Readers’ wildlife photos (and a non-reader video)

As I wrote five days ago, adding video and photos, biologist Bruce Lyon and I boarded a small vessel in Moss Landing, California, hoping to see humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae). As my videos and photos showed, we were amply rewarded, seeing not only whales breaching, lunge-feeding, and surface feeding, but also seeing them accompanied by literally hundreds of sea lions and thousands of birds, all trying to get some of the anchovies the whales were after. As lagniappe, at one point there was a pod of common dolphins swimming beside the boat.

Bruce, who’s a far better photographer than I, and who has much better equipment, sent me some of his photos from that afternoon, as well as of our visit to the northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris) colony at Año Nuevo, and I’m putting them up here. His commentary is indented, while mine is flush left:

From Año Nuevo State Park:

The dunes at Año Nuevo (tilde over the “n” is important or the name becomes “new anus”)
(JAC: I’m last in line here. We had to wear special official windbreakers so the rangers who supervise the area would know that our presence in this restricted area was kosher.)

Off Moss Landing in the Monterey Bay, the water would be quiet, and suddenly hundreds of sea lions would appear along with a gazillion birds. That signaled that the humpbacks were rising to the surface, driving a big school of anchovies ahead of them. These baleen whales would then surface, engulfing huge masses of fish with their gaping maws, filtering out the fish and expelling the water. The sea lions and birds would get the leavings.

First, a bird:

A northern fulmar [Fulmarus glacialis], a tuberose related to petrels albatross and shearwaters. I cannot recall if the tube nose is used in their excellent sense of smell, for getting rid of salt water or both.

The “sea lion carpet” was one of the most amazing bits of biology I’ve ever seen:

Soon after the seals and birds appeared, the whales would come:

Look at that mouth!

Cropped closeup of the above photo showing  anchovies that escaped whale’s gulp:

Note the barnacles clinging to the whale. Some think breaches help detach these or sundry other parasites, but I have no data on that:

The sea lion carpet:

Nice view of blow hole. I think you muttered “Jesus Christ” as this guy swam under the boat—there were 4 or 5 whales swarming the boat at the time.

The dolphins were common dolphins [JAC: I’m guessing these are short-beaked common dolphins, Delphinus delphis]

At the end of the day. . .

Mad scientist meets Mad Otter:

And here’s a video I put up last year, filmed in South Africa, showing 22 breaches in an afternoon’s jaunt. One of them is apparently the first filming of the entire 40-ton animal coming completely out of the water. (Imagine the power it takes to do that!). Nobody yet understands why whales jump out of the water like this, but most biologists in the know thinks that it produces loud sounds used for inter-whale communication. The commentary on the video below includes this:

Entertaining us while we wait are migrating humpback whales. Some are a mothers with calves. Some are males traveling in small groups.

This day, there were few sardine sightings but the whales seemed to be everywhere! An unexpected bonus!

This video shows a humpback whale mother cow swimming with a calf. It shows an adult 40 ton whale on its back, slapping both its left and right fins on the water, then leaping entirely out of the water!

It seems that never before has a recording been made of an adult humpback whale leaping entirely out of the water! A very rare event, indeed.

Dolphins and even Great White Sharks have been seen flying out of the water, but this is a first for an adult humpback whale!



  1. GBJames
    Posted September 15, 2018 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    Most excellent photography!

  2. Posted September 15, 2018 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Wow, those are amazing scenes. Do whales ever accidentally swallow one those sea lions or birds?

    • Posted September 15, 2018 at 9:57 am | Permalink

      We were told that the whales occasionally take in birds, some of which manage to escape when the whale opens its mouth, but others go through the digestive tract, dead but apparently completely undigested. I didn’t hear anything about them accidentally ingesting a a sea lion; I suspect those animals are too large to swallow.

    • Posted September 15, 2018 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, I was wondering the same thing. I’d think healthy, sea-smart sea lions are really, really fast and agile though and can get outta the way!

      I’m also wondering if irritation/interference from powerful sonar equipment ever stimulates whales to breach (as opposed to beach), like what we see in the video.

    • rickflick
      Posted September 15, 2018 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

      I saw a documentary on the Alaskan whales. They showed a hapless gull being ingested. Got a little too greedy, methinks.

  3. Claudia Baker
    Posted September 15, 2018 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    “I think you muttered “Jesus Christ” as this guy swam under the boat”

    Haha – would be my reaction exactly.

    Breathtakingly beautiful though. All of it.

  4. Debbie Coplan
    Posted September 15, 2018 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    Really exciting photos!
    Looks like an amazing experience.

  5. ladyatheist
    Posted September 15, 2018 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    Wow beautiful!

    I wonder if the breaching is about making the biggest splash. It’s what teenage boys in my city pool did!

  6. Jenny Haniver
    Posted September 15, 2018 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    Those are stunning and thrilling photos. BTW, shouldn’t it be “tubenose” not “tuberose”?

    • Diane G
      Posted September 16, 2018 at 2:26 am | Permalink

      I’ll bet that was auto-correct at its finest…

  7. rickflick
    Posted September 15, 2018 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    I can almost smell the ocean from here. What a trip! Someday I’ll make time to visit the world of whales.

  8. Mark R.
    Posted September 15, 2018 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    Wow, I don’t think you could have been on a more exciting whale-watching experience than this one. Lucky you! Thanks for sharing. I bet it was really loud out there as well. Fun chaos.

  9. Barbara Radcliffe
    Posted September 15, 2018 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    Great photos! Would it be over the top to suggest that the breaching whales look like they are having fun?
    Re the elephant seals, many years ago we spent two weeks as Earth Watch volunteers counting southern elephant seals on the beach of Sea Lion Island in the Falkland Islands. This involved getting close enough to the juveniles to read the number on the tail tag and recording it’s position on a GPS. With adults their names were written on their sides in black hair dye so one did not need to get so close unless the name was obscured by sand, in which case one approached (very carefully) until one could read the tail tag number with binoculars.

    • rickflick
      Posted September 15, 2018 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

      I wonder if dressing as a sea lion would have worked(provided it isn’t breeding season).

  10. Heather Hastie
    Posted September 15, 2018 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    What a wonderful experience! It looks absolutely fantastic. I’d so love to do that trip.

  11. Diane G
    Posted September 16, 2018 at 2:28 am | Permalink

    Just mesmerizing!

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