Monday, July 23, 2007

The Blues are Here!
The whale-watching in Southern California is pretty amazing at the moment. I've been out on the water looking for whales the past two weekends and am going again two out of the next three weekends. The Blue Whales are here! If you ever have the opportunity to *try* to see a Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus), I encourage you to do so. Granted, you may spend 8 hours looking for the whales and only about 45 minutes actually watching them, but it is definitely worth it if you have the patience and have taken your motion-sickness medication. Blue Whales are the largest creature ever to have lived on Earth and are larger than the largest dinosaurs. Their tongue weighs about the same as an African Elephant (an elephant could fit in its mouth) and their heart is about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle car. Standing beside a living creature of that size & scale is enough to make any person feel humble. It also serves as a good reminder that we need to take care of the planet and of the many ecosystems that support countless forms of life. In this post are 3 pictures of Blue Whales that I took yesterday & last weekend near the Channel Islands, off the coast of Santa Barbara, CA. Blue Whales are endangered animals and were almost hunted to extinction during the last century. Today, the population estimate is about 8,000. Interesting fact: our world's largest animal survives by eating one of the smallest...krill. Krill is a small shrimp-like creature that the Blue Whales dive to depths of 700+ feet to feed on. To feed, the whales open their large mouth, ingest large amounts of krill, close their mouth, then push their tongue against the roof of the mouth to filter water out of their throat grooves. The krill then stay behind and get caught in the baleen plates. Blue whales are rorqual whales, meaning they have throat grooves and they are also baleen whales, meaning they have no teeth, but rather plates of baleen hanging from the roof of their mouth. Baleen is made of keratin, the same material that our nails and the hoofs of a horse are made from. The baleen plates of a Blue Whale can reach up to 40 inches long! In terms of overall size, today's Blue Whales are about 80-90 feet long, but in the pre-hunting days, they reached up to 110-120 feet in length. To see the by-product of a Blue Whale's krill diet, take a look at the following picture...yes, that's whale poop. The whales can't digest the small shells that encase the krill, so it comes out the other end. The red color comes from the red shell of the krill. We came across these ocean droppings minutes after the Blue Whale dove down for another bite to eat. I've also seen pictures of big red clouds in the water. If you ever come across such a cloud and know that you are in Blue-Whale territory, stay put and wait about 10 minutes to see if the whale surfaces anywhere within about a 1/2 mile radius of your boat. You just may get lucky and become one of the few people who has ever seen a Blue Whale firsthand. Visit the OceanSpot channel on YouTube to see some Blue Whale videos and videos of other ocean life.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

19th Century Weapon Found in Whale
The AP reported an interesting story recently...a 19th century weapon was found in a whale that was hunted off the coast of Alaska in May 2007. It is believed that the weapon was shot at the whale in the late 1800's, and the whales estimated age is between 115 years and 130 years old. It was a Bowhead whale and some reports indicate that Bowhead whales can live to be 200+ years old...pretty amazing. The whale probably had more life to live, but it was hunted as part of a native whale hunt. The whale was about 49 feet long and was male. The weapon was lodged in a bone between its neck and its shoulder blade. The type of weapon is an exploding device. Once it is shot into the whale, it explodes and is supposed to kill the whale. Often, as in this case, the weapon does not kill the whale, or does not kill the whale instantly, causing a slow and painful death. This whale escaped death the first time many decades ago, but not the second. These explosive devices are still used today and are often viewed as's easy to see why. Here is a picture of the weapon that was recovered from the whale (left), along with an in-tact weapon (middle) and a ruler (right). (The photo in this post is from the AP and appeared in a story on USA Today's web site.)
Recycle Your Plastic Bags...Or Better Yet, Use Cloth
It's not yet posted on their web site, but the July 2007 print version of the "Southern Sierran" from the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club, has a story about the number of plastic bags that humans use every year and the damage they are causing to the environment. Did you know that Californians alone use over 19 billion (yes, billion) plastic grocery bags every year? Think of your last visit to the beach or a hiking trail...there's a good chance that you saw a plastic bag sitting around. Not only are the bags a big problem in our landfills (according to the article, CA's plastic bags account for 147,038 tons of waste/year), but they also pose a severe threat to wildlife, especially marine life. When plastic bags, large or small, end up in the ocean, they can often be mistaken for food. A white or transparent bag can easily be mistaken for a jellyfish or a squid. When an animal ingests the plastic, death will be the likely result. The article says that the U.S. EPA estimates that "marine debris has had a negative impact on at least 267 species around the world." It also mentions the juvenile minke whale that was found dead on the shores of France in 2002. About two pounds of plastic packaging and plastic grocery bags were found in its stomach, which researchers believe were the cause of its death. We can all do our part to help this problem by taking our plastic bags back to the grocery store for recycling, or by using re-usable bags and not taking the plastic bags in the first place. And next time you see plastic of any sort when you're out enjoying nature, especially at the beach, take a moment to pick it up and dispose of it just may save the life of the marine wildlife in the area.