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Gray Whale

Kodiak Island, Alaska

Susan Payne with her family Don Dumm, and Will Ross H. Dumm

To: Journey North
From: Susan Payne

May 20, 1998
Sadly, this is the last report of the year. I hope everyone has enjoyed the reports as I have and will want to continue tracking the gray whales' migration in 1999. Thank you to everyone along the migration path who contributed to these reports! I know that I have learned quite a bit about the gray whales' migration, not only the timing for 1998, but some habits, and factors affecting the gray whales as well. Many already feel the importance of the "presence of whales" in our lives and I hope that many more people will feel this presence because of these reports. Thank you to all and talk to you next year!

Whales Continue North As More Ice Melts
As the ice clears the gray whales progress northward. In Wales, Alaska (65.616N, 168.083W) Winpon Weyapuk of the Wales Native Corporation, thinks that he spotted a gray whale on Friday, May 15. Winpon spotted the whale from the third floor of a building in Wales. The height was necessary as he was looking over a mile of shorefast ice to a half mile lead in the pack ice where the whale was spotted. Winpon told me that the peak of the gray whale migration in Wales happens at the end of June, early July.

North of Wales, on Little Diomede (65.750N, 168.950W), Wells Stephensen is working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with the walrus monitoring program. There on May 10-12 the natives had been able to hunt and had harvested 6 Beluga whales, 8-10 Bearded seals, and 8 walrus. The gray whales will pass by there, perhaps, in another 2-3 weeks. Both ends of the islands were ice-free last week; this is dependant on the wind direction.

Even further north, Point Hope awaits the arrival of the gray whales as well; they usually show up in July there. Sheila Gaquin, a teacher in Point Hope, emailed me that there are still 2 gray whales on the beach from last summer. They speculate that orcas attacked them.

Incidently, Gray whales and all whales with dorsal fins, usually come this way only after all the ice is gone. This is because ice can damage their dorsal fins. True Arctic whales, like Belugas and Bowheads, have no dorsal fins and so are often found moving among the flow ice.

Looking at the Bering Sea ice map it looks as if Norton Sound (64.000 N, 164.500W) now has a lot of open water, so I would expect that the gray whales are approaching Nome (64.500N, 165.400W). Unfortunately, my contact Charlie Lean from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has not spotted any whales on his aerial surveys for herring as of this morning.

Clinton Booshu, the City Clerk for the city of Gambell on the northwest tip St. Lawrence Island (63.500N, 170.166W), was not there this morning, but the woman that I spoke to said they are still surrounded by ice. (Check out the Bering Sea ice map) Marine mammal management officers for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Johnathan Snyder in Savoonga (latitude 63.700N longitude 170.366W) and Tony Fischbach in Gambell, are helping me out this report. Johnathan confirms that there is still sea ice on the north side of the island, but the sea has been open enough on the south side since April 18 for the hunters to go after the bowhead whales. April 18 the first bowhead was taken on the south side. Carleen Jack who helps these two with their walrus subsistence monitoring saw 3-4 gray whales on Southwest Cape (63.366N, 171.666W) of St. Lawrence on May 11.

Gray Whales Still In Bristol Bay
Jim Browning of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game reports that singles and doubles of gray whales were still being seen around Hagemeister Island (latitude 58.633N, longitude 161.000W) and Right Hand Point (latitude 58.750N, longitude 159.916W) through May 12th when they finished their herring surveys. The gray whale numbers have thinned out since the mid-April survey and our last report from Jim.

Recent Sightings in and Around Kodiak Alaska
On Saturday, May 2 we took the ferry from Kodiak to Homer. Between Marmot Island (latitude 58.218N, longitude 151.835W) and the Barren, Islands at approximately latitude 58.583N, Longitude 152.000, I saw 5 pods of what appeared to be gray whales (they were spread out, all within 15-30 minutes, while the ferry was underway). The first pod looked to be about 4-5 whales; the other pods looked to be of one or two whales. On the other side of the boat, my husband said that he saw what looked like a fin whale. The last whale I saw on that trip was very near Amatuli Islands (latitude 58.906N, longitude 152.033W) one of the Barren Islands.

Back in Kodiak on the same day, Eric Stirrup on his M/V Ten Bears saw about 5 gray whales near Humpback rocks (57.706N, 152.255W) heading toward the mouth of Kalsin Bay.

One of our fishermen friends, Dany Stihl, who spends a lot of time near the Kodiak harbor (latitude 57.785N, longitude 152.405) this time of year, told me he had seen the orca pod in the harbor the last week of April, first days of May (a week after they took the Steller sealions). This means this pod of whales was near the harbor for at least 2 weeks. He also said that the dorsal fin of the male was very distinctive, almost in the shape of a question mark. If we had a picture of this whale we could probably identify it.

About the same time Dany saw quite a few gray whales near Narrow Cape (latitude 57.425W, longitude 152.338W) where he was cod fishing. He said he was seeing a pod every 30 minutes or so. This last week, Dany did not see a single gray whale out there. Again this report, I have no other reports from Narrow Cape.

Sightings Still Coming In From All Along the Migration Route

Meanwhile, to the south, there are gray whales spread out over the entire migration route. Nancy Black of the Monterey Bay Whale Watch still is reporting a few gray whales, 2-4 mother/calf pairs a day.

In Newport, Oregon, Christina Folger of Marine Discovery Tours reports that they are still seeing mother calf pairs traveling very close to the surf. On several trips the week of May 10 they did not see whales out in the ocean, but inside the jetties of Yaquina Bay. Apparently, they did this last year as well. These whales are mother/calf pairs and single grays. On Sunday, May 11 Christina says that they encountered the largest group of grays that they had seen in a month. The six whales, 2 cow/calf pairs and 2 single whales, were spotted just south of Newport about a half mile from shore heading north. They seemed to be sticking close together. Christina says, "later in the trip a possible explanation for their behavior appeared; a pod of 7-8 orcas were spotted heading towards us from the north (1635, latitude 45.100 N, Long. 124.100 W) accompanied by a coast guard zodiac and two jet skis. The orca pod entered Yaquina Bay jetties and then turned around about 200 yards inside the channel." They were finished with their trip so they do not know what happened after that.

Geoff Grillo of Advantage Sport Fishing is reporting from Neah Bay, Washington north of Westport. Geoff now is a halibut charter skipper. They are fishing thirty miles offshore (Latitude 48.333N, Longitude 125.433W) and have seen a pod of orcas on May 12 and some humpback whales on three days between May 11-18. In the same area on Monday May 18, Geoff saw another 4 orcas, 3 cows and 1 bull with a split dorsal fin.

In Tofino, British Columbia, Jamie's Whaling Station is seeing gray whales consistently along Long beach just east of Tofino (approx. 49.083N, 125.916 W).

And in Ucluelet, British Columbia (48.916N, 125,500W), Brian Congdon of Subtidal Adventures reports a few cow/calf pairs migrating through along with the resident gray whales in the area.

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