Thursday, January 15, 2015
Shark Training with Senior Aquarist Nicky and Fern the Zebra Shark
To a lot of people, being in the water with a large healthy shark conjures up the sounds of the JAWS theme in their minds. “Duh Duh, Duh Duh.” However if you’re in the water with Aquarium of the Pacific Senior Aquarist Nicky and Fern the Zebra Shark it’s more likely to bring up the theme from TOY STORY. “You got a friend in me.”
Fern’s training has come a long way since the day Nicky decided to use positive reinforcement to train the large shark to participate in her own health care as a way to reduce the stress of medical examinations. Just like with our sea lions it all began with simple target training with a target pole and food as reinforcement. To read about Fern’s early training click here.
Today it has progressed to the point where Nicky can be in the water with the free swimming shark and perform health exam procedures such as girth measurements and tactile examinations. Nicky can cradle Fern in her arms during these exams and turn her over. When turned over Fern then voluntarily enters a sleep-like state of “tonic immobility”. This allows for a thorough examination with reduced stress for the shark. Who knew you could cuddle a shark?
Check out the video of one of Fern’s training sessions. Aquarium of the Pacific Intern Mackenzie helped shoot the underwater scenes in the video
Thursday, January 08, 2015
It’s getting hard to keep track of all of these killer whale sightings! The majority of them have been the same pod, the CA51’s. There is a good reason that these killers are called ‘the friendly pod’ because though they are incredible stealthy hunters and always seem to catch what they are after, they are very curious and friendly to us human animals. Right after Christmas we had this pod on the 26th of December and then YESTERDAY, January 6, 2015, they were back again! Though I spend a lot of time working on projects and teaching within the walls of the Aquarium, I do get to go out occasionally and train new naturalist staff on the boats. Lucky me, and everyone else on-board, that we got to have one of the best sightings I have ever witnessed on the 12pm whale watch tour. Our Aquarium crew consisted of Maggie, our photo ID intern, and two fellow educators who I was training, Stacy and Megan. We also had whale enthusiast, researcher, and expert on-board, Alisa Schulman-Janiger, who follows and researches these particular individual killer whales among other whale species. Captain Chris raced the Triumphant straight to the whales and we even passed two southbound gray whales and a couple groups of pacific white sided dolphins to spend as much time with the CA51s as possible! We made it to them in no time and spent almost 1.5 hours in awe. They had just killed a California sea lion before we got there and they were very active, dodging sea birds who were picking at the carcass, tail lobbing, breaching, kelping (playing in kelp), rolling and playing with the carcass. The guests and the crew were amazed at how close these whales were getting to the boat and other boats around us. They were always doing something different so we all had to keep on our toes because we never knew where they were going to pop up! We even heard some of them vocalizing and saw them blowing bubbles underwater.
Every time I get to spend time with these hunters I am always learning something new about them, especially when there is someone like Alisa on-board giving us information about the individuals. The pod consists of one matriarch (the mom CA51) who’s known as Star and her three offspring, two teenage males Orian and Bumper and one young 4 year old female Comet. The boys are quite larger than mom and were the most antisocial. Mom and youngest daughter, Comet, spent the most time with us celebrating and playing with their kill and swimming and playing around the boat. These whales are primarily found in the Monterey area but have been seen as far North as British Columbia and as far South as Dana Point in Orange County. Since I have seen these whales before and have written about my first hand experience, I wanted to give our naturalists in training, Megan and Stacy, a chance to express what it was like seeing killer whales in their natural environment for the first time;
“In one word, amazing! I could not have felt luckier to be seeing Orcas in their natural habit off Southern California! The weather was gorgeous, and it allowed us to see them clearly not only when they breached, but also in the water. They are without a doubt, one of the most beautiful and majestic animals I have ever seen! ” -Megan
“Seeing those majestic animals in their natural environment for the first time was incredible. I am so fortunate be have been able to watch them and it made my love for the ocean grow so much more.” -Stacy
Along with the killer whale excitement, we have also been having record breaking numbers of south bound gray whales, friendly humpback whales, fin whales and lots of Pacific white sided, common and bottlenose dolphins!
The weather has been fabulous, the ocean has been calm and we have had some phenomenal sightings, so come on out and spend the beginning of 2015 out on a whale of an adventure!
UPDATE! As I write this we JUST saw the CA51 Pod AGAIN! Two days in a row (January 6 and 7) with a gorgeous sunset. This makes seven sightings now since November of 2014!
Tuesday, January 06, 2015
Whales live in a world full of sound. The ocean was a noisy place even before humans started making a ruckus underwater with boat engines, blasting, construction, drilling, and seismic air gun noise; surf smashes against the beach, underwater volcanoes erupt, wind kicks up foamy white-capped waves, fish grunt, shrimp snap, dolphins click and whistle, and the list goes on. In the midst of all this racket, male humpback whales are trying to stage a romantic serenade. They pose half on their heads in the water, swim very, very slowly, and sing. Within a population (population: noun. a group of animals that live in a particular place), each year, every male humpback sings the same song – the 2014 hit single, if you will. The song changes from year to year, and is passed between populations. How did the song travel? Who carried it? Who listened to it? How did it change? Does being exposed to seismic air gun noise affect their singing? What does that teach us about the whales? Answering these questions may help us better protect whales and understand when, where, and how that protection is most needed.
It’s mid-afternoon on the ocean a few kilometers offshore from BRAHSS project headquarters at Peregian Beach. The research vessel Proteus, a small “tinny,” a metal-sided boat, bobs up and down on the waves, held in place by the sea anchor. A scientist sits cross-legged on the boat’s deck, grinning with her eyes closed. Large headphones cover her ears, and she’s holding the end of a long, black cord, no wider than a pencil. Dangling over the side of the boat, the cord terminates in a waterproof black cylinder, only a few inches long. This is a hydrophone (“hydro” meaning water, “phone” meaning sound). It’s recording a singer, an adult male humpback performing his solo, and playing the recording through to the headphones, giving our girl on the deck such a broad grin.
This year’s whale song would not sound like Frank Sinatra to you and I; personally, I think it sounds spooky, both beautiful and sad, with occasional comical squeaks. But it’s just what the female humpback whales are listening for, along with the BRAHSS acousticians (acoustician: noun. a scientist who studies sound). Recordings of whale song are made with the hand-held hydrophones, like the one we’re using today on Proteus, and with hydrophones attached to the big floating buoys, pictured below. Back at headquarters, these recordings will be run through a computer program that turns the song into a picture. This picture is called a spectrogram; it’s essentially the sheet music of whale song. Studying these recordings and images, the acousticians can work out the pattern of the 2014 Australian east coast humpbacks’ song. Next year, if things go as usual, another group of humpbacks will sing this pattern, and the population here will sing a new song, transmitted to them from another ocean.
Back on the deck of Proteus, the scientist wearing the headphones opens her eyes. “It’s getting fainter,” she says. “He’s about to surface.”
Everyone on board, skipper, scientist, deckhand, and research assistant, looks for signs of a whale surfacing. A few long moments pass.
“Blow! Eight o’clock!”
Our singer has swum a fair distance away in those few minutes. Quickly, we reel up the hydrophone, and Proteus motors to the new location, marked by a still patch on the water’s surface. The hydrophone is deployed and we begin recording again. This time we are lucky, and are very close to our singer. He is deep enough that we can’t see him, but his song echoes up through the water, resonating through the metal hull of the boat. We sit in awed silence and listen.
Thursday, January 01, 2015
An Aquarium of the Pacific Volunteer's 2014 Photo Album
As we head into the New Year I thought we’d take a look back in pictures; this is a husbandry volunteer’s 2014.
Working a regular job that can take me cross country on a regular basis really makes me appreciate spending my weekends this past year at the Aquarium of the Pacific. I’ve found that volunteering around critters like pinnipeds, penguins, sharks, and sea otters on Saturdays and participating in the Aquarium’s sea turtle research on Sundays revitalizes my mind and body for the week in my “other” world of tech and business.
Check out some of my favorite Aquarium images from this past year in the photo gallery.
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
More Killer Whales
Hello whale lovers! Since we are in the midst of the Holiday Season I wanted to give you all a short and sweet update about our recent killer whale and gray whale sightings!
Among the smaller species of dolphins, we have been seeing even MORE of the largest species of dolphins; killer whales! I know we have had a lot of killer whale updates lately but I am so excited to keep writing about them. We had yet another sighting on December 18th for both of our trips. We know that this is the time of year that we usually see them but they never cease to amaze! According to expert Alisa Schulman-Janiger from the California Killer Whale Project and the ACS LA Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project, these were the CA51 pod again, who were showcased in the last blog from earlier this month. Again, these are a small pod of whales from the Monterey Bay area who frequent our waters in the late Fall early Winter. They were highly entertaining and exhibited some classic killer whale behavior like breaching, spyhopping, spooking a couple of migrating gray whales, and even snacking on a few California sea lions. This particular pod is a transient group who primarily preys upon marine mammals and are also called Bigg’s Killer Whales. Harbor Breeze’s captain Kevin and the rest of the crew took some fantastic photos of the recent encounter along with the infamous Tim Hammond. I hope we get to see them again soon and it is on a trip with you!
In the world of gray whales, we have already had some record breaking numbers! The American Cetacean Society’s Gray Whale Census’s volunteers continue to count the whales daily, and since December 1st, we have had over 168 sightings! Among the adults that are being seen, a few newborn calves have also been seen hugging the kelp laden coast by their mother’s side. Our trips have been pretty great with gray sightings as well! We have seen quite a few and have been averaging about 1-2 per day!
Grays, killer whales, fin whales, dolphins and even a Steller sea lion have also been sighted frequently. So come on out, enjoy nature with your friends and family during the holidays on a fun and exciting boat ride! Happy holidays everyone and see you all in 2015!!
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All blogs and comments represent the views of the individual authors and not necessarily those of the Aquarium.