SPLASH: Progress Report – Summer/feeding areas 2004

31 August 2004

Sampling of North Pacific humpback whales for the SPLASH research program continues into the second sampling season (summer feeding areas in 2004). Initial surveys were completed in winter 2004 on breeding grounds in Asia, Hawaii, Mexico, and Central America and photographs and data from that effort are being compiled and compared. Sampling is currently underway and nearing completion on the summer feeding grounds off the west coast of the U.S., British Columbia, SE Alaska, Gulf of Alaska, Aleutians, and Russia. This progress report reviews the status of this summer sampling effort in 2004.

Sampling during the summer feeding season has gone extremely well and already exceeds the total target number of identifications. Through late August, approximately 3,000 idenfications and almost 700 biopsies had been collected of humpback whales on feeding grounds (Table 1). Identifications have not yet been screened for quality or for internal duplicates, which will lower the total number of usable unique individuals represented. Sampling in most areas remains underway and in many cases additional opportunistic identifications have been obtained that are not included in these totals. The summary bellow reviews the progress of sampling in each of the major feeding regions.

West Coast US – Cascadia Research

Surveys have been conducted along a broad area of the west coast by Cascadia Research using several platforms and with additional contributions from a number of sources. Effort has been conducted in a number of areas off California as well as off Washington and these are summarized by region below.


Surveys off California by Cascadia on 27 days (some of these in conjunction with other activities) have yielded about 200 identifications and 26 biopsies to date. These have come from a variety of locations with good samples from three regions including from around Pt Sal off southern California, between Monterey Bay and Half-Moon Bay in central California, and in the Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank off northern California. Even though this already exceeds the target number of identifications, we anticipate a much larger sample by the end of the season since late summer/fall tends to be the most productive time for effort off California due to more favorable weather patterns.

 Not included in the effort and identifications above are a number of additional more opportunistic sources will be used to obtain additional identification photographs:

1.      The Naturalist Corps working with the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary has been obtaining identifications of humpback and blue whales in the Santa Barbara Channel as part of their work aboard whale-watching vessels. Cascadia trained them in photographic identification for SPLASH in May 2004.

2.      Additional opportunistic identifications are being obtained by naturalists in southern California.

3.      Nancy Black and Peggy Stapp are obtaining identification photographs in the Monterey Bay area incidental to whale watching.


Sampling has also been conducted very successfully off the Washington coast especially in the northern portion along the border with British Columbia. SPLASH sampling was conducted in May based from a NOAA ship and deployed RHIB during surveys off Washington conducted with the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (OCNMS). This yielded an estimated 41 identifications and 14 biopsies of humpback whales along the Washington/British Columbia border. An additional 26 idenfications and 2 biopsies were obtained off Washington during dedicated surveys in Cascadia RHIBs.

 One of the earliest identification humpback whales that was identified in Washington was from an unusual area, a small humpback whale that spent several weeks in Puget Sound near the town of Tacoma. This animal was identified and biopsies on 17 May 2004. Humpback whales only are reported in Puget Sound about every other year, although the were there historically and occasionally stay for extended periods of time (Calambokidis and Steiger 1990).

 Additional identifications from near the Washington/British Columbia border have been collected by several other groups and are not included in the regional totals above:

1.      SWFSC obtained additional identifications at the start of their cruise on 29-30 June (about 23 identifications and 3 biopsies).

2.      Brian Gisborne, working in collaboration with DFO and Cascadia, has been obtaining humpback whale identifications from the border area.

3.      Some additional identifications have been obtained by Nathan Pamplin of the Makah Tribe and Sally Mizroch of NMML.

We anticipate additional identifications in this region from two to three additional surveys planned later in the season in this region.

British Columbia – Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Sampling in British Columbia has been going well with over 400 identifications of humpback whales and 68 biopsies through late August. The effort has included sampling in a wide variety of regions within British Columbia, which will be important because of the uncertain population structure of humpback whales within BC waters. Effort in BC waters has included:

1.      An estimated 90 IDs and 20 biopsies obtained mostly around the Queen Charlotte Islands during a DFO survey based from the Tully from 10 to 23 May.

2.      An estimated 119 identifications from W. Hecate Strait during surveys conducted by DFO and Parks Canada from 3-8 June.

3.      An estimated 50 identifications and 15 biopsies collected from northern BC near Langara Island from 15 to 21 June.

4.      An estimated 177 identifications and 33 biopsies from northern Vancouver Island and southern Queen Charlottes during a joint Cascadia Research/DFO survey based from the Curve of Time from 13-18 August.

             Totals above do not include identifications made off British Columbia during the SWFSC SPLASH cruise headed north in late June and early July. They reported good success in identification of humpback whales off the southern Queen Charlotte Islands. Additional surveys are planned for British Columbia include another sampling in September around Langara Island and a late fall cruise aboard the Tully that will likely focus on inside waters due to weather. Finally, the SWFSC cruise will be transiting southbound past British Columbia at the end of the season.

Southeastern Alaska – Jan Straley, UAS and NPS

Sampling in southeastern Alaska has gone extremely well to date with close to 900 identifications and 125 skin samples collected through late August. These surveys have been conducted with a variety of platforms in a number of areas. The most difficult challenge has been obtaining identifications in offshore waters where weather is more of a problem.  Only 42 IDs were gathered from areas defined as 3 miles offshore of southeastern Alaska (this is the state/federal boundary and was arbitrarily chosen), however, the MacArthur2 covered  this area, as well.  Other IDs (80) were taken along the outer coast within 3 miles of shore from Dixon Entrance to Cross Sound.  The rest (772) were gathered from inside waters. Surveys are being coordinated by Jan Straley of UAS and will also involve the continuing effort of Chris Gabriele around Glacier Bay National Park. Components of the effort included:

1.      Surveys that began on 1 May in northern SEAK, Lynn Canal, with small boat surveys in areas where eulachon are gathering prior to spawning and humpbacks are known to concentrate. 

2.      Effort from 15 May to 11 June 2004  based from the 104 foot S/V Ragland (with a 16 foot rigid hull inflatable skiff). These surveyed both inside and outside waters from Sitka Sound down to Dixon Entrance and back.

3.      Effort from 8-16 July 2004 Phalarope along the outside waters north from Sitka along western Chichagof and Yakobi Islands and Cross Sound.

4.      Effort working from the Ragland from 16 to 27 July in and around Tenakee Inlet, Chatham Strait, upper Stephens Passage and Lynn Canal

5.      Surveys in and around Sitka Sound, Icy Strait, and other inside waters using several smaller platforms through the summer,

6.      Surveys 6-20 August in conjunction with University of Alaska Fairbanks Sea Grant funded scarring study in central southeastern Alaska to Icy Strait (to collect biopsies) and continuing south along the outside waters of northern SEAK.  This provided large numbers of IDs and samples in Fredrick Sound and Stephens Passage.

  1. Approximately 300 identifications have been made in the Glacier Bay area by Chris Gabriele in effort being conducted by the National Park Service. Because of the effort in a concentrated area, an estimated 200 of these may be resightings of individuals.

 Additional effort not included above is planned or is not included above including:

  1. NMML survey using the Cobb in July surveying southern southeastern Alaska,
  2. SWFSC SPLASH cruise obtained identifications while northbound in early July and will transit the area headed south in October.
  3. Volker Deecke obtained humpback photographs while conducting surveys for killer whales in northern southeastern Alaska.

Gulf of Alaska/Aleutian coastal surveys – North Gulf Oceanic Society

Surveys in coastal waters of the Gulf of Alaska have occurred from a wide variety of platforms and have involved the efforts of a number of people and organizations. Coastal effort in the Gulf of Alaska and Aleutians is being handled through a subcontract to North Gulf Oceanic Survey (NGOS, Craig Matkin) and coordinated with the help of Kate Wynn and Bree Witteveen.

             To date and estimated 494 identifications and 97 biopsies have been obtained from this coastal effort. Components of this work will include:

1.      An estimated 80 identifications and 30 biopsies have been obtained during dedicated effort along the Kenai Peninsula including Prince William Sound by NGOS and effort in PWS by Olga von Ziegesar.

2.      An estimated 135 identifications and 17 biopsies have been obtained in the Barren Islands from dedicated effort by Craig Matkin and opportunistic effort by Ginger Strong from the Rainbow Connection.

3.      An estimated 386 identifications and 57 biopsies have been obtained around northern Kodiak Island by Bree Witteveen and Kate Wynne.

4.      An estimated 75 identifications and 14 biopsies were obtained in around the Shumagin Islands.

5.      A minimum of 180 identifications and 30 biopsies have been obtained through late August in the eastern Aleutian Islands through extending the effort of NGOS crews conducting killer whale surveys.

             Surveys are still underway and so the totals above do not include additional effort planned along the east side of Kodiak Island and continuing effort in most of the above areas. Also not included above is the systematic and offshore effort of the SPLASH ship surveys being conducted by SWFSC (see below) and other surveys being conducted aimed at killer whales by NMML.

Russia – North Pacific Wildlife Consulting

Surveys for humpback whales on feeding grounds off Russia were conducted from 18 July to 19 August and obtained 48 identifications and 30 biopsy samples of humpback whales. These surveys were conducted under subcontract to North Pacific Wildlife Consulting LLC (Alexander Burdin) and included the participation of Jeff Jacobsen. Identifications were primarily made off the Kamchatka Peninsula (34 IDs and 20 samples) and around the Commander Islands (14 IDs and 10 samples). Surveys coverage was hampered by breakdowns in the survey vessel, which limited the amount the area covered.

SPLASH ship surveys off Canada and Alaska – SWFSC

SWFSC has been conducting a large-scale ship surveys using the NOAA vessel MacArthur2 in the waters off British Columbia and Alaska. Through late August they had obtained 490 identifications and 277 biopsy samples of humpback whales off British Columbia, SE Alaska, the Gulf of Alaska, and along the Aleutians. With almost 2 months remaining on this 120-day survey, the trip has already exceeded the expected number of identifications and samples.

Table 1. Summary of SPLASH effort on the summer feeding grounds in 2004 through late August. 









California total







Does not incl. addit. opportunistic IDs

Washington/S BC total








BC – Queen Charlote IS


Tully & deployed






BC – central


Curve of Time & CRC RHIB






BC – W Hecate Str.

DFO – Parks Can.







BC – Langara


Sm boats






BC total








SEAK – Sitka, Frdk Snd + other








SEAK – Glacier Bay area







Estimated ~200 resighting dupes

SEAK total








Prince William Sound/Kenai








Barren Islands







Incl. min 100 from Rainbow Connection

Kodiak Is area








Shumagin Is. area








E Aleutians








Gulf of Alaska/Aleutians coastal total







Russia – Kamchatka


Puffin & Kittywake






Russia – Commander Islands


Puffin & Kittywake






Russia total








SPLASH BC-AK ship survey


McArthur II






All summer feeding areas