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Sperm whale spawn big interest in California Coast

MARINE MAMMALS — There's no wildlife news bigger than this on the West Coat this week:

More than 50 sperm whales emerged off the Southern California coast in an extremely rare, hours-long sighting that had whale watchers and scientists giddy with excitement.

Pods of mothers and juveniles rolled and played with dolphins Monday a few miles off Laguna Beach, the Orange County Register reported. They later were spotted off San Diego and were heading south, said Jay Barlow, a sperm whale expert with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

It’s by far the largest group ever spotted so near to shore in Southern California, Barlow said Tuesday.

  • Adult  males reach 50 feet in length and weigh 60 tons.  Newborn calves are about 13 feet long and weigh 1.1 tons.
  • The Blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) is the largest animal on Earth. The Orca, or Killer whale, grow as long as 31 feet, making it the largest dolphin. The Sperm whale may not be the biggest whale, but it has the biggest brain to have ever existed on Earth.

The massive mammals were spread out over an area of up to 3 square miles and came within inches of boats, said David Anderson, who operates Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Safari sightseeing tours.

Sperm whales are the huge, toothed creatures mentioned in the novel “Moby Dick.” They were hunted nearly to extinction for oil in the 1800s. The whales weigh up to 45 tons and eat about a ton of squid a day. Usually, only one or two adult males show up each summer or fall, while large groups of females normally are found in warmer waters, Barlow said. However, this year has seen a lot of warmer water close to shore, he said.

Travel: Alaska cruise brings a tale of a whale

   I was standing in an alcove on an upper deck about to step out onto the deck of the Carnival cruise ship, the Miracle, when the doors opened and a family blew in. 


   A man and this three sons, each holding an ice-cream cone, lunged forward like the wind had reached out and given them each a shove. The youngest—maybe four years old, definitely no more than 5—was so full of big news he didn’t care that he didn’t know me. 


    He  ran up to me and said, “We saw the tail of a whale!”


    I was impressed. We’d left Seattle the afternoon before and it was just the first morning of our Alaska cruise. 


    “Is this true?” I asked his father. “Or is this just a whale of a tale?”


    The man laughed and said it was true. They’d been walking along the deck when the whale popped up and showed his fluke, his whale tail, before disappearing back into the sea.


    The little boy couldn’t contain himself.


     “The whale breathed up (his arms shot up in the air and the ice-cream wobbled on its cone) “and then he dived down like this” (he scooped his free hand up and then down) “and then his tail came up!”

    As an afterthought he added, “Daddy let us have ice cream for breakfast. 


    Wow. A wave from a whale and an ice cream cone for breakfast. The little boy had just described my perfect day.


    I asked the man if this was their first Alaska cruise and he said it was. He said they live in Texas and they’d come to see Alaska. And whales. They really wanted to see whales and here, just a day into the trip, they’d already had their own private show.


    Several years ago, after my first cruise up the Inside Passage, I decided I want to make the trip every summer. For the rest of my life, if I can swing it.  No two Alaska cruises are ever the same. People from around the world plan and save for years and travel a lot of miles to get there. But living in the Northwest, we’re already halfway there. It’s easy to get on a ship in Seattle or Vancouver, British Columbia, to spend a week looking at some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. 


    I’m working on my Alaska-every-summer plan. This year I was solo but in the company of people of all ages: men, women and children—(lots of children) and large family groups, all ready to go see the sights. And we were off to a good start.


    The boy’s happiness was contagious. I looked at my watch. It was still early, they’d be serving breakfast for another couple of hours… I filled a cone with vanilla ice cream and stepped out onto the deck. The wind whipped my hair as I licked the cone and swept my eyes across the horizon.


    I’d already decided it wasn’t going to take much to turn this into a perfect day. I had my ice cream cone. Now all I needed was a glimpse of the tail of a whale. 

    And like the little boy, I didn’t have to wait long at all.



Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Marine scientists ‘tag’ along with Puget Sound orca

WILDLIFE WATCHING — How far do wintering killer whales cruise in a day in the Puget Sound region:

  1. 10-50 miles
  2. 75-100 miles
  3. 125-200 miles
  4. 300 miles or more
Since Dec. 26, an orca known as L-87 has been covering 75 to 100 miles a day according to a satellite tag attached to the whale.

"It's exciting this time of year because of what we are going to learn," said Brad Hanson, a biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle.

Each year of satellite tagging is filling in more gaps about the winter movements of southern resident killer whales, while also raising new questions about why some travel as far south as Northern California and others may not, he said.

Read on for the Associated Press detailing why scientists are giddy with curiosity.

Orcas, salmon, elk on commission agenda

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT — An update on the status of the Colockum elk herd is among a wide range of topics on the agenda when the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission meets June 7-8 in Olympia.

The commission also will consider:

  • Cabezon sportfishing regulations.
  • Gian Pacific octopus recommendations.
  • Instream flows recommendations
  • Land transactions.
  • Resident killer whales and their relationship with salmon fisheries.
  • Wildlife rehabilitation regulations.
  • Online licensing changes.
  • Hoof disease in southwest Washington elk.

Info: Commission office in Olympia, (360) 902-2267, email commission@dfw.wa.gov.

Court says anti-whaling group must keep 500 yards from ships

MARINE MAMMALS — A U.S. appeals court has ordered American anti-whaling activists to keep 500 yards away from Japanese whaling ships off Antarctica, the Associated Press reports.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued an injunction Monday against the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which sends vessels every December to disrupt whale killings by Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research.

The three-judge panel ordered Sea Shepherd not to attack or approach any of the Japanese vessels until it can rule on the merits of an appeal from whaling groups.

Japan’s whaling fleet kills up to 1,000 whales a year, as allowed by the International Whaling Commission. Japan is permitted to hunt the animals as long as they are killed for research and not commercial purposes.

But whale meat not used for study is sold as food in Japan, and critics say that’s the real reason for the hunts.

Sea Shepherd activists use stink bombs, lasers and other nonlethal means to interfere with the whalers. The group argues that its activities are supported by international law and that American courts don’t have jurisdiction in the Southern Ocean.

In a news release, the group’s president, Paul Watson, said it is evaluating the court’s order.

“I can tell you with complete certainty, however, that Sea Shepherd remains committed to upholding the integrity of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary and ensuring the whalers go home with zero whales killed,” he said.

The organization’s vessels have not yet reached the Southern Ocean, the AP reported today.

Big fines coming for encroaching on orcas

MARINE WILDLIFE — A boater who was caught by the Coast Guard too close to Puget Sound killer whales on Wednesday won’t be penalized, but next summer violators could be fined thousands of dollars, the Associated Press reports.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is working with the Coast Guard and the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department to educate boaters about a 2011 requirement to stay at least 200 yards away from orcas, spokesman Brian Gorman said. Previously it was just a guideline.

“Our intention is to depend on education and warning rather than coming on like gangbusters,” Gorman said.

They’ll make a decision before next summer’s boating season on issuing fines, Gorman said. Civil penalties under the Marine Mammal Protection Act could reach $11,000, and fines under the Endangered Species Act could be as high as $32,500, Gorman said.


Read on for more details from the AP.

Baby orca born, photographed near Puget Sound

WHALE WATCHING — An orca calf, born to the famous J Pod that roams into Puget Sound, was photographed Monday shortly after it was born to an 11-year-old mother.

The killer whales were swimming near the San Juan Islands. See a detailed report here.

See other photos — including some really sweet ones — chronicling the pod's baby whales in recent years.

The photo and whale alerts come from the Center for Whale Research and the Orca Network.

Big news: Blue whales spotted off Washington Coast

MARINE MAMMALS — A record six blue whales, the largest animals on Earth, have been documented cruising off the Washington coast — only the third sighting of the huge species in Washington waters in 50 years.

Read the Seattle Times story about the whale researcher who photographed the big surprise about 25 miles west of Westport.

Ask this surf boarder if whales have bad breath

WHALES — And she didn't even have to pay for a whale-watching tour. Close call.  Check out this short video and tell me what do you think?

New calf swimming with orcas in Puget Sound

MARINE MAMMALS — A newborn calf has been spotted among one of the pods of killer whales returning to the Puget Sound.

The Kitsap Sun reports the baby orca was seen Wednesday, when a majority of the three pods of killer whales returned to the San Juan Islands, as they do each year.

Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research says all the adult orcas in the three pods seem to be accounted for, including one whale that had not been seen since February.

Balcomb says the newborn calf is male and still had his umbilical cord attached on Wednesday. That means he is only days old. His birth brings the total Puget Sound or Southern Resident orca population to 88. The whales are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

Discounts offered on sea kayak whale-waters trips

PADDLING — If a guided sea-kayaking trip to the Vancouver Island area or southeast Alaska has been on your back burner, maybe now's the time to act.

Coeur d'Alene-based Sea Kayak Adventures has just announced discounts on their summer trips oriented to seeing orcas in Canada's Johnstone Strait area ($100 off) or a whales, glaciers and hotsprings trip based out of a mother ship near Sitka (25 percent off).

Offers available through Monday. 

Enforcers watching whale tourist boats for violations

MARINE MAMMALS — In May,  Department of Fish and Wildlife Officers will be back on the water enforcing the laws that protect Puget Sound Orcas.

“There’s an incentive to get close to those whales and give your client that photo of a lifetime,” said the department’s Deputy Chief, Mike Cenci said in a story moved by the Associated Press. “There’s a lot of pressure there.”

On an undercover trip aboard the “Serengeti” out of Victoria, officers recorded the captain giving his philosophy on following the law.

“I’ve had several close passes and it’s not good when enforcement is around but it’s kind of like you speed when the cops aren’t around right?” the captain said.

According to Fish and Wildlife officials, officers were on the water patrolling vessels near the Orcas 15 days out of the entire five-month season.

On the limited patrols last summer officers issued five citations, three of which were issued to commercial whale watch boats.

Read on for details from the AP report.

Follow rare whale’s route along Oregon

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Satellite technology is allowing whale enthusiasts to click here and join researchers in tracking a type of gray whale that spends summers off Russia as it makes its way along the Oregon coast.

Researchers attached a satellite tag to a 13-year-old, male western Pacific gray whale known as Flex on Oct. 4. The whale moved east across the Bering Sea and south through the Aleutian Islands into the Gulf of Alaska.

Read on for details.

It’s Whale Watch Week on Oregon Coast

WILDLIFE WATCHING — While Eagle Watch Week is underway at Lake Coeur d'Alene's Wolf Lodge Bay, Oregon has begun Whale Watch Week on the state's Pacific coastline.

Gray whales have started their winter migration from their feeding areas off Alaska to their calving and breeding waters along Baja California.
Volunteers are staffing about two dozen parks and other sites along the Oregon coast. The locations are marked with signs saying, “Whale Watching Spoken Here.”
Dave Newton with the Depoe Bay Whale Watching Center says an estimated 18,000 whales are migrating. They travel 3-to-5 miles offshore, so visitors are advised to bring binoculars.