Just Krilling Time
Gray whales are lingering past season in Monterey Bay.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
The solitary gray whale swam up to the boat, opened its mouth and dove through a rust-colored cloud of krill, delighting the humans aboard.
“It was almost like he was using the boat as a backstop to crowd the fish together,” says Ken Stagnaro, owner and operator of Santa Cruz Whale Watching. “You see it with humpbacks all the time, but I’ve never seen a gray whale do that.”
The gray was one of several Stagnero spotted in June – though they usually migrate through Monterey Bay from December to April, between summer feeding in the Bering and Chukchi seas and winter calving in the Baja California lagoons.
“It is pretty late to be around here,” Stagnaro says.
There’s been a buffet of krill at the bay’s surface this summer, he adds, perhaps thanks to abundant cold-water upwelling. The krill has drawn an abundance of humpbacks and blue whales.
Skipper Harry Neece of Monterey-based Chris’ Whale Watching says he’s seen grays feeding on krill in late June, too. “It’s common to have stragglers coming back from Mexico, just lollygagging,” he says, “[but] it seems like there’s a few more than normal this year.”
This isn’t the first time grays have surprised their observers. A pod of several hundred “resident” grays feeds off the Oregon coast all summer. A few years ago, another pod foraged in the kelp beds off Santa Cruz for months. And a solitary gray was recently sighted in the Mediterranean Sea, though there’s currently no Atlantic gray whale population.
Without scientific data, there’s no clear explanation for the bay’s loitering grays.
“Making any predictions about why a short-term trend is happening is fraught with danger,” says veterinarian Dave Casper of UC Santa Cruz’s Long Marine Labs. “That’s why these things have to be monitored on a continuing basis.”