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Field Notes from Susan Payne

Hello from the migration trail!

Susan Payne with her family Don Dumm, and Will Ross H. Dumm

Whales In the News

Hanging Out in San Francisco Bay. According to the Associated Press, San Francisco Bay is attracting a larger than usual number of gray whales. These may be seasonal residents who have decided to stay in the Bay rather than migrate further north. Apparently, Humboldt County is thought to be the southernmost area for summer feeding whales. The Oceanic Society is coordinating a survey over the next five years to determine why the gray whales are choosing to stay in San Francisco Bay. They will identify individuals and look at what they feed on, including bottom sediments, movements and habits.

Ban Upheld on Trade of Whale Meat. In Nairobi, Kenya on April 20, CITES, the United Nations Convention on International trade in Endangered Species, upheld the current ban on the trade of whale products. Norway and Japan proposed resolutions to allow trade in the meat of minke and the northeastern Pacific gray whales. Commercial whaling was banned by the International Whaling Commission in 1986, but allows whaling for scientific purposes.

The ACS Census Reports 1011 Northbound Whales!
Alisa Schulman-Janiger, coordinator of the American Cetacean Society (ACS) Census at Long Point (33.74 N, -118.39 W), reports a total of 1011 northbound gray whales as of Sunday, April 30. Of those, 16 were cow/ calf pairs. April 24 was their largest northbound day with 13 grays since April 1; otherwise their counts have been from 1 to 8 northbound gray whales a day with 1 to 3 northbound cow/calf pairs. Comparing this year with the other census years: the 993 northbound grays as of Friday, April 28, is the fifth lowest year, and the 13 cow/calf pairs is the third lowest in the sixteen years of the census. Alisa feels that it is a late migration this year as she hears that there are still 20 cow/calf pairs in San Ignacio Lagoon. Usually, all whales have left the lagoons by mid-April. Alisa has also heard that there are still many grays off La Paz as of a week ago. On Sunday, April 30, Fred Benko reported six blue whales and four gray whales feeding on abundant krill off San Miguel Island (34.03N, 120.40W). Alisa confirms that the group of transient orcas spotted in Santa Barbara includes some of the transients she has seen in Santa Cruz and the same ones that Nancy Black saw in Monterey in April 1999. One of the males was CA160. Apparently, it is uncommon to see such a large group of transients unless they have been feeding on a gray whale. Last Thursday, April 28 a pilot saw an attack by eight killer whales on a cow/calf pair off the Channel Islands (32.49N, 118.45). Alisa thinks that maybe the large group of transients may have gathered as a result of that kill, attracted by a dead calf. On April 20, over 1000 bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus)--that's six miles of dolphins--was spotted off Point Vicente near Catalina Island (33.30N, 118.30W). This is perhaps the largest congregation of bottlenose dolphins ever seen!

Other California Counts
Mike and Winston report yet another stranding of a malnourished gray whale off of Sunset Beach. Officials say it was 3 tons underweight. On April 17, Mike reports that an aerial survey on the east end of Catalina Island (33.30N, 118.30W) spotted 2 large 40-foot gray whales traveling side by side. Also spotted was a sperm whale (Pyseter catadon), a school of 100-200 common dolphins, two groups (60 and 200-300) of bottlenose dolphins, and Rissoís dolphins.

Our report from Shauna Bingham at theChannel Islands Marine Sanctuary, had a sighting of a "superpod" of the transient orcas off Santa Barbara (34.30N, 119.65W) on Monday, April 24 aboard the Rachel G. They estimated over 30 in the pod, including two large dominant males. The whales were moving pretty fast, but they did come up pretty close to the boat and were bow riding and breaching. The last sighting of gray whales by the Rachel G appears to be on March 31 when they saw three whales displaying some surface action, perhaps mating activity.

Monday, April 24 is the latest report I have from Wayne Perryman of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center. From the census at Point Piedras Blancas in San Luis Obispo County (35.67N, 121.28W), Wayne writes: "counts of cows with calves is still slow." They had counted 43 by the end of the week, April 23, which was up from last year's count of 25 at this time, but down from their usual count of 120 by that date.

Nancy Black of Monterey Bay Whale Watch is seeing few gray whales now, but a lot of humpbacks and dolphins in their tours (36.67N, 122.00W). They are looking for killer whales, but have not seen any lately. They are hoping the transients seen off Santa Barbara will head north.

Up the Coast to Washington, Oregon, British Columbia
John Calambokidis of Cascadia Research in Olympia, Washington, writes: "We have had our 6th stranding of gray whales. While the total remains well below last year's record of 28, but it remains early in the year and we appear headed for above normal levels of mortality. Although we are well past the peak of the migration, gray whales are being seen regularly in a number of areas around the state. Whale-watching boats operating out of Grays Harbor have not had to go out on the ocean this season and continue to observe more than a half dozen gray whale inside Grays Harbor. Whales are also being seen all around Puget Sound. The most unusual sightings come from Bellingham Bay (48.73N, 122.55W) where 3 to 5 whales have been hanging out right in the harbor raising concerns about their exposure to contaminants. We currently estimate more than a dozen whales around Puget Sound."

Geoff Grillo of Advantage Sport Fishing in Westport, Washington writes: "Whale watching in our community is way down this year. The main migration has definitely gone by us. We still have 6 whales in the bay that seem to be the focus of most of the whale watching." Not reported in our April 19 report, Geoff saw a cow/calf pair on 16 or 17 April.

Rod Palm of Strawberry Isle Research Society in Tofino, British Columbia (49.11N, 125.88 W) reports that the migration on the west coast of Vancouver Island is now past its peak so they are in a bit of a lull waiting for the slower traveling new moms with their calves. He notes that there are only a few animals passing by in an hour. For the last couple of months they have had two gray whales interrupt their migration to hang out in Clayoquot Sound's inland waters.

On May 1, Brian Congdon of Subtidal Adventures in Ucluelet, British Columbia (48.50 N, -125.30W) saw no migrating whales in his survey of 20 miles of Vancouver Island coastline.

Whale Sightings In Alaska
In Sitka, Jan Straley, a humpback researcher with the University of Alaska, was on Prince of Wales Island last week and heard of gray whales passing by.

Here in Kodiak, the Narrow Cape (57.43N, 152.34W) sightings have been slow in coming in now that Whale Fest is over. Our last sightings there were on April 19 when 18 grays were seen. Another group of whalewatchers, Eva Holm and Claudia Anderson, saw 36-43 gray whales; some were feeding, standing on their heads, and rolling on their sides. Of that group they saw one gray heading north. I hope to visit there in the next week or so. We seem to be having some sightings from within Chiniak Bay like the two grays spotted off Spruce Cape (57.83N,-152.35W) on April 25. Fortunately Eric Stirrup, on the F/V Tenbears keeps me posted on his activities. On Friday, April 28 he saw a very distinctive gray whale they nicknamed "Spot." Eric writes, "while grays are mottled in color, this one was fairly uniform in color except for the very large white circular spot, both right and left side just forward of the dorsal hump. This large adult was traveling with three other adults and a younger whale off Long Island (57.46N, 152.26W) in Chiniak Bay (57.72N, 152.37W)." On April 29, Eric spotted killer whales off Spruce Island (57.97N, 152.51W). The pod consisted of one bull male, one smaller adult, one subadult about half the size of the two adults, and two very young calves. Eric believes these may be one of the groups that visited the Kodiak harbor earlier in the season. Out at Cape Chiniak (57.62N, 152.17W) on April 22, Eric saw seven grays despite bad weather conditions that prevented him from continuing the trip around Ugat Island. Please see the data table for more Kodiak sightings.

Nelson Lagoon School's Candid Camera
John Concilus, the principal of the Nelson Lagoon School on the north side of the Alaska Peninsula (55.92N, 161.35 W), writes, "We went to the beach twice to get video, and no whales...BUT, every time I don't have a camera I see them. They are increasing in regularity. The weather has been bad the last week, but we plan on taking five of our kids and just WAITING with a video camera NEXT NICE DAY! Some are just 30 to 50 FEET off the beach."

A Sighting of 500!
Here's a news flash from James Browning of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Dillingham, Alaska, who sighted at least 500 gray whales on April 18 on an aerial survey for herring of the northern shore of Bristol Bay: "It was pretty out there yesterday. And like clockwork (except for 1999 -the late one) on April 18 (of 1997, and 1998), between Right Hand Point and Summit Island (58.90N, 160.18W), we saw the mud boils and sure enough, blows and gray whales! Lots of them! Then, when we got down to the channel between Hagemeister (58.63N, 161.00W) and High Islands, it was calm with high sunlight and you could look out across the surface and see a group of disturbances; we flew out there and saw more blows and gray whales. The 500 number is obviously an estimate. The group could have been relatively continuous from Right Hand Point out to Hagemeister and numbered more than that."

Brrrr! Don't Get in the Water!
In my last report from Jim on April 26, he reports that there still are 500 whales, perhaps more, actively "bottom feeding" in the outer Togiak Bay. Some large whales are also between Hagemeister and High Islands, and the usual area between Right Hand Point and Summit Island. They also note 25-50 sea lions and some seals in their reports from April 27 and 29. Actual water temperature taken from the vessel Aleutian Falcon at Hagemeister Island was 0 degrees Celsius early morning of April 27. It had risen to 1 degree in the afternoon. The water temperature on the morning of April 29 morning at Anchor Point was 35 F/ 1.7 C. Summit Island and Kulukak both reported a water temperature of 36 F/ 2.2 C.

Charles BurkeyAlaska Department of Fish and Game in Bethel, Alaska, will start aerial surveys for herring of southern Kuskokwim Bay this week.

Belugas and Bowheads at Point Hope, but no Grays
Charles Lean Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Nome, Alaska, reported on Wednesday, April 26 that the belukhas (or belugas) and bowheads are up as far as Point Hope (68.33 N, 166.75W) but no grays yet that he is aware of. In our last report, Sheila Gaquin, a schoolteacher in Point Hope, reported that on Sunday, April 9th there was no open water. The National Weather Service ice maps of the Bering Sea will tell you more.

Last Words
Compare your daylight to ours in Kodiak; sunrise on May 3 is 0512 and sunset is 2103.

References Used in Preparation of "Beast Feast" in Today's Update
Darling, J.D., Keogh, K.E., Steeves, T.E. Gray Whale (Eschrichtius Robustus) Habitat Utilization and prey species off Vancouver Island, B.C. Marine Mammal Science, 14(4): 692-720. 1998

Nerini, M. A Review of Gray Whale Feeding Ecology. p. 423-450. In: The Gray Whale, Eschrichtius robustus. Ed. Jones, Swartz, Leatherwood. Academic Press, Inc. 1984, 600p.

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

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