Terra, a.k.a. “Big Red” sighted this morning on one of our safaris.
There is a major wake in the background of this photo- that of a jet ski. Marine mammals in the U.S. are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and should never be approached this closely, let alone crossing in front of a whale’s path.
It is difficult for large baleen whales to quickly react to boats (or jet skis) that are in their immediate path, so it is extremely important that vessels make an effort to keep at a distance.
A different Humpback we saw also this morning had propeller scars on its back as well. Yet even more reminders for boaters and vessels of all kinds to be cautious of their surroundings.
Humpback whales have arrived in Monterey Bay–and we have the best seats in the house. These graceful giants have been breaching, spouting and feeding just off our decks!
These massive mammals use air bubbles to herd and corral schools of fish and krill, swimming through with their mouths open–a single whale can consume up to 3,000 pounds per day! They often feed in the same spot for several days, making these whales easy to find.
Humpback whales are some of nature’s finest crooners. The males are the only humpbacks to sing, likely wooing females with droning tunes that change year after year, like our own love songs. These mating songs have even been shown to be passed from whale pod to whale pod as a form of culture! (although “culture” should be used with quotes, so if you tell this story to a friend make sure to make the little hand signs):
Recently, scientists looked more in depth (pun intended) at the function of those songs in choosing mates. They found that young sexually immature humpback hunks were joining the older males in a copycat chorus. These whippersnappers were clearly too young to mate, so this appears to be another example of older whales passing information to the next generation (there’s that “culture” thing again).
That’s a clear benefit for the younger whales, but what’s the advantage to the older ones? The researchers think that the combined chorus, from whales young and old, serves as a more attractive call to the females. By teaching the young whales, they enhance their chances of doing a little “night diving”, if you know what I mean … AKA “making the beast with two humpbacks” AKA “the marine mammal mambo” … just for the krill of it, y'all.
Walking around the Aquarium these days you’ll frequently hear German, French, Portuguese and other languages. The fall “shoulder season” in the travel business is very popular with international travelers, and the Aquarium is certainly a well-known destination for globetrotters. It’s fortuitous that Monterey is also the foreign language capitol of North America, home to the Monterey Institute of International Studies, Defense Language Institute and other organizations that attract language experts. As a result, we’re blessed with staff and volunteers with diverse language skills.
The humans traveling through Monterey from all over the world are only part of the international visitors we see this time of the year. We also see a variety of migrating wildlife as well, and the view from our Wildlife Viewing Station is alive with these other visitors.
The humpback whales being seen daily are better described as seasonal residents, as they spend the summer and fall in Monterey Bay feeding, then retire to warm Central American waters for the winter. Our blue whales fit a similar pattern. We have already been seeing gray whales in the bay, and they usually appear in the winter on their way to Mexico–their travel pattern is certainly confused this year!
While these marine mammals are impressive travelers, migrating several thousand miles each year between northern feeding grounds and tropical winter waters, birds win this travel competition. Shearwaters pass through Monterey Bay in the tens of thousands, from feeding areas as far north as Alaska to their winter homes in New Zealand, Tasmania and other destinations in the Southern Hemisphere. The sooty shearwater may fly up to 40,000 miles per year in an effort to chase summer from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern Hemisphere. We’ve been watching flocks of tiny phalaropes on their way from arctic nesting areas to wintering grounds off the shores of Peru and Ecuador.
I’m always impressed that a bird smaller than your fist, weighing less than the change in your pocket, can fly over 6,000 miles in a few months’ time. These massive migrations are only possible with the strategic distribution of critical refueling stops along the route. Those refueling stops are wetland areas that provide specific food, water and quiet resting areas for migrating birds. Wetland areas were already in short supply, and with the drought in much of the West the situation has become critical. Wildlife authorities have been creating emergency wetland areas on the Pacific Flyway this fall to avoid disaster by giving millions of migrating birds a chance to recharge and refuel.
Fortunately the waters of Monterey Bay have been rich in food this year and have provided a welcome respite for a remarkable array of wildlife, and have attracted humans from all over the world to enjoy the show that nature is staging for us.