Thursday, January 28, 2016
An octopus investigates a football. The latest Hugh's Aquarium Views video
It’s seemed only appropriate though coincidental that the Aquarium of the Pacific’s Giant Pacific Octopus checked out a football the same week that the Rams Football Team announces its return to Los Angeles.
Aquarist Angelina likes to keep the giant Pacific octopus under her care mentally stimulated. In the past she’s given the “GPO” children’s toys to investigate and jars to open. Recently she let the octopus investigate a football. The giant Pacific octopus uses its arms and suckers to feel and taste the object it’s investigating.
While watching the GPO handle the football it reminded me of a quarterback fading back after the snap while looking for a receiver to throw a pass to in the end zone. It looked pretty professional. Maybe the Rams should give it a tryout next season.
Check out the video of the octopus with the football. The video is narrated by aquarist Angelina.
Thursday, January 21, 2016
The grays are still going strong! A bunch of southbound grays have been seen daily, and sometimes, they are not travelling alone. Many of the grays we have been seeing lately are in small groups, which make the sightings quite exciting. Sometimes, these whales will all come up for air or dive in tandem, giving the guests, and us, a really great show. Other times, there may be two whales courting each other in which lots of rolling, erratic swimming behavior, and even breaching behaviors can be seen. According to the census, who have been counting these whales daily since December 1st thanks to volunteers, 686 total grays have passed point Vicente in Palos Verdes. Now, this does not account for whales seen at night, or, those who travel outside of the Catalina channel. Many grays can be seen migrating past the other side of Catalina, and beyond. There are three populations of gray whales in the world and ours are the healthiest population known in the Pacific Ocean with a total of 22,000 to 25,000. Gray whales used to be found in the Atlantic Ocean, but with the dependency of whaling in the 1700’s, they have gone extinct. With the amount of calves we are fortunate to see every year off our coast, our population in the Eastern Pacific just seems to get healthier every year.
What has been surprising to me is the amount of humpback whales we have seen throughout the entire year of 2015, and now the beginning of 2016. I remember a few years ago, seeing a humpback was something rather special and something we would normally see in the springtime. We have still been seeing humpbacks around a few days per week and the other day; I got to be on the boat with a breaching humpback! When you find a humpback that is not too shy, they will breach right in front of the boat, sometimes over and over again. Other cetaceans that we have been seeing breaching are the little common dolphins as well. If we come across some dolphins that are feeding, sometimes they leap out of the water and stun their prey as they land. Other times, they are leaping out of the water as they are travelling, or playing in the wake or the bow of the boat. Bottlenose dolphins have also been seen to do some pretty impressive breaches and leaps as well. There are so many questions as to why cetaceans, especially the big whales, lift their enormous bodies out of the water. They could be communicating, getting a good look around, knocking off parasites that inhabit their skin, or just having some fun. A very recent study suggests that young humpback whale calves may be so actively breaching in order to increase the myoglobin (oxygen in muscular tissue) concentration by working their muscles in order to aid in conditioning their body for long dives (Cartwright et at., 2016). This would be a sound explanation for many whales since the energy it takes to lift their bodies out of the water should be benefited to the animal somehow. Super Interesting!
We have some fantastic photos of our recent sightings from the last couple of weeks for you to enjoy from our usual talented photographers. If you are one of the few who are still on winter break or have some free time on the weekends, come out and visit us either at the Aquarium, on a whale watch, or both! Extra trips have also been added on weekends that start at 9am, which is my favorite time to be out on the water. See you soon!
Thursday, January 14, 2016
Hugh's Aquarium Views Video
For something new for 2016 periodically I will be making a series of short videos about volunteering at the Aquarium and the things that go on around me during my volunteer shifts. I’m thinking of calling them Hugh’s Aquarium Views. This week’s video features some basketball and frisbee fun with Milo the sea lion during a presentation.
I’ve known Milo since he was a youngster and we have a good relationship. You can see the fun he’s having during this session. I’ve always joked that I love playing with dogs but since I don’t have one I have to make do on the weekends with sea lions. Milo makes a fine surrogate canine for me. The fun activity also makes a fine enrichment session for Milo.
As you watch the video realize that the person in the video is merely a volunteer and not a paid professional. I work a regular job during the week but I’ve built up a good relationship with the critters at the Aquarium of the Pacific over the nearly 18 years that I’ve been volunteering. It allows me to have regular Walter Mitty moments with the animals. Except they are not in my dreams but in my reality.
Thursday, January 07, 2016
Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a fun and safe holiday season. We have already started 2016 out strong with lots and lots of whales. The gray whale migration is going strong and at the moment, we have had 338 whales that have been counted travelling south to Mexico past Palos Verdes where the census takes place. Out of these whales, three of them have been counted at calves. I was so fortunate to go out on the 9 AM whale watch tour this past Sunday and there was so much life out there! We had a super pod of common dolphins that were travelling at super high speed and were practically surrounding our boat. We also had a pair of gray whales with a really itty bitty calf migrating alongside its mother. While watching the cute little baby gray, we saw a humpback whale breach near the horizon and had nice sightings of this whale.
The grays have been sighted daily and a typical whale watch this time of year, as described above, is not only seeing one species of whale. Humpbacks, fins, and dolphins have been enhancing the whale watches since all these animals display different behaviors. Gray whales are slow going as they migrate and will often fluke when they dive or even breach. Humpback whales are usually very active and will sometimes breach or slap their tails and pectoral flippers on the surface of the water. When fin whales are seen, sometimes we are lucky to watch them lunge feeding on fish or krill at the surface, like we saw a few days ago. Common dolphins are usually seen in large pods that are either travelling or feeding in large feeding frenzies at the surface. The bottlenose dolphins are usually in smaller pods but really seem to enjoy getting major air off the wake of the boat. Pacific white-sided dolphins can also be very active and, sometimes, we even see these pods of dolphins mixed with other species and even the dolphins mixed with the whales! On one of our recent trips, we even saw Rissos’s dolphins which are seen in the cover photo of this week’s blog. These huge 10-14 foot dolphins are usually slow travelling and are seen when squid is in the water since that is their primary food source. Their tall dorsal fins and multiple rake marks and scars on their body make them easy to spot from far away.
This week, we have another contributor to the whale blog; Captain Kevin Nguyen! If you have even been on a whale watch, then Kevin was probably your captain. He is the main captain of the Triumphant and has recently gotten into photography in order to capture some of the species he sees on the daily.
“I have the best job in the world; getting to go out into the ocean every day to look for these magnificent animals. As much as I’m out there in the ocean, we get to see some amazing things and I’ve been lucky enough to have a chance to photograph them. “
It’s cold outside, but bundle up in layers and come on out and join us for a whale of an adventure to see these migrating gray whales! The gray whale season runs until the beginning of May, so there is still time to get your tickets!
Thursday, December 31, 2015
2016 will mark my 18th year volunteering at the Aquarium of the Pacific. When I get nostalgic and think of the animals I worked with that first year at the aquarium in 1998 and still hang around with today I think of critters like Brook and Charlie the sea otters and Ellie and Shelby the harbor seals. I also think of a few critters that may surprise you like Fern the Zebra Shark and Theo the Olive Ridley Sea Turtle.
During the first couple of years that the Aquarium of the Pacific was open to the public the staff was well trained but leaner that it is today. Thus marine mammal volunteers like myself not only cared for the pinnipeds and otters but also lent a hand to the aquarist staff. We would help feed sharks, handle sea turtles for husbandry procedures, prepare diets for various marine critters and also clean protein skimmers and exhibit windows. Anything that needed to be accomplished was done with whoever was available at the time, like marine mammal volunteers between training sessions.
Thus in the early days of the Aquarium I had hand fed Fern when she was just a little shark. I also not only prepared the sea turtles diet but also fed and handled them for husbandry procedures. I used to pick up and hold Theo the sea turtle for medical procedures back when one person could still lift him by themselves. Today each is a lot larger. Fern is part of the shark animal encounter program where guests can be in the water with her. Theo usually can be found in the Tropical Pacific exhibit by the viewing tunnel where guest can get a good look at him up close.
Check out the recent pictures of Fern and Theo and compare them with the shots from 1998. My how that shark and sea turtle have grown!
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