Each report I wonder if I am going to have anything interesting to report and every report has some really valuable and exciting news from the field! I cannot wait to get out of the office to do some whale watching, especially today as the sun is shining. Please read on...
The second annual Whale Fest Kodiak
is over! We have some good sighting information for the week of April 4-12, but this last week I only have one
report. The weather has been blowing easterlys for almost a week which makes viewing terrible, even if you were
tempted to drive the 40 miles oneway!
On Saturday, April 11 we spotted 3 groups of gray whales of about 3 whales each from the spotting scope at Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park (latitude 57 50.1 N, longitude 152 21.4 W) which is in in Chiniak Bay. On Sunday April 12, Eric Stirrup's M/V Ten Bears saw alot of gray whales in two pods near bouy 4 (latitude 58 50.0N longitude 152 17.5 W); one of the pods was breaching and cavorting. This was a beautiful weekend and I had several reports of breaching whales.
The R/V Resolution that surveys herring for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Kodiak has reported seeing 2 humpbacks in Paramanof Bay (58 18.3 N, 153 03.0 W) since April 15. In Malina Bay (58 12.9, 153 05.2), the captain Ron Kutchick probably saw a fin whale on April 18 and 19.
Monday morning, April 13 the Whale Alerts on the radio announced that two fin whales and 2 Orcas had been seen Saturday, April 11 near Alitak (latitude 56 57.8 N, longitude 154 24.0 W) and Deadmans Bay (57 01.3N, 153 58.8 W) on the south end of Kodiak Island. This report was interesting because it followed a remote radio interview we had for Whale Fest with Ann Zoidis, a marine mammal specialist working out of San Francisco, California. She has done alot of work with whales including photoidentification of fin whales from the Atlantic coast. During our interview she discussed the techniques used to identify fin whales amongst other topics including the effects of harassement on whales.
Mother/calf pairs are now being seen in Monterey, California. Nancy Black at Monterey Bay Whale Watch reports that they are now seeing 1-2 mother/calf pairs per 3 hour trip (Latitude 36 35.13 N, Longitude 122 05.39 W). The adults have gone through and now the mother/calf pulse has begun as of April 15. They are also seeing 3-8 humpback whales per trip.
In Newport, Oregon Christina Folger of Marine Discovery Tours is also reporting mother/calf pairs. For the last week and a half she reports they are seeing exclusively mother/calf pairs. On Sunday, April 19 they saw 1 pair and on Friday, April 17, 3 pairs in a 2 hour period (Latitude 44 30-40 N, Longitude 124 00-05 W). Of interest this report is the sighting of 4 Orcas on April 10 that were seen as far as 5 miles up the Yaquina River in Newport. During their cruise from 1030-1230, the 4 Orcas joined another 5 Orcas out in the ocean for a total of 9 Orcas. This day they also saw 5 gray whales. Christina contacted John Ford of the Northwest Killer Whale Foundation and he told Christina that these Orcas were probably "transients".
Interestingly, on Saturday, April 18 Geoff Grillo of Advantage Sport Fishing reports that 6 Orcas were seen in the Grays Harbor bay 6 miles inland toward Aberdeen. Apparently there was a bad storm at sea that day. But he also notes that the California sealions are migrating now and that many are in the bay also. "Transient" Orcas eat mainly marine mammals and this is one differentiation between them and the "resident" orcas that eat mainly fish. Geoff says that the sightings of gray whales have really dropped off in the ocean; he estimates 1 per hour. However, they are seeing 8 gray whales regularly in the bay at Grays Harbor (Latitude 46 56.00 N, Longitude 124 50.00 W) and he thinks these are resident gray whales that will stay all summer.
Brian Congdon of Subtidal Adventures in Ucluelet, British Columbia (48 55.00 N, 125 30.00 W) reports that the migration seems to be over for the most part. They are seeing the odd straggler and a few residents are around. Brian spoke to someone in Tofino who had a trip out on Sunday, April 19 with no sightings. He was happy to hear that the mother/calf pairs were being seen in Newport and Monterey. However, in the past Brian has not noticed evidence of two pulses to the migration.
We have a very interesting report from Leslie Hines of Kenai Fjords Tours in Seward, Alaska. On April 15, the first mate Vicky Anthony on the Glacier Explorer saw an Orca attack on 4 gray whales. At 1400, at latitude 59 52.0 N, longitude 149 17.0 W, 3 adult gray whales with a yearling were sighted traveling along the coast behind several large rocks. Twenty Stellar sealions were shoreward of the gray whales with 3 Orcas harassing all of them. Apparently, there was a large commotion everywhere including the sealion haulout on "Sealion Rock" where 67 sealions were scrambling for the highest point on the rock. The Orca pod consisted of one large male and two younger whales, one of which may have been a female. Two of the gray whales swam quickly southward, and the male Orca disappeared leaving the cow/yearling gray whale pair and the younger Orcas. The cow was struck twice by the 2 Orcas as she attempted to protect her yearling by laying on her side. Shortly after all the whales dispersed. They do not know what happened later. Wow what a story! Otherwise, the M/V Glacier Explorer has been going out regularly and they have been seeing gray whales. Their best day of watching was on April 9 when they saw 10+ whales SSW of Cheval Island (latitude 59 45 N, longitude 149 30.0 W) and another 2-4 at latitude 59 50.0 N, longitude 149 19.0 W. Otherwise they have seen 9 whales per trip on April 8 and 2-4 gray whales on April 11,14,15 and 16.
The whales are in the Bering Sea! I have a new report from the Bering Sea near Togiak. Jim Browning of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Dillingham flies herring surveys starting in mid- April every year. This year's first flight was last week on April 16 and he saw between 150-200 feeding gray whales. However, the sighting conditions were confounded by wind and white caps. Jim told me that the first indication of whales is the mud plumes created by their feeding activity. Other years they have flown on April 18. In 1995 they saw 50 whales and in both 1996 and 1997 on that date they saw 150-200 gray whales. This year was abit different from the last 3 years in that the whales were spread out more; usually they sight them between Right Hand Point (latitude 58 45 N,longitude 159 55.0 W) and Summit (58 54 160 11) and Hagemeister Island (latitude 58 38N, longitude 161 00W). This year's sightings were between Right Hand Point and Hagemeister Straits (latitude 58 40 N, longitude 161 05 W). The first report that Jim had of the gray whales in Bristol Bay was from a Penn Air pilot. I have been unable to confirm this report but apparently the pilot saw the gray whales on April 9 offshore between Egegik (latitude 58 14.0, longitude 157 20.0) and Port Moller (latitude 55 59.6 N, longitude 160 30.9 W). Jim Browning also said that the ice blew out of the Togiak Bay area the first week of April, blown by a strong southeast wind.
As I promised in my last report here are some answers to some questions about gray whale migration patterns. For this information I conferred with David Rugh of the National Marine Mammal Laboratory. Why do gray whales migrate along the coast? Dave's answer: the coastline may help them migrate the long distance that they do and being benthic feeders, they have evolved with an orientation toward the seafloor where their benthic feed is located.
How far from the coast do they usually travel? Dave's answer: gray whales may be oriented to bathymetry rather than distance offshore, so that when the shelf is steep the whales pass close to shore and when it is shallow they spread over a greater distance. Bays, islands, and straits may confuse their travel and this might explain why in some places they are observed some distance offshore. Generally, along linear coastlines like in California, gray whales migrate within 2.5 miles of the shore. In Unimak pass, while turning the corner around the Alaska Peninsula, most of the population passes within 1.6 miles of the shore.
Do they use the shoreline to navigate? Dave's answer: it is speculated that the whales are aware of depths and follow preferred fathom lines. Young whales may have difficulty finding their way, inspecting coves and circling headlands while older whales have smooth travel routes, crossing directly over canyons and ignoring islands that are in their route.
Sunrise on April 22 is at 0541 and sunset is 2035, 14 hours and 54 minutes from sunrise to sunset.