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.