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April-June 2006
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Washington Gray Whale Surveys

gray whale fluke
Figure 1.  The fluke of a gray whale near Ozette Island, Washington.  Photo by Merril Gosho.

gray whale markings, see caption
Figure 2.  Natural markings on the left side of a gray whale off Neah Bay, Strait of Juan de Fuca.  Photo by Merril Gosho.


In 1996, NMML began surveys to count and identify individual gray whales which were present in Pacific Northwest waters from May to November. These gray whales were believed to be “summer residents” which appeared at the same locations year after year to feed. However, it was determined that only some of the whales actually returned to the area annually and that many of the whales observed were newcomers and were seen only once. Many of the whales were known to feed also in other areas off northern California, Oregon, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, and Kodiak Island, Alaska. This group of gray whales, consisting of whales which do not feed in the Bering Sea from June to November, is now known as the Pacific Coast Feeding Aggregation.

In May 2006, vessel surveys for gray whales were started along the northern Washington coast and western Strait of Juan de Fuca. On 4 May, 19 gray whales were sighted along the Washington coast both inshore and offshore. The inshore whales were foraging, while the offshore whales were traveling north. In early June, a group of four gray whales were observed foraging off Yellow Bank, south of Cape Alava. In mid-June, a group of three to four whales were sighted between Ozette Island and White Rock (Fig. 1). An additional gray whale was sighted off Third Beach in the Strait of Juan de Fuca (Fig. 2).

The unique natural markings on the sides and flukes of gray whales enable researchers to identify individuals. The photographs collected this year will be matched to other observers’ photographs in the region and also will be compared with photographs from previous years. The gray whale surveys will continue into November 2006.

By Merril Gosho

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