In just the first two weeks of the New Year it is clear that the number of whale sightings will be much higher than previous years.
To start, the annual southward migration of gray whales began early this year. In 2010 only eight whales were seen during the entire month of December, but this year there have already been more than 30. This first gray showed up off Dana Wharf in Southern California on November 26, a whole month earlier than last year.
California gray whales migrate southward from their Alaskan feeding grounds to the warmer lagoons of Baja, Mexico. This is where they find mates and fatten up the calves for the northward migration.
Typically, the southward migration peaks in the second or third week of January off the coast of Southern California. The northward migration peaks in the third week of march for single whales, and about a month later for mothers with calves. It is unclear why the migration began early this year.
A little farther north, researchers spotted six blue whales, 30 miles west of Long Beach, Washington. The global population of blue whales was heavily depleted by commercial whaling in the 20th century and is now around 14,000 individuals. In some places the population has been increased by two or three percent a year, but this isn’t anywhere near the pre-whaling population of 275,000 whales.
Four of the six whales were identified by dorsal fins and skin patterns, but they haven’t been seen in Washington before. It is unclear whether they are always here and have never been sighted, or if they are expanding their range.
In Hawaii, whalewatching is a big industry, but this year viewers didn’t need the boats. January through March is peak humpback migration season and they can been seen swimming from Alaska where they mate and calve. However earlier this week, a mother and her offspring spent much of the day swimming in Honolulu Harbor. They haven’t been seen in the actual harbor since 1995.
In an even more rare occurrence, a right whale has been spotted off Alaska’s Kodiak Island. The right whale population in the North Pacific is comprised of less than 100 individuals. The photograph of the whale shows that it is relatively young, hopefully indicating that at least some reproduction is occurring in the small population.
Copyright © 2012 by Marine Science Today, a publication of OceanLines LLC