Cascadia Research has been studying gray whales in Washington waters since the mid-1980s. The goals of this overall research effort have been to characterize the different ways gray whales use Washington waters and to determine the number of individuals engaged in feeding and other critical activities. We have also sought to identify preferred areas for feeding, the seasonality of use, degree to which individual animals return year to year, and the number and reasons some whales die in Washington waters. This report summarizes research conducted on gray whales in Washington State during 1995.
A number of methods were used to conduct the research including gathering sighting reports from the general public, conducting dedicated boat surveys to document and individually identify whales, cooperating with whale watch companies, examining dead whales, and assisting injured or entangled whales. A total of 28 boat surveys were conducted between 23 March and 24 October 1995. Observations were also occasionally made from land. Additional research effort was accomplished through a collaborative research effort placing students from the Evergreen State College aboard whale watch trips operated by the Mosquito Fleet, a company that operates gray whale watching trips. Photographs of distinctive markings on the sides of gray whales were used to identify and track individual animals. Sightings of gray whales from the public were solicited through use of toll-free hotlines operated by Cascadia Research and the Whale Museum. We examined gray whales that washed ashore dead and tried to assist animals that appeared sick or injured as a part of the Northwest Marine Mammal Stranding Network.
Major findings or accomplishments of the research in 1995 included:
- A record number of sightings of gray whales were reported in 1995. This included 601 sightings of gray whales from the public primarily from March through May in Puget Sound.
- During dedicated surveys, a total of 113 sightings of 150 gray whales were recorded. The highest number of whales were documented along the southwestern portion of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and in Grays Harbor.
- Photographic identification showed that at least 44 different whales were present during the study. Seventeen of these were individuals that had been identified in past years. Three whales were documented remaining and feeding in Washington waters for over five months.
- We examined eight dead gray whales and attempted to assist three sick or entangled live whales in 1994 and 1995. We successfully freed one animal entangled in a tribal fishing net in late 1994 in Hood Canal. Some but not all the net and lines entangling a second whale in Grays Harbor in 1995 were removed. We also attempted to coax a third whale out of an industrial waterway of Tacoma.
Calambokidis, J. 1996. Gray whales in Washington State: Progress report on research in 1995. Final report to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Olympia, Washington.