Thursday, December 18, 2014
A decade-long tradition continues. Building a snowman for the sea otters at the Aquarium of the Pacific.
Who knew that the tiny snowman that I built over ten years ago for the sea otters at the Aquarium of the Pacific would start an annual tradition. That first snowman lasted only a few minutes before Summer the sea otter carried it off into the water. The snowmen in the years following became much larger with more otter proofing physic applied. They also became the center piece of the festive sea otter winter wonderland background during the Aquarium’s annual Holiday Treats for the Animals weekends that the whole team put together.
This year for the morning snowman I attempted to build Olaf from Frozen. Unfortunately rather than Olaf, the snowman looked more like Zorak the bugman from Space Ghost. The otters didn’t seem to mind though. They still congregated around the snowman looking like kids on Christmas morning around the tree, enjoying the treats scattered around it.
Check out the video of the creation of this year’s sea otter snowman.
Thursday, December 11, 2014
There has certainly been quite a buzz around the area about our recent killer whale sightings! As mentioned briefly in the last blog, we did have a sighting last month on November 25th of about seven of the Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP) killer whales. These are whales that are super rare for our waters from the Mexico and Central America area. After our sighting, which included a lot of great activity, they traveled further north. But that is not where the excitement ended! The following day, killer whales were reported to be in our area AGAIN and my first thought was that the ETP’s were travelling back down to warmer waters but no! These were our friendly pod, the CA51’s, who we see every year around this time. This pod hangs out in Monterrey and comes down to say ‘Hi’ and also predate on our plethora of small marine mammals. They showed their skills by playing with and killing an unfortunate California sea lion during our sighting on the 26th of November. This particular pod is made up of a family of four whales, the matriarch being CA51, and her three offspring.
There are three major groups of these whales: transients, residents, and off–shores. We do not have resident killer whales in Southern California; instead we have transient visitors who traverse from point A to point B and primarily feed on other marine mammals such as whales, dolphins, seals, and sea lions. The resident populations are very well researched and cataloged in places like the San Juan Islands, while the off-shores are not very well researched but are known to primarily eat large fish and have been seen from San Diego to British Columbia. We have had a couple of sightings of offshore killer whales within the last few years, traveling in very large pods, upwards of 30 individuals, but transients seem to be our most frequent visitors, and we are happy with that! According to Alisa Schulman-Janiger from the California Killer Whale Project and the ACS LA Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project, the CA51’s are transient killer whales while the ETP’s are still a mystery and not studied very often so it is always important to report what they are doing when we do sight them. Guests are often bewildered to hear these intelligent hunters travel ‘this far south’ but there are populations of killer whales all over the world, even in Hawaii!
With two whale watch tours daily, we have had several naturalists onboard, and one finally got her moment! Andrea has been a member of the Aquarium of the Pacific’s education department for over three years and has been hoping to be the lucky one onboard and this time she was! This is what she said about her first experience with these animals;
“The killer whales were breath-taking and experiencing them hunting gave me mixed emotions. I wanted to see the hunt but felt sorry for the sea lion! It was really hard to narrate because I was so excited to see them. The sound of them breathing really look my words away and it was a once in a lifetime experience!”
While we had two days filled with killer whale excitement, we have also had many other great sightings! We have continued to see a few gray whales make their way south, and just yesterday we had five of them in one trip! Our official gray whale season started December 1st and the census at the American Cetacean Society Interpretive Center has begun to count those grays! We had a record breaking year in 2013 of gray sightings so I am interested to see how this season goes! Fin and humpback whales continue to be seen along with tons of common, bottlenose and pacific white sided dolphins. So come out and see us and make some holiday memories with your family and friends!
Thursday, December 04, 2014
A tongue in cheek look at the differences
Is it a seal or a sea lion? I hear this question a lot when I’m in the pinniped tunnel at the Aquarium. The best and most correct way to answer is to talk scientifically about their physical differences. Sea lions have ear flaps. Seals don’t. Seals have evolved short front flippers with nails. Sea lions have evolved long wing-like front flippers. Sea lions are from the family Otariinae while seals are from Phocidae, etc.
However when I’m talking with kids I like to use a more entertaining way to describe the differences between our harbor seals and California sea lions.
This is a short list of some of my sillier physical descriptions:
- Sea lions are like dog mermaids. Seals are more like Jabba the Hutt.
- Seals can scratch your back. Sea Lions can pat your back.
- If you’re being chased on land and the pinniped is catching up to you it’s a sea lion because sea lions can rotate their hind flippers and run. Seals hop and crawl on their bellies.
- Sea lions can wear ear rings. Seals can have pedicures.
- While swimming, seals are rear wheel drive while sea lions are front wheel drive.
- Sea lions are like underwater airplanes. They “fly” through the water. Seals are more like deep sea submersibles. They can dive much deeper than sea lions.
- If they were in an exercise class a sea lion would do Zumba. A seal would prefer yoga.
- Sea lions will high five you with their long front flippers. Seals will just shake your hand with their short stubby front flipper.
- Sea lions climb over fences. Seals crawl under them.
Of course if the kids really get into the descriptions I tend to get a little bit more silly and anthropomorphic in my comparison of their personalities.
- Sea lions bark like they’ve had too much coffee. Seals grunt like they only drink decaf.
- Sea lions prefer team sports. Seals prefer individual sports.
- Sea lions will rub noses with you to say hi. Seals will send you a text message.
- Sea lions are the huggers. Seals are the huggies.
My best description of their personalities?
A sea lion’s selfie would include all his buddies in the picture. A seal’s selfie would be just of itself.
Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Fin whales, Killer Whales, and our first Grays of the season!
Hello whale lovers! So much has been going on! As you have been reading in the previous blogs, we have been seeing tons of friendly humpback whales and a few blues. Even though the humpbacks, and even some blues, have still been around this month, the real show stealers have been the fin whales! It is common for us to see fin whales closer to shore in the fall since they tend to feed further offshore during the summer months. They are moving in and being seen very frequently. As a matter of fact, we have had over twenty fin whale sightings since the beginning of November! For those of you have never heard of a fin whale, don’t worry, many people haven’t. Though they are the second largest animal on earth and frequent our waters, they fall to the shadow of the blue whale with its massive world-renowned size and other popular whales like humpbacks, grays, and killer whales. In fact, most of our fin whales are quite large and can reach lengths of up to seventy feet, which is pretty comparable to the 80 plus feet of our blues. Fin whales are FAST! One of their nicknames is ‘the grey hound of the sea’; they can swim up to thirty miles per hour in short bursts! Not bad for a giant. Because of their speed, sometimes our moments with them are fleeting, but other times we get some extraordinary views. Fins are a little more social than other whales and are sometimes seen in large groups, even though they are solitary animals. We have been seeing one to three at a time in the last few days. They will also sometimes be seen with offshore bottlenose ‘bow riding’ the rostrum, or front of their face, much like they do with boats and ships.
Something super cool in local whale news is within the last few days we have spotted our first gray whales of the season! This season typically doesn’t start until December, but sometimes we can see them in early November! Maybe our gray whale season will be starting a little early.
THIS JUST IN! we JUST had a killer whale sighting on 11.25.14! They were spotted VERY near shore off Point Vicente in Palos Verdes and according to Alisa Shulman-Janiger from the California Killer Whale Project, these are most likely the same whales seen off the coast of San Diego the day prior and are probably whales from south of the border known as Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP) killer whales. There were around seven of them with a few juveniles and they were quite active. Behaviors such as spy hopping, tail lobbing and even breaching were reported. I hope they stick around since we are in the time of year when we see them the most!
As part of my job at the Aquarium, I am lucky enough to be a naturalist on the whale watch boats and educate those of you who come out to see these amazing animals. But, I am not the only naturalist! If you come visit, you will most likely meet one of my friends who also narrate the trips. In the next few blogs, I will be showcasing some of our seasoned and newer whale watch naturalists so we can take a look at some of their memorable experiences. This month, I will be showcasing Jennifer T. who has been with the Aquarium for about four years. When asking her about her most memorable experience, this is what she said:
“I’d say my most memorable whale watching moment was the first time I saw killer whales. You were training me. It was a beautiful day out. I was standing on the bow of the boat scoping out the horizon when I saw a HUGE dorsal fin break the water’s surface. Too big and too black to be one of our resident dolphin species. A giddiness washed over me as I realized who that dorsal had to belong to. I looked up and behind you standing in the wheelhouse and signed an “O” at you. You had clearly seen it too since you had a giant smile on your face, practically jumping and down. We got to play with a little visiting pod of these beautiful creatures for the rest of our trip and I’m pretty sure you took some sweet video of it with your phone.”
I remember this day well and also consider it one of my most memorable moments too and I will often share with guests the videos I have of these unique sightings.
The seasonal pacific white sided dolphins have also been seen quite often, along with the regular co-stars of the show the common and bottlenose dolphins. Even though it is getting a little chillier out and most of the blue whales have gone on their way, we are still seeing some extraordinary sights out on the water with tons of dolphins and the frequency of humpbacks,fins, grays and maybe even some killer whales! So come on out for a boat adventure and make your own memorable moments!
Thursday, November 20, 2014
Just when you thought it was safe for apples to go back up onto trees.
The staff at the Aquarium of the Pacific placed apples and pears up onto a favorite perching tree in Lorikeet Forest. To capture the birds feasting upon this cornucopia of hanging fruit I placed an iPhone 6 in time-lapse mode on a tripod facing the tree. The results were amazing to watch. The scenes from this feeding frenzy would make even the sharks in Shark Lagoon nervously laugh.
Check it out below.
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All blogs and comments represent the views of the individual authors and not necessarily those of the Aquarium.