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A Record Breaking Gray Whale Season

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Whale Watching

Friday, December 30, 2011

Kera

And we've only just started!

The American Cetacean Society (ACS) is a non-profit organization that advocates for marine mammal conservation. ACS has been counting gray whales during their annual migration and tallying the number of animals spotted each day, month, and season for twenty eight years. The 2011/2012 gray whale season has just started and we’re already breaking records!

In the past few years we were close to breaking records but not in a good way. Three years ago we had really low numbers for whale sightings and I believe one count was a record low. It was really scary and we weren’t really sure what was going on. Thankfully, the last two seasons have been great with this season off to a great start.

In the history of the gray whale census, the highest number for gray whales in the month of December was 133 whales. As of December 28, 2011 the total count was 169! We still have three more days of counting to go!

I’ve been reading up as much as I can and emailing other whale scientists about this subject and to gather their opinions. So far there hasn’t been much understanding as to why there are so many gray whales this early. I’ve been in touch with Alisa Schulman-Janiger of ACS. She thinks that it might have something to do with there being a lot of food available in the northern waters near Alaska. Gray whales spend the summer months feeding in the northern, nutrient rich waters of Alaska, the Bering Sea and Chukchi Seas. For the winter, the whales migrate to the warmer southern waters of Baja to mate and give birth. During their migration and stay in the southern waters there isn’t much food available. They rely on their summer feeding to increase their blubber reserves to get them through the winter. If the food in the northern waters is plentiful, the whales will be able to bulk up much faster and essentially get “full”. If the whales are bulked up early, that might lead to them heading down early. That might explain why we’re seeing so many this early in the season.

Although it will probably take a long time to know exactly why there’s such an increase in the whales this year, it’s still very exciting to know we have so many going by. In addition to the many gray whales we’ve seen, there have also been some exciting dolphins, and quite a few fin whales. We even had reports of orcas in the area again. With this being a record breaking month, now is a great time to get out on the water and search for some gray whales, fin whales, and dolphins too!

A Record Breaking Gray Whale Season
A gray whale arches it back as it heads south for the winter.  | Brittany Munson
A Record Breaking Gray Whale Season
A bottlenose dolphin gets airborn behind the boat!  | Brittany Munson
A Record Breaking Gray Whale Season
One of many fin whales spotted in the last week on the boats.  | Brittany Munson

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