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Gray Whale Migration Update: February 10, 1999

Today's Report Includes:

Get Ready to Track Gray Whale Migration
Welcome to another exciting season tracking the Gray whale's northward migration. Each spring, the gray whales travel as much as 6,000 miles on their return trip from their calving and breeding grounds in western Mexico to the summer feeding grounds between Alaska and Siberia--the longest migration of any mammal on Earth!

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

If you're 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:
  • Date of first sighting of northbound gray whales.
  • 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.

From Migration Headquarters in Kodiak

Susan Payne with son Will Ross H. Dumm

Meet Susan Payne, of the National Marine Fisheries Service, in Kodiak, Alaska! Susan has assembled a network of observers all along the gray whales' migration route. She will be sharing their reports from Los Angeles to Barrow, Alaska. And, when the migration finally reaches Kodiak, the whales will be greeted by the entire Kodiak community during "Kodiak Whale Fest", the migration celebration which Susan created. Special thanks go to her for contributing to Journey North--and to gray whales--again this year!

Latest News From the Gray Whale Observation Posts
The biggest surprise this week is that, in addition to reporting the first northbound gray whales, observers are still sighting whales on their journey south! The highlights of this week's report are provided below, along with:

This Week's Highlights from the Migration Trail

Northbound Sightings
The first northbound gray whale was reported December 12 from Point Vicente (33.44 N,-118.24 W) on the Palos Verdes Peninsula near Los Angeles! This is the observation post of the American Cetacean Society Census, a project coordinated for the 16th year by Alisa Schulman-Janiger. As of Monday, February 8, the ACS Census has reported a total of 26 northbound gray whales. Further up the coast, Julie Goodson from the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary off Santa Barbara (34.40 N,-119.69 W) reported a northbound gray whale on February 4. Still further north, Nancy Black of the Monterey Bay Whale Watch (36.37 N,-121.54 W), is expecting to see their first northbound whales during the week of February 15.

Southbound Sightings
Gray whale expert Dave Rugh, a National Marine Mammal Laboratory biologist, is working on a summary of the 1998/99 southbound migration. His initial impression is that the whales were traveling south in a denser concentration, and that the migration was a week later than usual. According to Dave, the migratory timing of gray whales is very regular. The median date only varies by about 5 or 6 days. He says that this regular timing must be influenced by photoperiod, not weather.

Here in Kodiak, we observed several late southbound gray whales--one fisherman reporting the largest whale densities he'd seen in 43 years! Observers in Washington State and Oregon also noted late whales, as shown on the Data Table above. Along with many of these gray whales sightings were sightings of killer whales--were they after the gray whales? Alisa Schulman-Janiger, coordinator of the American Cetacean Society Census reported the highest southbound gray whale count on January 25, with 54 gray whales in a single day! That same day, 25-40 orcas were seen, also heading southward...

After you read my full Field Notes from Kodiak and review this week's Migration Data see if you can answer this question:

Challenge Question #1
"When do you predict the first gray whale will be sighted in the Gulf of Alaska, near Kodiak?"

  1. Gray whales migrate at approximately 3-5 mph.
  2. The first northbound gray whales are usually sighted off the California Coast (Monterey Bay at 36.37 N,-121.54 W) during the first half of February.

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

The Kodiak Ground Hog saw his shadow this year so I cannot tell you that spring is coming! Until our next report...good whale-watching!"

Susan Payne
National Marine Fisheries Service
Alaska Fisheries Science Center
Kodiak, Alaska

Suggestions for Data Analysis
During the migration, Susan will provide the latitude and longitude coordinates of these sightings, and notes from the observers will be provided in the reports. As you plot the gray whale migration on your map this spring, include these notes on your map and/or describe the highlights in a migration journal.

In the end, your challenge will be to summarize what you learn from limited information. This is the same challenge scientists have faced over the years as they've worked to understand the lives and travels of gray whales. Also as a scientist, consider how you might design a study of your own using this spring's migration data. Make a hypothesis, and then review the data from each migration update. At the conclusion of your study, write a scientific paper. See:

Special Thanks!
Today's data and observations were generously shared by the many people named in Susan's Field Notes, and by the following organizations:

How to Respond to Today's Gray Whale Challenge Question:

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

The Next Gray Whale Migration Update will Be Posted on February 24, 1999.

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