humpbacks

Bubble Net Fishing

I’ve been trying to go whale watching for a while. I spotted one in the distance years past, on the way out to the Great Barrier Reef. I tried a trip on Monterey Bay a few years ago, but Dramamine did not save me from the rolling swells. (I will never again make fun of people on television barfing up their toenails over the side of a boat.) Not one to give up easily, though, I made my most recent attempt on a trip to Alaska’s Inside Passage last summer, armed this time with a Scopolamine patch behind one ear and three cameras between me and my husband. It was, without a doubt, one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

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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. 

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Thanks to staffer Emily Simpson for these stunning shots!

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Adorable Albino Sea Animal Pillows by Dana Muskat 

Israeli fashion designer Dana Muskat spent most of her career in Paris working for big fashion houses, including Lavin,  Giambattista and Vali among others before she became a full-time toy maker. Conceived by chance, the first stuffed animal made by Muskat was for her baby niece. As a “welcome-to-the-world gift,” she gave her niece a big white octopus, measuring more than 3 feet long.

As fate would have, the former fashion designer, constructed another stuffed animal for one of her dear friend’s newborn once again. After word spread quickly about her adorably massive creations, Muskat began producing more albino stuffed animals for Big Stuffed. The humpback whale, a starfish, some sting rays, one long sardine, the sperm whale, and a huge crab quickly joined the octopus.

Lush and soft, the sea creatures are meant to be used as large teddy bears for comfort and embrace. They resemble the texture and function of a pillow. Composed of natural cotton, wool fabrics and pastel colors, each figure has a unique aesthetic. They are adorned with Big Stuffed’s trademark droopy eyes, which makes them irresistibility cute. You can find her entire collection in her Etsy shop.

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for a typical forty ton humpback to breach the ocean’s surface – and breach is taken to mean at least fourty percent of its body is out of the water – it needs to reach speeds of at least thirty km an hour. reasons for the behaviour remain debated, with theories varying from mere pleasure, to courtship or shedding the skin of parasites.  it’s not uncommon for an adult to make multiple breaches, with the most recorded atone hundred and thrity jumps in ninety minutes.

(to learn more on the humpack’s journey from hawaii to alaska, see this post. see this post for freediving with humpbacks. click pic and or link for credit: xxxxxx, x, x, x)

Male Humpbacks Serenade Their Mates Together

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.

Check out more at ScienceNow.

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International Visitors

By Jim Covel, Director of Guest Experience

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.

Whales

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!

Birds

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.

Watch our Monterey Bay cam live

(Humpback photo by Jim Capwell/Divecentral.com)