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.
Thursday, April 16, 2015
You may have read in the local news that we recently had a deceased fin whale wash ashore near the port of LA in San Pedro on Friday, April 10th. With the response from the NOAA West Coast Stranding Network and some initial observations, it looks like the whale died from blunt force trauma and suffered internal injuries. The researchers concluded that this was the result of a ship strike and the whale may have been struck, and then dragged into the harbor. The whale was on the shore near the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium where it was recently being necropsied, a kind of animal ‘autopsy’, and studied.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time this has happened. One of the major reasons is the close proximity between the ports, the shipping lanes, and the animals’ feeding areas; the urban ocean. Because these incidents are not just happening in our own backyard (four blue whales were killed in the Santa Barbara channel back in 2007, and five more whales in 2010), researchers have come together to study these ship strikes. This is where the Aquarium of the Pacific comes into the picture! We have collaboration with Cascadia Research Collective which is where all of our photo processing, GPS coordinates and behavior data the whale photo ID interns collect all year round goes. With these data and other data collected by researchers, it was proposed to move the shipping lanes away from the trajectory of the whales back in June 2013. One of the leading Cascadia Researchers that we work with, John Calambokidis, thinks this is a good first step in saving these endangered whales. Though these ship strikes make our hearts ache, there is good coming from it: we can study large baleen whales more closely and tissue samples may help us correlate their health and our local ocean’ health, more awareness is made for these whales, and more cases are reported for the potential movement of more shipping lanes.
Locally, the whales that are reported to be struck the most are fin whales. Fin whales are found year round off of our coast and will often be feeding on krill and small fish near the shipping lanes, and other deep water area, during our whale watch trips. We have actually been seeing tons of them! I was lucky enough to be out on the boat a few days ago while the fin whales were feeding among other marine animals. When we spot these frenzies from afar, we first see LOTS of splashing from marine birds ‘dive bombing’ for the fish, then we usually see small dorsal fins of dolphins, brown bodies of sea lions, and sometimes even sharks and whales feeding all in the same place!
Along with the fin whales, we have been seeing a lot of northbound gray whales with new calves in tow! We have also been seeing humpback whales, a few more blues, and lots of dolphins! We have some great photos featured this week by the always talented Harbor Breeze staff, Tim Hammond and Erik Combs, along with our Aquarium photo ID interns. We would love to have you on board if it is your first time, or your tenth, so come on out and have an adventure with us out on the ocean blue!
Thursday, April 09, 2015
Maggie the Sea Otter's Unique Talent
Amongst all the sea otters at the Aquarium of the Pacific Maggie has a unique talent. She has learned how to take cups and stack them together. These cups are of progressively larger diameter which allows them to be stacked into each other. It’s the same type of toy that human kids play with.
For an otter however it takes a little more effort to master than for a human youngster. For one thing otters don’t have opposable thumbs so it’s harder for them to maneuver the cups around. Try stacking your kitchen cups together wearing a thick pair of winter mittens and using your belly as a table while floating on your back in the water. Not that easy.
Maggie however, like all otters, has a trait that helps her stack cups. She is extremely persistent when it comes to trial and error. If the cup doesn’t fit one way she’ll keep trying different approaches until it does fit. Kind of a nice trait to have. The cups act as an enrichment device as it stimulates an otter’s basic instincts for problem solving.
Check out the video below of Maggie stacking cups during a recent training session. Caution. It’s kind of cute and you might want to watch it over and over again.
Thursday, April 02, 2015
According to local whale watchers our first confirmed blue whale was sighted last week a few miles off of the Mission Bay area in San Diego! Since then the Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project at Point Vicente spotted one as well on March 26th! The next day, we were lucky enough to encounter our first blue whale sighting during our gray whale watches! When we all heard the news we got super excited and we hope that this means we are going to have a good blue whale-filled summer. Usually, we will see blues as early as February coming in to ‘scout’ for krill and see what the goods are like off of our coast. I hope they report back to the others that we have plenty! UPDATE: Our most recent sightings of a blue whale was just on April 2nd!
This season is still pretty up in the air since we are officially in a NOAA certified El Niño. During an El Niño season, our water temperatures warm and the bottom of the food chain species move to colder waters and their predators follow. This is also true for whale species since they do feed on smaller prey items. Blue whales exclusively eat krill off of our coast, which are usually in abundance here during the summer upwelling and prefer colder water. Basically, we don’t know what the blue season is going to be like and this will be very interesting for me since it is one of the first El Niño seasons I will be experiencing since I have been working on the boats. I am very interested to see how it is going to pan out.
We are still seeing lots of grays! Just a few south-bounders are still trickling in and our total southbound count according to the American Cetacean Society Gray Whale Census is now 1895; still at an all-time high. North bounders have been going super strong with 1,413 already and 16 calves! Note that this census breaks the northbound and southbound into two different groups though some of those individuals could be the same since the whales are making a roundtrip migration. We have some photos of our gray whale encounters from the last few weeks along with the other wildlife we have been seeing from our photo ID interns, Tim Hammond, and Eric Combs!
The gray whales are still going strong and with the excitement of the first blue whales, humpbacks, fin whales, minke whales, and of course tons of dolphins, now is a great time to come out! So, if you are looking for a perfect way to spend your spring break with friends and family, look no further. We have the most amazing wildlife right off of our coast and they are very accessible! Join us on a whale watch or a harbor cruise to enjoy the sunshine and the time off from school or work!
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