Pic o’ the week: Pelican Almost Becomes Whale Snack

What happens when a pelican gets in the middle of a humpback whale’s lunch?

humpback whales feeding
photo by Kate Cummings, Blue Ocean Whale Watch

 

Journalist Manon Verchot recounts the tale in Audubon magazine,

“A hungry pelican was happily feasting on anchovies when the water beneath began to move. Strong baleen jaws clamped down hard—a humpback whale snatched up the seabird.

“It was evident that the pelican was not happy,” says Kate Cummings, the naturalist and co-owner of Blue Ocean Whale Watch who witnessed the event …..”

“….. Luckily, humpback whales don’t eat large creatures, so they have no incentive to swallow. Sensitive organs in the mouths of whales like humpbacks may allow the whale to differentiate between desired prey and unwelcome visitors.

Cummings has seen incidents like this before. Once, a whale trapped a Pink Footed Shearwater and a cormorant in one gulp. “I also saw a sea lion jumping out of a whale’s mouth,” she says. Each time, the trapped creatures got away when the whale realized what it had grabbed.

In this case, the pelican escaped. Cummings thinks the whale must have sensed it was there because it didn’t fully close its mouth. Before submerging, the whale opened back up and the pelican flew away, seemingly unharmed.”

refuges in the first oil impact zone?

Much news, none of  it good, is streaming to us from the Gulf of Mexico, where an exploded oil rig has likely claimed 11 human lives and its uncapped well has gushed over 818 tons of crude oil into the sea so far and is spewing out more than 210,000 gallons a day. Today the oil slick covers an area at least 600 square miles large.

First in line in the potential impact zone? Two jewels of the national wildlife refuge system:

The Delta National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1935 as a bird sanctuary, is home to ducks, geese, raptors, wading birds, shorebirds, and several bird rookeries. Accessible to humans only by boat, the Mississippi Delta refuge is mostly marsh habitat.

To its northeast, the Breton National Wildife Refuge, established 106 years ago by Theodore Roosevelt, is a series of barrier islands whose sizes and shapes are constantly altered by tropical storms, wind, and tides. The refuge is habitat for colonies of nesting wading birds and seabirds, and wintering shorebirds and waterfowl.

Right now, it’s teeming with brown pelicans, laughing gulls, and royal, Caspian, and Sandwich terns – it’s the beginning of their nesting season.

“They [BP engineers] are putting out some containment booms to the south and east of Breton refuge,” Byron Fortier of the Southeast Louisiana Refuge Complex/Fish & Wildlife Service, told Oceanwire. “That might deflect any oil that might be headed that way.”

But, he says, “If any quantities of oil reach them, they will be very much impacted.”

Photo and map courtesy US Fish & Wildlife Service