The California Gray Whale

In closing the first chapter, “The California Gray Whale” in his monumental book, The Marine Mammals of the Northwestern Pacific Coast of North America, Charles M. Scammon, a former whaler and whaling captain turned anti-whaler and environmentalist, says this,

“This species of whale manifests the greatest affection for its young, and seeks the sheltered estuaries lying under a tropical sun, as if to warm its off-spring into activity and promote comfort, until grown to the size Nature demands for its first northern visit. When the parent animals are attacked they show a power of resistance and tenacity for life that distinguished them from all other Cetaceans. Many an expert whaleman has suffered in his encounters with them, and many a one has paid the penalty of his life…

“None of the species are so constantly and variously pursued as the one we have endeavored to describe; and the large bays and lagoons where these animals once congregated, brought forth and nurtured their young, all already nearly deserted. The mammoth bones of the California Gray whale lie bleaching on the shores of those silvery waters, and are scattered along the broken coasts, from Siberia to the Gulf of California; and ere long it may be questioned whether this mammal will not be numbered among the extinct species of the Pacific.”

It was no accident that he begins his book with the California Gray Whale. It was this mammal that captured his heart and soul, and turned him away from his chosen profession in the mid-19th Century. He recognized the love of mother for child, the defense of the youth, and the resistance to death at the hands of man by this native cetacean.

So touch was he by the species, he begins the chapter with his hand drawn image of the California Gray Whale embryo…

The only peoples who have a right and an honor to take Gray Whales are the First Peoples and Nations of North America. As noted even by Scammon at the end of the 19th Century, the Inupiaqs and Inuits were the only ones who, “use such parts (of the Gray whale) as are of little value to others,” and “for the necessities of life, such as clothing…” as do the Northwestern Native peoples.

https://abc7.com/gray-whales-whale-population-migration-west-coast/9883533

Today in 2021, the California Gray Whale’s number is unknown, but is thought to have dropped by 25%. By a book-keeping trick, it has been divided into two species by the NOAA of the United States, “Eastern” and “Western” Pacific branches. The “Western” branch suffers extinction in the remote waters off Siberia with an accurately counted population of 271. The “Eastern” branch was taken off the “Endangered Species” list in 1996 when it had “recovered” to an estimate population of 20,000.

The last count, as with many species under the purview of the NOAA, was in 2015 and only finalized in 2018. Here is Figure 2 from the NOAA report on the “Eastern” branch included below. Note the error bars for 2015. Those error bars must have cost a lot. It took 3 years from 2015 to 2018 to just finalize the report. If there are 40,000 Grays in the World, I will be the first to congratulate the NOAA on a job “well done.” If there are 20,000 today, in 2021, I will be surprised. There were, at the time of Scammon’s lament by his and other whalers’ estimate 50,000 California Gray Whales.

“Estimating population sizes of marine mammals is a challenging problem.” – from Durban, et.al.

Below is the open source primaries, the 2015 count explained by Durban, the methodology used, and how the population estimate with error bars was achieved. I suggest the careful reader also download this primary source to understand the ” Bayesian inference using MCMC” so utilized.

The only peoples who have a right and an honor to take Gray Whales are the First Peoples and Nations of North America. As noted even by Scammon, the Inupiaqs and Inuits are the only ones who, “use such parts (of the Gray whale) as are of little value to others,” and “for the necessities of life, such as clothing…”

Yet today, with unknown numbers, uncounted for over half a decade, the California Gray Whale hangs on, trapped by fishing nets, killed by toxic plastics accumulating in the Pacific Ocean, its food sources diminishing.

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