Thursday, September 25, 2014
A Penguin Chick's Voice Change
The great thing about being around the June Keyes Penguin Habitat’s colony of Magellanic Penguins is that I learn something new about them nearly every week.
This year’s chicks are all friendly and like to hang around staffers. Most have matured past their chirping stage. When newly hatched, Magellanic Penguins have a distinct chirp that sounds like a chicken chick’s peep. They eventually grow past this stage and start to vocalize more like adult penguins. A guttural call that sounds a lot like a donkey braying.
However one young chick is still in the transition from chirping to braying and it’s adorable to listen to. Patsy and Noodle’s chick, affectionately nicknamed Paddles while she awaits an official name, is a very friendly penguin who likes to strike up a conversation with the staff whenever they’re in the exhibit. Recently one Saturday I spent the morning hanging around with the penguins. Sure enough up pops Paddles out of the water ready to converse. She’s very animated when she talks, shaking her beak from side to side as if to emphasize her statements. Although it look like she’s begging for food what the penguin caretakers tell me is that she actually just wants attention.
Well she got my attention fully as I had to stifle a laugh when her chirps ran headlong into her brays. At this point her brays sound more like honks. It’s hard to believe that both sounds are coming out of the same chick at the same time.
Check it out in the video below and try not to smile.
Thursday, September 18, 2014
It has been a very eventful September so far with blue whales lunge feeding, fin whales racing around the boat, Risso’s dolphins sightings and breaches, more humpback whales, and so many sharks! I think one of the most common questions we get while working on the boat is “do you ever see sharks?” We usually answer that we do, but it is a rare occurrence. We did have a few great white shark sightings in the summer months as mentioned in the June blog, along with a few thresher sharks and even an incredible basking shark sighting last year, but we rarely see hammerhead species.
We have had an amazing opportunity during our trips to see one of the ten species of hammerheads called the smooth hammerhead. Most of the time, we have spotted them near the surface near the oil rigs when our whale journey is leading us in that direction. Smooth hammerheads are found in temperate waters worldwide, including our own coast. During the warmer weather and the increased water temperatures that we are having, they can be seen at the surface with their dorsal fins exposed; a classic shark encounter. Their scientific name is Sphyrna zygaena ,which is interesting, since the Greek word Sphyma means hammer.
Of the ten species of hammerheads described by scientists, we have one species at the Aquarium of the Pacific called the bonnethead sharks. Two adults are housed in our Tropical Pacific gallery, and our juveniles are in the Shark Lagoon touch pools. So if you miss seeing a hammerhead species on the whale watch, you can come touch the youngsters we have here! These sightings were exciting for us since we rarely see sharks, but we have been seeing them pretty consistently! Not only are hammerheads being reported but off of Catalina Island a VERY rare whale shark has sighting has also occurred. The water is warming up and bringing so many species of fish into our area that these animals prey upon, which may explain their presence.
Sharks have been an added point of excitement on the whale watch, but so has the recent entanglement of a gray whale! That’s right, a gray! On September 2, during a routine whale watch, a juvenile gray was spotted and upon further inspection, was found to have marine debris drifting behind it. Captain Carl, who has been training in the local marine mammal response team, notified the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) California Stranding Network, a branch of the National Marine Fisheries Service, who responded to the animal immediately, along with the Coast Guard. They were able to disentangle a portion of the whale, and tried again the following day. The whale was last spotted off the coast of Oceanside in North San Diego County. It was a lucky save and a very educational experience not only for the staff, for the guests as well to really see the impact of marine debris, first hand, it has on these animals. Even the largest of marine animals can be deeply impacted by pollution. The netting around the whale seemed to have been gill nets.
Another gray whale that made the headlines was spotted in the shallows of Marina del Rey harbor for a few days, but then left and started heading south. These young grays should have made it back to Alaska months ago, because the season has already ended for this species to migrate past our coast. We all hope that these little whales make it and maybe get reunited with their families come winter when the grays make their first appearance at the beginning of another 12,000-mile migration.
This just goes to show that we are not only looking for whales, or seeing whales for that matter, during a whale watch. Mola mola, common dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, seals, sea lions, exotic marine birds and now sharks are all past highlights of our trips! So come on out to see whales, dolphins and other marine life and cool off with the nice ocean breeze!
Thursday, September 11, 2014
My favorite penguin from Brazil has a daughter
Avery was the first penguin I ever got to know. When he and the rest of the rescued Magellanic Penguins from Brazil first arrived at the Aquarium a couple of years ago I got to spend a lot of time with them in their holding/treatment pen helping to acclimatize them to being with the Aquarium staff. A change in their natural environment had caused hundreds of malnourished, distressed penguins to come ashore on the beaches of Brazil. Because of their ongoing treatment needs the ones that had found their way to Long Beach were unreleaseable to the wild.
Avery was the most independent and bold of the “Brazilians”. He was the first to come up to me and hang out as I sat next to their pool. He would actually climb up on my lap as I sat cross-legged to get a better view of the other penguins in the pool. He seemed to take a particular interest in one of the female penguins, Kate. I called Kate the “Penguin from Ipanema” because of the way she would turn male penguin’s heads as she waddled past. In fact I even used some special effects to have Avery sing a verse from “The Penguin from Ipanema”. A take off of the popular 60s song “The Girl from Ipanema”.
It was a long courtship between Kate and Avery which lasted a couple of years. When more groups of penguins arrived later from zoological facilities the exhibit began to resemble one continuous college fraternity/sorority party. Penguins were checking out various penguins of the opposite sex to court. However Avery seemed to only have eyes for Kate and he eventually won her over.
This year Kate and Avery fulfilled their destiny and hatched their first chick. A female. And like her father this chick is very independent and bold. I spent some time with her in front of the June Keyes Penguin Habitat a few weeks ago. While I was sitting next to the glass she proceeded to jump up on my lap to get a better look at the penguins swimming behind the glass. Like father, like daughter.
She’s still nameless for now. She referred as Kate and Avery’s chick sometimes shortened to Kavery. She needs a proper name. Check out the details here for information on how you might be able to name a penguin.
Tuesday, September 09, 2014
Enrichment Volunteer Staccie loves our animals and loves sharing her passion with others. She helped create an amazing new opportunity for visitors, volunteers and our animals! At the Enrichment Exploration Station, you can help build enrichments that will be given to our animals.
When you look for Staccie and the Enrichment Station, chances are you’ll first spot a large group of people intently focused around a cart. Staccie holds everyone’s attention as she shows adults and kids alike how to fold links for a rapidly growing paper chain. The colorful chain, as Staccie says, is not just a toy for the lorikeets, but it gives the birds a chance to exhibit behaviors they would normally perform in their natural environment. The lorikeets are going to shred the paper chain the way they would a bright flower in the way of their favorite nectar food. A constant stream of people come and go from the Enrichment Station cart, each directly helping with the care of our animals, while learning something and having fun. At the end of the few short hours, Staccie already has a chain almost as tall as I am and ready for the birds.
If you stick around long enough (or sometimes if you return in the next couple days) you may even see the enrichment you helped with hung up for the animals to use! Though sometimes it’s given to the animals hanging out behind the scenes. We took the paper chain created that morning into Lorikeet Forest. The animals usually require a bit of time to get used to a new device or toy, but these lorikeets seemed to know what was up. Almost immediately a group of birds came over to play with, swing from, and gnaw at the chain. Some birds even used their other toys as a perch to get to this new enrichment.
It’s an incredibly rewarding, and fun, opportunity to help enhance the life of these animals we all care about and enjoy. Look for Staccie, or one of our other volunteers, at our Enrichment Exploration Station cart and help us build an enrichment for our animals!
Thursday, September 04, 2014
But What About the Dolphins?
The end of August has been pretty amazing with blue whale sightings every day! Along with the blue whales giving us great shows out there, minke whales and more humpbacks have been sighted too. These are baleen whales that have made themselves the stars of the shows, but what about the pre-show entertainment? I always call the toothed whales our true entertainers since we see them quite often, and the bottlenose dolphins have been stealing the limelight from the blues the last few trips.
Mola mola and sea birds do give the guests some thrills during a trip but nothing is more fun than watching those dolphins having fun! We have two populations of bottlenose dolphins that we see; the coastal and the offshore. The coastal bottlenose dolphins are just that; near the shore! We see them in and around the harbor and the breakwall, and they rarely travel more than 2 kilometers (a little over a mile) from shore.
Offshore bottlenoses are genetically different than the coastal, due to their separation, and are typically larger. The California coastal stock of offshore bottlenose range in numbers between 450-500 individuals, and we have seen quite a few in the last few weeks. Usually we see about ten to fifteen at a time, but we had pods of about 70-plus individuals. These guys always look like they are having so much fun leaping clear out of the water and surfing the wake of our boat. We have some great photos of them in action and I have included some of the best from this month. Our photo ID interns collect data during all of our trips and actually take most of the photos shown in this blog. Their data is important for research and you can see some of it used in our ‘Whale App’ to see where our whales and dolphin sightings have been at whaleproject.aquariumofpacific.org.
In blue whale news, we have seen the infamous and aptly named ‘Hook’ with the obscurely shaped fluke. It is unsure whether this whale was born this way, or had a previously healed injury, but is largely missing part of its left fluke. We have also started to see some surface lunge feeding from the big blues as well! We have not seen a lot of this, as we have in previous years, but the krill may be upwelling more to the surface. This makes for an excellent blue whale viewing experience! The amazing photos of these blues were taken by Harbor Breeze Cruises photographer, Tim Hammond.
Other fauna that has been sighted this month are more commons dolphins, Rissos’s dolphins and a possible sea turtle sighting. Along with the huge baleen whales we often see their little toothed cousins too so if you want to go out and look for it all, come on out. Thanks for reading!
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