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Western Pacific Gray Whale, Sakhalin Island 2010

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These maps depict the movement of a satellite-monitored 13-year old male western gray whale, which was tagged on 4 October off Sakhalin Island, Russia, migrating from the Sea of Okhotsk.

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Abstract for week of 8-13 February

The last location we received from ‘Flex’ was off Siletz Bay last Friday (2/4/2011).  While we have lost contact with Flex twice before for more than 5 days, it has always coincided with very bad weather.  This time his signal loss also coincided with bad weather.  With his last measured speed of 6.6 km per hour, he would arrived at the at the west end of the Santa Barbara Channel Sunday.  The weather in the central California region has been very nice for the last 4 days.  It is unlikely we would not have heard from ‘Flex’ as a result of weather or satellite passes over the region for such a long period of time, so we presume that the tag has come off and we will no longer hear from ‘Flex’.

We hope that 'Flex' will be seen by one of the many collaborators who have his identification photos… if not here along the west coast of North America, then possibly back at Sakhalin Island or along the Kamchatka Peninsula during the 2011 feeding season. Since leaving the Sakhalin Island region, ‘Flex’ has been tracked 7546 kilometers over 55 days with an average speed of 5.73 km per hour during his migration.

We appreciate everyone who has followed Flex’s movements on our webpage which included over 7000 people last week from over 40 countries. 

The results of this tagging and tracking will be the subject of a collaborative paper presented at the 2011 International Whaling Committee Scientific Committee meeting in Norway in June.  It will subsequently be published in a peer- reviewed scientific journal.  You can consult this page in the future for updates.

In the 124 days since application, the transmitter has sent 1,508 messages and the whale has traveled 8,586 kilometers.  The OSU MMI speed filter results in fewer locations being shown on the map than are received from the satellites. Thus, only the 245 locations that have passed the filter are shown, from the 384 locations calculated to date.

History:

The feeding grounds of Western Gray Whales in the Russian Far East include Sakhalin Island as well as Vesnik and Olga Bays on the east coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula, but details of their migration route(s) and breeding ground(s) are not known. The tagged whale, known as ‘Flex’, was tagged on 4 October off Sakhalin Island. He has been seen regularly in the Sakhalin area during summers since he was photographed as a calf in 1997. The team of scientists who applied the tag have been following his movements via satellite ever since. A summary of those movements included a bit more than two months of feeding activities in an area close to shore off Sakhalin near where he was tagged before moving across the Sea of Okhotsk to the west coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula. Within just a few weeks he rounded the southern tip of the peninsula and departed the east coast of Kamchatka to cross the Bering Sea. In a week of directed travel over deep water, he averaged more than 7 Km/h and arrived at the Bering Sea shelf break (also known as the continental slope) in the central Bering Sea without encountering any significant concentration of ice. This very broad shallow water shelf used to be a principle feeding area for EGWs, when their population was still in recovery. His path altered course to a more southerly heading over the shelf, where bad weather reduced the number of locations that could be obtained from the tag. A week later, he was on the south side of the Alaska Peninsula near the Shumagin Islands. We do not know if he went through Unimak Pass or False Pass, two very common routes for EGWs during their migration, or some other route. His present position is farther offshore and in deeper water than is usually associated with EGWs, which tend to stay close to the coast during their migrations. If he heads south from this region, his most recent locations show him about half way across the Gulf of Alaska over deep water. The vast majority of EGWs have already migrated south of this region, with their peak numbers in December and it is believed they typically use routes close to shore.

Flex's tag transmits only 4 hours/day to conserve battery power so it can operate for up to a year. During preliminary studies conducted by Oregon State University on the more common EGW in 2009/10, the same tags lasted an average of 116 days before they fell off, with the longest track being 385 days. Flex exceeded that average and has traveled over 7,500 Km since he left Sakhalin Island.  Relocation efforts were attempted by cooperating whale scientists in Oregon and California where he was 20-25 km offshore, when last located. If Flex goes to Baja, Mexico, it will take at least 5 days from his  his projected present position.  However, he may have stopped traveling south and may presently be along the Oregon or California Coast.

NEW: Sakhalin 2011 Updates