July 20-23

A Gray Whale is Brought In

July 20

The traps held but a couple of shrews this morning. A trap I had set in a Mt. Brewer hole held a Spilogale.


Mt. Brewer is near Fresno. So what is a Mt. Brewer hole? Spilogale is the skunk genus.

July 21

Set several gopher traps this morning & picked up several gophers during the day.

A California Gray Whale was brought in late this afternoon. The animal had been killed near the entrance of Crescent City Bay and was in company of three others. The school was feeding near the breakers when taken. This species is reputed to be nearly or quite extinct & the taking of this specimen came as a surprise.

The California Gray Whale is now known simply as the Gray Whale. In the years 1919-1926, only 7 Gray Whales were killed at the Moss Landing/Trinidad stations, and this was the only one captured near Trinidad. A floating whaling station off Baja California caught Gray Whales in these dwindling annual numbers, starting in 1925: 140, 42, 29, 9, 2. The Gray Whale, which is believed to have also been present in the Atlantic Ocean until several hundred years ago, is now just found in North Pacific coastal areas. Along the eastern range it has recovered sufficiently from depletion that it was removed from the U.S. list of endangered species in 1994; its estimated population is 26,000. Western Pacific population estimates are about 100 animals.

The beast was a male & 39 feet in length and a beautiful gray mottled color above and below. A few parasites were found along its sides.

The length of this whale was about average for an adult. Gray and Humpback whales are more heavily infested with parasites than other whales, possibly because they are slower swimmers. There are usually many fewer parasites on the Gray Whale's right side, because they are scraped off as the whale feeds by lying on the ocean floor on that side (however some are "left-flippered"). "Parasite" is not really an accurate term for the barnacles and lice that attach themselves to the Gray Whale, because they are not actually hurting the whale.

There were no gular creases on this animal & its mouth had a decided downward curve. The rostrum was high & rounded while the front of its mouth was rather sharp. The baleen did not come up to the tip of the mouth but started about 4 inches from the end. Neither was it as heavy nor as long as in the Finbacks.

A very large heavily muscled tongue filled the center of its mouth. This organ is evidently used to divert the water to the baleen plates when the beast is feeding and also indicates its habit of feeding in shallow water where the mouth can only be partially opened – quite different with the deep water feeding Finback.

The blubber on this California Gray was from 5 to 9 inches thick, making them very desirable from the whaler’s standpoint.

Each Gray Whale yielded 30+ barrels of oil.

Large chunks 6 to 8 inches in diameter had been gnawed out by sharks. Later in conversation with the Captain L.L. Lane, who captured the animal, I was informed that these chunks were one bite for a species of large sharks that inhabits these waters. In fact this shark is the one that attacks and kills the young whales & takes great toll of their numbers.

Could Lane be referring to the Great White Shark? It is found in this area. The photo below shows the whale. The "bomb" used to kill the whale is still visible in its side.

Gray Whale with Shark Bites


Processing a Finback Whale

July 22

A 60 foot finback was brought in last night & we watched it thru the process of disarticulation this morning, photographing such parts as we wanted for study. In about 3 hours the entire animal was in the cooking vats – bones and all. The stomach contained about 1 ½ tons of mackerel all about 10 inches in length. The sarcophagus [esophagus? - ed.] was less than 4” in diameter & stuffed with fish.

Hauling up a Finback
Cutting up a Finback
Feeding the Blubber Cutter
A.B. Howell with Eardrum

Finbacks are rather pretty animals being light almost white below & bluish black dorsally. Long corrugations extend from the lower jaw to the middle of the belly & are black in color. They remind me very much of the ribs of corduroy cloth. These corrugations are bellows’ like in nature and allow the animal to take in a great school of fish, water & all & strain the food out by contraction of this corrugated surface which excludes the water. 

We had a pleasant chat with Mr. Fred Dedrick, manager of the plant this afternoon & he placed at our disposal this year’s records of captured whales. He says that after each season his company gives Dr. Evermann a complete tally of whales taken & has done so since 1920.

"Many of the leaders in the whaling trade are cooperating in an effort to determine the biological factors that are involved [in whale population dynamics]." -Remington Kellogg, Smithsonian Assistant Curator of Mammals, 1931.
Barton Warren Evermann was the director of the California Academy of Sciences at this time, and he monitored information about catches, such as date, species, sex, area taken, length, weight, reproductive condition, and body condition, along the California coast during these years. These records are still available at the Academy.

We set all our traps in a gulch north of town. They were placed along the stream course under roots & near the small rill of water.

Back to the Rodents

July 23

My traps held nice bunch of shrews but Bray capped the climax by catching a Phenacomys albipes, a very rare macrotis. The animal was taken underneath the roots of an underhanging tree in the creek bed & is the 10th specimen in the collections of the world. 

I rebaited my traps & set out three mole sets.

Arborimus [Phenacomys] albipes
Arborimus [Phenacomys] albipes tag

Phenacomys albipes, the white-footed vole, has been reassigned to the genus Arborimus. By "macrotis" Huey probably meant Microtus, another genus of voles, including the one common in San Diego, and was using the word to mean a vole in a more general sense. The white-footed vole is considered a "species of special concern" by the California Department of Fish and Game—an informal designation for species believed to be in decline. According to the California Department of Fish and Game, nearly all known localities where the white-footed vole has been captured have been associated with small streams in humid coastal forest, so the species may be sensitive to logging and other alterations of riparian habitats. Its status and habits are still poorly known. Howell donated one of these specimens to the California Museum of Vertebrate Zoology; director Joseph Grinnell was impressed and grateful: “the one you are presenting is the first to come into the possession of the University of California”. The San Diego Natural History Museum also retained two of the specimens from this trip. Today specimen collecting by the museum requires permits from the California Department of Fish and Game and other relevant agencies.