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Gray Whale

Gray Whale Migration Update: March 11, 1998

Today's Update Includes:

Latest News From Gray Whale Observation Posts

Read the latest field reports from our key Observation Posts, who have been keeping a watchful eye on the gray whales that are travelling up the coast to their feeding grounds in Alaska.

Laura Gorodezsky
"Habla usted espanol?"

At the south end, Laura Gorodezsky, of Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary in Santa Barbara,CA just returned from Baja, Mexico and has a first-hand account of her exciting time with the whales, plus a News Flash about an unusual sighting closer to home!

At the north end, Susan Payne reports from Kodiak Alaska, that the Gray Whales are on their way, with several sightings in Oregon and British Columbia!

As you read Laura's report from Baja, get out your spanish dictionary and see if you can answer this new Challenge Question:

Challenge Question # 5:
"How many spanish words can you find in Laura's report from Baja?
What do these words mean in English?"

(To respond to this Challenge Question, please follow the instructions at the end of this report.)

Field Notes from Gray Whale Nursery in Baja, Mexico

To: Journey North
From: Laura Gorodezky

"Greetings Journey North!

Baja California, Mexico

I had a wonderful opportunity last week to go to Baja California, Mexico to see gray whales in the warm lagoons of Baja. Gray whales are born in Scammon's Lagoon, San Ignacio Lagoon and Magdalena Bay each winter. I visited the whales in Magdalena Bay (the furthest south)."

"We flew into Loreto Airport last Friday and rented a truck to drive 2 hours to Puerto San Carlos. The small town was not difficult to find because there were signs along the highway with a picture of a whale and slogan "Ballenas Gris" pointing the direction to Magdalena Bay."

"We woke up early on Saturday Morning (February 28) and hired a "Panga" to take us out to see the whales. We were very lucky because it had been extremely windy with big swells for the past week and the day we went out was perfectly flat and calm. We launched the panga in a protected mangrove area that was rich with bird life. We saw ospreys, snowy egrets, pelicans, herons, caspian terns and Brandts geese."

"We headed out into the bay and saw our first whale blow within 10 minutes. Our first sighting was a Mother calf pair that our Panga driver Enrique called "Berro". The mother had a whitish colored jaw (which they called "mancha") and in the past had approached Enrique's boat very closely. We watched these animals for about 20 minutes and then moved on to some other blows in the distance. We saw one animal breach about 1/2 mile away. We watched this animal through a full breathing cycle. There were about 60 animals in the Bay at the time we visited."

"About an hour into our tour, we saw three pangas in the distance. We went over to see what they were doing and found that they were watching a very friendly mother/calf pair. The mother and calf stayed very close together, sometimes the calf would ride right on top of mom. We stayed with these whales for over an hour and watched them swim underneath and all around the boats. The calf breached four times and the mother spyhopped several times. They swam just a few feet below the boats and both rolled on their sides and appeared to look up at us as they passed beneath us. I took some photos, but it was hard to pull myself away from watching these beautiful beasts to set the camera up and look at them through the small viewfinder. The mom surfaced so close to the boat that her blow covered my camera lens with mist!"

"This was the most wonderful encounter I have ever had with gray whales. They seemed just as curious about us as we did about them. Other behaviors that we saw were tail slaps by the calf. The calf was quite young (its skin was still wrinkly and it did not have much barnacle growth yet). I will remember this special encounter for a long time. Read on for my "News Flash" our latest sightings "

News Flash

Right Whale
Photo: Center for Coastal Studies

"On February 27, we had a sighting of a Right Whale off the Big Sur coast (at Point Piedras Blancas, near Cambria, on the southern edge of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary). The whale was observed fleeing a pair of aggressive gray whales in an unusual interaction. Monterey Sanctuary Manager, Bill Douros and Channel Islands Pilot Matt Pickett, were aboard the Sanctuary airplane, SEA WOLF, when large splashes appeared in the ocean below them, near a pod of gray whales. Douros reported that there were about a dozen gray whales in about a quarter-square mile around the right whale. Two were interacting with the right whale. Pickett and Douros watched the right whale veer back and forth and splash and dive repeatedly as it tried to elude the pursuing grays. Eventually, the right whale submerged for an extended period of time and the observers continued their flight."

"The right whales are the rarest large whale in the North pacific and the interaction between the two species has intrigued marine biologists. Right whales were hunted to the brink of extinction near the turn of the century before receiving federal protection in 1937. Some experts say that there are as few as 50-100 right whales left in the Eastern Pacific ranging off the coast from Mexico to Alaska. The last sighting was in 1995."

To learn more about this unusual event, you can read the March 4, 1998 Journey North Right Whale Update from Anne Smrcina at Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.

Field Notes Closer to Home
Here are the coordinates of the latest Gray Whale sightings, submitted by Etai Timna who is assisting Laura with this spring's gray whale northward migration.

02/29/98 34.094 N, 199.232 W.
2:30 pm three whales seen during sunny and windy conditions...saw them once after a three minute sound and we could not find them again.

02/29/98 39.100 N, 119.200 W.
2:56 pm two whales, cow/calf pair...saw a breach.

03/08/98 34.137 N, 119.382 W. 10:00 am two juvenile whales seen during clear, smooth, and sunny conditions... saw four breaches and a spot hop from one...the other was shy...they both weighed about 60,000 lbs. each.

"That's all for now"

Laura Gorodezky
Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary
Santa Barbara, CA

Field Notes from Kodiak, Alaska

To: Journey North
From: Susan Payne

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

Since organizing the first Kodiak Whale Fest last year, I have been wondering why I had never before tuned into the gray whale migration. I grew up in Eugene, Oregon and my family went to the coast regularly. It wasn't until I lived here in Kodiak that the gray whale migration took on some significance for me.

At first, I thought it was the location where we go to view the gray whales-- Narrow Cape, a beautiful windswept cliff area on the southeastern most tip of Kodiak island. Now, however, I am realizing it isn't just a matter of place, but also a matter of abundance.

When I grew up in Oregon, from 1960-1978, there were half as many whales as there are now! During the census of southbound whales in 1969- 1970 about 11,000 whales passed the Monterey area (Rice 1971). In 1978, Dave Rugh estimated the population to be 17,000 gray whales passing his observation post in Unimak pass, also on their southbound migration (Rugh 1984). Today, Dave Rugh estimates approximately 23,000 gray whales. This is twice the number of whales as in 1969-1970. No wonder it seems like there are spouts and backs everywhere if you happen onto a good day of whalewatching.

In 1994, the gray whale was removed from the Endangered Species List because of their rebound in population; it is the only marine mammal to have been removed from this listing.

We still have not had any sightings of Gray whales in Kodiak but they are definitely seeing them all along the coast south of us. On March 1 Monterey Bay Whale Watch in Monterey, California had an incredible day as they were able to watch two Gray Whales mating next to their boat. They were able to observe this behaviour for 45 minutes. Nancy Black said it was the best trip of the year. She also says that on the northern migration, they often see mating whales, more than on the southern migration. This last weekend they saw about 20 whales per their 3 hour trips and the mating activity continues. To sight whales, their boats go 2-7 miles west of Point Pinos off Monterey at Latitude 36.585 N, Longitude 122.089 W. Nancy thinks this is the peak of the migration.

On March 4, Cecil Vreeland a volunteer at the Alsea Bay Bridge Interpretive Center (Latitude 44.385 N, Longitude 124.116 W) reported seeing a group of 8 gray whales moving north. She has a view of the Pacific from her front window--how lucky! This was reported to Journey North by Mike Rivers from the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. The first report Mike has had of gray whales along the Oregon coast came from Arch Cape (Latitude 45.800 N, Longitude 124.000 W), 30 miles South of the Columbia river. In the afternoon, early evening 6 whales were spotted. Mike organizes Whale Watching Spoken Here, which is a volunteer whalewatching program during spring and winter vacations. From March 21-28 this year and from 29 locations along the Oregon coast to Ilwaco, Washington, trained volunteers will give information to visitors interested in the northward gray whale migration. We will hear more about this program in my next report.

On Saturday, March 7, Marine Discovery Tours of Newport, Oregon followed 3 northbound whales swimming slowly at 5-6 knots. They had a whale breeching 4 times in a row just off the jettys to the entrance of the harbor (Latitude 44.66 N, Long 124.00 W)! And they had a report from a fisherman of 20 Orcas heading north just south of Newport. Fishermen just started giving them reports of gray whales last Tuesday, March 3.

Meanwhile, the whales are still passing Vancouver Island as reported by Jamie's Whaling Station in Tofino, and Subtidal Adventures (Latitude 49.089 N, Longitude 125.916 W) in Ucluelet, British Columbia in Canada. Monday, March 9 Jamie's crew saw 3 whales in 40 minutes of viewing around noon and again 2 whales later in the afternoon (Latitude 48.833 N, Longitude 125.416 W).

Signs of Spring
March came in like a lamb last week and quickly became a lion this weekend with heavy rain and wind. Some grass and a few ferns are beginning to spring up. Sunrise on March 11 is at 0737 and sunset is at 1902, 11 hours and 35 minutes of daylight.

Susan Payne
National Marine Fisheries Service
Kodiak, Alaska

Rice, D.W., and Wolman, A.A. 1971. The life history and ecology of the gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus). Spec. Publ.-Am. Soc. Mammal. 3, 1-142.

Rugh, David. 1984. Census of Gray Whales at Univak Pass, Alaska: November-December 1977-1979. pp. 225-248. In: M.L. Jones, S.L. Swartz, and S. Leatherwood. The Gray Whale, Eschrichtius robustus. Academic Press, Inc.

Reminder: Please Help Track Gray Whale Migration

Report the FIRST northbound Gray Whale you see this spring to Journey North!

If you live along the Gray Whale migration route on the West Coast, we hope you'll help provide gray whale migration data this spring. To track the whales' trip to their northern feeding grounds we are collecting the following information:

1) Date of first sighting of northbound gray whales.
2) Date of first sighting of northbound gray whale mother/calf pairs.

Obviously, you would need to watch for whales every day to accurately report these "firsts" of the season. Therefore, we encourage you to contact the captain of one of the many whale-watch vessels in your area. These people are lucky enough to be out every day and can provide accurate data for you.
How to Respond to Journey North Gray Whale Challenge Question:

Please answer ONLY ONE question in each e-mail message:

1. Address an e-mail message to:
2. In the Subject Line of your message write: Challenge Question # 5
3. In the body of the message, give your answer to the question above.

The Next Gray Whale Migration Update Will be Posted on March 25, 1998.

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