Gray Whales Count annual survey of northbound migration in Santa Barbara Channel, California 2011-2012

Michael H Smith, Gray Whales Count

Dataset credit

Gray Whales Count


Primary contact Michael H Smith Gray Whales Count
Data entry Connie Kot


Smith, M. 2012. Gray Whales Count annual survey of northbound migration in Santa Barbara Channel, California 2011-2012. Data downloaded from OBIS-SEAMAP ( on yyyy-mm-dd.


We have defined Gray Whales Count as a research and education project, in which observers (Counters) on land monitor the passage of gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) migrating northbound through the nearshore of the Santa Barbara Channel, along a corridor extending approximately 3 nautical miles (nm) from shore. Each annual survey is approximately 100 consecutive days from early February though mid-May. (2011 was 105 days; 2012 was 98 days.) Conditions permitting, each survey-day begins at 9 AM and ends usually at 5 PM.

Our survey site is Counter Point on the
Coal Oil Point Reserve in Goleta, California, USA, with GPS coordinates, 34˚24.434'N, 119˚52.701'W. The coastline runs east-west, with northbound whales traveling west, left to right across our Point towards Point Conception. We are able to track across 200 degrees from 80˚ to 280˚ magnetic. Unfortunately, facing east, south, and west, observers also track the sun across the day.

The observation team consists of from one to five Counters, including the Project Coordinator, up to two Supervisors, and up to two Observers. Supervisor shifts are four hours; Observer shifts are two hours; and the Project Coordinator is usually on-site all day. The Project Coordinator and/or a Supervisor is always on Counter Point.


The goals of the research are to estimate the number of gray whales and gray-whale calves migrating northbound through our corridor and to share our data to complement similar sampling-studies along the California coast. Goals of education are to teach the process of scientific research to Counters and to give them the opportunity to conduct a meaningful study, to experience marine mammals in their environment, and to share this process and their enthusiasm with the public through outreach and various media, especially the internet.

Supplemental information

Sighting locations were calculated using the bearing and distance from the survey site (34˚24.434'N, 119˚52.701'W). Points are the first location sighted, though tracking information was recorded. When calves were sighted, they were included in the total count.
In 2011, we made note of Off-Effort sightings of anything (marine mammals and vessels). In 2012 only Off-Effort sightings of northbound Gray whales were included in the raw data. We do not include Off-Effort data when creating an estimate of the Gray whales in migration. We do keep them in the record of sightings.
It is rare for us to be able to distinguish species for Common dolphins: Delphinus capensis (Long-beaked) or Delphinus delpus (Short-beaked). Occasionally they will come close enough and with the conditions good enough, and we may get an image that will determine species.
Northbound and southbound Gray whales are the same species, but migrating in different directions. Our targets are northbound Gray whales.
There are many California sea lions in our area, in the water close to shore, traveling offshore, resting on buoys, and occasionally on the sand, sick or injured. We do not usually enter sightings of California sea lions, except if they are sick or injured and onshore or they are in exceptionally large groups or involved in a vessel interaction.
This dataset was first published with 2011 data only and was updated with 2012 data later.


Smith, M.H. 2011-2012. Gray Whales Count 2011-2012: annual survey of northbound migration through nearshore of Santa Barbara Channel, California, including additional marine mammal sightings. 2012.



This section explains attributes included in the original dataset. OBIS-SEAMAP restricts the attributes available to the public to date/time, lat/lon and species names/counts only. Should you need other attributes described here, you are encouraged to contact the data provider.

Attributes described below represent those in the original dataset provided by the provider.
All attributes are included in the downloadable file (CSV or ESRI File Geodatabase) for "Complete Set of Dataset".

Attributes in dataset

Attribute (table column)Description
oidUnique ID (generated by OBIS-SEAMAP)
recidRecord ID
originidOriginal record number
sightnumS Sighting Number
originmonthMonth (number)
timegmtTime GMT CALC
bearingS Position Bearing True CALC
distanceS Position ReticleConv DistEst CALC meters
directtravS Position Direction of Travel CALC
sp_obsSpecies Name
obs_countSpecies Number of Animals at Sighting
calfSpecies Calf Number text
gwcnameGWC name
gwcnumGWC number
shiftlogShift log
sightcomm1Sighting Comments
sightcomm2Sighting Comments (continued if longer than 255 characters in Sightomm1)
originmonth2Month (text)
surveydayDate to Survey Day Number CALC
comweathComments Weather
sptotcalfSpecies, total numbers, calf numbers
imagesS Images CALC for Report
sightnumoffS Sighting Number Off Effort Indicator
sightnumvoidS Sighting Number Void
behaviorSpecies Behaviors1234 CALC text
obs_timeTime CALC
vidV ID Name Numbers CALC for Report
vtypeV Type CALC for Report
wbeaufortW Beaufort
wcloudW Cloud Cover CALC
whorizonW Horizon CALC
wqualW Quality to text CALC
wvisW Visibility
stationlatStation latitude
stationlonStation longitude
latitudeLatitude of sighting (calculated from bearing and distance)
longitudeLongitude of sighting (calculated from bearing and distance)
sp_tsnSpecies ITIS TSN
obs_dateObserved date
dayofyearDate to Day of Year CALC for Estimate
Marine mammals1,966
Sea turtles0
Rays and sharks0
Other species0
Non spatial0
Non species0
Date, Begin2011-02-07
Date, End2012-05-20
Temporal prec.111111
Latitude34.29 - 34.42
Longitude-119.93 - -119.75
Coord. prec.6 decimal digits
Data typeAnimal sighting
Traveled (km)0
Contr. through
Sharing policy CC-BY (All)
Shared with OBIS
GBIF (via DOI)
See metadata in static HTML
See metadata in FGDC XML
See download history / statistics