FEB 19, 2021 12:36 PM PST

Group of Migrating Gray Whales Makes a Puget Sound Pitstop

WRITTEN BY: Tiffany Dazet

Washington’s Puget Sound is famously home to resident and transient orca pods. However, during their yearly migration, a small group of gray whales spends some time in the Sound on their way back to Arctic feeding grounds. According to the Seattle Times, new research shows why this group of gray whales—nicknamed “Sounders”—makes this pit stop on their annual journey.

The Seattle Times reports that about a dozen gray whales hang out in the northern Puget Sound from March through May. This stop is about 170 miles inland from their regular route back to the Arctic. According to the Times, scientists used drone photography and long-term data on this group to track their body condition during their time in the Sound. They found through observations that within the first three weeks of this stop, the whales clearly gained weight. They also observed that the whales were feeding on near-shore ghost shrimp, resulting in this weight gain and energy boost to aid them in the rest of their annual journey.

According to the Times, scientists knew that something vital was drawing these whales off track. After about seven months of not eating, their body condition is very thin, and the Times reports that the whales’ ribs are even visible. During this stop, the whales consume hundreds of pounds of shrimp each day to improve their body condition. John Durban, senior scientist at Southall Environmental Associates, stated, “I was shocked to see how quickly they change shape from a whale that looks emaciated to a whale that is plumping out.”

The scientists note that this journey is high-risk, and Durban states, “any boater knows to be in an intertidal area can be a very precarious thing.” According to the Time, research revealed through tracking tags that the whales synchronize their feeding times with high tide. The whales wait in deeper waters and begin scavenging in mudflats as soon as the water is deep enough. John Calambokidis from the Cascadia Research Collective stated, “sometimes they are resting on the bottom, just waiting, then feeding as these furious rates for two hours on the high tide.”

According to the Times, these 36- to 42-foot-long whales feed in only 7 to 9 feet of water. How do these massive animals make this work? Scientists report that the whales “turn on their right side and put their head down into the sediment to pulse the mud against their baleen plate, and filter out the ghost shrimp.” Additionally, the Times reports that this appears to be a learned behavior as whales new to the Sound did not engage in this feeding behavior.

Sources: The Seattle Times, Cascadia Research Collective

About the Author
  • Tiffany grew up in Southern California, where she attended San Diego State University. She graduated with a degree in Biology with a marine emphasis, thanks to her love of the ocean and wildlife. With 13 years of science writing under her belt, she now works as a freelance writer in the Pacific Northwest.
You May Also Like
DEC 15, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Spiders Build Webs in Space
DEC 15, 2020
Spiders Build Webs in Space
As humans have ventured into space, they have carried some terrestrial life with them, including spiders. Once dreamed u ...
DEC 17, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
Using Tomatoes to Produce a Parkinson's Drug
DEC 17, 2020
Using Tomatoes to Produce a Parkinson's Drug
More and more people are being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease as the world's population ages. Scientists have now en ...
JAN 27, 2021
Plants & Animals
Even the Tyrannosaur Started Life as a Baby
JAN 27, 2021
Even the Tyrannosaur Started Life as a Baby
The Tyrannosaurus rex is known as a fearsome predator, and is among the biggest animals that have ever lived on Earth. N ...
JAN 30, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Invasive species reduce water resources in Ethiopia
JAN 30, 2021
Invasive species reduce water resources in Ethiopia
An invasive evergreen tree, known as Prosopis juliflora, is quite the thirsty species. Prosopis has taken over large swa ...
FEB 03, 2021
Cancer
What can cancer in sea lions teach us about ourselves?
FEB 03, 2021
What can cancer in sea lions teach us about ourselves?
New research from a 20-year long study on California sea lions shows cause for alarm for both ecologists and oncologists ...
FEB 15, 2021
Plants & Animals
There's More to Pigs Than Bacon
FEB 15, 2021
There's More to Pigs Than Bacon
Tests of pigs' intellect reveal a surprising level of intelligence.
Loading Comments...