Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Orcas on Hydrophone!

If you want to hear the Southern Resident Killer Whales of the Salish Sea right now... Go to OrcaSound.net, click on "Listen to OrcaSound on San Juan Island" (works on RealPlayer, iTunes, WinAmp), and hear some of our resident orcas! I hear at least J pod and, thanks to MarineTraffic.com, the cargo ship, Star of Sawara.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Right Whales, Blue Whales, and Orcas; oh my!

Right whales got some CNN love with the help of the New England Aquarium's Right Whale Aerial Survey Team. Check out the team's blog for more on their visit with CNN. Apparently the whales were called "ugly" by CNN, but I don't think that's true at all! Right whales are very, very pretty. Don't you think?

Blue whales were featured in an article in the latest National Geographic magazine. The article -- called "Still Blue" -- takes readers on a journey to the Costa Rica Dome, an area of the ocean which, due to upwelling, brings the thermocline and lots of tasty critters up to the surface. The blue whales come to feast on nutrient-rich phytoplankton, and the researchers come to feast on knowledge. It's a win-win situation for all.

The Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW) passed by the Port Townsend Marine Science Center last Tuesday. Coincidentally, I was teaching a class of third graders about sound underwater and, as we listened to our hydrophone, we heard the orcas and reported to Orca Network. Since we were the first to report, we were even mentioned on the evening news! See the Port Townsend Marine Science Center's blog for more information on the experience.

Whew! How's that for your cetacean news download for the day?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Narwhals are Cool

In an article on the BBC News site, called 'Arctic unicorns' in icy display, they have an awesome video that's just under two minutes long. Perhaps it's their streamlined body paired with their lengthy tusks, but there's just something about narwhals that is so awkwardly graceful. Or, rather, gracefully awkward? Whatever it is, they are absolutely fascinating.

What's even more awkward than a toothy tusk protruding from your top lip? Two toothy tusks, my friends. It's not a common occurance, that's for sure, but it has happened. I took the above photo about two years ago while visiting the Natural History Museum in London. I spent a too-short weekend visiting museums in London while completing an internship at Our Dynamic Earth, one of Scotland's leading science centers. Or, as they say, centres. This narwhal skull was one of the most fascinating things I saw that day.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Good Week for Orcas

I've just received word from Susan and Howard over at Orca Network that there have been two new calves sighted with the Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW)! Here's what they have to say in their weekly report:

Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research confirmed "there are two new calves (one in J and one in L), but we are not officially specifying mums yet. We are conferring with Dr. John Ford and our Canadian colleagues before stating possible mothers. We would like to have several encounters with the babies and their mothers before assigning because grandma's may also confuse things."

After losing seven members of the SRKW within the last year, the announcement of two new calves is fantastic. I'll keep my ears and eyes open for any more news regarding an increase in our resident orca population. It may take a while to confirm the mothers of these young orcas, but this is certainly a good sign. Until then, think happy thoughts for these whales!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Whale-Inspired Technology

While Stumbling through the Internet the other day, I stumbled upon a website for a company called WhalePower. This company designs wind turbines that emulate the shape of humpback whales' tubercle-clad pectoral fins. You know, those bumpy things on the outside edge of their flippers? Right. So, in a 2004 article published in Physics of Fluids by Miklosovic, Murray, and Howle, the usefulness of the protuberances is discussed. Amazingly, in performance tests in wind tunnels, flippers with tubercles showed a significant increase in lift and decrease in drag. Guess these whales knew how to do it all along!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Free Science Classes

Life-size orca painted by Allison Gravis and Lucy Carpenter, AmeriCorps members at PTMSC.

Allison, my coblogger at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center (PTMSC) blog, talks about the Free Science Classes that we're teaching the next two months at the PTMSC. The two classes are called Orca Communication and Sound Underwater. Lately I've been teaching the Sound Underwater class and realizing just how much kids love to scream when asked to make the loudest sound they can. This all comes back to sound measurement of course, using a decibel meter, and the kids have a blast imitating a pressure wave and identifying sounds from hydrophone recordings. Today was super windy, with a side of white caps, and we were able to hear the pilings squeak on the PTMSC hydrophone.

Teaching these classes is a lot of fun for me as well. Just the other day, a student announced, "I've been here before, and it's boring!" Then, about fifteen minutes into the Sound Underwater class, while we were creating a pressure wave, the same student said, "This is so much fun!" It's always good to see the tables turn like that.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Belyoga Whales

How's this for a headline: Whales serve as backdrop for aquarium yoga classes

Yep, the Georgia Aquarium is now offering yoga classes in the same space as their beluga tank. I can't decide whether this is cool or just plain weird. Having never tried yoga, I can't say whether this would enhance the relaxed environment or not, but their yoga instructor seems to think it adds "peace and calm" to the atmosphere. I wonder if practicing yoga in the shark tank area would have the same effect...

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Hope Spots

Were you watching the live broadcast of TED Talks tonight? I hope so; Sylvia Earle is an amazingly effective speaker, whose passion for the oceans is contagious. As one of three TED Talks prize winners, she got to share her wish for the world with a global audience. Sylvia Earle's wish -- to create a global network of marine protected areas -- is certainly a big wish. But it is absolutely necessary! As Sylvia said, without the oceans, there would be no life on Earth. She likened this possibility to Mars. No ocean, and no life as far as we can see. We currently have only .8% of the world's oceans as Marine Protected Areas. That's it, and it's not enough. Sylvia calls these areas "Hope Spots." To save, restore, and revitalize these Hope Spots, we need to work together to make it happen.

As Sylvia says in her book, Sea Change, "You have to love it before you are moved to save it." Do we love the oceans enough? We should; we love existing, and we wouldn't exist without the oceans.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Hints of Time

In a recent article on National Geographic News, scientists discuss the clues an early whale left behind. Two of these ancient whales, or archaeocetes, were found in the deserts of Pakistan nine years ago. One was a male. The other, a female, was pregnant. Of the many things these whales can tell us, one was that the calf was to be born head-first, indicating that the species was still dwelling on land at that time. Whales nowadays are born tail first, allowing them to swim right away. Therefore, this new species -- Maiacetus inuus -- must have come before whales that lived predominantly in the oceans.

Fossils are like time machines. Here are these remnants, these amazing leftovers, that can be seen today without having to have lived at that time. Fossils allow us to take a trip back to a former time, and imagine what it may have been like.