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National Marine Mammal Laboratory (NMML)

California Current Program

Gray Whale Surveys off Kodiak Island

  gray whale

gray whale

gray whale
Figure 2.  Gray whales off Kodiak Island.  Photo by Merrill Gosho.

Gray whale surveys were completed near Ugak Bay off Kodiak Island, Alaska, between 31 August and 5 September 2005. Survey objectives were to assess the abundance of gray whales, collect photo IDs, collect fecal samples, and determine overlap between the large feeding aggregation of gray whales in this part of Alaska and the feeding aggregations in Washington/British Columbia.

Similar surveys were conducted in 2002 and 2003, which focused on photo ID and prey sampling. In 2005, we photographed 190 gray whales (Fig. 2) and collected fecal samples from 26 of them, compared to photographs of 70 whales in 2002 and 12 in 2003. The photo-ID matching in 2002 found four whales off Kodiak Island which were also found in Washington/British Columbia waters and three individuals in 2003. Because of the large numbers of whales observed in 2005, it may be possible to estimate the abundance of gray whales in the area using a mark-recapture method based on photographs.

Fecal samples will provide information on gray whale prey and will be compared to earlier samples collected in 2002 when the grays were found to be feeding primarily on Cumaceans (also called lollipop shrimp). The Kodiak gray whale feeding aggregation is unique among Pacific Coast feeding aggregations because of the high densities of whale groups (7-8 individuals compared to 2-3) and the depth of the feeding areas which exceeds 100 m in some locations.

By Pat Gearin


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