FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Michael Harris,
Executive Director, Pacific Whale Watch Association
February 13, 2014
HERE COME THE GRAY WHALES!
Record Number of Gray Whales Heading This Way – Pacific Whale Watch Association Crews Report First Sightings in the Sound and Straits
The Great Migration of 22,000 Eastern North Pacific gray whales is well underway, and the first of these epic travelers are already showing up in the Sound and Straits of Washington and British Columbia. Pacific Whale Watch Association (PWWA) crews are gearing up for an earlier-than-expected gray whale watch season.
As spring approaches, these majestic creatures, which can reach 50 feet and 40 tons, begin a journey of between 5,000 and 6,800 miles from the warm-water calving lagoons in Mexico’s Baja Peninsula and Gulf of California to the Bering and Chukchi Seas of Alaska, traveling constantly at about five knots and averaging 75 miles per day. It’s the longest migration of any mammal on Earth.
“This northern migration has been extraordinary,” explains Shari Tarantino, President of Seattle-based Orca Conservancy, who’s currently in northern California working with The Center for Whale Research and other research groups in tracking Southern Resident orcas off the coast. “We’ve seen record numbers of grays making their way north, and we’ve been documenting some spectacular and very unexpected behavior from them. Not long ago we had three or four juvenile grays playing in the kelp within a cove next to the Point Arena Lighthouse. They must have missed the memo as they hung around for a couple of days, rolling around, spyhopping, pec slapping, and actually playing around in the waves along the shore. We counted 35 grays on that day alone, with groups of six-to-eight traveling together. Really unusual. We’re also seeing a large number of transient orcas stalking the grays, so those juveniles might want to pick up the pace.”
“We’ve been anticipating an early and busy gray whale watch this season, based on these reports from our friends in California,” explains Michael Harris, Executive Director of PWWA. “And if these grays are as boisterous as they’ve been down south, it could make for some spectacular viewing up here. We’re fortunate that we get about a dozen gray whales who hang out each spring for long periods of time feeding on ghost shrimp – what we call “residents” – but from the sound of things, we should be getting a lot of migratory whales in here, too. And maybe some hungry orcas following them in. One of our whale watch captains witnessed orcas hunting grays in the Sound about four years ago, but it’s extremely rare to have that kind of action happen here. Hold onto your hat.”
Gray whales are perhaps the most paradoxical creatures on the planet. They’ve been called “devil fish,” fierce protectors of calves and the only known whale to fight back when hunted by humans, as they were almost to extinction in the previous century. And yet in calving lagoons such as Bahia San Ignacio, Mexico, they’re known as the “friendly whales,” coming right up to small whale watch boats with their babies, allowing people to pet them. The Eastern North Pacific grays are also a poster child for species recovery, being the only whale population ever to be taken off the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
For information on current gray whale sightings and tours:
Island Adventures Whale Watching, Everett: http://www.island-adventures.com/whale-watching-tours (800) 465-4604
Mystic Sea Charters, Langley: https://www.mysticseacharters.com/index.php?page=gray_whales_march_april (800) 308-9387
Prince of Whales Whale Watching, Victoria, BC: http://www.princeofwhales.com (250) 383-4884
San Juan Island Whale & Wildlife Tours, Friday Harbor: http://www.discoveryseatours.ca (360) 298-0012
Puget Sound Express, Port Townsend: http://www.pugetsoundexpress.com/http://www.clippervacations.com (360) 385-5288
Deception Pass Tours, Oak Harbor: http://www.deceptionpasstours.com/whale-watching-tours (888) 909-8687
Victoria Clipper, Seattle: http://www.clippervacations.com/whalewatching/packages/gray-whale-watching (800) 888-2535
HOW TO HELP: For all those who want to help the whales, become a Member of The Center for Whale Research! The Pacific Whale Watch Association is proud to be a longtime supporter of Ken Balcomb and his team. Help them help the whales. www.whaleresearch.com