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Gray Whale

Gray Whale Migration Update: April 8, 1998

Today's Update Includes:

Latest Migration News
"The second pulse" of migrating gray whales are spotted off Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary! Intern Mike Kahle provides an eyewitness report on JJ's release back into the wild. And Susan Payne reports "the whales are here!", in Kodiak, Alaska, just in time for the second annual Whale Fest as whale sightings begin to slow to the south.

Second Pulse Of Migration Is Spotted At Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary

April 8, 1998
We have now started to see the second pulse of animals as they migrate north toward Alaska. Typically we see single males, mating groups and pregnant females off our coast in February and March. We begin to see cow calf pairs in early April.They stay down in the warm lagoons of Baja as long as they can before they start the long journey north.

Some other sightings of whales, including 10 cow/calf pairs, were reported by the whale corps on the Whale-watch vessel CONDOR from 3/15 to 3/30 with 85 whales sighted all within 1 mile of the Santa Barbara coast, some very close to shore in less than 6 fathoms (how many feet is that?).

Three separate Gray whale breeches were also reported. In addition, on 3/30 at about 1pm (34.318 N 119.781 W a pod of 10 Orcas were sighted off the coast of Santa Barbara. Orcas hunt gray whales and we often see them in this region during the gray whale migration.

J.J. The Orphaned Gray Whale Released Back Into The Wild!
Gray whale rescuers have done what no one had done before, successfully raised and released a gray whale calf back into the wild. Come aboard with Channel Island National Marine Sanctuary Intern, Mike Kahle, for an eyewitness report and photos of her historic release!

That's all for now... Signing off until next time...

Laura Gorodezky,
Education Coordinator,

Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary
113 Harbor Way Santa Barbara, CA 93109

Field Notes From Kodiak, Alaska

April 8, 1998
The second annual Whale Fest Kodiak is in full swing. Saturday, April 4 the opening event featured an art sale of whale related art, kite flying and bubbles, and two lectures. The lectures were wonderful. Craig Matkin of the North Gulf Oceanic Society spoke about the "Ecology of Killer whales and humpback whales on the North Gulf Coast of Alaska". He presented information on the changes in killer whale pods since the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, results of genetic analysis and the surprising results of analysis for environmental contaminants such as PCBs and DDT. Dr. Michael Castellini followed with a talk on the Alaska Sealife Center in Seward, Alaska. He spoke on the status of this new research and science facility opening in May, their "Science on Display" and other Alaska Sealife Center projects. He showed slides on the transportation of 3 Stellar sealions and one harbor seal from the Vancouver Acquarium to the Alaska Sealife Center. Unfortunately, for the kite flying, the weather was blowing, raining and snowing.

Whale Viewing From the Kodiak Road System
This sort of weather has made the whale viewing somewhat difficult here in Kodiak. However, the whales are here! The Whale Alerts are on the radio and in the newspaper. Last week volunteers went to Narrow Cape (latitude 57 25.5 W longititude 152 20.3 W) on Wednesday, April 1 and had a great show of whales. They saw 48 gray whales in an hour and a half of viewing. My family went the next day, and because the wind was blowing about 30 miles per hour onshore we saw one whale in about one hour. They may have been there but the wind was blowing their spouts away. Saturday, the volunteers saw nothing because of the weather. The Whale Alert for Sunday, April 5 was for 10 whales in an hour at Narrow Cape. The latest report for Monday, April 6 from Narrow Cape is 21 gray whales between 1530 and 1800. Our migration is in full swing.

Gray whales are also being reported inside Chiniak Bay near town. On Friday, April 3, a United States Coast Guard C-130 training mission reported 7-8 unidentified whales at latitude 57 53.0 N, longitude 152 12.0 W. Sunday, April 5 a gray whale was spotted near Cliff Point (latitude 57 43.4 N longitude 152 27.4) and several at 2000 at Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park (see map below). Last Wednesday, April 1 Stacy Studebaker's high school biology class was treated to a whale watching tour by Eric Stirrup's M/V Ten Bears and they saw 5 gray whales at bouy 4 (latitude 58 50.0N longitude 152 17.5 W), a popular sport fishing spot just offshore from town.

The Whale Alerts have been reporting Killer Whale sightings. The "Transients", a bull, cow and smaller whale, that come regularly into the harbor may have been reported on Tuesday, March 31 in Monashka Bay (latitude 57 50.2 N longitude 152 24.0 W) heading towards town. From Larsen Bay (latitude 57 32.0 longitude 154 03.0), a village on the West side of Kodiak Island, we heard a report of 15 killer whales. On March 27 at 0815, The United States Coast Guard reported seeing approximately 20 killer whales (4-5 were smaller animals, but not calves) 2 nautical miles southeast of Long Island (latitude 57 46.0 N longitude 152 16.3 W). They report that "the whales were underway in a line, going around in circles (looked like a country line dance), possibly looking for fish?".

Nancy Black at Monterey Bay Whale Watch in Monterey, California is definitely seeing the numbers of gray whales decrease. Last week she reported an average of 5-8 whales per 3 hour trip for March 25-31. This week they are seeing 2-5 whales per trip. Their sightings are from the same general area, 2-7 miles west of Point Pinos off Monterey at Latitude 36 35.13 N, Longitude 122 05.39 W. New this last week is the arrival of a few humpback whales; they have seen three so far. These whales are heading to their summer feeding grounds off the California coast from their wintering grounds off of mainland Mexico.

News from Mike Rivers on the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department's program Whale Watching Spoken Here will be updated soon. This year's volunteer whalewatching program contended with windy rainy weather for 7 of the 8 days so they did not break the attendance records they were anticipating this year. Apparently, they had some very interesting, "really neat" whale observations, but all the data has not reached Mike's office quite yet and he has not had time to update the Spring 1998 Whale Watch Update on the Web. Keep checking in!

The numbers of migrating whales is also slowing down in Newport, Oregon where Marine Discovery Tours is seeing 5-7 gray whales per 2 hour trips. However, they continue to have exciting whale watching on these trips (Latitude 44 30-40 N, Longitude 124 00-05 W). On Saturday, April 4 Christina Folger during their morning trip again saw 15-20 feeding gray whales. As they approached they saw "a bunch of blows" and at first Christina thought they were mating. Then they saw that they were swimming through the water with their mouths open; they could even see the baleen! Christina had her plankton net and they discovered that the whales were feeding on crab larvae. As if this wasn't exciting enough, during the afternoon trip from 1300-1500, Christina recognised a "resident" gray whale, a female that last year was in the same area with a calf. Christina has been working to photo identify the resident gray whales and identify them by their behaviour and markings. Christina says that she recognised this whale by her body and flukes; the whale was very close to the boat. Apparently, this is 2 months early for the "resident" whales to be showing up. They usually show up in early June.

In the Westport and Grays Harbor area Geoff Grillo is now seeing a decrease in the migration there as well. On Saturday, April 4 on a whalewatching charter Geoff of Advantage Sport Fishing saw 3-5 gray whales an hour off the mouth of Grays Harbor (Latitude 46 56.00 N, Longitude 124 50.00 W). On Sunday, April 5, while fishing but on anchor 15 miles north of Grays Harbor in 20 fathoms of water he saw 4-5 whales per hour. Geoff and other charters are seeing 2 to 3 whales in the bay of Grays Harbor.

Further up the coast Jamie's Whaling Station in Tofino, British Columbia is reporting 8-10 whales in their 2 hour trips (approx. Latitude 49 05.0 N, Longitude 125 55.0 W). Sadly, on March 22, a charter vessel operated by Jamie's Whaling Station was swamped by high waves. Two of the four people on board were killed, including the captain and a passenger. The deaths occurred despite compliance with regulations that require the wearing of coldwater survival suits. Jamie has been in the business for 17 years and has taken out 300,000 passengers without incident. Anyone that lives and works by the sea knows the dangers that are always present when working on the ocean.

Talking to Brian Congdon of Subtidal Adventures in Ucluelet, British Columbia (48 55.00 N, 125 30.00 W). I could not get a sense of the number of whales on average he is seeing. He says the whale watching this year is different than usual and for the last couple of weeks he says the viewing has been very spotty. Sometimes they will see many whales and at other times they will not see a thing.

In my next report I will talk about the gray whale migration along the shore and give possible reasons for their migration along the coastline. David Rugh with the National Marine Mammal Laboratory will be here on Thursday for Whale Fest, so I should be able to give you some interesting facts.

Signs of Spring In Kodiak Alaska
In the last two weeks, the blueberry bushes and the pussy willows have blossomed. As I said earlier, the weather has been pretty stormy with alot of wind and rain, snow at times. My tulips that I planted next to the house have come up! We have been looking for bear tracks in the snow on the mountains from our front window. We have never recorded this information, but we think they should be out of their dens by now.

Sunrise on April 8 is at 0619 and sunset is 2004, 13 hours and 45 minutes from sunrise to sunset. The daylight lingers much longer.

Susan Payne
National Marine Fisheries Service
Kodiak, Alaska

Challenge Question # 9?
Both Laura and Susan mentioned fathoms in their reports. See if you can "fathom" Challenge Question # 9, which contains both of their questions:

Challenge Question # 9

  • "How many feet is 6 fathoms"
  • "What is the approximate latitude/longitude for the 20 fathom mark 15 miles north of Grays Harbor, WA mentioned in the text?"

(To respond to this Challenge Question please follow the instructions below)

How To Respond To Today's Challenge Questions

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 # 9

3. In the body of the message, answer the questions above.

Don't Forget!
Please include the name of your school and your location so we can credit you properly for your answers.

The Next Gray Whale Migration Update will Be Posted on April 22, 1998.

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