Just a short update, but one that sums up feelings rather efficiently.
Everyone who watches whales does so with high hopes, and high hopes foster expectations. Making my way to Monterey Bay on a recent trip, I initially felt it would be a failure if I didn't see something truly exotic.
I didn't get that.
But nature doesn't reward expectation, she rewards and open heart and mind. This is something I preach but often do a subpar job of practicing. Towards the end of what was turning out to be a fairly exasperating trip with few sightings and bad weather, a young humpback whale decided to take it upon itself to remind me of this. A series of spectacular breaches, and a facial expression that could only be described as excitement, greeted me through the drizzle and wind. Some of the best pictures I have ever taken, and one of the greatest moments of pure joy I have experienced in 2015.
I am under no impression that this was done for my benefit, but that does not mean I can't take something meaningful from the experience. The open heart is the best equipment to have when observing nature, better than any technology or training.
They say that if March comes in like a lion, it will go out like a lamb. I certainly hope that holds true for our local marine life. It has been a very busy few days in Orange County for those working around marine mammals.
Sightings of whales have been plentiful, with the record breaking flow of northbound Gray Whales complemented by Fin, Humpback, and Minke Whales. Dolphin have begun to return to the area as well and sightings of Common Dolphin are returning to their normal levels.
The local California Sea Lions are still in the midst of a famine, although they are not without hope as fish and squid appear to be returning to local waters. Hopefully those that still have the strength to forage will take advantage of this windfall.
On Sunday March 15th , during the first ever PhinFest Film Festival in Dana Point, CA, a headline making Gray Whale passed by the harbor, this Gray Whale was missing its flukes entirely. Video I filmed for my employer shows the whale swimming along at a slow yet steady pace, and the same animal was seen in Point Vicente the following day.
As it turns out, this whale contorts its body and generates thrust with the side of the tail, rather than the now missing flukes, while this undoubtedly causes some sort of pain or discomfort, it seems this whale is admirably coping with its disability. It is very likely that this injury was caused by a line entangled around the whales tail which caused the afflicted portion to atrophy and fall off from lack of circulation. Time will tell how long this animal survives, but there have been multiple sightings of whales with similar injuries since 1985, including one who appeared to have given birth to a calf.
The following day, a Gray Whale was seen outside of Dana Point Harbor entangled in fishing gear. I had the unfortunate distinction of confirming that not only was there a line on the whale, but that the entanglement was wrapped inside the mouth of the whale. A team assembled quickly, and luckily a number of trained responders happened to be in the area studying Fin Whales. Although much of the entanglement was removed, the fate of this whale seems grim.
I guess that's the downside to working around animals that few people really consider and fewer people talk about. When you start to develop those strong feelings it makes animal suffering that much more difficult to stomach, even if it happens due to natural causes as well. Fortunately, night eventually becomes day again and the cycle continues so that the tough times might be balanced with better days.
Nature is not inherently cruel or unforgiving, but there is not always room for a storybook ending.
Today I witnessed one of the most heart wrenching scenes I could have possibly imagined seeing as a deckhand aboard a whale watching vessel. While taking photographs of the California Sea Lions on the edge of the Dana Point Harbor jetty we noticed a female sea lion had given birth, we did not see the pup on our way back in from our previous trip, so the birth had to have taken place within an hour of our seeing the pup.
The baby appeared to move slightly, but while recording video we began to notice something deathly wrong. The female was not attending to her new pup, and before long the listless pup had slid down the edge of a rock and in between two lower rocks, where it stopped moving.
A desperate call to the Pacific Marine Mammal Center confirmed what we had feared, the female had likely given birth prematurely and the pup would not have survived under any circumstances. Right now off the coast of Southern California the local sea lions are experiencing a famine. The normally abundant bait fish and squid these animals typically feed on are further offshore due to warmer water temperatures and only the hardiest sea lions are faring well. Pups and yearlings are faring the worst as their foraging skills and strength are not up to the task, and local marine mammal centers are overwhelmed with severely malnourished patients. Although the photos and videos were taken for my employer, I would not print them here were they my own. Personally, I would only be sharing them with researchers or authorities as appropriate for scientific endeavours, to see if anything useful could be learned.
Nature's mechanism for dealing with disasters such as famine is tough, but logical. The strongest and best adapted animals will survive the hard times and earn the right to thrive and reproduce when conditions improve. The population of animals such as the local California Sea Lions will wax and wane from time to time but barring a major catastrophe will soldier through. Many people accept this, and argue that saving too many of these animals artificially inflates the population and makes mortality events such as the one that occurred in 2013 even more drastic.
I can accept that nature's way can be hard, and I can accept why it has to be that way. However, that in no way means that we have to turn a blind eye to living beings in crisis. Humanity is a part of nature, and for many humans it is perfectly natural to render aid to other living beings provided that the opportunity and resources exist. It is a part of nature for the people who care deeply about the plight of the sea lions in California to want to help. I believe this because humans do not exist in a vacuum separate from nature, we are a part of this world just as much as any other species.
If you have the passion, the time, or spare resources you would like to contribute to helping sea lions locally, the nonprofit centers in Laguna Beach and San Pedro are overwhelmed with patients right now. Along with financial support, the organizations have "wish lists" of items they are in need of. You can find them on facebook as well.
I had a great time strolling through the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve the other day and added quite a few new birds to the site. Anyone doing birding for the first time in Orange County would do well starting there. No fewer than 24 species of birds seen in just over an hour.
Although i've been back for nearly five days, it is taking that long to finish editing, uploading, tagging, and presenting all the new photo's i've selected for the site. I hope you will enjoy them as much as I have.
To view this new content on its own, you can use the site's search tags, or click here to search the "Maui 2015" tag. Enjoy!
As of January 30th, 2015, the following birds have been photographed for this site:
American Coot, American Crow, Anna's Hummingbird, Brown Boob,y
Black Chinned Hummingbird, Brown Pelican, Black Phoebe, Black-vented Shearwater, Brandt's Cormorant, Canada Goose, Common Loon, Common Murre, Common Yellowthroat, Caspian Tern, California Towhee, Double Crested Cormorant, Dark-eyed Junco, Elegant Tern, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Green Heron, House Finch, Heerman's Gull, House Sparrow Mallard, Night Heron, Osprey, Pied Billed Grebe, Pacific Golden Plover, Red Tailed Hawk, Snowy Egret, Spotted Sandpiper, Surf Scoter, Sooty Shearwater, Tufted Puffin, White Crowned Sparrow, Western Grebe, Western Gull, Western Scrub Jay, Yellow Fronted Canary, Yellow Rumped Warbler, Zebra Dove.
(Edit as of February 11th, 2015)
You can add the Common Myna, Feral Chicken, Hawaiian Coot, Hawaiian Stilt, Sanderling, and Wandering Tattler. Brewer's Blackbird will soon be posted also.
We're officially one week into the one month time period to petition the White House to comment publicly on the plight of Tokitae, the Southern Resident Killer Whale who is still in captivity in cramped conditions at the Miami Seaquarium. I feel that despite the long road ahead, we are promoting awareness. When I say "we", I mean everyone who has taken the time to sign petitions, protest electronically or in person, and who spends time advocating that the smallest captive Orca habitat in the US be shut down in favor of far more humane treatment.
With two weeks passed the petition has gained steadily, spreading awareness of Tokitae's plight across the United States. People in thirty five of the fifty US states have signed on to spread awareness of the dismal conditions at the Miami Seaquarium. Although we are well short of the 100,000 signatures needed at this time, supporters of ending Tokitae's captivity are waiting on whether or not National Marine Fisheries will extend the legal protections in place for wild Resident Orcas to their captive counterparts, including Tokitae.
The second part in the "Is it Right to Rescue?" series of articles is now up and focuses on Chester, the False Killer Whale who stranded in British Columbia in the Summer of 2014. Chester was rescued by the Marine Mammal Rescue team of the Vancouver Aquarium, which was recently in the news regarding the controversy surrounding their Beluga Whale program and connections to Sea World.
This is the first article in a two part series examining the conflict when marine parks and aquariums are involved in the rescue and rehabilitation of wild cetaceans, and what happens when those animals don't go back to the wild. It revolves around the controversy and heartache surrounding the stranding of a young Risso's Dolphin in San Pedro back in December of 2014.
Here's to a big 2015! There's a lot of reason for optimism for conservation as the new year approaches. In order to help bring some enjoyment to your 2015 I've added a games section to the site. Using Sporcle's create-a-quiz engine, this site now offers some fun ways to learn about animals, especially marine mammals.
The Gray Whale migration has resumed (or if you are reading this at a different time of year...it hasn't) and the Gray Whales are flooding down the California coast. If you can't get on a boat or perhaps you prefer the comforts of terra firma, here are five of my favorite shore-based places in Southern California to watch for the Gray Whales (and more) in close. (In no particular order.)
1. Dana Point Nature Interpretive Center & State Marine Conservation Area. Dana Point, CA.
With plenty of free parking (it's not typically too crowded) and a well managed series of trails, the top of the point is a great place to observe Gray Whales, though you might alter your vantage points depending on whether the migration is primarily northbound or southbound.
2. Point Vicente Lighthouse and Interpretive Center. San Pedro, CA.
Home of the ACS Los Angeles Gray Whale Census, the Interpretive Center is a perfect vantage point for not only watching Gray Whales, but the entire myriad of marine mammal species that pass by the area. The Interpretive Center boasts some educational displays for those taking a break, and the scenery is stunning when the weather is right.
3. Laguna Beach, California.
There are several great places in Laguna Beach to watch these whales depending on your personal preferences. The Wyland Gallery on Coast Hwy has a comfortable patio and a nearby coffee stand. Crescent Bay Point Park offers some of the best vantage points for photography, and the outdoor patio at the Hotel Laguna has a variety of cold beer (this can be very important). Coastal Bottlenose Dolphin can be seen very close to shore on Victoria Beach and if the tide is low it makes for some fantastic opportunities.
4. Birch Aquarium/Scripps Institute at La Jolla CA.
If you are a patron of the aquarium, the outdoor area with the tide pool overlooks a steep cliff, which enables onlookers to observe out to sea. As a bonus, the Birch Aquarium gives you the chance to enjoy an Aquarium in the San Diego area without the downside of cetacean captivity.
5. Balboa Pier, Newport Beach.
Home to the original Ruby's Diner, Balboa Pier is a great place to watch whales as they come in close to the beach, sometimes even frequenting the world famous Wedge.
Remember that although it is a real gift to see dolphins, whales, and other marine mammals so close to shore that it is illegal to feed, swim with, or otherwise alter their natural behaviors. Respectful observation is crucial!
The Marine Education & Research Society (MERS) has an incredible page promoting outreach to recreational boaters and how they can be safe around whales. Safe boating around whales not only keeps the animals at ease and engaged in their natural behaviors, but you are also able to view them better as well.
When whales are struck by boats, the damage to the animal can vary. Younger and more curious animals are more vulnerable as they have not accumulated the life experience yet to know the dangers. Along with the potential blunt force impact, the spinning of propeller blades is also a risk factor.
This female Humpback Whale was photographed off of Santa Barbara in the spring of 2014. She has very distinct scars from a boat propeller. You can see just how close to the blowholes that the boat struck this animal, and had that happened the injury would have been far worse and perhaps fatal. Fortunately this animal not only survived, but at the time the photo was taken she was caring for a very young calf.
The ocean is a three dimensional environment with animals moving freely throughout the water column. Despite the large amount of space, whales like to travel on vectors and they like to stick to a course as much as possible when travelling. Interrupting this course places stress on the animal. Whales with calves are even more at risk because, like human children, babies are not always easy to corral. Note that a baby gray whale, the most commonly seen whale calf in California, is fifteen feet long and weighs nearly a ton AT BIRTH. This makes safe boating even more important because responsible whale watchers, professional or private, should all have a very important goal: to be respectful observers and not impact natural behavior. Boating too fast around whales and getting in front of their chosen vector can have a stressful effect on the animal and in that scenario nobody wins. Keep in mind that being on a human powered vessel does not make one immune from following good guidelines and restrictions.
The Species Index found at http://www.dalefrink.com/pages/by-species/ has been updated to include links to some quick reference sheets from various sources including the American Cetacean Society, NOAA, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. All content is created by the owners of each link's respective page and the links are provided for educational purposes.
I can create my own fact sheets specifically for this site, and I may do that one day in the future. However, these particular fact sheets are not only well written but that are a credible, and quotable source for anyone putting together a prepared presentation, or for someone who just needs a handy reference off the cuff. Your citation of sources will be a lot more credible going directly through these various organizations. (For any students reading this, note how I didn't cite Wikipedia though many of those articles are well crafted.)
Along with the various fact sheets, i've also separated Long Beaked from Short Beaked within the common dolphin section. Call it a nitpicky aesthetic choice on my part, but it is also a gamble because I really have to hope I properly identified between the two, it can be really hard sometimes...
Please feel free to contact me at email@example.com if any of the links are not functioning as they should or if there are any other site issues I should be aware of.
On October 6th, 2014 a group of Sperm Whales numbering no less than forty, perhaps as many as fifty strong, were first spotted by Captain Larry Hartmann aboard the Ocean Explorer off of Laguna Beach, CA.
Please bear with me over the next few days as I gradually improve watermarks on old images. I have purchased a plugin for the website that allows me to automatically add the new watermark to each picture, which means I need to go through and redo the old images, hopefully it will not take long. I apologize for any inconvenience.
If you are interested in cetaceans, there is an exceptional documentary film called Whale Chasers that came out of New Zealand this year. Directors Tess Brosnan & Aaron Hay do an extraordinary job of connecting the whaling history of New Zealand to modern day whale conservation.
About A documentary produced in New Zealand about former-whalers turned citizen scientists, and the incredible story of the oceania humpbacks. Description Whale oil once made the world go round, and whaling goes back seven generations in many parts of New Zealand. This story looks at the the birth of shore-based whaling when the first Pakeha settled at Te Awaiti, Marlborough Sounds, and how nearly 200 years on, their descendants, actual former whalers, are helping to conserve whale species. Whale Chasers is a tale of pirates, conspiracy, life and death on the high seas, and rats placed in gumboots. And of course whales.
This is one of the few films where we see the bloody history of the whaling history reconcile with modern sensibilities and aesthetics, as former whalers use their tracking abilities to help scientists locate Humpback Whales from shore.
Be advised that there are depictions of whaling in the video, the footage used was used very appropriately, but those of you who have less stomach for those images should be prepared, I was shocked myself but they were not only used in the right context, but coupled with the ending scene of the film where one of the whaler's reflects on his time in the profession (I won't offer spoilers, but it was a very stirring part of the interview) it was the right thing to do.
The interviews with the researchers not only inform us on what they are working towards with their studies of the Humpback Whales in New Zealand, but reflect on how attitudes regarding whales have changed in New Zealand over the last few decades. New Zealand and Australia, once proud whaling nations, are now two of the leading nations for cetacean conservation.
I recommend this film to anyone who works to save whales, or to anyone who works in an educational capacity. If we are to continue to strive to end commercial whaling in its last vestiges, it is important to take a look back at the history of whaling. It is a stark reminder of how humanity has a responsibility to learn from its mistakes, and how we are capable of rectifying them.
You can purchase a copy at the film's facebook page. You can also keep up to date with marine conservation issues. Check it out!
Since the hype has died down I felt it best to remove this link from the front page of the website. The page will continue to be maintained as I work to fulfill my pledge to donate a portion of the proceeds from the video to the American Cetacean Society.
Thank you to everyone who has supported me through these times. My career and life have been back on track for some time now but I will never forget the generosity I was graced with upon resuming my work.
Safe boating around whales continues to be an important cause to me, especially as our local Blue Whales make their final appearances this Fall and the 2014-2015 Gray Whale season rapidly approaches. While the Blues are less vulnerable, they have been hungrily devouring large amounts of krill in the area and need to pack on every pound they can before heading South. The Gray Whales will come into our shallow seas again in what could be a very warm winter, which will mean more recreational boat traffic.
If you or anyone you know owns a boat and is considering enjoying recreational whale watching, please visit the NOAA website for tips on how to view whales safely. A more comfortable whale will also be much easier to watch, so it is literally a win-win situation!
On June 7th, 2014, the Short Finned Pilot Whale made a stunning return to the waters of South Orange County. Although once a common sight locally, they mysteriously disappeared in the 1980's. Possible factors include changes in the amount or location of their primary prey (larger squid) or perhaps weather patterns impacting the temperature of the water. Whatever the case we're glad to have them back! I took pictures and video for Dolphin Safari, here are some links:
Dale Frink Photography has some killer new business cards made out of recycled paper and wildflower seeds. Plant them in a little dirt, and add water and sunlight to literally "grow" this business! But don't forget to get the contact information first, hah!