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One Heck of a Gray Whale Migration!

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Animal Updates | Mammals | Conservation | Whale Watching

Thursday, February 09, 2012


It’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted a blog, but it’s not because there was a lack of stuff going on! I just happened to be on vacation. Now that I’m back I can’t wait to share all the news from the last few weeks.

For the last few months I’ve been following information on two Western gray whales that were tagged off of Sakhalin Island, an island off of Russia’s eastern coast. The Western Gray whales are the only other population of gray whales and they’re found off the coast and Russia and are thought to migrate to China. The population size is roughly 135 whales compared to our Eastern Pacific gray whales that number over 20,000. That makes this particular population critically endangered!

Last year in the news there was a Western Pacific Gray whale that was tagged and tracked all the way across the Bering Sea where it met up with some of our gray whales. His name was Flex and he made headlines all over so you might have heard of him. Eventually his tag fell off and he was last reported in central California. This year two whales were tagged and tracked over to the Eastern Pacific again! These were two females named Agent and Varvara. A few weeks ago Agent’s tag fell off, but Varvara’s satellite is still going strong. They followed her across to the Bering Sea with Agent and eventually she started down the coast towards us just as Flex did last year! Because her tag has stayed on, it showed her continuing down the California Coast and a couple weeks ago she passed Southern California! We were all on high alert to be looking out for her. Western gray whales don’t show any physical differences than our Eastern Pacific gray whales, but Varvara did have a tag that we were looking. Even if we missed the tags, any gray whales we took pictures of could be crossed check with the catalog to see if it was her. Unfortunately the tag showed her moving on the outside of Catalina Island, so we wouldn’t have had a chance to see her. This last Monday she was spotted at Magdalena Bay! I can’t wait to find out what she does next. With any luck we’ll be able to see her if she sticks with other Eastern Pacific gray whales and comes back up the California Coast before heading back to the Russian waters.

In addition to this amazing gray whale migration, we also had yet ANOTHER sighting of orcas. This was even rarer than the other orcas we’ve spotted here the last couple of months because some of these orcas have been seen all the way up in British Columbia! We think we saw well over 40 orcas in this pod!

This particular type of orcas is what we call offshores. Very little is known about them. The orcas we’ve previously seen this year are we call transients. Their main diet consists of mammals, like gray whales, where the offshores have been known to feed primarily on larger fish, like sharks! Some of the whales that were spotted in this huge pod have only been seen just a couple of times. Luckily we have a lot of pictures to go through, and hopefully we can figure out exactly who these whales are!

So far this year has been the best on the water that I’ve ever had! We’ve had so many incredible gray whales, including one visiting from Russia, numerous sightings of orcas, lunge feeding fin whales, and now all we’re missing is a mermaid! Ha! If you love being out on the ocean looking at whales, this is definitely the year to come out and get on the boats! I’ll make sure and update on Varvara as much as I can. Hopefully one of my near future blogs will be about spotting her passing by Long Beach!

One Heck of a Gray Whale Migration!
This is the map produced by Varvara's and Agent's tags. You can see Varvara has had quite the journey and Agent might be right there with her. Visit Oregon State Universities website to get more information and keep up on these Western Pacific gray whales!  | Oregon State university
One Heck of a Gray Whale Migration!
One of the offshore orcas breaching!  | Chelsea Dufour
One Heck of a Gray Whale Migration!
One of the offshore orcas does a tail slap near the boat!  | Chelsea Dufour

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