Monday, November 30, 2009

Barnacles and Whale Lice

Barnacles are a fact of life for gray whales. There are hundreds of pounds of barnacles on gray whales. These barnacles attach to themselves to gray whales in the lagoons when baby whales are born. Barnacles are on gray whales for as long as they are alive. Barnacles depigment the skin when they attach, when barnades die and fall off they leave a small round white circle or ring. Barnacle scars create a unique pattern on each whale, which can help in identification of the gray whale.

Gray whales also have whale lice which are not true parasites. They feed on the skin and damaged tissue actually helping the whales. Whale lice are orange colored patches around the barnacles and in crevices of the whales body such as creases and the mouth line. To get rid of the whale lice whales rub themselves along the sea bottom or breach. Gray whales feed on the bottom sediments such as amphipods and scrape off barnacles and whale lice as they feed. You can tell if a whale is right or left rostrumed by seeing which side has the barnacles scraped off. Most whales are right rostrumed.

It’s been a great year for us at Dockside but as the winter months approach the ocean conditions change and sometimes the ocean can get rough. Our daily updates for whale watching will be back in the spring. Whale watching for the winter migration will start in mid-December and will be running thru the New Year. I will keep you informed on the migration sightings and how the boat maintenance is going. We look forward to seeing you in 2010.

The Whales Tail has been pulled out of the water for boat and engine maintenance. We will have some new ideas and equipment for next year which we anticipate will make your whale watching better. Keep checking back for weekly updates.

Thank you for visiting our web site, we hope to see you aboard the Whales Tail.

Dockside Charters
270 Coast Guard Pl.
Depoe Bay, Oregon 97341
(541) 765-2545

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Gray Whales Northern Migration

In March whales are returning northward along the Oregon coast. The northbound migration begins with immature animals adult males, and females without calves. These animals pass the Oregon coast from early March through April. Breeding sometimes is observed at this time. Calves usually are rambunctious but stay close to their mothers as they become more coordinated and develop an insulating blubber layer. Calves are at least a month old before they migrate north with their mothers. Mothers and calves are the last to
leave the lagoons and move somewhat more slowly, passing Oregon from late April through June.

During the spring migration, if the weather is good, you can see whales within a few hundred yards of coastal headlands. The full round-trip migration from the Baja calving lagoons to the Bering Sea and back is 10,000 miles, the longest known for any mammal. Other whales also are known to migrate between summer high-latitude feeding grounds and more temperate low-latitude
breeding and calving areas. Researchers know more about the gray whale because it moves close to shore. This movement has led to speculation that gray whales navigate by staying in shallow water or keeping the surf noises to one side or the other, depending on their direction of travel.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Gray Whales Southern Migration

The Whales Tail is a 26' Zodiac style inflatable boat that carries up to 6 people. It was designed specifically for Dockside Charters to give passengers the utmost in sightseeing and whale watching experiences. The Whales Tail is owned and operated by Captains Gary and Kit.

Whale Bits

The Gray Whale Southern Migration

Pregnant females are the first to migrate, followed by mature adults of both sexes and then by juveniles. Whales travel at a rate of up to three to five miles per hour during the southbound migration. It takes them about three weeks to get to Mexico.

Gray whales eat very little while migrating and while in calving areas. Many whales may go without food for three to five months.

The animals travel south to the three major breeding and calving lagoons on the west coast of Baja California, Mexico: Laguna Ojo de Libre, adjacent to Laguna San Ignacio; Guerrero Negro Lagoon and Magdalena Bay.

270 Coast Guard Pl.
Depoe Bay, Oregon 97341
(541) 765-2545 or (800) 733-8915

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Whale Waching Zodiac Style

The "Whales Tail" is a 26' zodiac that carries up to 6 people. It was designed to give passengers a unique whale watching and sightseeing experience with a more personal touch. After a trip on the "Whales Tail" you'll be telling tales of all the whales and wonders you've seen on your adventure.

Trip Rates

1 hour $25.00
11/2 hour $35.00
2 hour $45.00

Daily Trip Times

8:00AM, 9:30AM, 11:00AM, 12:30PM, 2:00PM, 3:30PM, 5:00PM, 6:30PM

Dockside Charters Depoe Bay
270 Coast Guard Pl.
Depoe Bay, Oregon 97341

Phone (541) 765-2545 or Toll Free (800) 733-8915

Monday, November 16, 2009

Gray Whales Feeding Habits

Midspring to midfall is the gray whales feeding season. Most of the whales spend this time off Alaska, although every summer some whales are observed feeding from British Columbia to Mexico. The summer population off the Oregon coast is about 200 to 400, with many of the same whales returning year after year.

There are two basic types of whales, toothed and baleen. The gray whale is a baleen whale. Instead of teeth, they have a row of 130–180 baleen plates that grows along each side of the upper gum line. The baleen is made of material like a human fingernail. Appearing quite stiff and solid at its outer edge, each piece of baleen is fringed inside the mouth and tapers from 3 inches wide at the gum line to nearly a point at its bottom.

Gray whales feed primarily on amphipods, shrimp like animals. They go to the seafloor and suck up an area of the bottom. Sometimes this makes conspicuous holes on the bottom. The amphipods are trapped on the baleen filter inside the mouth, while mud, sand, and water pass between the baleen plates. This is the way the whale washes the amphipods clear of sand and mud. It then uses its tongue to suck the amphipods off the inside of the baleen fringe. Since gray whales filter animals from mud and water, their baleen is stiffer and has coarser fringes than that of other baleen whales.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Whale Watching Guidelines

A growing interest in the observation of whales brings people to the coast to whale watch. Whale watching is something you get better at with practice, but it does take some patience.

Once you have seen what you are looking for, looking for other sightings are much easier, and you will start to see more whales.

When and where
1. Be patience.

2. Observe from headlands with good elevation. When whales move along the shoreline, they usually will go around headlands very close to the shore.

3. Pick early morning hours. Conditions are usually better before winds cause windchop on the water's surface.

4. Choose weather that favors a calm ocean. Don't go during or just after a storm. Overcast days are good for whale watching because there is very little glare.

What to look for
1. Scan the horizon and look for the spouts, water, or spray blown into the air up to 12 feet when the whale exhales.

2. Once you locate a blow, keep looking for it. Where you see one blow, you will see others, either from other whales or the same whale. Getting the range to whales can sometimes be a problem, but once you establish it, you can focus your attention on this area.

3. Whales have periodic blow patterns during their migration. Usually an individual will make up to a 4-6 short, shallow dives before a more prolonged dive of up to 10 minutes, usually 3 to 5 minutes. Sometimes whales leave what I call a foot print on the water after short dives, so you can track their progress and watch for the next blow.

4. Usually, only a portion of the whale's head and back show during a blow. You can distinguish one whale from another by observing the position and shape of the dorsal fin, blow, head, back ridges, and tail. If the tail flukes are raised high, the dive will usually be a deep one. In shallow water, the whale may keep the flukes high for several minutes.

5. Spy Hopping is a term applied to a whale with its head partially out of the water in a vertical position, sometimes bringing the eye above the surface. Whales may do this both to see better and to listen.

6. Breaching is a term we use when a whale rises vertically out of the water, one-half to three-quarters of its length, and falls to its side or back-making a splash when it hits the water. The reasons for breaching are knocking off whale lice, communicating, courting, or just having fun. Often where one whale breaches, others will start to breach.

Identifying whales along the Oregon coast
1. Uneven gray color splotchy with barnacles in skin and ridges along the back just forward of the tail is a gray whale.

2. Long white flippers, with bumps on the top of the head, very strong angle of the back when diving, short dorsal fin is a humpback whale.

3. Tall dorsal fin, very crisp black and white color pattern, often seen in groups is a killer of whales or orca.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Gray Whales, What do they Eat

Gray whales are opportunistic feeders, which means they will eat food from a wide range of sources. Along the coast of Depoe Bay, Oregon, it appears they feed on mysid shrimp found at the edge of kelp beds. Billions of mysids are found in the waters off Depoe Bay. In the Bering and Chukchi Seas in Alaska, they feed on bottom sediments packed with amphipods.

There have been studies that have shown that prey items included anphipods, crab larvae, krill, ghost shrimp, pelagic red crabs, skeleton shrimp, mysids, small fish, polychaete worms and other organisms.

How They Eat:
Gray whales are baleen whales and they are in the Mysticeti category which means moustache whale. In place of teeth on the upper jaw, the Mysticetes have a series of overlapping plates made of keratin its the same substance as your fingernails. The inner margin of each plate, next to the tongue, is fringed with bristles that trap organisms but still allows water to pass through.

Hanging from the top jaw of a gray whale are blonde colored baleen plates about one foot long. The inside edges of these plates have bristles which trap food organisms like mysid shrimp or crab larvae. Like all baleen whales, gray whales draw in food-laden sea water and push it through the baleen plates, filtering out food with the bristles.

Heres how it works:
The gray whale depresses its 2000 pound tongue. This forms a suction and a piston that brings in water and small food items. Once the food-laden water is inside the mouth, the tongue is lifted up and the mysids become trapped on the inside edges of the baleen plates and the water leaves through the openings of the baleen plates. The tongue licks these bristles clean and then the prey move through the grapefruit-sized throat. Two to five throat grooves also expand when the whales feed to increase the surface area. Baleen plates hang from the roof of the mouth and these one foot long baleen plates filter food like mysids from the water.

Where They Eat:
Resident gray whales are most commonly seen feeding in and around kelp beds in water depths of 10 feet. Huge swarms of mysids live in these kelp beds
during spring, summer and early fall. These huge swarms range from 3 to 20 feet thick and have billions of mysids. One gray whale is estimated to eat a ton of these mysids per day. One sign of grays feeding on these mysids is when a partial fluke is exposed at the surface.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Oregon Coast Gray Whales

Off the Oregon Coast we see gray whales every month of the year. There are approximately 18,000 gray whales in the winter and spring migrations and a group of 200-400 whales that feed along the Oregon and Washington coast during fall and summer. In the spring March through June most of these gray whales make the journey from their breeding lagoons in Baja California to Arctic feeding grounds. On this northbound migration, small numbers of gray whales fall out of the migration group and stop at various locations along the Oregon coast. These whales are called resident whales.

For whales to be known as residents, they must stay around a certain area for at least two days, exhibit feeding behavior, and return year after year.This distinguishes them from migrating whales which stop on their migration and feed then move on their way.

Along the central Oregon coast, resident gray whales begin showing up in May. On any one day throughout the summer, numbers range from one to 20. Some arrive in early summer, leave, and then return in late summer or early fall.

Resident gray whales remain around Newport or Depoe Bay for a period of days to months. Some residents don’t show up for a year or more, there is one whale “Scarback” who been around for at least 17 years.The last of the residents leave in October or November and return to the breeding lagoons of Baja California to rejoin the remainder of the population.