Pic ‘o the Week: surfing whales

As photographer J.T. Gray stood on a Hawaiian beach snapping photos of surfers on Oahu’s North Shore, a pod of humpback whales, who had been lurking nearby, unexpectedly joined in the surfing fun. In his words:

“The whales were kinda hanging out about 75-100 yards off the beach at Ehukai then swam outside the lineup at Pipeline and caught the second wave of the set. It was amazing to witness. I am blessed to have been able to capture it.”

copyright J.T. Gray
copyright J.T. Gray


Check out his beautiful photos here on Smugmug and here on Instagram.

Oriana Kalama, founder of Hawaii’s Ocean Defenders, shares these thoughts about these surfing humpbacks:

“In my 25 years of whale watching I have never heard or witnessed humpback whales surfing. We see them very very close to our shores with their calfs. We observe the adult whales teach the young many behaviors. Tail slapping, spy hopping, breaching.. but to me its the first time I heard of whales teaching the youth how to catch a wave. Perhaps they were just enjoying the natural propulsion of the currents as they form waves, perhaps they have been surfing secretly all their lives, who knows. Dolphins are known to surf, and I recently heard of gray whales surfing in the coats of California so why wouldn’t the humpback whales of Hawaii surf too?  After all they are most natives of Hawaii and surfing is in the blood.”









Pic o’ the week: Bioluminescent Beach

Will Ho is among those lucky enough to witness a beach aglow in nature’s own neon. While honeymooning in the Maldives, he saw this beach glittering with … yes, ostracod crustaceans.

Photo copyright Will Ho
By the Dusit Thani resort, Mudhdhoo, Baa Atoll, Maldives. Photo copyright Will Ho.

These entrancing photos have spread across the web, with one scientific misunderstanding. This is not bioluminescent phytoplankton, biology professor Jim Morin of Cornell’s Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, has clarified, but instead is an instance of an amazing mortality event of crustaceans in the Indian Ocean:

“These are tiny crustaceans. They produce these mass mortalities commonly in the Maldives. The species in question is almost certainly Cypridina [=Pyrocypris] dentata, a widespread cypridinid ostracod in the Indian Ocean [and perhaps all the way to the Chinese coast, where they are known as “blue tears”]. There are numerous reports from the Indian coast, especially the west side, and up into the Arabian Sea, in addition to the Laccadives and the Maldives. However, because luminescent bays in the Caribbean and crashing blue waves everywhere in the world are well known, and are usually caused by luminescence from dinoflagellates [which ARE a kind of phytoplankton], there is much confusion about the cause of these “starlit beaches.” But they are clearly NOT dinoflagellates; they are ostracod crustaceans that secrete cypridinid luciferin and luciferase from glands on their upper lips so that the luminescence is external [not intracellular as in dinos]. Furthermore the luminescence is discrete as fairly large spots, not diffuse as with light from millions of dinos. Ostracod light can last many seconds, even minutes, which is not what happens with dinos.”

George Percy noted on Flickr that he remembers these from his childhood in India:

“I am from India … and I used to see them all the time at night on the Marina Beach in Chennai. My friends and I used to scoop them up and hold it in our hands for about 10 seconds and they will lose their luminescence.”

Pic ‘o the week: sky on a whale’s back

As the autumn days become shorter and colder in the Northern Hemisphere, the ocean’s creatures prepare for winter.

In the deep waters off the Central California coast, enormous schools of anchovies are drawing hundreds of humpback whales, along with blue whales, dolphins, seals, and other predators.

Here, blue sky and wispy clouds reflect off a humpback whale’s glistening back. This whale, enjoying an anchovy feast in Monterey Bay, was one of about a dozen that photographer Kate Cummings saw on a recent trip out to sea.

Oct6_63Image courtesy & copyright Kate Cummings of Blue Ocean Whale Watch.

Pic ‘o the week – eyes of a giant octopus

A stunning close-up of a North Pacific giant octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini) in the Japan Sea. How did talented Russian photographer Alexander Semenov get so close? He says “It’s not easy to get close, but this one was a very patient and calm one. And he was curious about me, so we contacted a little and I made this shot.”

copyright Alexander Semenov
copyright Alexander Semenov

Alexander’s photos of underwater creatures and their habitats are beautiful and haunting. Check them out here on his site, and if you fall in love with them, buy prints here on Artflakes.

Pic o’ the week – crystals of a sea urchin’s tooth

Photo by Pupa U.P.A. Gilbert and Christopher E. Killian, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Photo by Pupa U.P.A. Gilbert and Christopher E. Killian, University of Wisconsin-Madison

You’re looking at the tip of a sea urchin’s tooth. Really. This remarkable macro photo won the first place & people’s choice awards in the International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge, an annual contest of the National Science Foundation.

This is very cool stuff:

“These fantastical structures are the microscopic crystals that make up a sea urchin’s tooth. Each shade of blue, aqua, green, and purple–superimposed with Photoshop on a scanning electron micrograph (SEM)–highlights an individual crystal of calcite, the abundant carbonate mineral found in limestone, marble, and shells.

The curved surfaces of the crystals look nothing like normal calcite crystal faces. Instead of flat sides and sharp edges, the sea urchin produces ‘incredibly complex, intertwined’ curved plates and fibers that interlock and fill space in the tooth as they grow. Though made of a substance normally as soft as chalk, the teeth are hard enough to grind rock, gnawing holes where the sea urchins take shelter from rough seas and predators.” —NSF

Mahalo to Mission Blue for tipping us off to this fascinating and beautiful photo.

Pic o’ the week – holiday Painted Frogfish

A fish so intricate and glittery it could be an ornament in your holiday displays. At first glance, you might not realize this showy Painted Frogfish (Antennarius Pictus) is even a fish. And its glitz disguises a ferocious carnivorous appetite.

Painted Frogfish, off Seraya, Bali, Indonesia. Copyright Allen Lee
Painted Frogfish, off Seraya, Bali, Indonesia.
Copyright Allen Lee

See that antenna-like thing coming out of its nose? That’s a dorsal spine, used by the rather sedentary frogfish to lure smaller fish and crustaceans into its large mouth.

Mahalo to Allen Lee, for allowing us to post this terrific photo that he snapped in Indonesia.

Pic ‘o the week – colors of Antarctica

Photographer Tony Beck snapped this stunning photo during a tour of the Antarctic Peninsula in January 2010 with Worldwide Quest and One Ocean Expeditions. In his words:

“These ‘iceberg alleys’ often reveal endless shapes, forms, lines and patterns of ice. Among them, we often see many shades of blue. We also find wildlife like whales, seals, penguins, and in this particular case, a South Polar Skua, perched on top of the berg.  The experience of sailing through these alleys can be exciting, inspiring, humbling and adventurous.”

Read more about ice color at SEED Science and here. Read more about Antarctic and arctic ice here. Check out marine biologist James McClintock’s new book, Antarctic Bound: Adventures in a Disappearing Land.