Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Hodgepodge 129/365 - Whales

Our walk today.
We went for a wonderful walk along the shore at Asilomar today with some friends who moved to Pennsylvania a year and a half ago, Carolee (current chair of the Plant Pathology Department at Penn State) and her husband, Jean-Philippe. Carolee is a powerhouse; Jean-Philippe is a gentle Buddha. It is always so good to see them. It happens less now that they're on the other coast, but today we caught up as if they'd never left.

The gray whale's migration.
Every year.
While we were walking, Carolee exclaimed: "A spout!" She has an eye for whales. Sure enough, after we'd all stared at the water for a while, one by one we started to see spouts too. Gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus), heading north after their annual birthing time in Baja.

Humpbacks cavorting at Moss Landing.
Carolee mentioned that the spring before they left there had been an ongoing cavalcade of humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) activity in our bay. Humpbacks do come here, but they don't tend to linger. That season, though, they stayed for months, apparently thinking Monterey Bay was the place to be. They breached; they spy-hopped; they tail- and pec-slapped; they probably bubble-netted, and perhaps sang; they certainly blew, because that's how they breathe: in other words, they showed off in every which way they possibly could. It was quite a time. Perhaps they were saying goodbye to Carolee. I wouldn't be surprised.

A gray whale spout is heart shaped.
Yes it is. (A blue's is
more like a geyser, straight up.
A humpback's is like a vertical cloud.)

We also get blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus) and toothy killer whales (Orcinus orca), as well as various dolphins: right at the moment we have Pacific white-sided (Lagenorhynchus obliquidens), long-beaked common (Delphinus capensis), Risso's (Grampus griseus), and northern right whale (Lissodelphis borealis). Who knew there were so many genera? 

The humpbacks and blues generally come here in the summer, to feed off the edge of the continental shelf. One year we took a whale-watching trip out there. It was very foggy, as commonly happens in summer as the warm air off the land hits cold water upwelling from the depths and condenses. At times, our captain would turn off the boat's engine and we'd sit listening, breath held. It was all silence until, there--a spout, as a big blue would come up for  a breath. On the engines went and off we sped. We got some very nice sightings by this stealthy technique.

I love that these huge animals are plying our waters—all the time. They live there. They just do.

I love the magical mystery of the other 70 percent of this planet: the oceans.

I love this earth. I'm beyond sad that some humans don't seem to care. (My political message for today.)

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