FARALLONES MARINE SANCTUARY (KPIX 5) — A group of scientists returned Sunday from their 13th annual research trip in the Farallones Marine Sanctuary, where they say they saw more whales than ever before.
“All the rock stars were out. We had an orca and fin whales and humpback whales,” Marine Mammal Observer Dru Devlin said.
Researchers even spotted a mother humpback whale and her calf.
“The whales are here and they are feeding—that’s a good sign that the ocean is really productive,” Danielle Lipski, Research Coordinator for the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary said.
But researchers say to see a large number of whales this early in the year is also pretty unusual.
“We are monitoring these things to determine what we may be seeing that’s a result of climate change, and what may be the result of natural variability in the ocean,” Lipski said.
Crews from several marine sanctuaries tasked with managing the fragile ecosystem off the coast teamed up for this expedition.
For nine days they lived on a NOAA ship known for quietly navigating the waters without disturbing the wildlife.
“It’s a great ship for this particular research,” Nikita Norton, Navigation Officer on the Bell M. Shimada said.
Out at sea, the scientists did check-ups on seabirds, marine life, and the water conditions.
“We take these little snapshots of data through the year to get a sense and pull the whole picture together, and capture what a great ecosystem this is,” Kristen Lindquist said.
So why are there more whales this year? It’s too early to know for sure, and July’s expedition will paint a clearer picture.
The researchers are optimistic.
“We are always happy to see the whales coming here to feed, and when we see high numbers it’s a good sign,” Lipski said.
The researchers sailed all the way from Pescadero to Salmon Creek over the nine day voyage.