Ocean Institute’s Capt. Mike Bursk will talk about the migration of gray whales headed to Baja
By Erika I. Ritchie; Orange County Register


Capt. Mike Bursk of the Ocean Institute’s R/V Sea Explorer will speak about gray whales during a speaker series hosted by the American Cetacean Society- Orange County on Thursday, Jan. 25. Bursk has been the captain of the R/V Sea Explorer for more than 15 years.

Thousands of gray whales are on their annual migration right now. Local whale-watch charters begin tracking gray whales Nov. 1.

The whales travel from arctic waters near Alaska, where they feed, to the warm lagoons of Baja, Mexico, to mate and give birth. During their approximately 12,000-mile round-trip journey, gray whales face threats including orcas and entanglement in fishing gear.

Alisa Schulman-Janiger, who runs a gray whale migration count, part of the American Cetacean Society’s Los Angeles Chapter Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project, has counted 222 gray whales (including 25 newborn calves) heading south past Point Vicente off the Palos Verdes Peninsula as of Thursday, Jan. 18. Six have been seen heading north.

On Thursday, volunteers from her group counted 23 southbound gray whales — including a “megapod” group of 15-plus whales, despite hours of fog that hid the water.

“We found them just as the fog was lifting,” Schulman-Janiger said. “This big group milled a half mile offshore for an hour and a half. We watched them roll, displaying pectoral flippers and the sides of their flukes.  While we were watching the large pod, other gray whales came close to shore and also milled — making it difficult to track sightings at times.

Schulman-Janiger said gray whales fluked in two of six sightings. Volunteers also spotted a humpback whale,  two or three fin whales, common dolphin and bottlenose dolphin.

Bursk has multiple degrees in marine biology, a career as a charter boat captain and a plethora of groundbreaking research experience, including original gray whale behavior research in the San Ignacio lagoons off Baja, Mexico.

He will talk about his research and experiences.

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