Sunday, September 30, 2007

Blue Whale Watching

On Saturday I drove up to Long Beach with a couple of friends and boarded a boat in search of the blue whale. The krill population off the coast of Southern California has been exceptional this year and it is drawing blue whales in record numbers. Most people are guessing that whales haven't been seen in these numbers since before commercial hunting began, sometime in the 1920s.

Unfortunately, this has had some rather tragic consequences has four whales have been killed by large ships going to Long Beach/Los Angeles Harbor in the past couple weeks. Biologists aren't sure why the whales are not able to move out of the way. Ideas range from sonar inhibition, illness, or not judging the speed at which the ships are moving.
Of course, you actually don't see a whole lot of the whale from above the water. Going below the water with these behemoths would be a braver person than I. But it was pretty impressive, all the same. It was clear to me, even from the very little above-water scenes, that blue whales constitute a lot of mammal. I dove with wild dolphins in Costa Rica and was impressed at their size. I cannot imagine diving with a blue whale.

If you have the time, wikipedia has an interesting article on the blue whale, including some of their vocalizations. Actually, I was mainly impressed by how little is know about the blue whale in terms of size, longevity, and breeding practices.
Unfortunately, my digital camera doesn't have a very large zoom so my pictures aren't very impressive. I also took some regular film pictures since I've got an enormous lens on that one. I'll have them printed to a cd and post those in a week or two (hopefully some of them turned out).

In addition to several whales, we saw false killer whales, common dolphins, and a rare treat, the risso's dolphin, which is an unusually pale mammal. Colleen and Mindy enjoying the sun

The Queen Mary
Colleen and her husband Chris
Katrina and Bob. Evidently Katrina had never been on a large boat before and was terrified when we hit the open ocean. She soon recovered though which was more than could be said for poor Bob who (shortly after this picture was taken) retired to the bathroom for the remainder of the trip due to severe seasickness.
Me, looking very windblown.

Here are some professional pictures of the animals we saw since mine weren't very good:
False Killer Whale (Pseudorca crassidens)
Risso's Dolphin (Grampus griseus)
The Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis) (Actually, we nicknamed this one the "Uncommon" Dolphin since it was by far the most acrobatic of the bunch. Of course, I didn't manage any pictures of the dolphins out of the water.
The Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus) (taken by a seriously gutsy photographer)