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Gray Whale Migration Update: March 24, 1999

Today's Report Includes:

Latest News From the Gray Whale Observation Posts
Northbound whales are now being reported near both ends of the migration trail, from California to Alaska! In Los Angeles, observers have reported record northbound counts in the last two weeks, and cow/calf counts are higher than usual too. However, the peak actually appears to be off Newport, Oregon, and many whales continue to be seen off Westport, Washington. Further north, gray whales are moving past Vancouver Island and now the first gray whales have been sighted in Seward Alaska!

The highlights of Susan's report are provided below, and you can link to additional information at:

Northbound Sightings
As of Monday, March 22, 867 northbound gray whales have been counted by the American Cetacean Society (ACS) census from Point Vicente on the Palos Verdes Peninsula near Los Angeles (33.44 N,-118.24 W). Alisa Schulman-Janiger, the coordinator for the ACS census is seeing the highest numbers of the census in the last two weeks. And, this year's northbound whale counts(867) on this date are above average compared to the last ten years' counts (750), but lower than the 15 year average. The last southbound count was on March 9.

Baby Brigade Begins!
The first northbound cow/calf pairs were spotted in Los Angeles on March 11!
(33.44 N,-118.24 W). Since then eight cow/calf pairs had been counted by March 22. This count is higher than usual; for the seven years before 1997, 0 were reported and in 1997 four cow/calf pairs had been sighted.

Slightly north, in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary near Santa Barbara (34.22N,-119.49) several small courting/mating pods of gray whales were sighted between March 13-17 by Whale Corp from aboard the M/V Condor. And Virg's Landing of Morro Bay (35.19N,-120.54W) has reported fewer whales than the week before. It appears his counts have dropped off dramatically, which may mean the peak has passed there. Similarly, Nancy Black of Monterey Bay Whale Watch also reports that by last week the peak of their migration had past. Around March 17, they were seeing about 15 per three hour trip and have not seen any cow/calf pairs yet (36.67N, -122.00W).

Golden Gate Whales
Two juvenile whales were spotted in San Francisco Bay last week according to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle! Thanks to Mr. Haynie's 4th grade class at Mira Vista School, in Richmond, CA who also reported seeing a Gray whale in the Bay: "We spotted a gray whale inside Richardson Bay (off San Francisco Bay) by day marker #4 at about 1500. It was heading north at a pretty fast speed then suddenly stopped. It flopped its tail vigorously and turned itself south then proceeded out in to San Francisco Bay at the same speed. It had lots of barnacles and was at least twenty five feet in length. We assumed the brown on it's skin was mud from Richardson Bay." (

Further north in Newport, Oregon, (44.64 N,-124.00W) Christina Folger from Marine Discovery Tours thinks they are in the peak of their northbound migration. They have been seeing 2-8 whales heading northbound in their two hour trips. And in Westport, Washington, (46.50 N,-124.50 W), Geoff Grillo of Advantage Sport Fishing is still reporting many whales. The whales are definitely heading north this week and he estimates 10 northbound whales per hour.

On Vancouver Island in Tofino, Jamie Bray of Jamie's Whaling Station, reports more bad weather, but they are seeing 6-8 an hour (49.083 N, -125.92 W). Brian Congdon of Subtidal Adventures in Ucluelet, British Columbia (48.95 N,-125.42 W) is seeing a few whales, but the weather is still rough and he expects to see more whales here as there is a good show of herring.

Alaska At Last!

Susan Payne with son Will Ross H. Dumm

The first gray whales have now been seen in Seward, Alaska by Mike Brittain captain of the M/V Renown. (59.85 N,-149.39 W). Fantastic! Before Sunday, Mike had not been out for a week due to storms at sea.

Here in Kodiak, we have not had any reports of Gray whales yet! Whale Fest Kodiak 1999, April 16-25, is fast approaching and will include a lecture and slide show by the Kodiak Middle School class that recently went on a Baja '99 Adventure. I look forward to our next report; there should be whales in Kodiak by then and maybe other signs of spring too!

How Many Gray Whales Are There?
In the meantime, I wanted to share some of the most recent gray whale research with you.A status review of the eastern Pacific stock of gray whales, Eschrichtius robustus, was conducted at a workshop on March 16-17 in Seattle, Washington. There were 28 whale researchers at the workshop. The National Marine Fisheries Service/National Marine Mammal Laboratory estimate that there are 26,635 gray whales in the population. Research conducted in the last five years, following the removal of the gray whale from the Endangered Species List in June 1994, was reviewed. The group recommended keeping the present de-listed status because of the present stock abundance, despite potential jeopardy to their habitat posed by their proximity to populated coastlines.

Challenge Question #4
"What does Eschrictius robustus mean in latin?"

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

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

Discussion of Challenge Question #3
In our last report, we asked "What is "benthic"?

Benthic means: relating to, or occurring on the bottom, underlying a body of water. Benthos refers to those animals and plants living on the bottom of the sea, lake or river (crawling or burrowing there, or attached as with sea weeds and sessile animals), from high water mark down to deepest levels. Organisms feeding primarily upon the benthos are termed benthophagous(Abercrombie et al. 1990).

Many classrooms spent some research time and got "down" to the "bottom" of the matter! Here's what some of you discovered:

Vermont students wrote that "We looked the word bethnic up in the dictionary. We found that it said that it was the bottom of a body of water. Then we went to the internet and found a site about Gray Whales. That site told us more about how gray whales feed. They go down on the bottom of the water and they scoop up the food and the mud on the bottom.People can see dents in the ocean floor where a grey whale has been eating." Linda Thurber's Third graders, Ardenia and Eliza.(

Becky in Alaska said that "I think the answer to challenge question #3 is benthic relates to plants and animals on the ocean floor" Sara Hepner's Sterling El. 3rd grade (

Islein Middle School students found that "The dictionary defines benthic as relating to or occurring at the bottom of a body of water. Therefore, the whales eat krill, invertebrates, and fish that live in warm shallow waters at the bottom of the ocean. They stay in shallow waters because they are mammals and need to come up to the surface to breathe." Umang Swali,Durell Hudson,and Group 2.(

Mrs.Sgalippi's 4th grade class wrote "Dear Journey North, Benthic means bottom dwelling. This means that the Gray Whale gets his food and swims down near the bottom of the ocean."Thanks, Simmons Elementary Horsham, PA (

Finally, from Ontario, Scott Young Public School students said "We were on the computer looking for what benthic was, at first, we thought it was a kind of invertebrate, but then we finally found that benthic is the bottom of the ocean floor." Stephanie Clarke, Kate Knot & Danielle Gordon. gr. 5 (

Report your FIRST Gray Whale Sighting to Journey North

Report the FIRSTnorthbound 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:
  • Date of first sighting of northbound gray whales.
  • Date of first sighting of northbound gray whale mother/calf pairs.

Helpful Links and 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 # 4
3. In the body of the message, give your answer to the question above.

The Next Gray Whale Migration Update will Be Posted on April 7, 1999.

Copyright 1999 Journey North. All Rights Reserved. Please send all questions, comments, and suggestions to our feedback form

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