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Migration is Name of the Game

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Animal Updates | Mammals | Whale Watching

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

James S.

Humpback whale fluke - popup
Humpback whale fluke Aquarium of the Pacific

In the past couple of weeks we have had the amazing opportunity to see fin whales, one of whom was lunge feeding, along with common, bottlenose, and Risso’s dolphins. But the amazing part is that we’ve seen so many different humpbacks! If you love humpbacks, now is the time to come out and see them. This has been a very exciting transition towards gray whale season, though slow in getting moving we’re seeing some beautiful animals and have had a lot of fun on Harbor Breeze’s boats.

Like the gray whales we see in California, humpback whales are on their north-south migration as well. Humpbacks have summer feeding areas run along the entire US/Canada Pacific coastline and parts of Russia. From these feeding areas they move to any of the 4 winter breeding areas: Hawaii, Mexico, Central America, or the Western North Pacific near China and Japan. Take a look at this map from the National Marine Fisheries Service to get a better idea of where these animals are moving to and from every year. There has been a lot of research to try and follow the distinct population segments (DPS) and using photo identification methods to keep a catalog of the members of those segments. What scientists have found is that some whales are migrating to the same winter regions year after year. Besides the criss cross nature of the Mexico and Central American DPSs as they both move along the same parts of the Eastern Pacific, some humpbacks have been found to switch entire regions of the Pacific Ocean during their migration. With the advances in communication technology scientists can better spot and identify whales and share those finding with other researches across the planet in a global effort to better understand one of planet’s most charismatic marine mammals.

Humpbacks are truly loved by so many people. Our guests often ask us after they board the boat what the likelihood of seeing any animal is, but of the few species asked about humpbacks tend be very frequently mentioned. Check out all the amazing photos our interns have taken for us over the last couple of weeks and see how many distinct individuals you can identify! When identifying humpback whales we look only at the underside of the fluke and their unique markings. Scientists that are in charge of updating humpback ID catalogs are charged with the task of making sure that they have the most up to date, correctly identified picture so that other researchers and citizen scientists can correctly make a match to a whale. If there are new scars, marks, barnacle growths or scars, the pictures must be updated. We can look for matches in the white pigmented areas, scratches, and scars but if the potential match is missing old scars then it is not going to be a match.

Try your hand at humpback fluke matching with our blog today and read over our next intern’s spotlight for this month, Lauren. She’s local to SoCal but goes to school out of state, we’re so glad she was able to join our program this fall and good luck with the rest of your schooling Lauren!

My name is Lauren and I’m a senior at Oregon State University pursuing a degree in Fisheries and Wildlife Science with a minor in Marine Conservation and Management. I grew up on the coast of Connecticut and often vacationed on the coast of Maine where I developed a love for the ocean at an early age. I am so excited to have the opportunity to participate in the photo ID internship through the Aquarium of the Pacific and to learn about the process of identifying marine mammals for research and conservation purposes. After graduation I hope to work in the marine conservation field and help to educate others on the importance of our oceans.

Head on down to Long Beach and get yourself a combo ticket to the Aquarium of the Pacific and Harbor Breeze Cruises. Have some fun whale watching as well as looking over our exhibits showing off almost 12,000 animals. Have a lovely Thanksgiving everyone, and see you on the water!