Thursday, February 28, 2013

A whale of a time

This is a rather unorthodox blog for me, but I'm still busy trying to sort out my Dominican pics to find all the plant pictures interspersed with typical traveler pictures ("is that a lizard?! LET'S TAKE 500 PICTURES OF THE PRETTY LITTLE LIZARD!!!!!").

Since I didn't want to leave my blog high and dry for two whole weeks, I figured I would post a blog that has nothing to do with plants. This is also a celebration of 10,000 page views of my blog. TEN THOUSAND! I'm finding it hard to believe that my blog could be interesting enough to get 10,000 people to read it (or maybe just 10 people visiting it 1,000 times each...still impressive since this is only blog post 228!). From the bottom of my crusty little heart, thank you immensely. I hope you'll all continue to read, and enjoy it for many months (and hopefully years) to come!

And now, some animal pictures. Yes, this is not a blog about animals. Yes, I generally have an aversion to "teaching" about animals only because people seem to value them so much higher than plants. Yes, they're cute when they're babies, but aren't plants cute when they're seedlings, too?! Animals get a lot of press because they display behaviours; mating behaviours, anger behaviours, loving behaviours, grooming behaviours, mourning behaviours, and happiness behaviours. These are all things that we attribute to be inherently human, and when an animal does it we're all fascinated by it. Do I think we spend too much time teaching people about animals? No. I think it's great that so many people want to learn all about different kinds of animals and why they do what they do (and even try to apply it to humans, which is neat and exciting). Plants deserve a lot more attention than they get, hence why I started my blog. But every so often an animal comes along that is just so gosh darn cool that I get excited about seeing them. And so I present to you...


...HUMPBACK WHALES!






Species name: Megaptera novaeangliae

Common name: Humpback whale

Location: Dominican Republic

Every year during the winter months, humpback whales travel from their summer feeding grounds near Greenland, Iceland and Newfoundland in Canada to their winter breeding grounds in the Bay of Samana in the Dominican Republic. There, they frolic in the incredibly warm (trust me, I was drenched by the end of the whale watching trip), very deep water for three months before starting their return trip north. Based on anecdotal evidence, it takes about a month for humpbacks to travel from the Dominican Republic back up to Newfoundland, and probably quite a bit longer than that to finish the trip to Greenland (probably getting distracted along the way by all of the food that they come across; their winter grounds are notably lacking in food sources).

In the Bay of Samana the males perform their courtship behaviours to try to impress females (pictured above is the same male displaying over and over again; he was either pretty desperate by this point or just flaunting what he's got), they mate, and the babies are born. We didn't see any baby whales while we were out on the water; apparently they are very easy to spot because they cannot hold their breath as long as the adult whales (5 minutes for a baby versus 30 minutes for an adult whale) so you see mom and baby surfacing often. The captain of our boat stayed with this whale for almost thirty minutes before we had to go back to the dock; I think even the captain and the guide were impressed with the number of times we caught this over-exuberant male displaying.

Humpbacks were once a critically endangered species because of over-hunting, which has been banned worldwide since 1986. The population of humpbacks worldwide has now ballooned to almost 80,000 whales, and they have now been removed from the endangered species list. A great success story about how conservation efforts and public education can save a species if we start early and get the information out quickly.