Ms. Tatarian’s class from Ambuehl Elementary was so great to work with last Friday. They showed up already in research groups and ready to go! And nature rewarded them for their efforts… Not only did we see our first Northbound gray whale and common dolphins, but we were visited by a group of Pacific white-sided dolphins too (we call them “lags”… find out why, here). Three species in one day! It was pretty exciting.

We left the dock at 10:05 a.m. with the tide coming in, under clear skies and on smooth seas. Our Cover Sheet for the trip is displayed below. The Cover Sheet is where we record the details of our trip, including the environmental conditions, sea surface temperature, and time “on effort” (the amount of time we spend on the water actively searching for marine mammals).

Our first sighting was a huge pod of common dolphins. You can see their location in the GPS track below. The arrow marks the waypoint where our sighting started, and the pin to the left of it shows our waypoint at the end of the sighting. As you can see, these dolphins were gradually making their way up coast. We were in about 200 fathoms of water. The scholars and I estimated there were at best 500 dolphins in this pod! We got to observe a lot of leaping and breaching behavior – this was a particularly active and energetic group. These dolphins also gave the students a chance to practice some data collection (see sighting form below) before we encountered any gray whales. We stayed with the dolphins from 10:30 to 10:50 a.m.

We then moved up coast, closer to shore, in search of a gray whale. Before long, we were visited by the Pacific White-sided dolphins! Check out these photos.

We cruised along with the Lags for a while as they traveled down coast, and I documented the sighting and their location. I thought it was important to give the scholars a chance to just experience observing the animals and being in their presence, so I told them to put down their clipboards and stopwatches and just enjoy the moment.

Suddenly Capt. Corey announced he’d spotted a gray whale, heading north! This was the first northbound whale of our season!! We were in only about 10 fathoms of water (60 ft.) and recorded respiration rates on the whale from 11:27 to 11:39 a.m. Its patterns were pretty typical – two quick breaths at the surface (approximately 20 sec. between each), followed by a deep dive that was preceded by a fluke two of three times. Judging by our boat speed, this whale was traveling at a speed of about 4.16 mph. As we were observing, the Lags caught up with us and remained near the shore. The whale moved closer to shore, possibly  in response to their presence. We stayed with the whale for three cycles, leaving it on its third deep dive to head back to the dock (see the pins near the coast in our transect track to see where the sighting started and ended). This whale’s average deep dive time was only 2 minutes 53 seconds.

What an exciting day! And the gray whales are heading North!

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