In one of those incredible-but-true stories that makes you want to give the oceans a giant hug, a disabled killer whale missing two of its fins and unable to hunt to feed itself is able to survive through the help of its family. The young male killer whale, or orca, has no dorsal fin or right-side pectoral fin, leaving it unable to hunt and capture prey for itself. Instead of being abandoned or rejected by its pod and left to die, however, the killer whale appears to have been cared for and supported by the members of its pod, which share food with the young whale.
This is part of a series of posts about our Pacific Hotspots expedition. Today's highlights: humpback whales and orcas!
California Leg, Day 3
Yesterday was a spectacular day as we saw some of the most colorful and rich habitats we’ve seen yet! The objective was to gather footage from some of the more spectacular areas of pinnacles and rocky reefs that we started to explore last year.
At the outer edge of the Monterey Peninsula, just off Pebble Beach, is a spectacular reef that we explored last year. While golfers marveled at the sites from the world famous course on shore, we marveled at the wildlife above and below the ocean offshore.
We brought several guests with us including a representative from Mission Blue, another organization focusing on ocean exploration and conservation. The weather was sunny and warm, however a medium-sized southerly swell made the ride a bit bumpy and our cable operators got soaked.
The Carmel Pinnacles were protected as a marine reserve in 2008. This combination of rocky reef at the edge of a steep canyon wall that drops thousands of feet provides a rich feeding ground, as nutrient-rich water is pulled up from the deep through a process called upwelling.
As we set our ROV equipment up for the first dive, we saw two large humpback whales swimming right by our boat. We explored a depth range of 90-150 feet. The habitat was composed of large pinnacles and boulders, jutting out of a sandy seabed. Nestled in the cracks and crevices were china rockfish, gopher rockfish, and treefish, while we encountered several schools of black rockfish hovering at the tops of the reefs.
We are now accepting nominations for our third annual Ocean Heroes Contest! Today we’re featuring a guest post by 2009 finalist Emily Goldstein about her summer trip to the OrcaLab in British Columbia.
Last summer I was privileged to be able to spend eight weeks studying one of the most remarkable species in our world, the orca. I want to share with you the amazing journey I had, and tell you about my time with the orcas.
Snuggled in the inside passage between British Columbia and Vancouver Island, there is a small isle called Hanson Island. This is the home of magnificent bald eagles, playful mink, and an emerald-green evergreen forest. It is also the home of a land-based research station called OrcaLab, which was founded by Dr. Paul Spong in 1970.
Did you know there are about 40 species of dolphin? When you think of dolphins, you might just be picturing the bottlenose dolphin or the common dolphin, but what about the long-snouted spinner dolphin? (And did you know that the killer whale is actually a kind of dolphin too?)
Long-snouted spinner dolphins are relatively small for oceanic dolphins, growing only about 7 feet long (the bottlenose dolphin is about 10 feet long). Spinner dolphins are highly social and are often seen in pods of hundreds of dolphins. Like all dolphins, spinners communicate by echolocation, which is an elaborate series of clicks and whistles. Spinner dolphins also slap the surface of the water with their fins to communicate.
Happy Friday! Time for a brief break from the oil spill. And what better reason than for a really freakin' cool prehistoric whale.
The great white shark is often considered one of the world’s greatest predators. At between 15-20 feet long it is no slouch, but it pales in comparison to the Leviathan melville, a recently discovered predatory whale that lived 13 million years ago.
Named after the mythical sea monster Leviathan and Moby Dick author Herman Melville, the Leviathan melvillei was probably close to 60 feet long. According to the fossils found in a Peruvian desert, which was once part of a great ocean, the teeth of the beast were over a foot long and almost half a foot wide.
"When you take a wild cetacean (a whale or dolphin) and put it in a tank, its acoustic system is suddenly screwed up. Its sonar reverberates off of the concrete in its tank and, little by little, the animal becomes totally silenced. It’s like a person being blindfolded in a jail cell. The orcas are not used to borders or barriers, and that probably makes them very uncomfortable. Some of them don’t accept captivity and die, but others do and live like they are in prison."
That's Jean-Michael Cousteau reflecting on killer whales in the wake of last week's death of a trainer at Sea World. Cousteau is one of the world's experts on orcas and gives a fascinating, wide-ranging interview to the Santa Barbara Independent about whales and dolphins in the wild and in captivity, including a description of the enormous effort it took to rehabilitate and free Keiko, the orca that starred in "Free Willy." It's well worth a read.
Some consider the great white shark to be the fiercest predator in the ocean. Now Free Willy is giving the species a run for its money. Orca whales' diet traditionally includes fish, squid, birds, seals, and other whales. Now some are adding Jaws to the menu.
Several populations of orca whales have learned how to attack sharks, including the great white, with various techniques, including what some scientists are calling the “karate chop.” To execute this sly move, the orca drives the shark to the surface, then comes down on top of the shark and turns it upside down, at which point it enters a paralyzed state. In fact, all the attack methods ultimately end with the shark on its back.
If you want more, watch this recent video of one such showdown.