Thursday, April 21, 2016
Darth Otter: Revisited
Brook is not only one of the oldest females Southern Sea Otter in North America, she also has a unique ability that sets her apart from other sea otters.
Brook has the ability to stand almost human-like on her hind flippers for long periods of time. While other sea otters look like they really have to work at balancing on two flippers, Brook makes it look natural. When she stands up I think she takes on the appearance of a naked Ewok or a fuzzy Yoda. Because of this ability, a long time ago in an aquarium not far away Brook became famous on the World Wide Web as the lightsaber-wielding Darth Otter in a short fan video spoof of Star Wars.
Recently during the Long Beach Grand Prix Weekend, Brook and I got together for a photo shoot. What I was looking for was a still of her standing that I could add a special effect lightsaber to. I wanted to create a nostalgic nod to the past. Sort of like Luke Skywalker and Han Solo appearing in The Force Awakens. Well Brook didn’t disappoint as the accompanying images testify to that.
Thursday, April 14, 2016
This just in: We have spotted our first blue whale of the season here in Long Beach on 4.13.16! Woohoo!
You would think that we would be seeing a whole bunch of northbound gray whales at this point heading back to Alaska after their winter vacation in Baja, but our local fin whales have been out and about and feeding! Multiple fins a day are being sighted and thrilling guests by their massive size and their feeding behaviors. Lunge feeding at the surface using their baleen plates to filter out krill, and even seeing whale poop (because when do you ever get to see that!?) is pretty exciting. Fin whales are the second largest animal on our planet (the blue taking the lead) measuring up to 88 feet in length and weighing around 250,000 lbs. They are streamlined and super quick! Sometimes they go under for several minutes and pop up right next to the boat! You may notice our cover photo, taken by the amazing Tim Hammond from Harbor Breeze, is of a fin whale that came right up next to the boat.
The gray whales have been present but we have not been seeing many of them during our whale watching tours. However, according to the American Cetacean Society gray whale census, there was been 1911 north-bounders sighted already! Maybe they have been coming by our coast early in the morning? Any day now we should be seeing a lot more grays heading back up North to their feeding grounds in Alaska, but in the meantime, the fins, pacific white sided dolphins, and a few humpback whales have been capturing our attention. Check out the photos that our team has skillfully collected in this week’s blog of the amazing whales and dolphins we have seen in the last couple of weeks.
Now, there is one more intern we need to introduce out of the fab four that has been working hard collecting and processing whale photos and data,
“Hi, I’m Mackenna! I was born and raised a beach bum in San Diego, CA but ended up a city girl while attending St. John’s University in Queens, NY. I just recently moved back to California after trying out southern living in South Carolina and couldn’t be happier living on the west coast again and working for the Aquarium. I graduated with a degree in biology but, as you may have guessed, there isn’t a big marine mammal population in the big city, so here I am! I’ve always known I wanted to be a marine biologist and the Aquarium has given me the opportunity to do that and I couldn’t be more grateful. For me, the best part about this internship is seeing the animals in their natural environment!”
We are showcasing many of Mackenna’s whale and dolphin photos you can see above! Since the current photo ID internship is winding down, we will be introducing the Summer interns and their work soon, so stay tuned!
There is still time to see the gray whales, and even our local fin whales, on a whale watch. The gray whales should be around for a few more weeks and the fins, humpbacks, and dolphins are some of the more frequent sightings! So, book your trip to go on a whaley fun adventure.
Thanks for reading!
Thursday, April 07, 2016
Hugh's Aquarium Views Video Number 7
Come along on a sea lion’s wild ride through the water. In this week’s Hugh’s Aquarium Views video and the still images with this blog Milo the sea lion and his camera ring will take you along as he porpoises and breaches through his watery realm.
I think that Milo is the best sea lion photographer in L.A. With his ring-mounted GoPro camera he’s able to capture powerful images as he athletically zooms through and leaps out of the water. Some of them are quite spectacular. A half dozen years ago Milo started his photography career with one of the early GoPro cameras. I came up with the idea of having a sea lion carry a camera underwater because I was curious to see what a sea lion sees while zooming through the water.
As I wrote in my blog back in 2010:
“The times that I spent swimming around sea lions made me admire their grace and power as they glided through their liquid domain. I wondered what it would be like to propel oneself out of the water like they do during a porpoise or other maneuver so powerfully and efficiently below the surface. This curiosity recently led me to construct an underwater camera rig that one of the Aquarium’s sea lions could voluntarily hold during one of our pinniped presentations so that we could get a look at a sea lion’s point-of view of a session… Throughout the training sessions, carrying the camera was always a voluntary behavior. As a safety factor, my vision of the camera rig during its design phase was always that no harnesses or straps would be used. The animal would always have the option to drop the camera if it wanted to. Milo the sea lion turned out to be an enthusiastic photographer and the results of the first test were quite encouraging and also eye opening.”
Working back then with former Aquarium of the Pacific mammalogists Carolyn and Debbie, Milo was trained how to use the camera ring. Since those early attempts the camera technology has improved as has the sharpness and resolution of the videos and images. Milo’s camera skills has also improved. Check out the latest results.
Monday, March 28, 2016
What is a basking shark? It’s basically one of the coolest kinds of sharks and we never really get to see them! We had one a few years ago appear during a whale watch, but this Easter, we got a another sharky surprise! Not only was the shark seen on one whale watch trip during Easter Sunday, but, two trips that day! It caused such a buzz that day that the internet and my phone were both getting a lot of commotion with lots of photos and videos to share! It was such an exciting sighting that I wanted to make sure to get the word out to our whale blog readers soon!
So, you are probably still wondering what a basking shark is. Think of a whale shark, but smaller, darker, and slow going. They are actually the second largest species of shark next to the whale shark and can reach lengths of 20-26 feet long and can weigh an average of 19 tons! The individual seen last weekend was estimated to be at least 15 feet long. They are filter feeders, and feed using a really interesting adaptation called gill rakers that filter out plankton and small organisms through their gills. They also have very large mouths and swim slowly forward to push water over their gills to breathe, and to catch prey. They tend to bask at the surface in the warmer seasons to feed and dive to deeper depths during the winter in search of plankton blooms. They are known to travel in small schools and sometimes mistake boats for another basking shark since they are social sharks. Maybe that is why this one seemed so comfortable being near the boat? They tend to travel in temperate, coastal waters all around the world, and we were very lucky that one decided to come by Long Beach! Maybe we will see more this year?
When I got word that the shark had been sighted, everyone was buzzing around the office about it, and to make it even more exciting, they managed to find it again on the following trip that day! Some of the interns and the crew at Harbor Breeze were able to get some great photos, and even some videos that I will be sharing on this blog, so check them out! Speaking of interns, its time to introduce another one of our new Spring interns, Allee,
“Hola, I’m Allee! I grew up in Santa Clarita and I split my time between my house there and a lovely couch and sleeping bag here in Long Beach. I went to school in Syracuse, NY and got my degree in Wildlife Science and a minor in Marine Science. In high school I fell in love with wildlife and the environment and college helped me fall in love with the mysterious world that is the oceans. My years in school revealed an unknown passion in research (never thought I’d willingly say that!) and conservation. Interning at the Aquarium and being able to learn more about the amazing creatures that live right off our coast has been one of the most amazing experiences. Nothing beats watching a whale breach so close to you that you can feel the mist from the water. I can only hope that the Aquarium will cause you all to fall in love with marine life like I have!”
Be sure to check out some of Allee’s best shots of the animals she has seen during her internship thus far.
Other than sharks, we have been seeing quite a lot of whales on the daily as well! It is still a great time to come out since we have been seeing lots of grays, fins, humpbacks and lots of dolphins! So, check out our great deals that include a whale watch AND Aquarium admission and enjoy the beginning of your Spring and your children’s Spring Breaks!
Thursday, March 24, 2016
Hugh's Aquarium Views Video Number 6
The next thing that Milo the sea lion and I are working on is taking group shots using the sea lion selfie stick.
Sea lions are social animals so I figured it would be appropriate to have Milo take a group selfie with sea lions and people. We started out by getting Milo to take the selfie stick mounted GoPro camera down to the pinniped underwater observation tunnel. That way we could have Milo take pictures of himself with people in the tunnel and sea lions around him. In these first sessions we concentrated on Milo diving down to meet up with staffers in the tunnel while holding the selfie stick. In the coming week I’d like to get the other sea lions, Harpo and Parker, to also dive down to the tunnel and pose with people. How cool would it be to have your picture taken with a sea lion by a sea lion?
In the video you can see our early attempts at group selfies. On one of the dives Harpo decided that he could do a better job than Milo holding the selfie stick and attempted to take over. Milo succeeded in holding on to the camera helped out by a cool barrel roll he performed that was caught on video by the GoPro on the selfie stick. I’m also working with Harpo using the selfie stick so he may have been wanting to get in on the fun.
What would a selfie be without someone attempting to photo-bomb it? I had an aquarium volunteer, Brandon, wave to Milo as he did a fast swim by of the tunnel on his way to meet up with the mammalogists at the glass. You can see the exact moment Milo speeds up as his fur ripples and the camera is forced back by the sudden G forces. His swim by of the tunnel sort of reminds me of a TOP GUN type fly by of a jet fighter. The video also shows Milo with staffers Jeff and Laura Lee in our initial attempt at a group selfie. Stay tuned in the coming weeks as we work on improving the sea lion groupie-selfies.
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