were
positioned. Fortunately, the filling was completed and the vessels
gone, so this pair had only the buoy arrangement to dodge. They
managed skillfully. We sighted our second pair before noon. We
don't know how these whales negotiated the buoys because a fast
moving vessel passed
over the mother and calf right as they approached the buoys.
The whales surfaced, blew, and disappeared, safe, but probably
shaken. The third and fourth pairs plus a juvenile came at us
as a unit: five whales. The whales slowly, but not showily cruised
They chose to travel inside the buoys (between the buoys and
the shore), and then hang out in the waves: rolling, breaching,
and seeming to enjoy their time in this special place.
1: We had the highest calf count for a day since
April 2006. True, last year was a disaster; and we are still
not up to last
year's pace, but it was exciting to see five cow/calf pairs today.
Our first pair of northbound, gray whales was at 10:40 with
the second and third pretty much together, an hour behind. The
fourth cow/calf pair arrived about 3:15 and number five was
just before 4:00. The fourth and fifth pairs
hurried through. Perhaps they wanted to put the oil barge ensemble
between the buoys to the west of us behind them
30: We found our first cow/calf pair of gray whales while
looking at a cow/calf pair of humpbacks. The humpbacks were a
couple miles out but at the same bearing only a quarter mile
from us, gray whales appeared. Actually, the otters probably
saw the whales first because they must have passed right through
or by the otters.
The second pair came with a juvenile trailing and just to the
outside. We saw the pair in the kelp to the east, and they came
very close by the Point and continued along the waves at Sands
Beach. Twenty minutes later, pair number three popped up in front
of us. We devoted the last hour to the fourth pair. We saw a strange
blow just off the kelp at Campus Point to our left. Momma's blow
appeared straight (not bushy) and at an angle, perhaps only from
her left blowhole. and the calf delighted us by continually lifting
its whole head above the water. He or she did it many times,
all the way across our vantage.
29: Before the wind scattered Counters just after three, we added
three gray whales, including a calf, northbound. The
single was a juvenile with very regular "three blows and
down" for three to seven minutes. The cow/calf pair followed
a half hour behind. In the kelp to the right of Coal Oil Point
both animals spyhopped. Not far ahead the massive oil barge,
tug, and support vessels filled the buoy arrangement west of
our Point. The whales took that look, inhaled, and disappeared.
It is not surprising.
28: No whales today. If the migration truly has been stretched
out, these blank days are a bit frustrating. If, on the other
hand, this is the winding down of the cow/calf pairs, we
are concerned. Gray Whales Count is scheduled to conclude May
If a rush of calves begins, we will extend our Count in an
effort to get the full picture of this La Niña year
27: After two and a half days of no whales,
it was very exciting to see a northbound, gray-whale
cow and calf in the
kelp to the east of us, just before one. Almost exactly an hour
later, another cow/calf pair was heading west along the kelp
towards us. Unfortunately, an unthinking, uncaring boat driver
harassed the pair as they attempted to make their way across
Coal Oil Point. The whales were forced to turn around three times
to avoid the boat. We did get some pictures, and we will file
a complaint with NOAA enforcement. This is the same person who
has harassed the otters on two previous occasions and again today
before the gray whales. After the boat was gone, a third pair
of gray whales came by and were able to linger in the
kelp for a while before heading
west. The calf seemed to enjoy the interlude. They then leisurely
proceeded along Sands Beach into the afternoon sun.
26: For a migration-season that we are thinking is going
to be extended, it is a little difficult for us to experience
consecutive zero days this early; and, we are falling further
behind the dismal, calf pace of a year ago. We don't know what
is going on, but this is why we do it. And, we are not done yet.
Season totals so far: 577 including 27 calves.
24: we counted four northbound gray whales: a cow and
calf at nine-thirty and, just before the noon whistle, another
cow and calf (AKA The Kelp Monster).
April 23: No whales in a tad over two hours of observation before
the wind shut us down.
22: Today was one of those days of lower Counts
that may be the result of an extended migration. We do
for a longer period, rather than the more "normal" burst
of calves charted as a steep incline and decline in daily
Counts. Just after 10:00 we saw blows beyond Campus Point
to the east. After
some back and forth and slow progress along the kelp,
we Counted cow/calf pair number twenty-five. Sort of shadowing
the pair was a young juvenile about a half-mile outside
and a bit behind. That was it for gray whales for us on
day cut short by high winds.
a cow/calf pair at 10:30 this morning, we have 24 for the
year. It is more than last
time, but last year was a disaster. In 2007, we Counted less
than half as many calves as the year before. We are hopeful,
however, for this year. The southbound migration was late;
and the La Niña condition
has created cooler water in the lagoons of Baja California Sur,
Mexico. Many whales traveled further south to Cabo San Lucas
and around the corner into the Sea of Cortez. The whales will
have farther to travel on the way back, which could spread out
and extend the cow/calf phase of the northbound migration. We
may have a mix of mature whales with the cow/calf pairs, and
it is likely that daily counts of calves will be lower than previous
highs, but the phase could last longer, resulting in, perhaps,
a "normal" year of successful calf production.
April 19: We
just had time for our sea otter role call (26 today) before
we saw our first whales — a
cow/calf pair that showed up in the kelp just to the east of
Point. At 10:02, there were blows at Campus Point. The whales
lingered a while at Campus Point, and then they slowly made their
through the kelp and past
us, very close and at times in the small waves. The second pair
was three whales, including a juvenile that was sometimes close
and at other times 15 meters away. Apparently
the calf wanted to show us that Gray Whales Count. The calf was
obviously counting Counters! The calf then went on to count surfers,
birds, buoys, boats, otters, sea lions, and maybe even Snowy
Plovers building their nests on Sands Beach. The calf spyhopped,
breached, rolled, and mini-breached for more than a mile and
a half. The wind, however, "blew out the candle" for us. While
it was lit, we saw that the calves are coming.
18: Lots of whales today! Before the noontime interlude,
we Counted eleven northbound, gray whales. We first tracked a
lone whale, and then back at Campus Point we saw several blows.
It looked like tow groups for gray whales heading towards us
around the kelp. We were surprised to ID the first group as two
humpbacks. This was the closest to the mainland we have seen
them: just over a half-mile off Campus Point. The second group
was close to the first, but they were not humpbacks. They
were three gray whales, composed of two mature whales and
a tag-along juvenile. Not far behind was a group of bottlenose
dolphins, then more gray whales. This was a cow/calf pair with
another cow/calf pair ten minutes behind. The caboose, rambling
along as the fog closed in, was another gray-whale threesome. Yes,
we were disappointed with the weather, and very glad to see the
sun after 2 PM.
We Counted our otters and waited ... At 3:45 we saw the first blows
of our third cow/calf pair. We tipped the Condor Express, returning
from a trip across the Channel. As the Condor headed east
toward Santa Barbara, the boat encountered — and we Counted— two
single gray whales and
a pair. Nice finish.
April 17: In the late afternoon, a wonderful cow/calf pair slowly
made its way past Coal Oil Point with the calf anxiously switching
sides. A single followed an hour later; and, just before closing,
a pair arrived moving at a steady and pretty fast pace. We got
big, strong and little blows, and we thought cow/calf. We had
some good looks at both whales and the small one showed no calf
traits. It was likely a yearling with a gracious, mature whale
guiding the journey north.
April 16: We had sun, no wind, whales, calves, dolphins, otters,
sea lions, and strings of migrating Brants flowing through the
air. There were no exotic behaviors; but the calves did bounce
along the surface, breaking their mom's smooth, cool breathing
April 15: We
identified a calf to bring our season total to a modest ten.
We are hoping
that this is the week we are going to see many calves.
14: For three days in a row, we have Counted three gray
whales. Today, the three, single, juvenile, northbound whales
played sideshow to the three-ring, humpback circus that came
to Coal Oil Point and performed all day long. Gray whales are migrating.
Humpbacks are feeding, and they go where the food is or just
where they want to go. They also apparently do what they want
to do. Our circus was performing for the land-based crowd today:
spectacular breaches with huge splashes. Sometimes we would have
to pay attention to another species, and the splash would bring
us back. It was never one breach; it was a continuum of six,
seven, eight breaches in a row. we also had simultaneous breaches
and follow-the-leader breaches from a different group. Everybody— at least nine whales from four different groups — got into the
act. Maybe the most intriguing whale breached to get our
attention, breached again to make sure we were were watching
and then raised
its tail flukes and slammed them down on the water with a force
so strong there was almost as big a slash as the breach. After
about fifteen or twenty, it started slapping its huge pectoral
fins, and then ripped off twenty more tail slams. Truly magnificent.
hat may be more troubling is that there was a lot of oil on the
water from the natural seeps. (Follow the link for an in-depth
explanation about the second largest oil seeps in the world.)
It appeared that several otters were surrounded by oil-brown
foam. We know that oil and otter do not mix. Then again, to hang
around this place, they must have a way. We hope so.
April 13: Our Count was the same as yesterday — three
northbound, gray whales — with
one little exception: a calf. From about 11:30 to lunch, we tracked
the halting, then cruising
pair across Coal Oil Point. At 1:00, a young single was making
its way north by us at a good pace. It covered two miles in just
over twenty minutes. Perhaps the whale was "pushed" by
the sound of jet-skis and various sportfishing boats that were
out in the warm weather
and churning up the calm seas.
April 12: We
sighted our single gray whales at 10:43, 2:00, and the last
one at 2:36. Again, no calves.
Because we saw so few calves in 2007, we are concerned — but
we also know that the timing has been late this
year and La Niña has apparently stretched out the northbound
migration to perhaps make the whole process even longer. That
is our thinking. Of course, we are anxious even as we try to
April 11: We were able to Count nine northbound, gray whales.
The first eight were 2-3 miles out when we sighted them.
The ninth whale came around Campus Point and made its way along
the kelp and very close to the Point. It was
a skinny, mature whale with ribs showing. Perhaps it was traveling
closer to shore to feed in some of the kelp beds. The whale has
a long journey ahead, and we wish it well.
7: We think this is the "bridge" time
between the peak flow of mature whales and the cow/calf
phase. Even so,
having lots of sightings. In all, we saw fourteen northbound
gray whales, including two calves. A highlight was a
huge breach by
a very big whale just off the Point. Two breaches!! The pair
of mature whales were tracked through the buoys where the
oil barge is filled. There they did a bit of rolling,
oblivious to their surroundings.
6: We watched the morning commute in Otterville. Our total
for the day was twenty-six sea otters. The whales were spread
out too. Some were very close, others passed beyond Platform
Holly. Some were singles, some pairs,
and two trios. One was close but unidentifiable. Another close
whale became a pair for us after we saw it turn right, inside
the buoys and travel along Sands toward Ellwood Beach. We know
this is a cow/calf route, so an experienced Supervisor ran two
hundred meters to the walkway-overlook above Sands Beach. There
he saw mom off a bit, watching junior do what calves do: play.
The calf spyhopped, breached, rolled, and blew little blows.
This was our most expressive calf so far, and it started as no
calf at all. Counting that calf, our fourth for the year, we tallied
a dozen northbound, gray whales.
5: Three out of the past four days, including today, we have
Counted a gray whale calf. It is happening! They don't make
it easy, though. This calf was sandwiched between a juvenile
and mom. We tracked them from the other side of Campus Point
to just before the buoys, a half mile past Coal Oil Point.
They disappeared there.
The reason probably had to do with the oil barge being between
the buoys along with a very large tug and small tug and an
observation vessel, outside the buoys to the north. Also, at
that time a private fishing boat was racing around the buoys
on the south side. There was nowhere to go but down — for
a long time, apparently.
The barge caused other whales to deviate from their path and
some others disappeared as well.
Counted eleven northbound gray whales today. We are now just one
whale behind our pace of last year...
2: BIG DAY. The most of it was — ta-dah — our
first calf! It came with fanfare and
great anticipation. At 11:20 we saw a big blow at Campus Point
and immediately the scope
focused on the pair as the little one puffed its blow. There
it was! We saw the two whales bonded with
the calf on the outside. Occasionally, the young whale bobbed
for breath out of sync, but mostly it kept migration time with
mom. We held our course and saw nine northbound, gray whales
throughout the day, plus a trio of bottlenose dolphins, and
more otters in Otterville: at least 22.
31: We did not see any whales until after 10:30. We tracked
the pair for an hour. Fifteen minutes later we were hit with
a rush, the biggest we have experienced: sixteen, northbound
gray whales in groups of 3, 3, 2, 3, and 5 blew, breached,
rolled, and fluked by at various distances from the Point.
It was a very fun challenge handled by great observation team. Seven
more whales completed our gray-whale sightings of the day,
raising our Count above 400. We are still behind last
year, but we are closing the gap.
March 30: We had a single and a pair of northbound gray whales
before we had to abandon our post after just 1.1 hours. Wind.
It is unfortunate because we do know that there
through the nearshore in this peak-season run.
29: We had a single, northbound gray whale at just before ten
and a rush between 11:20 and 1:30 with a group of five whales,
a pair, a single, another pair, and another single. Our final
whale was single at about 3 PM. No calves for us yet.
March 28: For the past three days, we have started the day with
whales and we have had solid Counts of 22, 25, and, today 21,
while averaging just over 4.5 hours per day. Each day we have
had calm and warm mornings and frightfully windy afternoons.
27: Twenty-five northbound gray whales in just under four hours,
rushing by against a choppy sea with increasing wind.
We thought some whales were behaving like cow/calf pairs, but
nothing like a calf appeared to us. It was windy and choppy!
26: In just over four hours, we observed 22 northbound
gray whales, mostly in groups of three, . There were no calves.
This whale, part of a group of three, breached seven times right
in front of Coal Oil Point.
25: A raft of nine otters, wrapped in kelp, were floating
just to the east of Coal Oil Point. We were stunned. Most of
seen that many otters together in one place outside of Monterey.
They may be grabbing a seat to see the gray whale calves cruise
by the kelp. They are well positioned, as are we; but we have
not yet identified a calf. We reached three hundred with our
last group of the day, three more whales that also seemed to
the road trip north
through the Santa Barbara Channel. Thirty-one gray whales, four
unidentified whales that were likely humpbacks, nine otters, and
a single bottlenose dolphin. A truly wonderful, remarkable day.
24: The whales chose the nearer-shore route.
at 9 AM, we had wave after wave of whales in groups of 2,
1, 4, 2, 2, 2, 1, 2, 3, 2, and 2. If your calculator
is not handy,
that is 23 whales before 1:15. We had a half day left and
the observation quality was getting better...We finished
It is, indeed, an interesting year.
22: Today, we set a new record for Gray Whales Count:
41! We did not see a gray whale calf. We had lots of pairs but
none appeared to be cow/calf. That great day of our first
should come pretty soon. Until then, we will bask in the
glow of 41. It is an interesting coincidence to us that on
a year that is very different from last year, we broke the
previous record of 36
that was set on March 22, 2007.
20: The observation quality was poor with visibility
only 1.5 nautical miles. At one in the afternoon we could
see to Platform Holly, 1.7 nautical miles off the Point, and
at three we figured we could see two nautical miles out. Even
so, we were seeing whales. The early-morning sighting was a pair.
At eleven thirty we had a single and just before one, a group
of four showed up. We tracked them for almost an hour and they
passed just inside the oil platform. We waved good-bye and a
single appeared. We tracked it closer to shore and through the
buoys to the west. An hour later we had a pair and a single,
followed by another pair at three fifteen that brought our
the day. We didn't know the day was just getting started; In
the next hour and a quarter, at least thirteen whales more
whales tumbled and blew and fluked and blew and rolled and
breached blew past the Point, for 26 in all! The Condor Express was
in the midst. Their passengers wanted to see whales, and whales
they saw: a splendid show of an abundance
of gray whales, demonstrating amazing behaviors while migrating
north. Welcome to spring in the Santa Barbara Channel!
19: Most of the whales today became visible right in front
or even past Coal Oil Point. The observation team did an excellent
job of finding them and determining the size of the groups before
they got away. In all we had twelve gray whales heading north,
including the late foursome that played through the Point
March 18: The day was so nice without wind, we took extra time
to track our last-minute gray whale as it moved west through
the Channel on its journey north. We also had a single at the
opening. In between we had another single and a gang of five
that caught our attention with two breaches about two and a half
miles out. We
easily tracked the group for almost an hour and a half as they
passed outside Platform Holly and continued into
the afternoon sun. (The further
out they are, the longer we get to track them.) They were probably
enjoying each other's company as they continually moved west.
March 17: Seventeen on the 17th! While on the Point, we had
whales in front of us all the time.
March 16: Wind is again the big story, and
it is hard for us because we know whales are going by. Sometimes,
like today, we
are lucky and can catch a bunch before close out. We saw five
in groups of two (leading) and three. The five animals were within
a half mile. We do see similar arrangements of groups of groups
regularly. Is it really one loose group? Probably. And, it will
be interesting when we begin gathering acoustic data, which we
will be doing
soon, to hear if there appears to be chatter between the groups.
March 15: On the Ides of March the ocean resembled a Caesar
salad. We managed a taste of at least two gray whales migrating
north. We were thankful for the glimpse and held on to our position
in an effort to determine if there were three. Couldn't do it.
The wind was way too strong and the swell too great.
14: The formidable wind
held off for us until just past noon. It was windy before that,
Before we quit, we saw one northbound gray whale.
The wind is forecast through the weekend. We hope it calms down
soon because there are, indeed, whales out there to Count.
10: The whales started at 10:00 with a single. At
11:00 we saw
multiple blows that turned into a pair leading a group of
five, followed a half-hour later by another single. After noon,
we had a trio and a single, then a pair before three and a
single at four-thirty brought us to 16 northbound gray whales
for the day!
9: The day was exceptionally fine: nine whales in groups of
three, two, and one. Some were close, others distant, all were
gray whales heading north.
colleague in Mexico says that the El Niño-Southern
Oscillation has created colder waters in the lagoons, and many
gray whales are going further south to the Cabo San Lucas area
and even turning north, traveling well up into the Sea of Cortez
for warmer water. How this will affect the pregnant mothers and
their calves, we do not know. It seems this could also spread
the migration out
and, perhaps, extend the time it takes the whales to return to
3: It was a beautiful day in
the Santa Barbara Channel, with good observation quality.
We were being interviewed by the
mobile phone. It was very cool that in mid-sentence there
was a whale blow; it
was a nice way to share the action on Coal Oil Point. The link
to BBC will take you to the Gray Whale page, which is
part of their
year-long following of migrations, called World on the
Move. You can hear or download the interviews
and link to other migration pages. The BBC will be with us
and make reports every two weeks through the Gray Whales
13: The wind from yesterday kept on blowing. We managed just
under three hours before we had to get real and cancel the
day. Before that we did manage to see two gray whales charging
through the swell, chop, and spray.
We were having difficulty tracking the first whale. Then it
breached four times, saying: "Hey, guys, I'm over here!"
The second whale was probably two (it blew so many times),
but we could not say for sure so it was entered as one.
28: The Condor Express graciously alerted us
to two gray whales that were heading north. The whales probably
from way offshore and angled in well outside of the oil platform
in what was pretty hazy territory for us. We got good enough
looks when they were with the whale watching vessel, and we were
able to Count this pair to bring our total to 29.
26: Northbound whales one and two appeared about 10:30 on a course
for Platform Holly (oil platform about two miles
offshore). Just before they got there, one of
again and again and again and again. Amazing. The
question came up: "Why do they do that?" It turns out
maybe this whale was spooked by events at the oil platform.
Workers are sandblasting, and maybe that
startled the whale. After the breaches we did not see the pair
again. Our second group (three whales), also exhibited a behavior
change at Platform Holly, with a very long downtime underwater
passed by the platform.
25: Lunch had to be postponed because we saw blows at noon.
The gray whale was coming around Campus Point (UCSB), two miles
of us. We tracked the whale for a long time, well off to the
west of us with many blows and some flukes. Before we could grab
the lunch pail, there were more blows further out. A group
of three stayed on a course more than three miles
out and they passed outside the oil platform southwest of us
as they made their way west (northbound). We will continue
to have some pauses, but the migration north appears to have
23: Brutal wind today. It was coming from the southeast, right
out of the morning sun. The glare was so bad we couldn't even
see the whitecaps to
assess the Beaufort scale. At nine it was probably only about
20 knots; at nine thirty, 25 knots; and just after ten it was
gusting 35. It was a challenge even for the kite surfers
because there was a lot of chop, creating big troughs. No,
we did not see a whale or dolphin today.
time was around 1:00 with a pair of mature, gray whales blowing
and fluking as they headed northward.
And, passing the opposite way, a juvenile persevered southward.
Strange, and pretty wonderful. Northbound count to date: 8
whales today. We are in the very beginnings of the northbound
migration, and we
probably will not get the peloton for a couple of weeks. (The
peloton is the pack in a bicycle race.) What we are seeing
now are the
break-away juveniles, hungry and heading for northern waters.
Soon recently impregnated females, mostly going solo, will
through the Channel. They will be followed by gangs of whales,
some continuing their mating dance, promenading north. The final
act will be calves paired with their mothers. Many travel right
in front of us and sometimes they pause for play or nursing,
or just to give mom a break.
NOAA scientists have predicted a productive year for calves,
after the very unproductive 2006-7 migration. The conditions
in Alaska, and there were large numbers of southbounders, healthy
and heading for Mexico. Observers reported several sightings
of calves born well before the lagoons. We hope all those
it down and back, along with hundreds of their young brethren.
watching season has begun in the Santa Barbara Channel
and the target is the northbound migration
The whalewatch boat Condor Express comes by the
Point, as much as three times a day, during their two-and-a-half
to see whales. Sometimes, they don't come at all. As we all
know, not many northbound whales have been seen in the
and so the wise Captain Mat of the Condor
Express listened to his radio and heard
boats in the east Channel talking about
Instead of west towards Coal Oil Point, he steered the Condor to
the east, and he found two whales, indeed northbound, but 25
miles in a straight line from our position. We know whales
don't necessarily travel in a straight line. Even so, we were
this pair might arrive before 5 p.m. so we could see and count
our first northbound whale. In the meantime we carried on as
Bottlenose dolphins decided they had plenty
of fish here so why go by the Point. They stayed around all
day and were always in view. While the dolphin dance was reaching
crescendo, two vigilant observers spotted distant blows. It
not our anticipated pair,
but it was a young gray whale,
heading north, solo. We
did not ever see the other whales. We heard from the Condor
they headed through mid-Channel, about seven miles offshore.
more! At 2:45 p.m. we saw a blow amidst the whitecaps off
(two miles east of us). It turned out to be
two gray whales working their way around the kelp and heading
west (northbound). In spite of the chop, we all got good looks
and we were able to track them all the way through the area.
14: Numero uno. We saw our first
northbound gray whale at 11:18! Three
beautiful, heart-shaped blows blows, and an elegant arch into
With cameras ready for the Valentine picture, all that could
be documented was ocean. We never saw the whale again. We get
the felling it is going to be one of those years ...
But, nothing could dampen our spirits. We made it through the
early morning sprinkle, and we had our first of maybe seven
we saw a whale today. It was going SOUTH but an interesting
sighting because it was surrounded
by and seemingly escorted by three bottlenose dolphins and
a sea lion.
10: Still no whales, but for the 4th straight year
we were thrilled to see a dolphin "queen" we've named
Quasimoda, well named and easily identified because of the
large lump (tumor) on her
back. (See photo at right.) While she is the queen, we appreciated
that she brought her full entourage of bottlenose dolphins
back and forth across, around, and back across the Point for
a good part of the day.
8 of our counting. It felt like we were in the middle of the
migration, and I guess we are ... the southbound whales are coming on strong.
28: The count begins. Wonderful to be back on
the Point! We got off to a good start with three different
dolphins, and a gray whale, and it was good sized for a southbounder
in the nearshore. Most are juveniles. We didn't see anygray
whales going north. They'll come.
Oil Point, California
1 view to the west, the direction the whales travel.
Michael H. Smith
30: One of 4 cow/calf pairs
Michael H. Smith
the "Kelp Monster!"
Michael H. Smith
Calf at Coal Oil Point
Michael H. Smith
April 8 surfer close to whale!
Michael H. Smith
whales, but here's Dolphin "Queen" Quasimoda" (foreground) Feb.
Photo Scott Leon
kite surfer likes the windy day at Coal Oil Point!
Photo Michael H. Smith
Photo Michael H. Smith
Outlook from Coal Oil Point
Photo Michael H. Smith
Heart-shaped blow: gray whale!
Photo Michael H. Smith
Michael H. Smith
Mar. 13: The big surf of two weeks ago seems to have washed
many Northern elephant seal pups off their beaches. We helped
rescue one last week and we found two more today: one to the
one to the east. Counters teamed with
from the Marine Mammal Center to capture the pups for transport
to the Center.