Gray Whale
Laura Gorodezky
Gray Whale Home
Challenge Questions

Today's News
Today's News

Spring's Journey North
Spring's Journey North

Report Your Sightings
Report Your Sightings

Teacher's Manual
Teacher's Manual

Search Journey North
Search Journey North

return to:
JNorth Home Page


Gray Whale

Gray Whale Migration Update: April 22, 1998

Today's Update Includes:

Latest Migration News
The northbound migration continues! From Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary in Santa Barbara, Laura Gorodezky reports that many cow/calf pairs and even the first Humpback whale of the season have been seen! After reading her report, you will wish you had been one the surfers or kayakers in the area.

In Kodiak Alaska, Susan Payne reports many highlights including pilots spotting gray whales all the way up in the Bering Sea, plus an Orca attack has been witnessed and mother/calf pairs have been seen as far north as Oregon.

Northbound Migration Continues From Channel Islands

April 21, 1998

Greetings Journey North! The Northbound Migration Continues!!
We are seeing many cow/calf pairs. When I was walking my dogs on a blufftop this weekend, I saw several whales very close to the surf zone off shoreline park in Santa Barbara. Here are the sightings from April 1-17th from the Whale Corps:

Migration Route of Atlantic Humpback Whales

Map courtesy of
Dr. Carol Gersmehl and Debbie Bojar
Macalester College

123 gray whales were reported. Of the 123 whales, 52 were calves. This 2-week interval shows a marked increase from the previous 2 weeks. As you may recall, only 10 calves were sighted between 3/15 and 3/30. There were 5 sightings of calves spyhopping and many animals observed in very shallow water passing close by surfers and kayakers.

First Humpback!
We have also had our first humpback sighting of the season (also from the plane on 4/14) ( 2 adults and 1 juvenile) at 33.850 N 119.984 W) these whales are also traveling to the Arctic from their birthing waters along Mexico's Baja Peninsula.

There were 3-5 orcas seen by R/V WM McGaw on 4/11/98 5 miles off Point Sur, California at 36.317 N 122.000 W. Also, there was a sighting of pacific white-sided dolphins 15-20 animals on 4/1 at 34.351 N 119.717 W There were 13 sightings of bottlenose dolphins. The largest pod was about 60 animals.In three of the sightings, bottlenose were mixed in with gray whale cow/calf pairs.

Sad News
On 4/17 a dead gray whale was found stuck under Gaviota Pier. The animal was caught between the pilings and couldn't escape. Unfortunately the animal was already dead by the time someone saw it, so a rescue was not possible.

Our plane flew on 4/14/98 and saw 3 Orcas (2 adults and 1 calf) at 33.900 N 120.216 W.

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 Note Highlights From Kodiak, Alaska

April 21, 1998

The Gray 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. 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 (58.22N, -157.33W) and Port Moller (55.98 N, -160.50 W).

Jim told me that the first indication of whales is the mud plumes created by their feeding activity. He added that the ice blew out of the Togiak Bay area the first week of April, blown by a strong southeast wind.

Orca Attack!
On April 15, an Orca attack on 4 gray whales was witnessed in Seward, Alaska. The Orca pod consisted of one large male and two younger whales. 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.

Mother/Calf Pairs Reach Oregon
Mother/calf pairs are now being seen in Monterey, California. The adults have gone through and as of April 15 the mother/calf pulse has begun. And 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.

More From Kodiak
In Susan's full report, you can read more about these highlights and other observations and sightings:

Questions and Answers About Gray Whale Migration and Navigation
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.

Question: Why do gray whales migrate along the coast?

Dave Rugh: 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.

Question: How far from the coast do they usually travel?

Dave Rugh: 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.

Question: Do they use the shoreline to navigate?

Dave Rugh: 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.

Signs Of Spring In Kodiak Alaska
The Pacific Herring fishery started here on Kodiak April 15; that is a sure sign of spring. At work in a warm little cranny between 2 buildings I have spotted the first salmonberry flowers. I do not think the other salmonberry bushes will be too far behind. Today, I also saw a rabbit that was more brown than white. Sunday, April 19 in front of our house we saw a common loon almost in breeding plumage. The best news of all is that we spotted the bear tracks on the mountain last night (Monday, April 20)! Finally, the sun came out for some good viewing; we have been having our fair share of April showers. Then this morning coming into work I may have spotted more bear tracks on another mountain, but I need to bring my binoculars to check this out. Sunrise on April 22 is at 0541 and sunset is 2035, 14 hours and 54 minutes from sunrise to sunset.

Susan Payne
National Marine Fisheries Service
Kodiak, Alaska

Biologists Fathom Challenge Question # 9

Both Laura and Susan mentioned fathoms in their last reports. First, Laura asked, "How many feet is 6 fathoms?" Laura explained that there are 6 feet in a fathom, so 6 fathoms is 6x6 or 36 ft.

Next, Susan asked "What is the approximate latitude/longitude for the 20 fathom mark 15 miles north of Grays Harbor, WA mentioned in the text?"

To answer this, Susan described that "Every minute of latitude equals a mile or every degree of latitude equals 60 miles, so the approximate position for the question is latitude 47 11.0 N, Longitude 124 50.0 W."

The Next Gray Whale Migration Update will Be Posted on May 6, 1998.

Copyright 1998 Journey North. All Rights Reserved.