The Migration Route of the Gray Whale
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About Observation Post #1
Magdalena Bay, Baja California, Mexico
A Gray Whale Nursery: Welcome to the farthest south of the four gray whale breeding and nursery lagoons. It differs from the others in several ways. Fewer whales travel to this lagoon than to the other three. The fewest gray whale births occur here—only an estimated 6%. This is the only nursery lagoon that is not protected as part of Mexico's Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve. No official whale counts or regulated tours happen at this site. The fewest number of tourists come here for whale watching, so usually no one sends sighting reports of the grays that may be found here from January to April.

About Observation Post #2
Laguna San Ignacio, Baja California, Mexico
A Gray Whale Nursery:Whales arrive in January. Older, single whales are here to court, mate, and have fun. Mother whales have more urgent business: they are here to give birth to their young. The number of whales increases each day, and peaks in February. Mating continues, spouts and splashes are always visible, and mothers with newborn calves enter the more peaceful observation areas inside the lagoon. Tourists travel to the nurseries from near and far to see the whales. Naturalists from BajaEcotours report to Journey North with stories and photos of gentle, curious whales swimming up to the tourist boats. Whales are counted, but only inside the defined area of the lagoon. Older whales, nonpregnant females and juvenile whales leave in February or sooner for the migration north. The outbound parade goes into March and April. Last to leave are the mothers and calves. By May, all the whales are gone.

About Observation Post #3
Laguna Ojo de Liebre, Baja California Sur, Mexico
A Gray Whale Nursery: More than half of all gray whale births happen in this busy baby nursery lagoon. No other lagoon has as many whales during the breeding and calving season. The whales begin to appear in late December. The number of whales inside the lagoon builds until mid-February, and then starts to drop as whales head north. By the end of April, all but the last few whales (cows/calf pairs) have begun their journey north. Whales are counted inside the lagoon during the months they are here. Guide Keith Jones sends us field notes and images from this popular lagoon. UNESCO has named this and Laguna San Ignacio a World Heritage Site because these two lagoons are such important breeding and calving areas for gray whales. This site used to be called Scammon's Lagoon after Charles Scammon, a whale-hunting captain who charted these areas in the mid-1800s.

About Observation Post #4
Laguna Guerrero Negro, Baja California, Mexico
A Gray Whale Nursery: Gray whales may be found here from late December to April or May. Fewer whales come here than to nearby Laguna Ojo de Liebre, and no official whale counts are taken. The bigger focus here is the world's largest salt production facility, located on this lagoon. Long stretches of dried salt look a lot like snow-covered ground! The saltworks offices are in the nearby town of Guerrero Negro. The lagoon is named after the whaling ship Guerrero Negro, which sank here in 1858. The name means "Black Warrior" in Spanish.

About Observation Post #5
San Diego, California, United States
The first spouts of northbound whales start thrilling observers in February. The whales are so close that you can see them without being on a boat! It's no wonder that whale watching season has become one of San Diego’s favorite times of the year. The town celebrates whales headed both north and south with Big Bay Whale Days and a Whale Festival. The parade of adults and juveniles lasts until the end of March, but moms and their babies are passing until April or May. Naturalists from Birch Aquarium send news to Journey North from the whale watching boat tours conducted by San Diego Harbor Excursions.

About Observation Post #6
Los Angeles, California, United States
A Scientific Survey Site: Northbound gray whales pass Los Angeles from February through May, on their return from Mexico after migrating south from December through February. The main pulse of northbound whales usually comes the second and third week of March. These are mostly adults and juveniles. A second pulse comes about 6 weeks later. These are the cow/calf pairs. , Volunteers count migrating gray whales daily from Dec. 1 through May 15 from this site. It's on Palos Verdes Peninsula in southern California, about 8 miles north of the Los Angeles Harbor. Thanks to the Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project by the the American Cetacean Society/Los Angeles Chapter (ACS/LA), Journey North shares the numbers and notes. Most gray whales travel farther offshore here. Sea conditions, wind, fog, and rain can keep observers from spotting the whales too. The result can be wide annual fluctuations in counts. Biologists don't make estimated population counts from the data, but they do see migration trends. The trends from this post closely mirror those seen from other gray whale census stations in California, even though observers can see only a small part of all the passing whales.

About Observation Post #7
Coal Oil Point ("Counter Point"), Goleta, California, United States
A Scientific Survey Site: Northbound gray whales pass here from February through May. Observation This is the survey site called "Gray Whales Count," by an independent nonprofit corporation for research and education. "Counter Point" is a good nickname because more than 80 volunteers help survey and count the northbound whales here. Here they see whales that use use the migration corridor in the nearshore of the Santa Barbara Channel. These whales choose to go along the coast (which is the long way, but with some advantages). The map of the survey site shows "Gray Whales Count" at Coal Oil Point. Here the mainland touches the northern extreme of the Santa Barbara Channel. Notice that the coastline on the north shore of the Santa Barbara Channel (site of Gray Whales Count) runs east and west towards Point Conception. This point is where northbound whales turn right and swim north. The Channel Islands are: Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel Islands.

About Observation Post #8
Point Piedras Blancas, California, United States
A Scientific Survey Site: Gray whale mothers with their new calves pass this area from late March to late May. Biologist Wayne Perryman of the National Marine Fisheries Service waits with a team. Their job is to count the mothers and calves passing Point Piedras Blancas on the calves' first journey north. Just north of San Simeon, and just south of the Big Sur coast, this site is ideal: The cow/calf pairs pass very close (within 200 meters), and they often stop to nurse and rest here. Mr. Perryman has collected data every year since 1994. The data help scientists study the link between climate change in the Arctic (where gray whales feed in summer) and the number of whale calves born each year. See aerial image of survey site.

About Observation Post #9
Monterey Bay, California, United States
The entire gray whale population migrates within three miles of the Monterey coastline every winter and spring. Whales migrate north from mid February through May, peaking in mid March. Most adult and juvenile whales pass Monterey on their way to Alaska by mid April. Mother gray whales heading north with their new calves pass Monterey in April and May. Nancy Black and the sightings network of Monterey Bay Whale Watch Center monitor the migration's progress and often report to Journey North.

Monterey is a great place to observe gray whales. Why? The shallow continental shelf does not extend very far from shore off Monterey due to the nearshore Monterey Submarine Canyon. Comparable in size and shape to the Grand Canyon, it extends over 50 miles offshore. In some places this canyon is 12,000 feet deep! Dense kelp beds growing over the rocky bottom areas nearshore create a diversity of habitats for marine animals, and whales like it. The Monterey Submarine Canyon is surrounded by the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary — the largest United States National Marine Sanctuary.

About Observation Post #10
Half Moon Bay, California, United States
Northbound gray whales may pass this post from January through April; in March, whale watching is in full-swing just off the San Mateo coastline. Half Moon Bay is about 25 miles (40 km) south of San Francisco and 10 miles (16 km) west of San Mateo. The famous big wave surf area is at the north edge of Half Moon Bay. Do you think the sounds of these waves may help guide their migration? Here also is the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, a natural refuge for plants and animals adapted to live at the edge of the ocean. Journey North gets sighting reports of gray whales from the captain of the Queen of Hearts during this vessel's whale-watching season in spring.

About Observation Post #11
Gualala, California, United States
Off the coast of California's Mendocino/Sonoma Counties — or the Mendonoma Coast — the gray whale southward migration usually begins in December and continues through January and into February. In March they start seeing the northward migration begin. March, April and May are prime time to see gray whales here, as the migration route of mothers with calves is closer to shore. The whales come up for air more often because of the calves.

eporter Jeanne Jackson says, "Seeing a big spout closely followed by a little spout is an affirmation of life, and never fails to warm my heart!" She shares the area's migration news from fellow whale watchers around Gualala and also from the deck of her home on nearby Anchor Bay. The photo below was taken from their home at sunset.

Jeanne and her husband have a sweeping view of the Pacific Ocean. Their house is perched on a rocky knoll about 640 above sea level. "We have the chance to pick up the spouts of migrating whales and then follow them, often seeing a pod three times. We keep a spotting scope and two sets of binoculars handy."

About Observation Post #12
Depoe Bay, Oregon, United States
In spring, the peak northbound migration of adults and juveniles is in March. Here the whales are closer to shore (1/2 to 3 miles), sometimes stopping to feed. Mothers and calves usually pass Oregon and Washington from late April through June, after the males and juvenile females without babies. They often rest in protected coves close to shore. Whales feeding close to shore can be seen from July to mid November. About 400 gray whales stop here and become "residents." Instead of continuing to Alaska to feed in the summer, they stay and feed along the coasts of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. In November and December they join the first whales migrating south from the Arctic.The Oregon Parks & Recreation Department's Whale Watching Center counts passing whales during peak week in December (southbound) and peak week in March (northbound) and Journey North reports the news.

About Observation Post #13
Seattle, Washington, United States
By early April, almost 20 percent of the Pacific gray whale population are off the coast of Washington. The rest are strung out along the Pacific Coast of North America from Central California to Southeast Alaska on their journey north. In April and May, Mystic Sea Charters takes whale watchers out on good-weather days. If they are lucky, they often report the sightings from the Saratoga Passage.

About Observation Post #14
Richmond, British Columbia, Canada
Just outside Vancouver, the first gray whale sightings occur in early April but other whales get there first: These are the southern resident killer whales (orcas). People here may see some gray whales that do divert off the main migration route on the outer west coast and around the southern tip of Vancouver Island. The whales spend time in the waters of Georgia Strait and the mouth of the Fraser River. Journey North reports news whenever it comes in from the crew and captains of whale-watch excursions.

About Observation Post #15
Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada
The first northbound gray whale usually appears here about three weeks after passing Point Vicente near Los Angeles (Post #6). March to May are the biggest months for seeing whales on their journey north, but the first whales may appear as early as February. The main migration route tracks 1-2 miles offshore of the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Every year a group of about 200 whales stops and stays to feed all summer before joining the southbound migration in October. These whales are known as the Pacific Coast Feeding Aggregation. Kati and the crew at Remote Passages Marine Excursions launching out of Tofino, BC are with these whales from March right through October each year, and they send Journey North reports at spring migration.

About Observation Post #16
Kodiak Island, Alaska, United States
It's big news when the first returning single adults and juveniles are sighted here in mid- to-late March. Mother/calf pairs normally show up in mid May and keep coming into July. People on this scenic island in the Gulf of Alaska are lucky to have nearly all of the Eastern Pacific Gray Whale population pass by on the journey north. Some grays stay around Kodiak until it's time to migrate south again! The town of Kodiak holds a Whale Fest to celebrate the excitement of the whales' return each spring. Some say the best spot to watch whales is at Narrow Cape, about 40 miles from town across a winding, frost-heaved road. Reports come to Journey North from Kodiak students, the Whale Fest sighting log, and researchers Dr. Kate Wynne and Dr. Bree Witteveen, who fly over the sea in survey airplanes.

About Observation Post #17
Nelson Lagoon, Alaska, United States
Some gray whales like to spend summer feeding in bays, such as Nelson Lagoon, along the Alaska Peninsula. The village is located on the north side of the Alaska Peninsula, 580 miles southwest of Anchorage. It sits on a narrow sand spit that separates the coastal areas of Western Alaska from the Bering Sea. The whales feed in the narrow channel. It's still a long swim for the whales before they reach the prime feeding areas in the Bering and Chukchi Seas. The villagers, mainly Alaska Native or part Native, can reach the village only by air and sea. In small village schools, students learn about where "their" whales spend the winter months before they return to the Arctic in spring and summer.

About Observation Post #18
Unimak Pass, Alaska, United States
Most northbound whales (except for the early ones) migrate through narrow Unimak Pass in June. This narrow sea passage is in the northeast Aleutian Islands. From here the whales are just a few weeks away from their prime arctic feeding grounds. Whale news is rare, as very few people are here to report sightings.

About Observation Post #19
The Bering Sea
How far can the whales go before ice stops them? Gray whales can only swim farther north after the ice is gone. They usually don't reach Point Hope, Alaska until July! No one sends whale sighting reports from this remote region, but people can look at changes in the Bering Sea ice maps to help know when the gray whales will return. Most people interested in whales look at the ice maps from remote, tiny villages, or from cozy homes or offices far away.

About Observation Post #20
The Chukchi Sea
It may take whales until June or July to reach these far arctic feasting grounds. These frigid, oxygen-rich waters teem with the tiny creatures that gray whales eat. The gray whale feeds by diving to the sea floor, turning on its right side and scooping sediment into its mouth. An adaptation called baleen allows these toothless whales to filter their food from huge gulps of water. Baleen is like a wide curtain or fringe in the whales's mouth. The whale squirts out the water, leaving behind herring, krill, and other food it then swallows. A whale may eat a ton of food a day!

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