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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spotlight: Monk Seals, ‘living fossils’ of the sea

They’re the oldest species of seals on the planet, believed to have been swimming Earth’s waters for millions of years. And today they’re the most endangered marine mammals in the world.

Hawaiian monk seal. Photo courtesy Kaua’i Monk Seal Watch Program.

Hawai’i’s monk seals (Monachus schauinslandi) are one of two mammal species endemic to the islands (the other is the Hoary Bat). Long ago, Hawaiians named these creatures Ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua –  or “dog that runs in the sea.”

Mediterranean monk seals (Monachus monachus) were said in Greek mythology to be protected by Apollo and Poseidon, and were described by Aristotle and other Greek writers. A monk seal face was etched onto coins dating from the 6th century BC, found in the ancient city of Ionia, on the Aegean Sea.

The third recently known monk seal population, the Caribbean monk seal (Monachus tropicalis), has been declared extinct; the last one was sighted in 1952.

Mediterranean monk seal in cave. Photo by Giovanni Dall’Orto; via WikiCommons

Today, the Mediterranean monk seal population is precariously below 500 individuals and believed to be declining. They’re now found predominantly in caves and areas isolated from humans – not the open beaches where scientists believe they traditionally spent their time.

Hawaiian monk seals number less than 1,200 individuals, and are also believed to be declining in alarming numbers. A 2009 scientific study stated that Hawaiian monk seals face a genetic bottleneck, with the lowest genetic diversity of any mammal species ever studied.

Both populations are critically endangered, and face multiple threats – encroaching human populations, entanglement in marine debris and fishing gear, infectious disease and more. They also have a relatively slow reproductive rate compared to other seals.

Funding for their protection in both Hawai’i and Greece is not certain, particularly in these rough economic times.

Learn about these remarkable creatures here (Hawaiian monk seal), here (Mediterranean monk seal)here (the tragic Caribbean monk seal), and here. Keep up on latest monk seal news here.

And perhaps  figure out what you can do to help them make it through another million years on this planet.

Some ideas are here and  here for helping the Hawaiian clan; you can support efforts in the Mediterranean by adopting a monk seal here. (Use GoogleTranslate on this page)

Update 16 Feb. 2012: TV3 out of NZ has a good read on a male monk seal being relocated to Waikiki Aquarium because of aggressive behavior toward his brethren. 

Update, 27 Jan. 2012: this AP article is a good read – illustrating how NOAA’s efforts have been helping the critically endangered monk seal population in Hawai’i.

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Pic o’ the week – sea turtle hatchlings

“The ancient mariner who has seen both the fall of dinosaurs and
the dawn of humankind, this master navigator now,
ironically, needs us … to chart a path to its future.”
-Carl Safina

The Leatherback turtle hatchlings above head into the sea for the first time. Only a few of every hundred or thousand sea turtle hatchlings make it to adulthood.

Threats to their survival include the manmade – poaching, electric lights that interfere with their navigation by moonlight, plastic bags that look like their jellyfish prey, and fishing gear that hopelessly entangles them. At beaches around the world, some people step in to help the endangered sea turtles reproduce.

On the crowded beaches of south Maui, locals are gearing up to help the sea turtles in their millenia-old reproductive ritual.

Harry Eagar of The Maui News reports on the efforts that conservationists, turtle lovers and scientists make every year to help the turtles nest and the hatchlings make the perilous journey from nest to sea.

And Amy Sutherland’s article in the May’s Smithsonian magazine gives a great first-hand account of efforts to help the severely endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles as they nest on Cape Cod beaches.

Want to get involved or adopt a sea turtle or donate in some way? Check out Caribbean Conservation Corp.’s excellent listing of sea turtle groups.

Photo by Scott R. Benson, National Marine Fisheries Service/NOAA