Thursday, May 21, 2015
I’ve always loved watching people play Frisbee with their dogs. The enthusiasm that the dogs show while attempting to catch the flying disk in their teeth just epitomizes the fun people and animals can have together. It makes me a bit jealous of all the fun they’re having since I don’t have a dog. So to make up for being dog-less I make do playing Frisbee with sea lions on the weekend.
For sea lions Milo and Harpo catching the disk acts as an enrichment device during a training session. They get a lot of fun out of jumping in the air and catching the disk while at the apex of their leap. In fact when they see the Frisbee come out at the beginning of a session you can see in their eyes that they can’t wait to play catch. They also get quite innovative in returning the Frisbee to the trainer. If they are close enough they will try to toss the Frisbee back to the trainer while in midair. Other times they will come back on deck and gently place the disk in our hands hoping for another toss. And when they’re feeling mischievous they will swim with the Frisbee upside down in their mouth using the concave side of the disk to scoop up water. When they flip the disk back to the trainer the trainer gets drenched with water. Harpo seems to get a lot of enjoyment out of soaking me that way.
Someday I’ll get a dog to play Frisbee with. But until then the sea lions at the Aquarium of the Pacific make fine substitute disk catching dogs. A fun fringe benefit of volunteering at the Aquarium of the Pacific.
Come on out to the Aquarium this summer and watch our sea lions play.
Thursday, May 14, 2015
Hello whale lovers! We have had some fantastic voyages in the last two weeks filled with MORE exciting feeding frenzies and very happy whale watch guests! In past blogs, we have talked about these ‘frenzies’ where many top predators, like birds, dolphins, sea lions, and whales all congregate together when there is a lot of food in the water. Lately, we have been seeing so much krill at the surface! This krill will congregate in masses and can be seen as large brown patches at the surface. We were lucky enough to be right in the middle of these feedings and have some special shots where a single frame can show how much life can be in one small spot at any given time! We get asked quite often if whales (baleen whales) and dolphins (toothed whales) ever interact. These photos will show you that if there is food, they can be right next to each other! Even though they are not competing for food, the humpback whales are feeding on the krill, while the dolphins are feeding on the predatory fish that are eating the krill. In these situations, these animals will jump, leap, dive and lunge toward the food source in close proximity to each other. The migrating terns were also picking the krill from the surface of the water and some sea lions were sighted around the frenzy as well!
Among the frenzies we have had so many whale sightings; many cow-calf pairs of gray whales, humpbacks, minkes, fins, and more blue whales have been seen. I hope this means that the blues are slowly headed our way!
Another question we have commonly asked is if we ever see sharks during our whale watches. Some of the more interesting sightings lately included the sighting of 10 foot long great white shark! This shark made an appearance on Mother’s Day and really gave the guests more than they thought they would see on a whale watch! The shark was seen slowly moving next to the boat and not many people were able to get photos because of the excitement that ensued during the moments when the shark was at the surface. We will see great white sharks when the weather warms up and it is very typical since southern California is their natural habitat. The females will also pup along the coast, including areas around Santa Monica. We have seen other species of sharks during our trips in the past like threshers, hammerheads, blue and basking sharks!
We have so much fun showing our guests the life that thrives off of our coast and would like to see you soon for a whale watching adventure! Thanks for reading!
Thursday, May 07, 2015
The Story of Darth Otter and her Padawan.
A long time ago… In an Aquarium not so far away…
The Back Story:
Many years ago a young Jedi sea otter named Brook turned to the Dark Side and became known as Darth Otter. Darth Otter defeated the Jedi mammalogists with her light saber. Years later she gave up the dark path. She met an extraordinary but mischievous young otter named Ollie. She could feel that the Force was strong with this otter so she took her on as her Padawan. The Padawan otter took the name Ollie-Wan Kenobi. Will Ollie-Wan stay on the path of good or be lured to the Dark Side?
The Actual Story:
Just for fun in 2003 for a marine mammal conference hosted by the Aquarium of the Pacific I created a special effects filled short video called STARFISH WARS. The video featured Sea Lion acting as X-Wings fighters firing blasters at a giant clam shell substituting for the Death Star. Lorikeets maneuvering through the air as laser beams shoot past them. And a short clip of a then young sea otter named Brook acting out a light saber duel with a mammalogist. I used that short clip in a blog a few years later. Brook became known as Darth Otter in the clip.
Jump forward to May 2015. While going through my GoPro footage of a training session with Ollie the sea otter I noticed that while she was standing on her hind flippers she reminded me of a sword fighting stance. I took a still from the video and photoshopped a light saber in her paws. So in honor of May the Fourth, Ollie the sea otter became Ollie-Wan Kenobi. At least in my blog world.
Thursday, April 30, 2015
We have had some great adventure-filled trips with lots of breaching whales! In the last few weeks we have seen breaching gray whales, minke whales, humpback whales, and lunge feeding fin whales! It is so great to be able to see more of the whales’ bodies than usual and it always gives our whale watch guests a better understanding of these animals. It also lets us see their massive size out of the water!
The breaching humpback that we saw last week performed this behavior over and over again about 80 times! It happened so many times right in front of the boat that guests were getting ‘selfies’ with the breaching whale in the background. What a neat opportunity! We have also had some gray whale juveniles and calves breaching near the boat as well. These breaches are a bit of a surprise and often come without warning since these whales are spending most of their energy trying to make it safely back to Alaska. We also had a playful minke whale that breached several times in the distance on a recent trip. The pictures of the minke are really great because you can see the distinct white spot on its pectoral flipper, which is a characteristic indicative of this species.
Breaching is a behavior that scientists have yet to put a finger on. Since we cannot go inside a whale’s brain, we may never know the real reason, but there are some theories. Some say it is a way for these large animals to knock off the many parasites that make a home on the skin of the whale; basically a form of scratching themselves, while others say that they are just having fun. Since the minke whales have very few parasites living on them compared to the humpbacks and gray whales, they may have just been having a good time.
We have also had a few days filled with surface lunge feeding fin whales! These whales filter feed on krill and small fish. On these particular days, there was so much krill at the surface that we could see dark brown patches of it floating and tons of sea bird activity! There were several of these whales coming partially out of the water to engulf their food, push the water out, and lick the critters from their baleen. The photos that were taken show all the detail of the whales’ expanding ventral pleats, the open jaw, and even the baleen!
A few blue whales have also made an appearance again as well, so with all of the activity we are having, it is a good time to come out on a whale watching adventure! So come out and see these amazing whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions, marine birds, and other exotic findings in their natural habitat!
Thursday, April 23, 2015
A sea otter using another otter as a pillow.
Sea Otters have very plush fur. When dry the fur puffs out and looks very luxurious. Small wonder that all that plushness lured the youngster otter Betty (named after Betty White) to use the older otter Maggie’s lush fur as a pillow for her nap under the skylight. Check out the video and stills of Betty taking a nap using Maggie as a pillow. Maggie seems to have a lot of patience around the youngster.
Also in the video is a clip of four otters (Brook, Maggie, Ollie and Betty) lounging under the skylight until they discover the paparazzi photographing them. Then they’re “otter” there. In actuality Brook started going into the water figuring it was meal time and the rest decided to follow.
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