The majority of California gray whales migrate from wintering areas in Baja California, Mexico, to feeding grounds in the Bering Sea. However, some gray whales do not complete the long migration but remain and feed in various inshore locations along the migration route from California to British Columbia and beyond during summer and fall. We have studied these whales in collaboration with Cascadia Research Collective and other researchers to estimate their abundance, distribution, survival, and movements. Additional studies using tissues collected from biopsies have also investigated pollutant loads and genetics. This information has been used to help evaluate the potential impact of the proposed Makah Indian Tribe’s gray whale hunt along the northern Washington coast.
Issues & Justification
Past surveys of gray whales along Oregon, Washington, and the west coast of Vancouver Island produced the basic knowledge we needed to develop the environmental impact statement and harvest management of gray whales. It is essential that we continue photo-identification studies of gray whales in the Pacific coast feeding area to improve our understanding of site fidelity and within-year and between-year movements of gray whales to help refine our estimates of gray whale abundance in the feeding area and the recruitment rate of new whales. Concurrent photo-identification surveys by collaborating researchers along the west coast will provide detailed gray whale distribution data to expand the research conducted in northern Washington and off Vancouver Island.