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Gray Whale Migration Update: April 21, 1999

Today's Report Includes:

Latest News From the Gray Whale Observation Posts
In the north, John Concilius of the False Pass school reports that Gray whales have now reached the Bering Sea!

Off the California coast, some 2,000 miles to the south, fewer whales are being seen now. And at Point Vincente, near Los Angeles, the ACS Census has counted far fewer Cow/calf pairs so far this season as compared to last year at this time.

Northbound Sightings
Alisa Schulman-Janiger, the coordinator for the ACS census at Point Vicente on the Palos Verdes Peninsula (33.44N,-118.24W) is seeing far fewer whales now. As of April 19, this year's northbound count is 1,305 gray whales; cow/calf pair count is 16.

Oh Baby!
As of April 17, 15 cow/calf pairs were counted compared to 94 by that date in 1998. The peak of the cow/calf count on average is around March 22-24, but Alisa predicts that the peak will be at the end of April this year since the counts are way behind the average.

Challenge Question #6
"What reasons can you think of for the lower Cow/calf count so far this season, as compared to last year at this time?"

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

Slightly north, The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary report from Whale Corp aboard the M/V Condor includes their first cow/calf sightings (34.78N,-119.73W), and sightings of whales swimming in circles to chase/feed on krill. And north of Morro Bay (35.31N,-120.89W), Darby Neil of Virg's Landing was out fishing and also saw a cow/calf pair.

Further north, Nancy Black of Monterey Bay Whale Watch reports 3-4 northbound gray whales per three hour trip last week, April 12-18 (36.67N,-122.00W). She says that she has not seen any cow/calf pairs herself, but that 11 cow/calf pairs have passed Granite Canyon, just south of Carmel (36.52N,-121.92W), where a National Marine Mammal Laboratory census is underway. Last year, by this time, this census saw 120 cow/calf pairs.

In Westport, Washington, Geoff Grillo of Advantage Sport Fishing reports that seven gray whales continue to be seen way up inside Grays harbor (46.50N, -124.50.0W), and that recently 8-20 gray whales were seen per 3 hour trip on the ocean (46.88N,-124.10W).

Rod Palm, the principle investigator for the Strawberry Island Research Society in Tofino (49.10N, -125.93W) reports that in the last couple of weeks, 30 whales have been in Clayoquot Sound (49.20N,-126.10W) and that in Hecate Inlet and Sidney Inlet, 20 miles north of Tofino, 20 whales have been seen feeding on herring spawn. Rod says that the whales are going by in patchy groupings, so it is difficult to get an accurate per hour count without spending all day on look-out.

In Seward, Steve Clausen of the M/V Renown and Leslie Hines of Kenai Fjords Tours report that the weather has been a hindrance to whale-watching, but they have been seeing groups of 3-4 gray whales on several recent trips (59.53N,-149.28W).

In Kodiak, the Whale Alerts keep the town informed about whale sightings. Whalewatching has been really good between storms, however, the groups of whales seem to be coming through sporadically; there are periods without whales and then other times when many are observed. The sightings seem to be steadier this last week when not confused by stormy weather. There have been many sightings at Narrow Cape (59.71N, -149.53W).

Gray Whales Reach The Bering Sea
On the afternoon of April 19 John Concilius of the False Pass school, talked to a pilot from Nelson Lagoon (55.92N,-161.35W) who said he saw several gray whales on the Bering Sea side of the Alaska Peninsula as he was flying to False Pass. On Sunday, April 18, fishermen spotted gray whales near False Pass on the Pacific side of the Alaska Peninsula near the Ikatan Peninsula (54.73N,-163.21W). This sighting is only a couple miles from the school. This "first" sighting seems fairly accurate because John went looking by plane on April 14 and did not see any whales at that time.

Whale Fest Kodiak 1999

Susan Payne with son Will Ross H. Dumm

Here in Kodiak we are in the full swing of Whale Fest Kodiak, a weeklong migration celebration. Besides an Oceans of the Whale art sale, this weekend had a big line-up of speakers. Barbara Mahoney, of the National Marine Fisheries Service Protected Resources, spoke on The Status of the Cook Inlet Beluga Population and shared interesting tracking information of other Alaskan stocks of beluga whales. Jan Straley, a Journey North contributor, with the University of Alaska in Sitka, spoke on her research and the Population Characteristics of Alaska's Humpback Whales. Dr. John Ford, Director of Marine Mammal Research at the Vancouver Aquarium and Adjunct Professor of Zoology at the University of British Columbia, spoke on Killer Whale Societies: Cultures and Communication in the Northeastern Pacific. Along with the Vancouver Museum, John started Orca-Fm, the first radio station dedicated only to live whale sounds and other underwater noise. Sally Mizroch, a Fishery Biologist with the National Marine Mammal Laboratory in Seattle, presented new information on Fin Whales of the North Pacific. Sally is the coordinator of the North Pacific humpback whale photo-identification collection and she showed us the steps that they go through to match fluke characteristics with their database of 25,000 other fluke photos.

This Sunday, April 18, we went out to Narrow Cape with people interested in joining the Audubon whale-watch walk put on for Whale Fest. The weather appeared miserable in the morning and Audubon postponed until next Sunday. However, we decided to go on out with a few hardy souls including Dr. John Ford. When we arrived we saw whales right away. Visibilty was good, but the wind was blowing the whale blows away pretty quickly. The day was my first opportunity to see the newly constructed Kodiak Launch Complex, built by Alaska Aerospace Development Corporation to launch satellites into polar orbit. Last year during Whale Fest there was only roadwork going on; this year, buildings are present. The first launch occurred in early November. We also saw our first newly growing pushki, the local name for Angelica. There is still a lot of snow on the ground, and if not, it is brown grass, so we were thrilled to see this sign of Spring! Along the way to Narrow Cape, we saw about 26 swans, either Trumpeter or Tundra swans.

On Monday night, April 19, the Kodiak Middle school made a presentation about their Baja '99 Adventure. Whale Fest 1999 continues throughout this week with more lectures, kids activities, a poetry reading, movies, radio and television shows, museum exhibits, and children's and local art shows. This Friday on the radio we will interview Nancy Black, of the Monterey Bay Whale Watch, about her study of killer whale predation on gray whales. Nancy is also a Journey North contributor.

The days continue to lengthen: on April 21, sunrise is 0544 and sunset is 2034 for a total of 14 hours and 50 minutes of daylight.

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

Discussion of Challenge Question #5
Last week we asked you to take a look at the sea ice conditions and predict how far north the gray whales can get at this time?

On Monday, April 19, Jim Browning of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Dillingham, Alaska flew an aerial survey looking for Herring. Jim reports that from Cape Constantine (58.40 N,-158.85 W) to Cape Newenham (58.65N,-162.03W) there is ice for as far as the eye can see. They fly fifteen miles offshore and are able to scan another 25-30 miles south of them. This information tells us the ice stretches at least 50 miles south of Bristol Bay's shore. During their flight they saw no marine mammals. The last three years they have seen gray whales by the 17th and 18th of April.

From this information and satellite images, and the sea-ice analysis given by the National Weather Service, Alaska Region, it appears that the gray whales are heading into clear water if the "first" gray whales are now between False Pass and Nelson Lagoon. Is that what you observed?

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 #6
3. In the body of the message, give your answer to the question above.

The Next Gray Whale Migration Update will Be Posted on May 5, 1999.

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