Gray Whale Migration Update: April 25, 2012
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The cow-and-calf phase of the migration is now a steady parade. Post #8 reported the biggest single-day count since 2004! Varvara's tag is still transmitting; where is she now? Fourth graders share their photo essay to showcase just how big these gray whales are!

This Week's Update Includes:

Image of the Week
Gray whale's bubble print
Photo: Caroline Armon
Whales Blow Bubbles!
News: Whales, Whales, Whales!
The monumental migration continues with high numbers and wonderful stories in this best-ever season! We're excited, too, about Varvara, the tagged Western Pacific gray whale now northwest of Unimak Pass (Post #18 on our map). She's still plowing northward, through chunks of floating ice. Go, Varvara!

From California to Alaska, the migrating whales draw crowds to the beaches. A Kodiak, Alaska, whalewatcher shares a short video clip of returning whales. Twelve cow/calf pairs were reported close in off Bodega Head (Sonoma County, CA) on April 24. A viewer in Pacifica, CA watched grays pass for two hours on April 20, describing it as "Incredible!"

Official Calf Count: Scientific Research Site
The BIG news is the number of cow/calf pairs migrating now. "We saw 28 cow/calf pairs April 18 in the biggest single-day count since 2004!" reports biologist Wayne Perryman at Post #8 on our migration route map. Other high days at this official research site were April 19 with 16 pairs and April 23 with 14 pairs. Here they come! See the Field Notes page for more, including a link describing how some San Diego students are getting daily blogs from this team of researchers for two weeks!

Counting the Whales Passing California: WOW!
At Post #7 on the migration route map, Michael Smith's Counters have had some big counts too. On Earth Day Mr. Smith reported a rush of 27 northbound Gray whales, including 13 calves "...almost charging through the Channel. No dilly-dallying for this crowd!" On April 18 their first pair included "Flossie the Fluker," a mother whale who showed off her tail each chance she got. On April 17, Mr. Smith reported exuberant calves in all kinds of goofy behaviors,acting "like kittens with a ball of yarn. We have not seen this many heads, fins, and flukes in quite a while, as two cow/calf pairs skirted the surf and impressed the local dudes."

Thrilling numbers come from Post #6, where the April 24 count of 15 cow/calf pairs put their count up to 100 northbound calves for the season! On Earth Day they were entertained by a cow that released a bubble blast, and her calf raised its pectoral fin into the air. The calf laid on its mom's back. But the biggest news from ACS/LA Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project Director Alisa Schulman-Janigert is: "We have already surpassed our final gray whale counts for last season...We have spotted 89 of our 100 northbound cow/calf pairs since April 9: 34 (of these 89 calves) in the past 3 days! These are our highest northbound calf counts in many years: last season we ENDED our census on May 15 with 110 cow/calf pairs—and we considered that to be a very good season!" She wonders: "Could we be on a record pace for cow/calf pairs? ...Our highest northbound calf count (over 28 seasons) was 222. Since we haven't hit the definitive cow/calf peak yet, we may just approach that record count!" See fun details of whale behaviors on the Field Notes page for #6 and stay tuned! Meanwhile:

  • Travel time for a whale choosing a certain route between Post #6 and Post #7 is just under a day—maybe 22 hours—for mature whales without calves. Since Post #6 had a HUGE day April 22, folks at Post #7 might expect a big day on April 23. Did that happen at Post #7? See the data!

Map of Varvara's travels as of Feb. 16, 2012.
Varvara Nears Home!
Northbound gray whales passing Kodiak Island, Alaska
Video: Sharon Schlup
Video: Kodiak, AK
Cow and calf on a foggy day in the Santa Barbara Channel
Image: Michael H. Smith
Through the Fog
Gray whale calf surfaces by a surfer off California coast.
Photo:Michael H. Smith
Sharing the Water
Gray whale migration route
Map: Journey North

Route Map

This week's field notes: Observation Posts #6, #7, #8, #16.
See MapServer too!

Slideshow: Big As Life: Our Gray Whale Poster
We know that gray whales are BIG. How big is big? A group of fourth graders wanted to showcase the length of a gray whale in a BIG way. They researched the facts and created a life-size poster! This slideshow is their story. Use their photo essay to inspire research. Challenge your students to create their own "BIG as Life" projects to showcase facts they learn about gray whales: Slideshow cover
Tracking the Migration: Using Daily Data
"We are nearing the peak of our cow/calf migration phase. Counts may increase slightly, stay nearly the same, or begin to drop over the next week," explains Alisa Schulman-Janiger. Add up the totals for this 2-week report period and the last 2-week report period. Compare the totals and summarize. Predict trends you will see in the next two weeks and see what happens.
How to track gray whale migration with Journey North

Gray whale migration analysis chart
Access Data
Record Data
Annual Evaluation: Please Share Your Thoughts
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Image link to Year-End Evaluation
The FINAL gray whale migration update will be posted on May 9, 2012.