Whale-apalooza!

By Catherine DrakeInvertebrate Zoology Lab

These are some exciting times in the Monterey Bay! Recently, five different species of whales have  been spotted within our bay! We all have probably seen the humpbacks that have been hanging around since there is still available food for them. Normally, they are only here April to October and are otherwise migrating south to their calving grounds, but the last few years they’ve been staying put as the water has been warm and the food has been plentiful.

Additionally, as straggling gray whale moms with their calves head north to Alaska (usually they’re here in January and February), orcas are chasing the moms in hopes of separating them from their calves. “When I find a dead gray whale the first thing I do is I go look at the tongue, and if it is missing, I know it was killed by a killer whale,” our very own director Jim Harvey told the Monterey Herald.

These three species of cetaceans (science-y word for dolphins, whales, narwhals) have also been joined by blue whales and fin whales. It’s not uncommon to see blue whales along our coast, but they are often seen further offshore. However, this week a blue whale was spotted only a mile or two offshore of the Monterey Bay Aquarium eating krill.

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This fin whale was photographed in our bay on May 2, 2016. Photo by Giancarlo Thomae. Check out more of his photographs at: http://www.thomaephotography.com/

As for fin whales, not much is known about this elusive species. They are said to have a “cosmopolitan” distribution, meaning they can be found in most oceans around the world. As a result, their migration patterns aren’t well known. Scientists believe that the North Atlantic population may migrate south past Bermuda and into the West Indies. On our coast, fin whales are more often seen in the Gulf of California year round, with more appearing in the winter and spring.

Fun Facts About These Five Cetaceans:

  • At least 3 different species of barnacles are commonly found on both the flippers and the body of the humpback whale.
  • The Gray whale was designated as the California State Marine Mammal in 1975.
  • Gray whales used to be known as Devilfish. They were named so by early hunters who noted the gray whale’s intense fighting behavior to protect themselves and their young while being hunted.
  • The orca, also known as a killer whale, is actually the largest member of the dolphin family. They have the second largest brain of any animal, and it is almost four times the mass of a human brain (the sperm whale has the largest brain).
  • The blue whale is the biggest animal that has ever lived! And the fin whale is the second largest!
  • Fin whales are notorious for their speediness, and naturalist Roy Chapman Andrews once called it the “greyhound of the sea for its beautiful, slender body is built like a racing yacht and the animal can surpass the speed of the fastest ocean steamship.”

Also, did you know that you can tell the difference between whales by their “whale spouts” or “whale blows”? Check out the photo below to see the different types, some of which are the whales you’ll see in the bay. Not in the diagram is the gray whale, which actually has a blow in the shape of a heart! Of course, on a really windy day, it would be harder to tell, but otherwise it is a great tool to use and, I can tell you from experience, it actually works!

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Looking at whale “spouts” or “blows” can help identify different species. Not pictured are gray whales, which have a heart shaped blow, much like the Southern right whale in the diagram. (From North Atlantic Society)

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Opening Up Open House: a Behind the Scenes Look

If you’ve been following the blog more recently, you’re most likely aware that our Open House is coming up this weekend, April 30-May 1, 8AM-5PM. This event is a huge draw for the community every time we hold it, and this year promises to be one of the largest ever as we are also celebrating the 50th anniversary of Moss Landing Marine Labs! I greatly urge you to check out the official 50th Anniversary blog, found here, for a bunch of great reads about how this small “lab that could” came to be the vibrant center of marine research that it is today.

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The importance of this event cannot be understated. Open House functions as an excellent source of funding and outreach. It provides the students with a chance to project their research to a wider audience, while also providing the public with an interactive and fun way to see just what it is we do here at Moss. Most importantly, the money we raise at this event feeds directly back to the students in the form of student body events and scholarships such as the MLML Scholarship Award and the WAVE Award. The recipients of this year’s awards (funded by last year’s Open House) were awarded just a few weeks ago, and many recipients will be giving talks about the work this money is funding (see our schedule of events here). I think this is an excellent way to donate to the community in a way that is both tangible and meaningful.

Open House is also run entirely by the students. From the puppet show to the bake sale to the lab activities to the sea lion show, everything you see has been planned over many months. Even the logo on our shirts is designed and voted on by the student body. I realize that for most people, all they see is the shiny, finished product. But there is so much heart and sweat and pizza-fueled meetings that go into this event, that I thought it would be a fun thing to show you readers a bit of what goes on “behind the scenes,” while also giving you a little sneak-peak on the events you can expect to see this weekend!

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What’s in a Name? Part I: The Race to Ninja Lantershark.

The Ninja Lanternshark (Etmopterus benchleyi) by Vicky Vásquez

    On December 21st, 2015, another ‘Lost Shark’ was officially found by the Pacific Shark Research Center (PSRC). PSRC is one of the world’s leading labs in chondrichthyan taxonomy research and I had the opportunity of being lead author on the paper for this discovery (how sweet is that?!). For this study, I described a new species of dark-sleek Lanternshark from the genus Etmopterus. And the coolest thing about describing a new species? Naming it!

INTRODUCING the Ninja Lanternshark!

INTRODUCING the Ninja Lanternshark!

    When I was given that chance, I didn’t hold back. This is the story of how the Ninja Lanternshark got its name. Continue reading

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Conference in Catalina? Yes, please!

Three weekends ago (3/18~3/20), the Pacific Shark Research Center (PSRC) had the opportunity to attend the 2nd Northeast Pacific Shark Symposium.This symposium was to gather elasmobranch biologists and aquarists from the west coast and share their research and potentially collaborate on future research. People from Canada and Mexico were able to join us for this bi-annual event. What better way to have this conference at the famous USC Wrigley Center in Catalina!

All of us board the ferry at 8 AM and then prepared to spend two days talking about elasmobranchs!

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The USC Wrigley Institute

We had a couple hours to explore the island before the first set of presentations, I had the opportunity to hike around the island and look at the beautiful scenery.

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After having lunch, had people present about their research and learned lots of really neat things about elasmobranch research; the talks ranged from the charismatic white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) to the less attentive batoids (flat sharks). We also became aware of the new opportunities to collaborate with other scientists.

 

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Thank you from the MLML students

Dear MLML Open House Visitors,

As a recipient of the 2016 Wave Award, I would like to sincerely thank the visitors of the 2015 Open House Event.

The Wave Award, funded by the generous contributions of Open House attendees, was established by the MLML Student Body to recognize graduate students who have generously given their time and shown continued dedication to MLML community service. At last year’s event, more than 2,000 attendees contributed $5,000 to student scholarships. The seven Wave Awards given this year will directly support our thesis research.

Students at MLML often juggle full time school, multiple jobs, a family, and maybe even some free time to complete our degrees. The financial support provided by this award is a welcome and wholeheartedly appreciated gift from the community, and I greatly appreciate your support.

Thank you to everyone who attended and contributed to the 2015 Open House Event. We hope to see you this year again April 30th and May 1st! Please visit the 2016 Open House Event Website for more information about this year’s very special 50th anniversary event.

Sincerely, Kristin Walovich

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Kelp Forest Community

By Heather Fulton-BennettPhycology Lab

While every student at Moss Landing Marine Labs designs their own thesis, sometimes one comes along that really requires the entire community.

Phycology student Steven Cunningham is looking at the effect of giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera, detritus on the plankton community. Macrocystis is considered a foundation species because thousands of species that depend on it for habitat and food. Steven is constructing an artificial kelp forest to disentangle the impact of structure and nutrients on the kelp fores community. With so many plants to make, he rallied the labs this past weekend, complete with movies and BBQ to keep everyone fed and amused.

Kelp Helpers working through the weekend to get this forest built! Photo: Lindsay Cooper

Kelp Helpers working through the weekend to get this forest built! Photo: Lindsay Cooper

The artificial kelp is made from marine-grade polypropylene rope and tarp with concrete holdfasts that will be bolted to the substrate. With the artificial kelp being deployed at 25 ft depth and multiple stipes per plant, it came it thousands of feet of rope and thousands of individual tarp blades, each attached by hand. Over 30 people came to help and hang out, making the work go much faster. It was great to see so much of the MLML community come to support one thesis, and a good reminder of how we can never get through this degree by ourselves.

From the holdfast to the canopy, Steven Cunningham designed this kelp to mimic Macrocystis pyrifera

From the holdfast to the canopy, this kelp to mimic the structure of natural Macrocystis integrifolia beds. Photo: Lindsay Cooper

With all the help, Steven hopes to deploy his fake kelp in the next month!

Thousands of fake blades are attached to hundreds of polypro stipes to make up the plants. Photo: Lindsay Cooper

Thousands of fake blades are attached to hundreds of polypro stipes to make up the plants. Photo: Lindsay Cooper

 

 

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Spring has sprung, the grass has riz

Jackie

By Jackie Lindsey, Vertebrate Ecology Lab

We are just breaths away from the first day of spring, and the wildlife of Moss Landing, CA is in a flurry. High above the the heads of kayakers and sea otters in Elkhorn Slough, birds have started constructing their condos in the tall eucalyptus trees that line the shore of this estuary. Egrets, cormorants, and herons are gathering supplies and strength to begin chick rearing.  In just a few weeks these silent efforts will be rewarded with the arrival of fluffy chicks, clamoring for their next meal. These particular condos have reached surprisingly high densities in past years, nearing 200 nests!

Great Egret (Ardea alba) nest with three chicks at the in the Mo

Great Egret (Ardea alba) nest with three chicks at the in the Morro Bay Heron Rookery. 21 May 2009. Photo by Michael “Mike” L. Baird

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