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What a gift! The Sea of Cortez has gifted us with THREE rare sightings in the past month, and just yesterday two Blue Whales, the earth’s largest creature, able to grow to more than 100 feet and weigh more than 200 tons, were seen approximately 5 miles offshore in the rich waters in the area between Punta Pescadero and Cardonal. A week ago Wednesday, a pod of 16 Sperm whales were seen in nearly the same location and a month ago a rare Elephant Seal was spotted in nearly the same spot. Blue Whales are the most elusive of whales, and not often seen in pairs. They are breathtakingly enormous and awe inspiring to experience in person. Their more lean, submarine shaped bodies seem iridescent under the water’s surface and their U-shaped heads displace so much water they create their own wave. Their blow spout is distinctive and reaches very high - as much as 35 feet. They don't breech (thankfully!) but we did see them rising up and lunging into the water as they were feeding, allowing their immense throat pleats to expand and capture up to 4 tons of food a day. The surface action of their feeding creates a huge vacuum at the surface. Blue Whales have rebounded from near extinction and graced 18 of us plus crew that were aboard yesterday (Thursday) with their immense presence. Remember Moby Dick? That's the Sperm Whale, with the enormous square head; these mammals winter at the equator and venture into the Sea of Cortez only when following an abundant food source. They are meat eaters and can hold their breath for up to two hours and dive as deep as 5,000 feet while chasing squid! Seeing a pod of this size and so close to shore is very rare as they normally are found in deep waters. Eight years ago we were 50 miles offshore and experienced a mass migration of 80 Sperm whales on their journey south. Sperm whales have bounced back from near extinction although are still listed as endangered. And the Elephant Seal? Rare and nearly never up the Sea of Cortez. They do however come ashore to molt and breed mid-way down the peninsula on the Pacific side. Like Gray whales, they can migrate more than 12,000 miles a year. They are beguilingly ugly, yet sweet, and this huge bull engaged with us like a 5,000 pound, 15 foot long dog, practically take bait from our hands. Rare gifts, indeed! Theresa with Baja’s Awesome Sportfishing & Whale Adventures;
Finding Nemo: At Punta Arena de La Ventana, over 34 coastal bird species have been recorded to the Ornithology Lab at Cornell University. Considered a “hotspot” for bird watching, this area provides shelter from the wind, food for foraging, and a resting spot for migrating species. One particular species, the magnificent frigatebird is a common sight, but one of the most interesting. Some call this species, “pirates of the air” because they will steal fish from other species, like gulls, pelicans, and terns. Here in our region of the world, they can be seen roosting on top of cardon cactus, owing to the beautiful contrast of desert and ocean. With a wingspan reaching over 2 meters, they casually glide on air currents and rising thermals, spending the majority of their life flying over the ocean. A large nesting colony can be found in mangrove trees on Isla Espiritu Santo and a smaller one on Isla Cerralvo. The males have the large, inflated red chests – the more puffy and red the chest; the more “sexy” the male frigate bird. Join a nesting colony census to help count and record males, females, and juveniles. Contact Stephanie@PrBaja.org for a recommendation of a reputable, responsible conservation tourism organization to ACTIVELY enjoy natUre in Baja and contribute to science.
Stephanie Rousso, M.S. , Bióloga de Fauna/ Wildlife Biologist, Baja California Sur, México, 612.150.6667; www.ProFaunaBaja.org
Last week was manta rays. This week, another elasmobranch, whale sharks. Elaso-What? Elasmobranch species comprise the taxonomic groups of shark, skates, and rays. The only one species of whale shark (Rhincodon typus) ranges throughout the world in tropical zones. We scientists still have much to learn about this amazing species. We do know that they eat by filtering plankton, which are comprised of algae (phytoplankton) and larval invertebrates (zooplankton). Juvenile whale sharks like rich and diverse in plankton where different currents. Whale sharks are hunted for their oil, meat, and fins but tourism is helping to restore and protect populations. However, tourism can have an impact too when the rules are not followed, so make sure you are going with a boat with valid permits and who fly their yellow flag on the boat. It is up to all of us to make sure we, the captains, and our guides know and follow the rules. Individual whale sharks can be identified by the spots surrounding their gills. Take a photo and report your whale shark sightings to Stephanie@Prja.org. Free workshops coming soon to La Ventana!
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