Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Gray Whales (Eschrichtius robustus)

The gray whale is the most common large whale seen from shore along the west coast of North America. Gray whales are found off the Oregon coast all year. They feed in shallow water near shore during the summer and fall, migrate south for breeding and calving during the winter, and migrate north in the spring. The gray whale gets its name from its blotchy color pattern. Some of this pattern is present at birth, but most of it is caused by barnacles growing in the skin or by depigmented areas where barnacles have been.

Gray whales reach 45 feet in length and weigh 35 tons. For comparison, a cross-country bus is 40 feet long. Adult females on average are larger than males. Whales are mammals. They are warm blooded, breathe air, have hair (single hairs around the front of the head that are visible on calves), and give birth to live young that suckle on milk from their mothers. Mid spring to mid fall is the gray whales feeding season. Most of the population spends this time in the Bering and Chukehi Seas 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 animals, with many of the same individuals returning year after year. Summer feeding is better at higher latitudes because the long days produce lots of phytoplankton (small marine plants), which are eaten by zooplankton (small marine animals).

These are the basic food for all ocean life, stimulating the growth of the marine food web, including bottom-dwelling amphipods, the primary prey of gray whales. There are two basic types of whales: toothed and baleen. The gray whale is a baleen whale. Instead of true teeth, a row of 138-180 baleen plates grows along each side of the upper gum line. The baleen is made of material like a human fingernail. These are 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. These plates are separated by approximately ¼ inch inside the mouth, where their fringes overlap to form an effective screen.

Gray whales feed primarily on benthic (bottom-dwelling) amphipods (shrimp like animals). They go to the seafloor and suck up an area of the bottom about the size of a desktop and a foot deep. Sometimes this makes conspicuous pits 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, December 21, 2009

Harbor Seals and Sea Lions

Harbor Seals
Harbor seals are the most commonly seen seals along Oregon’s coast. Their population is increasing because of federal law protection along the U.S. coast.

Size: Average five feet in length; adult males weigh around 200 pounds and females 170 pounds.

Description: Most are bluish-gray with black spots and irregular white rings and loops.
Habitat: Temperate, ice-free coastal waters of the North Pacific and North Atlantic oceans; found from Alaska south to Baja, California in eastern Pacific.

Behavior: Spend equal amounts of time on land and sea, are graceful swimmers, but movement on land is clumsy. Seldom venture far from water; often seen resting on bay and estuary sandbars at low tide. Move in wriggling manner on land, pulling their bodies along with their short fore limbs. Haul-out areas on protected tidal rocks and reefs along outer coast are hubs of daily activity and annual cycles, providing for resting, reproductive activities, births, caring for the young, and the annual molt. Can dive to 600 feet and remain underwater for 12-15 minutes. Make little noise. Considered non-migratory.

Diet: Herring, smelt, flatfishes, lampreys, sculpins, squid and octopus.
Lifespan: Up to 20 years.

California Sea Lions
The California sea lion has thick fur plus a dense layer of under-hairs that stay dry when the animal is underwater and a thick layer of blubber to help maintain its body temperature.

Size: Males weigh an average of 800 pounds and are seven to eight feet long. Females weigh much less, around 200 pounds and measure an average of five feet in length.

Discription: Mature males have dark red or chocolate brown fur that may appear black when wet. Females retain a light brown fur coloring. Males develop sagital crests, bony bumps on the top of their skulls that turn lighter as they age. A long snout gives the California sea lion an almost dog-like face.

Habitat: Bays, estuaries and waters near shore, from southern Mexico to southwestern Canada. Most of population migrates to southern California and Baja peninsula during breeding season. Females are joined by males during the breeding season, May-August.

Behavior: Males migrate to winter feeding areas off Oregon, Washington and Canada, sometimes taking over docks, piers and marinas. Seldom travel more than 10 miles offshore. Usually haul out on beaches or rocky shorelines in closely packed groups. Walk on land with rear flippers tucked under them. Sometimes seen floating together on the ocean surface, with flippers in air, in an action called “rafting”. Very vocal, make barking sounds.

Diet: Squid, Octopus, schooling fish, rockfish, salmon.
Lifespan: 17-18 years, predators are orcas and great white sharks.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

White-Sided Dolphin and Porpoise

Pacific White-sided Dolphin
The Pacific white-sided dolphin is common in offshore waters along the Pacific Northwest. They have a distinctive pattern of white, gray and black. The two most distinguishing features are the rather blunt beak and the rear-pointing dorsal fin, which is dark on the leading edge and pale gray on the trailing edge. They do not make a distinct blow, but often splash about producing sprays that resemble a blow. They are commonly seen in groups of 10-50 leaping acrobatically, surfing ocean waves, bow riding and “porpoising” in unison. Pacific white-sided dolphins feed on a variety of small fishes and squid, consuming about 20 pounds of food per day. Calving and mating occur from late spring to fall with gestation estimated at nine to 12 months. Adults are about seven feet long and weigh about 200 pounds.

Harbor Porpoise
The Harbor porpoise is very common in coastal waters of less than 600 feet. They are very shy, seldom showing much of themselves above water and almost never performing acrobatics like the dolphins. The best way to identify them is by their small gray body, shy behavior and the rather distinctive sound they make when they breathe. When a harbor porpoise breaks the surface, it makes a quick sneezing sound. They usually live in small groups of two to five individuals. Harbor porpoises feed in mid-water or near the bottom on small fish such as anchovies and herring. Mating usually occurs in early summer with gestation taking 11 months. Adults are about five feet long and weigh about 130 pounds.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Orca Whales / Killer of Whales

• An Odontoceti (toothed) mammal also known as the killer whale.
• Is largest member of the dolphin family, but mistakenly called one of the great whales because of its size.
• Found in all oceans of the world in “transient,” “resident,” and “offshore” family groups called pods.
• “Resident” pods have smaller home range and feed predominantly on fish.
• “Offshore” pods are smaller and seldom seen; little is known about them.
• “Transient” pods tend to travel over wider area and are occasionally seen off the Oregon coast, feed primarily on marine mammals, including juvenile Gray whales.
• Live in a matriarchal society, offspring living and traveling with mothers, sometimes after becoming fully grown.
• Individual pods often work together as teams to catch meals.
• Have well developed senses of hearing and vision, use echolocation, emitting high pitched clicks, bouncing sound off objects to locate prey, communicate with each other using clicks and whistles.
• Have a single blowhole near the top of the head, blow is a single, low bushy cloud.
• Teeth are large, enamel, conical shaped, and grow in both the upper and lower jaws.
• Upper body is mostly black with individually distinctive white patches behind eye and dorsal fin, underside is white (white patches and dorsal fin allow identification of individual whales); have a tall dorsal fin, measuring up to six feet in males and three feet in females.
• Mature males may grow to 28-30 feet and the female up to 26 feet.
• Males mature at about 12-16 years old, females at 6-10 years. Gestation is believed to last 15 to 18 months.
• Males live to 50-60 years, longer-lived females may live 80-90 years.
• Have no natural predators, whalers continue to hunt them, but not in large numbers.
• Susceptible to disease and interference of reproduction caused by pollution and chemical contamination. (San Juan residents listed as endangered because of high deaths attributed to pollution.)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Conservation and Status of the Gray Whale

Three distinct populations of Gray Whales once existed. The north Atlantic population is now extinct, and the western Pacific population along the Russian and Asian coast may be depleted beyond recovery. The eastern Pacific population along the Canadian, U.S. and Mexican coastline was hunted to the brink of extinction in the 1850s after the discovery of the calving lagoons and again in the early 1900s when floating factories were introduced. Observers estimated that only a few thousand remained in 1900.

In 1947, the International Whaling Commission granted Gray Whales full protection, allowing only aboriginal peoples to hunt them for subsistence. Fifty years later, the eastern north Pacific Gray whale population appeared to have recovered, leading to the whale’s removal from the U.S. Endangered Species list in 1994. Some reports show the number reaching a pre-exploitation level of 26,000 in 1998. Since then, the number has declined to approximately 18,000. No one knows for sure, but some scientists believe the Gray Whale’s environment can only sustain this number. Despite its removal from the endangered list, the Gray Whale continues to be threatened by:

• Whaling by aboriginal people in Russia (180 taken annually)
• Deaths resulting from entanglement in fishing gear and boat strikes
• Loss of breeding grounds and food supplies
• Pollution, chemicals and garbage, especially plastics dumped in the ocean
• Commercial activity such as offshore drilling
• Predator attacks. (Orcas are the only natural predators of Gray Whales.)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Gray Whale (Behavior)

A small percentage of Gray whales feed off the Oregon coast in the summer. Their primary food source is mysid shrimp, which swarm in abundance near the bottom of the kelp beds. During this shallow water feeding behavior, watchers can often see one half of the tail fluke above water while the whale is head down in a kelp bed. The half fluke looks very much like a shark fin.

Records from the whaling industry indicate that this species usually does not feed during its migration or winter calving periods. They can lose up to 30 percent of their body weight between feeding seasons. Whales have been observed coming to the surface with mud streaming from their baleen in the calving areas and along the migration route. Such behavior may indicate attempts at feeding or training the calves to feed.

Gray whales are noted for their protective behavior toward their calves. They were called “devil fish” by early Yankee whalers who had their ships rammed and sometimes sunk after the whalers harpooned a calf to entice the mother closer. Now they are considered the “friendliest” of whales, often curiously approaching anglers and whale watching boats.

When a Gray whale comes to the surface, its blow or spout is a double-plumed, misty jet of vapor, rising 6 to 12 feet, that can often be seen against the horizon. The blow is not a fountain of water, but a mist of condensed warm moist air exhaled under high pressure from the lungs. The whale can expel 400 liters of air in a single blast.

Generally, gray whales are slow swimmers, averaging three to five mph during migration. They have a rhythmic breathing pattern. Normally they will make three to five short, shallow dives of less than a minute each and then a long, deep dive. A general rule is one short dive and a blow for every minute spent in a deep dive. This repeated breathing pattern enables the whales to store up oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide built up during a long dive. In a single breath, 80 to 90 percent of the air in their lungs is exchanged compared to 10 to 20 percent in land mammals.

Feeding dives may range from 3 minutes up to 15 minutes. They can stay under water for 30 minutes if they need to. If they are frightened, they can hide on the bottom or travel great distances underwater. Sometimes they dive and reappear a quarter of a mile away.

Whales have the largest brain of any animal on earth. They are curious and often seen “spyhopping”, or lifting their heads above the surface of the water. They like to rise up and get a better look at their surroundings.

When a Gray whale lifts its tail flukes out of the water, it is going into a deep dive. This action, called sounding or fluking, helps propel the whale downward at a steep angle to the bottom where they feed on small crustaceans. After the flukes disappear under the water, the turbulence of the dive will cause a circle of smooth water, known as a fluke-print.

The ultimate in whale sightings is a breach, which occurs when a whale launches as much as ¾ of its body out of the water in a spectacular show of power and grace. Scientists are not sure why whales breach. They speculate that they do it to remove parasites, communicate with each other, or just do it for fun. Gray whales are not known for breaching nearly as often as their cousins, the humpback. Young Gray whales seen along the Oregon coast seem to breach the most frequently.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

New Sweatshirts 2010

Next year 2010 we will be selling sweatshirts, this is how the back of the sweatshirt will look. There is also our logo on the front that says:

Whales Tail
Dockside Charters
Depoe Bay, Oregon

Colors: Gray, Forest Green Hooded, Moroon, Yellow, Black, and Navy Blue
Sizes: 3X, 2X, XL, Lg, and Med.
Price: $25.00

Cool Looking, see Gary or Kit

Here are some other ideas we are looking into:
1. Hydrophone
2. Taking videos of your trip
3. Webcam

We look forward to seeing you aboard the "Whales Tail"

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

Gray Whales Reproduction

Gray whales reach sexual maturity between 5 and 11 years of age (average eight years), or when they reach 36-39 feet in length. Breeding can occur from December to April. Although sometimes seen on the southward migration, most mating behavior is observed in Baja and on the northward migration. Females are frequently seen in the company of two males (termed a “courting triad”). Females trying to avoid copulation frequently roll onto their backs with their flippers extended to avoid male advances. Females must roll to an upright position periodically to breathe, however, at which times males attempt copulation.

Gray whales are solitary in nature. They come together during the mating season but do not form family units. Calves stay with their mother until they are weaned, usually by October. A single calf is born in late December to early February after a gestation period of about 12 months. Most females bear a calf once every two years. A newborn calf is about 15 feet long and weighs about one ton. Calves are nursed for six to eight months on fat rich (53 percent) milk and grow very rapidly during this time. The
mother and calf will stay in the Baja area for up to two months while the calf builds up stamina and a layer of blubber for insulation during migration.

Feeding habits
Gray whales have 130-180 baleen plates (up to 18 inches long) growing down from each side of their upper jaw. Composed of material resembling a human fingernail, the baleen plates are three inches wide at the top and taper to a point. Gray whales have the stiffest of all baleen and are the only whales known to feed extensively on bottom dwelling animals. While in the Bering and Chuckchi Seas, Gray whales feed on amphipods (shrimp-like creatures), as well as mysid shrimp, mollusks, tubeworms and hydroids. The main food source is amphipods (about the size of an M&M) that live in the top ¾ inches of the bottom sediment.

Some whales have been observed with fewer barnacles and more abrasions on one side of the head, indicating that they use one side more frequently while skimming the bottom. To feed, the whale turns on its side (usually right side), dives to the bottom and sucks up mud and sediment in a pulsing fashion, leaving head- sized depressions (about the size of a desktop) in the mud. As it closes its mouth, it expels water and sediment through the baleen plates, trapping the food on the inside before licking it off with their huge tongue and swallowing it.

Researchers have calculated that Gray whales need to consume seven percent of their body weight (about 2,600 pounds) per day. Concentrations of 12,000 to 20,000 amphipods per square yard have been found in the southern Chuckchi and northern Bering Seas where the majority of the whales feed during the sunimet One Gray whale eats about 396,000 pounds of amphipods in the approximately five months while feeding in northern waters.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Gray Whales Dec.11, 2009

Distribution and Migration
The Gray Whale is the most common large whale seen from the western shores of North America. The Gray Whales that migrate along our coast are the eastern north Pacific population. This group migrates south to Baja California in the fall and north to the Bering and Chuckchi Seas in the spring. During these migrations, about 80 percent can be seen within five miles of shore. Approximately 200 feed in shallow waters close to shore from northern California to British Columbia during the summer and early fall.
Gray Whales have one of the longest known migrations of any mammal, up to 6,000 miles in each direction. Their near-shore migration has led to speculation that these animals may not be good navigators. They tend to travel farther from shore during and after stormy weather with high surf. Scientists hypothesize that they may navigate by the sound of the pounding surf, keeping it on their left side while migrating south and on their right while migrating north. When the surf is pounding, they may be able to hear the sounds much farther from shore.

Migration south
After feeding during the summer and fall in the Bering and Chuckchi Seas, the entire Gray whale population migrates south to the calving and breeding lagoons of Baja, California. This southward migration begins in late October, passing by the Oregon coast from December through January. The pregnant females are the first to migrate, followed by the adult breeding males and females, and lastly the juveniles. This southern migration usually peaks off the Oregon coast from late December through early January, with up to 30 whales passing per hour. By mid-February, most of the whales have left Oregon waters. On their southern route, Gray Whales travel continuously at speeds up to five mph and are generally seen farther from shore than during their spring migration.

Migration north
Spread out over a longer period with two separate peaks, the northward migration begins from Baja in late February and continues through May. The number of adults and juveniles passing the Oregon coast peaks in March and April, mother/calf pairs peak in May. The whales tend to travel at a slower rate of speed northward (approximately three mph) and come closer to shore, especially mothers with calves. Sometimes adults and calves perform spectacular breaches to the delight of lucky whale watchers

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.

Join us on an exciting and exhilarating whale watching excursion. The Whales Tail offers a unique vantage point that puts you "up close and personal" for observing Oregon's resident gray whales as they feed along the shores of Depoe Bay. Don't be surprised if you notice the whales watching you as intently as you watch them.

Gary or Kit will provide you with a once in a lifetime experience that is not to be missed. After a trip on the Whales Tail you'll be telling tales of all the whales and wonders you've seen on your adventure off Depoe Bay.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

About Gray Whales

Scientific name
Eschrichtius robustus (ess-SCHRICK-tee-yuss-roe-BUSS-tuss).
Named by J.E. Gray, means “Robustus” is Latin for “strong” or “robust.”

Gray whales, the most commonly seen whales along the Oregon coast, are the most primitive of the baleen whales. Their average life expectancy is 50 years, but researchers have discovered a pregnant female estimated at more than 80 years old.

• Size: As adults, females are generally 45 feet long and weigh 35 tons. Mature males measure up to 35 feet long and weigh from 17-30 tons.

• Coloring: Ranges from mottled gray to black, covered with lighter colored abrasions, blotches, scars, white barnacles and orange whale lice. Some of the lighter coloring is natural, with scarring from barnacles, orca attacks, or encounters with boat propellers causing the remainder. Barnacles covering large areas of their heads and backs can make them appear almost white. These natural color patterns, barnacles and scarring from various sources make it possible to identify individual whales.

• Head: About one-fifth the body length. Appears V-shaped when viewed from above. Upper jaw is narrow and slightly arched. Two to five deep, broad furrows are in the region of the throat, allowing the mouth cavity to expand when feeding.

• Blowholes: When exhaling, sends spout of condensed air, or “blow,” six to 12 feet in the air. When whale is coming toward you or moving away, spout from its two blowholes can appear as a “V,” or heart- shaped.

• Dorsal Hump: Instead of a dorsal fin, the Gray whale has a dorsal hump and a series of six to 12 small humps called “knuckles” along the dorsal ridge to its tail.

• Tail: Measures as much as 10 feet across from tip to tip and is deeply notched in the center.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Strandings of Marine Mammals

Strandings can be live or dead, a single animal or a group of related individuals. Causes can be anything from a calf separated from its mother in heavy weather to death from old age. Mortal contact with vessels, oil spills, and entanglement in fishing gear are common anthropogenic (human-caused) events which can lead to a stranding.

Responding to a Stranding
Safety is first. These are wild animals in a stressed condition. They do bite. Some can carry diseases which can be transmitted to pets and humans.
Reporting a stranding is the best way to help stranded animals. It also provides biologists valuable opportunities to study the animals and their environment.

1. Keep people and dogs away.
2. Observe and report to an official agency.
3. Identify, distinguish between a baleen whale and a toothed whale, seal or sea lion or otter. Estimate size, note color, and comment on the nature of vocalizations.
4. Is the animal dead or alive, lethargic, injured, bleeding, or entangled.
5. Be as precise as possible, making note of landmarks and beach accessibility.
6. Are tags on the mammal, on which flipper do they appear? What color are they? Can you safely read the tag numbers?

1. Move, Touch, or Disturb the animal.
2. Try to drive animals back into the water.
3. Pour water on a seal, sea lion, or sea otter.
4. Try to feed any wild animal.

Marine mammals are protected by federal law. It is illegal for unauthorized persons to disturb, handle, or feed them. It is also illegal to collect or possess parts of marine mammals from dead strandings.