Calf Stampede? May 9, 2016
Adult whales began arriving in Alaska in early April; the mothers and babies are the tail of the parade, and it's a whopper! The largest numbers of mothers and babies passing near Santa Barbara have all happened since May 1. On May 7, a day that brought 16 mom-and-calf pairs past their station, Director Michael H. Smith at Gray Whales Count (34.40N, -119.69W) exclaimed: "A minute before 4 PM, the Goleta Stampede began with a collection of nine mother/calf pairs billowing past Counter Point. Stunning." The next day, Mother's Day, brought a parade of 14 mother/calf pairs past, showing off spots and scars and magnificent blows. Numbers at the Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project also amaze, with 19 cow/calf pairs on both May 7 and 8 in the season's second big pulse through the area. Director Alisa Schulman-Janiger says the northbound count is already their fifth highest in 33 seasons, and the calf count is third highest—with over three weeks yet to go before the census signs off! "We are ahead of all northbound calf counts to date, including last season's count (our record northbound calf count). We will likely extend this year's census season through May 31st, to catch those last cow/calf pairs."
Meanwhile, scientists at Pt. Piedras Blancas Light Station, CA (35.66N, -121.28W) say the daily rate of cow-calf pairs was lower at the end of last week, suggesting the peak migration period is over at this location on the whale trail. They had excellent weather conditions last week, with only half an hour lost to fog. In 59.5 hours of sighting effort, they counted 70 cow-calf gray whale pairs, bringing the tally since the end of March to 200 cow-calf pairs. The three California point-count sites are still on duty, and we'll report what happens next.
Gray Whales Count