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!
Thursday, January 22, 2015
In the last blog I wrote about the killer whale pod, the CA51’s, being back again on the 6th of January, and guess what? They were back the following day on the 7th! So we had TWO days in a row with these whales and were very, very spoiled naturalists. Great shots from these moments by our photo ID interns are featured with these whales and the killer sunset we had that afternoon. After this sighting, we have not had the pleasure of seeing them since, which is pretty normal for this pod. But you never know, maybe they will make an appearance again! I have been writing about them since November of 2014 when they were first sighted after being absent for most of the year from our coast.
The killer whales have had their days to steal the show but the consistent show stealers have been the multitude of grays we have been seeing! We have still been breaking records this year and according to the American Cetacean Society annual gray whale census we have seen over 868 southbound adult gray whales with 33 calves and already 6 northbounders! During our trips, we have sighted some pretty tiny calves that look like they were born just a few days earlier. Recent studies have suggested that gray whales have been having more and more calves along their migration before they reach Baja, which may be connected with global climate change. These big grays need to find food in colder waters and as of late, they need to spend more time and in some cases, travel further north in order to create that 10 inches of blubber they need in order to make the arduous 12,000 mile journey. The success rate in calves born in the lagoons of Baja is also a lot higher than those born along the way which makes them more vulnerable to predators and the cold. Along with several calves, we have also seen some single adult and juvenile whales exhibiting some playful mating behavior as well. This kind of behavior is really interesting to watch since the whales will roll around each other and show pectoral flippers and their ventral sides. We were lucky enough to get several shots of these moments!
As in earlier blogs, I have been highlighting some of our new and seasoned naturalists as we take a glimpse into their experiences on the whale watches. Eric Yee has been with the Aquarium for almost three years and spends most of his spare time travelling to experience nature and wildlife. This is what he has to say:
” Searching for wildlife has always been a major part of my life. From hot & humid Central America to the cold waters off of the Pacific Northwest, I’ve searched for animals. Being a naturalist at the Aquarium of the Pacific has allowed me to share my passion for wildlife and inspire others to get out there and do the same. Watching our guests see a whale for the first time is a thrill, many just live blocks away from the dock and never knew whales can be seen off their own coastline. Most of us don’t need to travel far to find amazing marine mammals such as gray whales, fin whales and the largest living creature on earth, the blue whale. Some of our guests are from landlocked areas and seeing their expressions when we hit the open ocean is a blast! Sometimes even tears of joy appear when they see a whale. Sharing facts about our ocean and its inhabitants during our whale watch trips is a great hands- on way to educate our guests. “
We are also featuring some great photos from budding photographer and Harbor Breeze deck hand, Erik Combs along with the always fabulous Tim Hammond and our very own Aquarium of the Pacific photo ID interns!
Fin whales, humpbacks and lots of dolphins have also been sighted recently. The weather has been so perfect and so have the sunsets, so come out on an adventure with Eric Yee and the rest of the naturalists on a truly unique wildlife experience!
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All blogs and comments represent the views of the individual authors and not necessarily those of the Aquarium.