Okay, I know, I know…..we are best known for our cetacean
sightings and fluke videos. BUT, once in awhile, Mother
Nature throws us a double-whammy that can’t be ignored.
This week, two rarities occurred repeatedly, not 100 feet
apart. Let’s start with the Nazca booby, an equatorial bird
that seldom appears in these latitudes. At least one has
been taking its rest on the tip of the long breakwater each day,
prior to hunting. Each afternoon, it returns to the same
spot. It is a beautiful bird, with a striking black/white
color pattern. Even better,
Saturday, January 8th, was our first Pacific Marine
Exploration cruise on our Research Vessel, Sea Explorer,
of 2019; and if it was a predictor of voyages to come, then 2019
should be a banner year. Under the darkening sky of that
approaching rainstorm, we saw three different types of
cetaceans. “Cetacea” is the order which includes all whales
and dolphins. Exiting the harbor, we saw the blow of a
Pacific Gray Whale, less than a mile from the harbor
entrance. It was a sub-adult, about 30 feet long, paddling
gently towards Baja. It allowed us alongside for a GREAT
look, never broke stride, its body language calm and
relaxed. Twice it showed us its flukes, and several times
angled towards the Sea Explorer for a closer look.
The question of whether animals feel emotion has been argued for
years, and while anyone with pets or who has spent a significant
amount of time observing animals in the wild can testify to clear
displays of fear, love, compassion, empathy and jealousy ….
scientists have often been hesitant to take a stance on animal
sentience. Yet there is a vast amount of research to back the
‘smile’ your dog greets you with when you walk in the door.
As we welcome winter along the Southern California coast, we also
welcome extraordinarily low tides. Anyone who has spent time
along our beaches is certain to notice that the water level of
the ocean does not stay the same all day long. The percussion of
waves lapping upon the shore is consistent, though water levels
change as the day passes. Water rises for several hours and then
recedes. This rise and fall of the ocean is known as the tide. A
tidal tempo is at the heart of the concert of the sea.
For many people, spending the winter months in California sounds
like a dream. This also applies to certain whale species. Despite
our year-round mild climate, the ocean off our coast is generally
quite cold due to currents moving southward from Alaska. The
perfect combination of our chilly water, climate patterns,
coastal upwelling, and plenty of California sun contributes to
our having some of the most productive waters in the world.
As the summer progressed, an abundance of crimson tails and
shells populated the shoreline. Exactly like a teenager’s
room full of clothes cast aside that were not fit for the first
day of school. That right folks, it’s fall here in Southern
California. New school year. New school clothes. Even our local,
California spiny lobsters (Panulirus interruptus) get ready for
picture day in the fall. While we have been enjoying the
surf and working on our tans these past few months, our native
inhabitants just beneath the waves have been working on their
shiny new shells too.
“Have you ever seen a forest without any birds, without any
trees, without any bees? Have you ever seen a forest under
the sea?” –Banana Slug Band
Even on our sunny days, our coastal, temperate waters may appear
encircled by a forbidding, often steely grey sea, although there
are those rare, magical calm days when its surrounding seas take
on an altogether more inviting hue.
This year we celebrate the Ocean Institute’s Watershed Education
Program’s 13th year! With grateful thanks to the generous
support of Miocean and the Massen Greene Foundation, over 25,000
fifth graders, from communities throughout Southern California,
have been inspired to empower themselves, their schools, and
their communities to be responsible stewards of our environment.