Posts Tagged ‘whales’

A Whale Tale (Well, Tail Actually)

May 3, 2011

Humpback whale fluke (tail) damage due to collision with a boat's propeller.

Unfortunately for many marine mammals, vessels running on the water may not see the animals near the surface, and will collide with them.  If you are on the water make sure to have many people viewing the water for any obstacles and wear polarized glasses to reduce the glare!  The mammals swimming around will greatly appreciate it, like this Humpback whale shown here with damage to its fluke.  We are all trying to use the ocean together!

This humpback appreciates us boating by at a very slow speed.

Drop-In to MLML Open House: Birds and Babies

April 7, 2011

Check these birds out!

You can get up close to birds and whales at Open House without scaring them or getting wet!  The Vertebrate Ecology Lab has many cool birds on display – its amazing how many different birds we have in and around Monterey Bay.  And you can even take a peek at a tiny baby whale!

Make sure to see the baby whale!

MLML Open House is Saturday, April 30 & Sunday, May 1.

Sperm Whale-Sized Calamari

March 8, 2011

(photo: B. Hooton)

Going eye to eye with this Robust Clubhook Squid is one of the many experiences that await visitors who tour Moss Landing Marine Labs.  Large squid are favorite snacks of sperm whales, as the artist’s rendering on the wall suggests.   You’ll notice that the sperm whale doesn’t have any teeth on its upper jaw.   How did MLML grad Mariah Boyle use this fact to keep the peace between villages in Fiji?  Find out in The Case of the Missing Sperm Whale Teeth!

What happens to whales after they die?

March 4, 2011
researchers performing a necropsy on a blue whale on a beach

Researchers performing a necropsy on a blue whale on a beach (photo: C. Young)

Gillian Rhett

By Gillian Rhett, Invertebrate Zoology & Molecular Ecology Lab

If you saw Nate’s post last month, you may have wondered: where does a whale carcass go?  Sometimes it will wash up on a beach, which is lucky for us because that means we can collect all kinds of samples and information that help us learn more about how whales live and die.

But most whale carcasses don’t wash up on beaches.  Initially, the gases that are a byproduct of the decomposition process build up inside the carcass and it floats, providing food for surface-dwelling animals such as seabirds.  But when the remaining tissues and bones sink to the seafloor, that’s not the end of the story!


How to Find a Dead Whale

February 2, 2011

by Nate Jones, Vertebrate Ecology Lab

STUNNING, isn’t it?


Humpback and Shearwaters, Unimak Pass. Photo: NMML


The magnificent power, the grace,  the vigor of truly giant life.  BUT, where do whales go when they die??

And, what about all those seals, sea lions, dolphins … heck, walruses, even?!


A Walrus carcass makes it into the 300m strip transect! Turns out even veteran at-sea researchers like USFWS Marty Reedy can still be surprised by new experiences. Photo: M. Reedy

What happens to them if they die at sea, as you might expect most of them would do?  To explore this question, we might think to ask a marine scientist (naturally!).  And, of course, there are scientists that are studying dead marine mammals (you aren’t surprised, are you?).  In fact, Moss Landing’s very own Gillian Rhett is focusing her MSc research on dead whales!  Turns out, studying the afterlife of marine mammals is every bit as intriguing as chasing them in the living flesh.  Scientists are  still learning about what happens to these animals after they die, and it’s a remarkable story.


Scientists and crew (Nate Jones, among them) encounter a dead Sperm Whale, seen from flying bridge of USFWS R/V Tiglax. Photo: N. Jones

Nate Jones first saw this whale at about 2 km distance; a mysterious, looming chunk of something, floating low in the water, unmistakably immobile in the snotty tumult that is a typical Bering Sea day.  Whatever this thing was, it was large.  And probably of animal origin; there were about half a dozen gulls swarming the area, looking for a free meal.  Sure enough, a Sperm Whale carcass.

You can see how tall tales are born on the high seas!  Some of them are true…

Breaching Out to All of Our Readers

January 30, 2011


(photo: S. Gabara)

Graduate student Scott Gabara caught this fantastic photo while out in the field with PISCO.  This humpback was putting on a great display for the eyes with its enthusiastic breaching.  MLML student Casey Clark is currently conducting research on humpback whales – check out his student profile to learn more!

Whale Feeding and Breeding and Migrating – Oh My!

December 3, 2010


A humpback whale in Kodiak, Alaska (photo by Casey Clark)

Casey Clark

By Casey Clark, Vertebrate Ecology Lab

Each year, humpback whales migrate between their feeding areas in high-latitude places such as Alaska, California and Antarctica to their breeding areas in more tropical regions such as Mexico, Hawaii, Central America, and the South Pacific.  This means that during the winter, all of the animals should be in the breeding area and none should be in the feeding area.  It turns out that this isn’t true.  All around the world, people have seen humpback whales in feeding areas during the winter when they are expected to be in the breeding area.  This leads to the following questions:  Who are these animals that spend their winters in the feeding area?  Are they mostly males? Females?  Juvenile animals?  Why would they give up their chance to reproduce for the year?

It was these questions that led me to choose my project.  For my master’s thesis at Moss Landing Marine Labs, I will attempt to answer at least some of them.  To do this, I will look at the animals off the coast of central California, an important feeding area for humpback whales that breed off the coast of Central America.  I will be looking at the sex-ratio (the number of males present compared to the number of females present) and the proportion of juvenile animals (the number of young animals compared to the number of adult animals) in this area throughout the year.  By seeing how the sex-ratio and the proportion of juvenile animals change from summer to winter, I will be able to determine who is using the area in the winter.  For example, if the sex-ratio is 1:1 in the summer (1 male present for every 1 female present) and 1:2 in the winter (1 male present for every 2 females present), I will know that there are more females than males using this area in the winter.


Humpback whale in Kodiak, Alaska (photo by Casey Clark)

The different sexes and age groups of humpback whales are known to migrate to the breeding area at different times.  Adult males are the first to begin the migration to the breeding area, followed by non-pregnant females, juvenile animals and finally pregnant females.  This pattern would suggest that female animals in the late-stages of pregnancy remain in the feeding area longer than most other whales.  This theory is supported by observations from the feeding area and during migration, but it has never been confirmed that pregnant females remain in the feeding area longer than most other members of the population.  I will test this theory by determining the pregnancy rates of females found in the feeding area in the late fall and early winter.  If a greater proportion of these females are pregnant than would be expected, this theory would be confirmed.  The identification of this area as critical habitat for these pregnant whales would have profound implications for their conservation and management.


Casey and his sampling crossbow

Stay tuned to find out how I find the whales, and then collect samples with a crossbow!

2010 Open House Puppet Show: Dora the Sperm Whale Explorer’s Deep-Sea Adventure

August 10, 2010
Amanda Kahn

Amanda Kahn

by Amanda Kahn, Invertebrate Zoology and Molecular Ecology Lab

In April, MLML opened its doors to the public and we spent the weekend showcasing our research and teaching people about marine science.  We did this in a variety of ways: lectures, seminars, interactive exhibits, touch tanks, science as art, and even in puppet form!  For those of you who missed the show, you can still learn about Dora the Sperm Whale’s exploration of the deep sea, discover different deep-sea habitats, and find out all about the many ways that animals eat!  Check out the two-part video below, and be sure to catch our hit songs “Chemoautotrophy” and “Vertical Migration”!

Part 1:

Part 2:

Got any questions about the animals or habitats you saw in the show?  Comment below or email and we’ll tell you all about them!


Puppeteering, stage design, sound setup, logistics:

Jeremiah Brower, Billy Cochran, Marilyn Cruickshank, May Deluna-Schneider, Amanda Kahn, Stephanie Kennedy, Deasy Lontoh, Erin Loury, Ben Perlman, Jasmine Ruvalcaba, Sonya Sankaran

Video editing by Wavelength Films

Bering Sea surveys resume

May 5, 2010

Nate Jones

by Nate Jones, Vertebrate Ecology Lab

The seasonal ice is breaking up, and it’s time once again for oceanographers to motor out into the Bering Sea to check the vital signs of the rich sub-arctic.  This summer Brian Hoover and I (from Dr. Harvey’s Vertebrate Ecology Lab ) will spend many weeks observing seabirds and marine mammals while on scientific research vessels that ply the waters of the Bering, Chukchi, and Arctic.  We are participating in a large, coordinated research effort led by scientists from across the country and funded through the North Pacific Research Board’s BEST-BSIERP science plan.

Humpbacks and shearwaters feeding on the north side of an Aleutian pass (photo: NMML)

This plan applies research to every aspect of the marine environment – from the flow of currents and micro-nutrients, through the growth and transport of plankton, and on across an interconnected food web to include fish, seabirds, seals, walrus, whales, and even humans and our species’ relationship to the oceans.

Brian and I focus on marine birds and mammals for our studies.  While on these ships we will be counting and describing the animals we encounter, entering information as we observe the activity from the wheelhouse, high above the water.  This is a good location from which to appreciate the dynamism of these productive regions.  In the following four months we will be posting more pictures and stories about our studies, brining you along with us as we push through ice, buck storm swells, and glide through the glassy bliss of calm seas between.  Can’t wait!

A view from on high

The Case of the Missing Sperm Whale Teeth – a Fijian Mystery

April 1, 2009
Mariah on Whale Lookout in Fiji

Mariah on whale lookout duty in Fiji

Mariah Boyle

Mariah Boyle

by Mariah Boyle, Ichthyology Lab

December 2008: Our boatload of kai vulagi (visitors) are heading towards Survivor Island (the one they used in Survivor: Fiji) for some exploring. All of a sudden, a whale spouts only about 50 yards away from our tiny boat. The whale is small, a juvenile. We follow it for a while – it is breathing often and doesn’t dive even when we are close. I know it is stressed. I can’t get a great look at it but notice its blowhole is offset to the side a bit.

A sperm whale - note its blowhole offset to one side

A sperm whale - note its blowhole offset to one side

I snap a bunch of photos to send back home to my marine science friends. I’m an ichthyologist, after all – I study fish, and I was out of my element trying to identify this whale in Fiji!

After returning home from the trip I looked up pictures of whales that live in the waters around Fiji and tried to identify it. Before finding a definitive answer, I got an email from Fiji: the whale had died and washed up on shore. A friend emailed me a Fiji Times article on the whale, which reported that upper teeth were not found in the whale, while the bottom 40 were removed using a ladder because the whale was so big! A lot of villagers thought that the whale’s top teeth had been stolen very early in the morning, as the teeth are used for tabua in Fiji, a sacred singular whale tooth on a string used for all sorts of formal ceremonies. I’d seen one right before I left Fiji presented to the island’s chief, Tui Mali, asking him to bless the engagement of a couple working on the island.

A ceremonial Fijian neclace made of sperm whale teeth

A ceremonial Fijian necklace made of sperm whale teeth

After reading that article it all clicked: no teeth in the upper jaw meant it must have been a sperm whale, which only have teeth in their bottom jaw!   I looked up sperm whales online and sure enough they also have an offset blowhole. I showed the pictures to a friend and she agreed on the identification. I had been getting lots of messages asking me to try to identify the whale, and now I knew what it was!  I researched a bit about sperm whales and wrote a blog for our group’s website to tell everyone about the whale. I felt good about identifying the whale and putting to rest the mystery – little did I know how it would be connected to my next visit to the same island… (more…)


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