Thursday, March 05, 2015
Like I have been mentioning in the last few blogs, we are counting more southbound whales than ever which raises the question; why? Are there actually greater numbers heading south or are we just seeing greater numbers off the coast during the annual gray whale census?
Many have speculated that the migration path may be changing over time, not that there are more whales per capita. Within the last few years, we have been seeing the whales coming earlier and earlier past our coast. But even though some of the whales are leaving earlier, many calves are still born along the way. If a gray whale cow has her calf too early, it could succumb to the cold water or exhaustion from the journey ahead. This also puts extra pressure on the cow as she will not only need to get her newborn to Mexico safely, but also nurse throughout the journey as well. This puts extra stress on both parties in an already stressful environment.
So is their migration route and pattern changing? According to Alisa Schulman-Janiger with the Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project, there is still not enough data to have any solid conclusion on what is really happening. There are three routes that these whales usually take; the coastal, between channel, and outer channel routes. Because anyone counting these whales is usually shore-bound, we only have the resources to count the whales that are nearest to the shore. Alisa also mentioned that there are probably a myriad of factors to consider when researching their migration including arctic food availability. Basically, there is probably no one easy answer.
At this point in gray whale research there is no way of telling if there are more whales total, more whales headed south, or whales just changing their migration routes. According to the census, we are now at 1,854 southbound grays. This count includes 49 calves born before having reached Mexican waters. These numbers are just adding to this already record breaking southbound migration.
When doing my own investigation, it seems that previous years have had anywhere between 3-60 southbound calves with a peak of 106 between 1997 and 1998. The last few years, though, have had far fewer southbound calves by this point in the migration. I am very interested to see how many northbound calves we see this year in comparison to previous years. This would mean that those calves, no matter when they were born during the migration, have successfully made it almost halfway back to Alaska.
Helping to collect vital data about these whales and their path, along with the census, are our new whale photo ID interns! I wanted to introduce another one of the three interns, Kristin! Kristin is originally from New York and one of her proudest accomplishments is winning the ‘Whale Expert Award’ in second grade. Growing up near the ocean gave her a deep love and appreciation for marine life and conservation efforts. She studied film and photography at Ithaca College and hopes to one day work on marine life documentaries. She stated that “We’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to understanding the life in our oceans, and the more we know the better we can protect our planet’s amazing marine environments.” We are also featuring her photography talents in this week’s blog, so check out her shots!
Of course, we are still seeing tons of dolphins and other species of whales and we are excited to start seeing our northbound mother and baby whales! So come on out on an adventure while we are still having our sunny California winter. Hopefully we see you this winter or spring on a boat adventure!
Thursday, February 26, 2015
Preparing the Sea Otter's Daily Diet
When our Aquarium of the Pacific education staff mentions that our sea otters are given restaurant quality food what they mean is that the clams, squid, shrimp and other otter delicacies are of the same high quality that you would find at any good human restaurant. What they may not mention is that the preparation of the otter feast is also of the same high quality of the finest sea food restaurant chef. At least I feel that way when I prepare the otter’s daily diet during my weekly volunteer shift.
Check out the time-lapse video of the sea otter’s daily diet being prepared by yours truly and of a sea otter enjoying being served this fine meal. A feast fit for a king! Or in this video Charlie the sea otter.
Taking care of these endangered orphans is expensive. It costs the Aquarium several tens of thousands of dollars a year per otter to feed them. Your visits to the Aquarium of the Pacific, memberships, adopting a sea otter in our Adopt an Animal program and your generous donations help pay for the care of these wonderful critters. For the sea otters, I’d like to thank you for your support.
Thursday, February 19, 2015
MORE sightings of killer whales and a plethora of gray whales!
We have had a very busy and exciting week in our local world of whales. Shortly after the last blog was posted we had more sightings of killer whales! This time is was neither the CA51 pod, nor the ETP pod; it was the extended family of CA51’s that we do not see quite as often. The whales were identified as the CA51A’s, including the CA51 matriarch’s daughter and grandchildren. The other two killer whales that were present and hanging out with the CA51A’s were two sibling whales identified as the CA49’s. According to Alisa Schulman-Janiger of the California Killer Whale Project, these two siblings lost their mother a few years ago and are sometimes seen traveling with different groups. All of these whales are Bigg’s transient killer whales who traverse up and down the coast feeding on marine mammals. We happened to be at the right place at the right time during our whale watch and were able to get some fabulous photos from our friends at Harbor Breeze (Tim Hammond and Erik Combs), our photo ID interns, and our volunteers!
Just a few days ago, more killer whales were spotted off of Palos Verdes that were not identified, so there is a chance we may see them again! Our killer whale sightings have been pretty phenomenal, giving our whale watch tour guests AND our staff and volunteers something to check-off on their bucket lists!
Our gray whale counts keep getting higher and higher! Our total south bounder count has grown since our last blog from 1325 to 1678! Still breaking records, and according to Alisa Schulman-Janiger with the Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project, they are hoping to reach 1700! They have already begun to see many northbounders, but the southbound migration is still going strong. These are the largest numbers for a southbound migration the census has seen in the 32 years it has been operating!
I also wanted to introduce our newest group of photo ID interns who will be photographing and processing gray whale and other cetacean photos for research we are affiliated with Cascadia Research Collective. Introducing Ciera, Ami, and Kristin!
This week we are featuring photos from Ciera. She is from the lovely state of Utah and has always been an animal lover with a fascination for the ocean. Ciera studied psychology at the University of Utah and hopes to one day study animal cognition and behavior. She stated that “I believe that research can lead to bigger and better conservation efforts. Right after I graduated with my bachelors I moved to the coast to pursue my dreams of being on the water with these amazing animals every day.”
We have also started a Citizen Science project that partners with other researchers R.H. Defran of San Diego State University photographing and ID-ing coastal bottlenose dolphins! The project is being led by Kera Mathes our Boat Programs Coordinator for the aquarium with the help from former photo ID intern Stacie Fox.
Dolphin sightings are also an almost daily occurrence and they love playing in the wake of the boats. Our winter has been a warm one so why not spend a few hours seeing marine mammals in their natural environment? Come out on a whale watch to search for dolphins, gray whales, humpback whales, fin whales and other exotic marine life!
Thursday, February 12, 2015
Since 2008 the Aquarium of the Pacific has been collecting observational data on the sea turtles of the San Gabriel River. The northern most colony of green sea turtles in the world.
Here are ten things you should know about these sea turtles.
- The turtles in the river are Green Sea Turtles. In the Pacific Ocean these turtles are normally associated with the warmer waters off Hawaii and Mexico.
- The size of the turtles in the river runs from small “dinner plate” sized animals to large one with 4-foot shells.
- These sea turtles do not breed locally. The sand is too cold to incubate their eggs. When they reach breeding age and size these turtles leave the river and probably head to Mexican waters to breed.
- The turtles are attracted to the San Gabriel River because of the warm water being released into the river from the nearby power plants cooling systems. The water is treated before it is released into the river and monitored regularly by the plant personnel.
- There has been anecdotal evidence that sea turtles have been using the river for decades.
- The sea turtles use several miles of the river. They have been tracked past the 405 Freeway where the river turns from foliage covered river banks to concrete lined flood control banks.
- The greatest danger to these sea turtles while in the river may be water-ski boats greatly exceeding the 5 mile per hour speed limit.
- The platelet patterns on their heads are being used to photo identify individual turtles. Some turtles have been identified from prior years indicating that they may be resident rather than transient.
- During the warmer summer months the turtles will range widely up and down the river and also into wetland areas such as Seal Beach and Bolsa Chica. In the winter months, they mainly congregate around the discharge stations of the power plants along the river.
- These ideal sea turtle conditions are going to change in the near future. The power plants are converting to a closed cooling system that will eliminate the warm water being released into the river. The data the Aquarium of the Pacific is collecting on the sea turtles will be used as a baseline to see how the change affects the sea turtles of the river.
Thursday, February 05, 2015
Gray whale numbers breaking more records!
Hello whale lovers! As you have probably heard, our gray whale season has been pretty fabulous with more and more record-breaking numbers. As we head out daily to see the whales, we record and total the animals sighted from that day, but our whale watches are only seeing the whales from 12:00 p.m.-5:30 p.m. during our trips. So what is happening around those hours? The American Cetacean Society (ACS) of LA sponsors the Gray Whale Census and Behaviors Project led by Alisa Schulman-Janiger and over 100 volunteers from ACS, The Cabrillo Whale Watch Program, and many members from the general public. Since 1979, volunteers have stationed themselves on the patio of Point Vicente Interpretive Center (PVIC) which sits atop 125 foot sea cliffs and provides an excellent view of the ocean. Volunteers spend thousands of hours from December 1 to May 15 every year, sun-up to sun-down, counting the whales and recording behaviors. This project mainly focuses on the gray whale migration, but also includes many other cetacean species, birds, and pinnipeds which can be seen from the Palos Verdes coastline.
To give you an idea about the numbers that we have been seeing of southbound gray whales, the entire 2013-2014 year yielded 1214 total whales, and for our current 2014-2015 season, we have already seen 1325 to this day! This is the second highest southbound count in 32 seasons! We are not done with seeing the whales passing by as they head down to the warm lagoons of Baja either. Though we see many individual gray whales during our trips, ACS sees even more during the hours we are not on the water with the whale watch tours. What is better is that we work with ACS during our trips and contact them every day to get the most up-to-date whereabouts of the animals passing by. This gives us an idea of where the whales will be according to when they saw them pass by the point, which can really increase our chances in finding animals for you all to be mesmerized by.
While we have continued to see an abundance of grays on our trips, we have also been having some great encounters with dolphins as well! Common, bottlenose, and even the seasonal Pacific white-sided dolphins have really added an air of excitement to our trips along with the big whales! If you have an afternoon free, the weather here in southern California has been fantastic and our winter whale watch season keeps getting better and better! So come out and see some fascinating animals in their natural environment on one of our whale watch tours!
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All blogs and comments represent the views of the individual authors and not necessarily those of the Aquarium.