- What’s Out There – Sometimes It May Be a Shock As Well As a Surprise: Mako Shark in Monterey Bay
- Honoring Jud Vandevere on his 80th birthday
- “Stampede” – or, Some Observations on the Gray Whale Southward Migration
- Look and Listen for Humpback Whales
- Watching Whales – Whale Spouts
- Watching Whales – Art and Nature
- What to do about beached marine mammals
- Hints for successful whale watching
What’s Out There – Sometimes It May Be a Shock As Well As a Surprise: Mako Shark in Monterey Bay
Wildlife photographer Peggy Stap was aboard the whale watch vessel Sea Wolf II (Monterey Bay Whale Watch cruise), shooting ID photos of whales near shore in Monterey Bay, when Richard Ternullo sighted a non-whale animal. Here’s Peggy’s photo of a Shortfin Mako Shark. Thanks to ACSMB member Peggy Stap for this amazing photo and information. She writes:
“If you look closely at the photo, the shark is eating a harbor seal and you can see the body of the harbor seal next to the shark between his mouth and pectoral [side] fin. Part of the harbor seal is in his mouth — but on the other side where it is hard to see.”
Shark expert Henry F. Mollett helped ID the shark from her photos and posted this on his web site: http://homepage.mac.com/mollet/Io/Io_large.html
The shortfin mako was seen on 3 Sep 2005 at 9:20 a.m.; position 36.37570 N and 121.52596 W; water – 142 feet deep (43 m) ; water temp 15.5 Celsius; in Monterey Bay.
Identified by Dave Ebert and Bob Lea from photo. Photo of dorsal fin confirmed ID.
Capt. Richard Ternullo [SeaWolf II] estimated the shark to be 8 to 9 feet long.
Location is about 2.5 km off Del Monte Beach, Monterey and New Monterey/Cannery Row, Monterey. Can be considered outer Monterey Harbor.
The shark was eating a harbor seal, Phoca vitulina, Family Phocidae, Order Pinnipedia.
If a mako shark in Monterey Bay is a surprise to you, here is a quotation from Sharks and Rays of the Pacific Coast, by Ava Ferguson and Gregor Cailliet, Monterey Bay Aquarium, 1990: “During fall (from August to October), the prevailing winds die down and cease to draw cool water from below. Warm oceanic water from far offshore drifts into the bay, raising water temperatures. Along with this warm-water mass swim large open-ocean sharks, such as shortfin makos and blues. These seagoing sharks may linger in the bay for a month or two.” (p. 26).
Adapted from an article in Soundings, January 2006
Honoring Jud Vandevere on his 80th Birthday
by Esta Lee Albright
I like to call Jud Vandevere “the naturalist’s naturalist.” As Jeff Norman puts it, “You always know that, if you need that special piece of information, you can call Jud and he’ll have it.” That’s really not the whole story, however, because Jud has created ground-breaking research and introduced people to nature for more than fifty years. Eighth graders, college students, Lyceum, Earth Watch teams, UC Extension, Elderhostel, plus anyone assisting his research projects. He was so dedicated to getting children out of the classroom and into nature, that when he taught eighth grade at Washington Union School District, he got himself a school bus driver’s license so he could take them. That also put him on school bus route as a substitute driver but he considered it worth the extra job.
The stuffed toy Judson C. Otter was named after him. For eight years, six days a week in the summertime, Jud was the first naturalist at Pt. Lobos. At that time, “the sea otters had eaten their way up the coast” from their discovery in Bixby Cove in 1938, and they were a main attraction at Pt. Lobos. In 1956, when they were first seen off Pt. Lobos at Gibson Beach, except for directions to the bathrooms, questions about sea otters were the most frequent. Jud soon gave up classroom teaching (and a lot of his other pursuits) to study this new fascinating animal, as researcher in residence at Hopkins Marine Station. He was able to learn through necropsies on dead otters, by long observance of otters in the water and ashore, and by collecting scat to be analyzed re sea otter diet. Soon he was speaking and writing in addition to naturalist work at Pt. Lobos, and advising other writers and film makers.
Being known for sea otter work, Jud’s expertise with plants is sometimes overlooked. He created a herbarium for Pt. Lobos at an early date. He searched for rare grasses in Big Sur, sometimes taking his family along. Being a true Renaissance Man in the natural world, he has contributed many biological surveys for state and county governments.
Cetaceans and sea otters both attracted him to the shoreline of Pt. Lobos. He had already noticed whales during his journeys at age 21 as a purser for Black Diamond Steamship Company, before his college work at San Francisco State. Necropsies on dead beached animals gave him research experience with whales and dolphins. One Pacific White-sided dolphin necropsy gave him the shocking information of heavy loads of DDT and other toxins many years before current research findings began giving us a “heads up.” He testified before both U.S. House and Congress on the original Marine Mammal Protection Act. He was one of the founders who met in Ansel Adams’ house to create the local Ventana Chapter of the Sierra Club. A similar service was done for the CA Native Plant Society and for Friends of the Sea Otter. The pioneering sea otter research project in the Monterey Bay Aquarium called on his expertise.
San Ignacio Lagoon, Roger Payne, Ken Norris, Margaret Owings, the Packard family, American Society of Mammalogists, killer whales rushing sea lions at Pt Lobos, discovering Pelagic cormorants nesting at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, political activist work, the first international conference on otters held in Surinam, Gerald Durrell, kit fox surveys in South County. There is much to be enjoyed on hearing Jud in ordinary conversation.
As I listened with delight while we were taking a break from tracking radio-tagged sea otters one year, I wished others were with us to hear it. So, a few friends are involved in an oral history project of Jud’s life and work. Interviewers include Alan Baldridge, Jeff Norman, Dr. James Mattison, Jud’s daughter Gwyn Vandevere and myself. We are using a recorder on loan from the local Maritime Museum and we will be looking to ACS and others for funding to duplicate the tapes. The original recordings will be preserved and protected, and copies will be available for research use at the Maritime Museum and The California History Room of the Monterey Public Library.
Reprinted from the August 2004 Soundings
“Stampede” — or, Some Observations on
the 2003 Gray Whale Southward Migration
by Esta Lee Albright
“…we decided to sail out the Gate to see how the ‘save the whales’ campaign was going. Duffel in hand, we were just about out the door when a friend with a Cessna offered a completely different vantage point. Within half an hour of taking off from San Rafael, we were over Monterey Bay spotting large puffs of sea spray from southbound grays. Lots of them. In fact, it’s a dang stampede out there. In two hours, we counted more than 60 whales.”
– – excerpt from “Sightings,” an item by Mitch Perkins, Latitude 38, February 2003.
The Gray whale’s southward migration is the best known presence of whales in our area. In fact, a large percentage of local people are not aware that various species of whales are offshore of the Central Coast almost every month of the year. Ironically, the height of the Gray whale migration, mid-January, can be expected to occur during winter storms, high swells, strong wind and surface chop. This year’s southward migration not only saw better than usual conditions at sea, but a variety of behavioral surprises.
First, a small Gray whale (about 20 feet long) was spotted along the Monterey breakwater and off Cannery Row on November 29, 2002. This youngster, then perhaps slightly less than one year old, may have begun its southward swim from weaning and feeding grounds off Northern California or Oregon, instead of the traditional feeding grounds around Alaska. Some mother-calf pairs are seen feeding, and the calves evidently are weaned, in these other spots. After weaning, the calf is likely to undertake its first southward migration (several thousand miles) alone.
January 2003 roared in on a gale and cold, wet winter-storm conditions. Whale watch trips were canceled or uncomfortable. Nobody wanted to spend much time standing on cliffs looking for spouts. But, by mid-January, there was a lull in the storms and the numbers of whales began to show. At first, they seemed to prefer a route farther offshore: 5 miles out was not strange.
An unexpected delight was the presence of herds of Long-beaked common dolphins, Delphinus capensis, often inside the bay, and always playful around the boat. Real crowd pleasers. They were reported on 11 out of 15 days the last two weeks of January.
Farther out to sea on January 18, a large herd of Risso’s dolphin, Grampus griseus, seemed to be milling around over a two-mile-square area. A few Pacific white-sided dolphins, Lagenorhynchus obliquidens, were scattered around, plus a handful of Northern right-whale dolphins, Lissodelphis borealis. In our jaded way, we are no longer surprised (but always pleased) at multiple species of dolphins around Monterey, but even longtime whale watchers must have been thrilled at the numbers of deepwater Risso’s and usually rare Northern right-whale dolphins.
Later that same day, as 10 to 20 Gray whales came along, the Risso’s seemed to split into small pods and harass small groups of the Grays. As the Risso’s swam close to the whales, the Grays would close and swim in tightly packed groups of 5 or 6 whales. They would speed up (clocked at 5 knots). They would roll sideways. Edges of flukes would come above the water and flippers were seen. Rostrums rose as whales arched above the water. Some whales rolled upside down for awhile and throat pleats were out of the water. The Risso’s kept leaping and forcing their way into a group as it moved through the water, mostly oblivious to nearby boats.
A dozen Pacific white-sided dolphins joined the melee, but at the front of the group, leaping and riding the bow waves created by the lead whales. Northern right-whale dolphins were seen streaking along beside, keeping a distance from the fray but part of the scene. Amazed whale watchers were even more questioning about the long pink member that would rise above the water from the underside of a rolling whale. Whereas naturalists flounder around for polite euphemisms for the “male member,” boat skippers have always called it “The Pink Floyd.” It’s hard to say what comes first: mating activity among whales, which then attracts dolphins, or dolphins creating the excitement that brings on mating activity.
On January 25, while watching Gray whales swimming south offshore, we suddenly came across a small pod of 3 or 4 whales swimming fast toward the north. Wondering about this, we immediately thought of Orcas, and there they were! A spread-out group of 25 to 30 Orcas, Orcinus orca, were swimming along at a comfortable travel speed northward. After moving along with them a few minutes, we began to think they resembled the Offshore population of Orcas, and soon Nancy Black (Monterey Bay Whale Watch research scientist) recognized a few individuals as being Offshores. The north-swimming Gray whales had kept going north and east, while the Orcas swam along at a steady pace right on past. We wondered that the Gray whales didn’t seem to make the distinction between possible sounds made by these fish-eating Offshores and the calls of mammal-eating Transient Orcas.
At the beginning of February, numbers of whales were still high, though maybe not up to the rush reported in mid-January. (See Sightings on the Monterey Bay Whale Watch website.) Two Transient Orcas were spotted on two different days, traveling through the migration path but not seen making a kill. These two males, identified as CA 25 and CA 30, have been seen together again and again in recent years. They were known to ‘take’ a Gray whale calf on their own in a former year. Two large male orcas, possibly brothers, swimming fast, close together, seem to be the epitome of power.
By February 8, we had that disorienting experience brought by seeing Gray whales swimming north on one side of the boat and others swimming south on the other side of the boat. We have to wonder what prompts some whales to turn around (?) down south somewhere, and to head for the feeding grounds while others are still following instincts south. Northbound whales seem to come along the Big Sur coast, fairly close to shore until they reach Cypress Point, past Carmel Bay. They often then swing outward toward Ano Nuevo and a beeline to Alaska and food.
At the end of the first week in February, conditions and whales were still optimal. Toward the end of one warm, windless, sunny afternoon, we could sit offshore and listen to whales breathe as they peacefully swam along. The Gray whale migration, closer to shore than most other whales come, draws a multitude of boats. Both private and professional boat operators, without adequate instruction in whale watching etiquette, and with zeal to please friends or customers quickly, may use some whale watch practices less than desirable for the whales: quick acceleration around the whales, fast approach toward whales, changing engine noise and gears, multiple boats around the same whales. Experienced drivers learn that, with a lot of patience, boats dispersed widely, and slow, steady boat handling, watchers can see the whales obviously relax, slow, and swim their timeless progress — spouts glowing in the low afternoon light, backs glistening mottled gray, then the curves of tail flukes as the whales sound into the world they alone know well.
Reprinted from Soundings, March 2003
Look and Listen for Humpback Whales
by Esta Lee Albright
March brought our first repeated Humpback Whale sightings of the spring. On one whale watch trip northwest of Pt Pinos, among a half dozen Gray Whales and several hundred Pacific White-sided Dolphins, there was a swish of a whale’s tail fluke. “Whoa!” I said. “That’s something we don’t see often …. a Gray Whale slapping the water with tail flukes……. Whoops! The reason that looked odd for a Gray Whale is because that’s really a Humpback Whale!”
Two or three Humpbacks were reported for several days just outside Pt. Pinos, and one passenger reported seeing Humpbacks breaching off Pt. Lobos. It’s rather early. Passengers are even more surprised than we are to see Humpbacks in March. “Are they migrating, too?” we’re asked.
The next question about Humpbacks is usually, “Are they on their way to Hawaii?” Television programs filmed in the clear waters of Hawaii, when Humpbacks are there in the winter, lead people to associate Pacific Humpbacks with Hawaii, and not Monterey.
The truth is that there are rather distinct populations of Humpbacks in most of the world’s oceans. As with other species of baleen whales, their annual cycle puts them in cold, nutrient-rich waters to feed and the warm tropics to breed. There is occasional crossover of individual whales from one population to another, but scientists studying the various groups name feeding grounds and breeding grounds for the various populations. They try to figure out which whale goes where by using the familiar ID marks under flukes, profiles of dorsal fins, sloughed skin for DNA analysis, and even tagging.
The North Pacific Humpbacks use about 4 breeding areas. Those breeding in Hawaii feed in Alaska. Humpbacks feeding here in Monterey in summer and fall usually winter south of Baja or west of Central America. Humpbacks breeding near Japan, Philippines, China, the Mariana and Marshall Islands, may feed in the Bering Sea or northwestern Pacific. There is a small group wintering south of Baja, near an island called Socorro, that goes all the way to Alaska to feed. According to John Calambokidis of Cascadia Research, at a recent ACS meeting, the Socorro Humpbacks go past Monterey early. Perhaps we’re seeing them now.
The most well-studied population of Humpbacks feeds in the North Atlantic, from Maine to Norway, and breeds mostly in the Caribbean. Historically, a few of these bred in the Cape Verde Islands. Many that feed in the Gulf of Maine are recorded and named, and a female named “Salt” has been a celebrity with New England whale watchers for 25 years.
In the southern hemisphere, Humpbacks feed in Antarctic waters and head toward the equator to breed. It’s possible some even cross the equator and use waters west of Central America in their winter (which is our summer). One humpback identified in both the Antarctic and waters off Colombia now holds the record for longest migration by a mammal.
There is a breeding population of Humpbacks around Madagascar, western Africa, West Australia, Coral Sea, west of South America, east of South America. Tonga, in the South Pacific, offers whale watching cruises among Humpbacks breeding there. These South Pacific whales often have much more white coloration on their undersides.
A different population is found in the northern Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea, eastward around India and Sri Lanka. These seem to stay in the same waters year round.
Humpbacks are still considered endangered species. Even though some populations seem to be recovering nicely, the number still must overcome the fact that whalers killed about 95 per cent of the world’s Humpbacks before the 1960s. Under the “subsistence whaling” by indigenous peoples, Bequia whalers kill perhaps two per year and are under much pressure from Japan to support a return to commercial whaling.
The catalog of ID marks for “our” Humpbacks is held by Cascadia Research. There is an estimate of 900+ Humpbacks feeding off California, Oregon and occasionally Washington. The opportunistic Humpbacks gulp-feed on schools of little fish or on krill. They move around with the food supply. Last fall numbers were reported far offshore of San Mateo County, not here.
During the past two years, the month of May has brought huge schools of small fish into the bay and nearshore waters, with humpbacks feeding, leaping, flipper slapping and generally becoming a graceful thrill to watchers both on boats and the shoreline.
Humpbacks are famous for their songs, which are vocalizations by males on the breeding grounds. They seem to be tied to mating display: intersexual for males to attract females; intrasexual, as a male dominance display; or both. Individuals slowly change the structure of their songs. Whales of an area pay attention to and copy each other so that all whales of a population sing essentially the same song. (Frankel p.1131) It is a joy to read descriptions of the song by Roger Payne, one of the discoverers of Humpback songs.
“These songs are much longer than birdsongs and can last up to thirty minutes, though fifteen is nearer the norm. They are divided into repeating phrases called themes. When the phrase is heard to change (usually after a few minutes), it heralds the start of a new theme. Songs contain from two to nine themes and are strung together without pauses so that a long singing session is an exuberant, uninterrupted river of sound that can flow on for twenty-four hours or longer. The pace of the song is very grand and extended and appears to me to be set by the slow rhythm of ocean swells….” (Payne p.144)
Somewhat less famous are Humpback nonsong vocalizations used for socializing or to organize cooperative feeding. Whereas we haven’t seen the same kind of sophisticated bubble feeding that happens in Alaska, Humpback sounds have been reported by local people at times, without analysis. One description by Adam S. Frankel may explain sounds heard here:
“Humpbacks produce the feeding call while they are maneuvering underwater. The call has been suggested to either coordinate the movements of the whales or manipulate prey. Recent experiments played back feeding calls to herring, which responded by fleeing from the call. These observations suggest that prey manipulation is the most likely function of this call. [It] is a nearly constant frequency tone lasting between 5 and 10 sec. It has been compared to the sound of a train whistle. It is often repeated in a series of calls, and there is sometimes a shift of frequency at the end of the series of calls. There is variation in the frequency of the call, but most are between 500 and 550 Hz.” (Frankel p.1132)
I have been fascinated by songs of humpbacks heard both while I was in warm Caribbean water, and in the air as we drifted in a boat on the surface there. There is nothing to be compared to the sounds. Even though we are not so comfortable floating in our cold Monterey water to listen to possible whale calls, awareness and attention my bring us the gift of that experience.
Clapham, Phillip J. “Humpback Whale, Megaptera novaeangliae.” in Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals. Academic Press, 2002.
Frankel, Adam S. “Sound Production.” in Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals, Academic Press, 2002.
Payne, Roger. Among Whales. Scribners, 1995.
Rice, Dale W. Marine Mammals of the World; Systematics and Distribution. The Society for Marine Mammalogy, Special Pub. No. 4, 1998.
Adapted from an article in Soundings, April 2002
Whale Watching – Whale Spouts
by Esta Lee Albright
Sometime about 50 million years ago cetaceans’ nostrils began moving from the front of the head to the top, becoming “blowholes.” Toothed cetaceans have one and baleen whales have two. They do an extremely efficient job of inhaling and exhaling, exchanging about 90 percent of the oxygen in the lungs. Humans’ poor job of breathing usually exchanges 15 per cent.
It seems efficient, also, if you’re underwater most of the time, to have your air intake easily raised above the surface of the water. Also needed is a dependable way to close the nostrils and keep water out, so there are very powerful muscles around the blowholes. The large baleen whales seem to have a bump on the top of the head which is formed by these muscles, taller in front like a splashguard. Monterey Bay whalewatchers often are close enough to whales to see these muscles at work. Whalewatchers this close are sure to be anointed by the exhaled moist air, known as the spout or blow. This may be an experience fraught with oily odor. Oldtime whalers claimed the smell could be so rank it drove men mad, but none of us on the Bay have suffered so.
Sighting whales requires seeing the spout. Generally, the size and shape of the spout can identify the species of large whale (dolphins’ spouts are so short and quick as to be hard to see even up close). Gray whales have short bushy spouts. Because we see Gray whales in migration we often see a whale from directly in front or behind, and the two distinct spouts are obvious before the white vapor blends together in a rather heart-shaped cloud. Humpback whales also have a roundish, plume-like blow, but it is taller and it rightfully seems to have more power; the humpback may be 20 feet longer and 20 tons heavier than the Gray. Exhaled air may be rushing out the blowholes at 300 miles per hour. The Fin whale spout looks much like an exclamation point, tall and straight but seeming to taper at the bottom. As with everything about the swift Fin, the spout seems emphatic with force.
Most awesome is the tall powerful column of the Blue whale spout. Tall at 30 feet, the power keeps the thin columnar shape that looks like no other whalespout. A Blue whale spout in a strong wind looks much like a waterfall blowing in the wind but still has the remarkable height. At the other extreme is the almost invisible spout of the little Minke whale. Our first sight of a Minke whale often is not the spout but the graceful dark roll of the back with its curved dorsal fin.
Helping people watch whales always involves lessons in spout spotting, which is not easy for the novice. Whitecaps and wave crests are mistaken for spouts, but spouts look vertical instead of horizontal like parts of waves. The force of the exhale makes the spout appear suddenly, and, with luck and calm air, the white vapor hangs there a few seconds. In low sunlight it may have a brief rainbow.
In dense coastal fog of summer, whalewatchers sometimes must find whales by the SOUNDS of spouting, which may seem to be a tale of mythical proportions. At times, after seeing telltale prints close on the surface of the water, we can remain silent long enough to hear the mighty sounds of Blue whales breathing, can move quietly, then see the massive blue-gray backs roll toward us out of the fog. Now there’s a sight to take the breath away!
Adapted from an article in Soundings, November 1998
Whale Watching – Art and Nature
by Esta Lee Albright
Sea otters do not have hind feet made for running and most baleen whales do not have a bulbous head, despite what you might see in paintings, sculpture and jewelry. For people who love to watch marine animals in their natural setting, artistic license is no excuse for inaccuracy. Artists we want to support do spend long hours studying an animal’s anatomy and behavior, then give us art that makes us learn and feel the animal’s power and beauty. An example is the sculpture of Randy Puckett, this ACS chapter’s first president. Watching Randy’s sculpture develop has educated us into expecting truth in marine mammal art.
Lumping all whales’ rostrums (front ends) into a general balloon shape is a most irresponsible act, though it seems to be an easy shape to work into jewelry and pictures for children. It’s everywhere.
This popularized whale shape most closely fits the sperm whale, a “toothed” whale, with head much different from any of the baleen whales. The big, round, upper front (the melon) of the sperm whale has oil and is important to the whale’s ability to echolocate, as is the rounded melon on the fronts of dolphins’ heads (who also are toothed whales).
Whales with baleen hanging from the upper jaw differ among themselves. The Right Whale has a head that looks bulbous but has a long, arched upper jaw that does not resemble a toothed whale. The Blue Whale has an elegantly flat, smooth upper part of the head, with a lower jaw so streamlined it belies the whale’s ability to greatly expand throat grooves and gulp food and water to be strained past the baleen. In- between, the Gray Whale’s head is slightly arched and the mouth rather equally divides it. The Humpback Whale has big bumps called tubercles on the upper jaw, and Right Whales have rough lumps called callosities.
Watching baleen whales here in the summer when they often are feeding by surface gulping, we have problems seeing a definite shape of the head because of the huge expansion of throat grooves. There is a surprisingly quick and coordinated movement of body, jaws and grooves. Whales spyhopping or breaching give us a much different idea of the whale’s shape, as well as a big thrill!
Understanding how the entire body is structured, and how it is used, should be an entry-level requirement for artists depicting cetaceans. And, difficult as it may be, hanging around watching an animal in its own environment adds experience and emotion to the study.
Bench with whale art, carved by Leland Petersen A local artist whose nature art is right out there in nature is woodcarver Leland Petersen. He grew up in Pacific Grove, spent his career outdoors carrying mail, and started carving wood 50 years ago. When ACS Monterey Bay sponsored Beachwatch, Leland was one of the volunteers who monitored beached marine mammals and spent hours watching them nearby. Years of up-close experience goes into his art.
Another active ACS and Beachwatch member was John Ware, whose ruddy face shone with enthusiasm for whales and seals. He volunteered at Pt. Lobos, too, and after his death a memorial bench for him was put there on Whalers Knoll, carved by Leland. At most ACS meetings we could see both of them listening and soaking up information about whales. Leland carved a Gray Whale, our winter whale, and a Humpback, a summer whale here, on John’s bench.
Using pictures and descriptions, Leland carved small wooden dolphins and whales of local species, to be hung on a long rope at points that demonstrated the animals’ lengths. This rope was laid out beside the ACS booth at public events and walkers paced off lengths of killer whales, gray whales, blue whales and others.
Over the past few years, more memorial benches have been carved by Leland for Pt. Lobos. They are of natural wood and are placed so well into the natural setting that walkers don’t see them until they come right upon them and realize it would be good to sit down awhile. Whales, sea otters, jellyfish, hawks and herons, carved lifelike in “shadowbox” relief, adorn benches hidden beside trails in 6 locations.
Something about the benches tucked into the natural setting of Pt. Lobos, and Leland’s and Randy’s work, suggests the ultimate mission of marine art: taking our senses from our place on land into the nearby ocean world, where life has different requirements, thus different shapes. The best art supports this transfer, teaching us how the differences work and soothing us with their beauty.
Adapted from an article in Soundings, April 1999
What To Do About Abandoned and Beached Marine Mammals
The best thing you can do if you see an animal that you think has been abandoned or beached in the Monterey area is to note its condition and appearance. Then call the S.P.C.A. of Monterey County (373-2631) or The Marine Mammal Center at Moss Landing (633-6298).
On the Monterey Peninsula, we have wonderful opportunities to observe and enjoy many species of marine mammals that live quite close to us. While you do, please consider these basic facts:
- Marine Mammals on the beach should be left alone because:
– Harbor seal mothers often leave their pups ashore while they are out feeding. As long as anyone is within sight near the pup, the mother will not return.
– Sea lions often haul out because they are suffering from disease. Throwing cold water on them will only make them worse or even kill them.
– Young elephant seals occasionally come ashore for a few days at a time. They can go for long periods without breathing and often appear sick because they are so inactive. This is normal behavior for these animals
– Sea otter pups are left floating on the surface of the water while the mothers dive for food. A lone pup should be watched but not picked up, as the chances of survival without the mother are very slim.
- Marine Mammals carry diseases and parasites communicable to people and pets
- They do bite and can inflict serious wounds.
- It is a felony to disturb these animals in any way. This includes feeding, petting or even being near them. You can be liable for heavy penalties — $10,000 per count plus one year in jail.
Hints for Successful Whale Watching
First Look for a “Blow”
Gray whales in a gray sea can be hard to see. Look for a double-plumed, misty jet of vapor. Up to 10 feet high, it can often be seen against the horizon. Contrary to popular belief, this blow is not a fountain of water, but a mist that condenses from the warm moist air as it is expelled under pressure from the lungs.
Rhythmic Breathing Patterns Help in Predicting When a Whale Will Surface
Normally gray whales will make three to five short, shallow dives, of less than a minute each, and then a long deep dive. This repeated breathing pattern enables the whale to store up oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide built up during the long dive. A general rule is one short dive and blow for every minute spent in a deep dive.
Showing of Tail Flukes Signals Deep Dive
After making a series of short surface dives, the whale makes a deep dive lasting from three to five minutes. Dipping its head and lifting the flukes entirely out of the water, it uses the thrust and weight of its tail to plunge downward.
“Footprints” Mark Whales’ Movements
When a whale is swimming just below the surface, the powerful up and down movement of its tail boils the water and leaves a tell-tale “footprint” on the surface. This disturbance looks like an oil slick, and in calm water marks a clear path to follow.
OTHER BEHAVIORS TO WATCH FOR:
Poking their heads up out of the water and hovering there with the eye exposed is a behavior frequently seen. It is believed that the whale is visually orienting itself or just looking around above the surface.
A breach is a spectacular sight you won’t soon forget. The whale rises completely out of the water, turns sideways and then falls slowly backward, landing in an explosion of flying water. They may do this to knock parasites loose (except the barnacles, which are deeply imbedded in the skin), or it may be a courtship display, a signaling device, or just an outpouring of exuberant energy.
Occasionally three or more animals are seen together, rolling slowly about in the same spot – oblivious to all observers. Such groups quite often consist of a courting or mating couple and an assisting extra male.