Tag Archive: ecotours


Eye of the Whale

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We are back from one of the most profound wildlife encounters of my 30 year career as a naturalist…..Gray Whales of Baja featuring our new whale camp with http://www.bluewaterventures.org. Thanks to our incredible Mexican Outfitter, Mar y Aventuras~top notch!

Join Blue Water Ventures each February in the Lagoons of Baja

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Launching our  yearly Elephant Seal program south of Big Sur today. Already we’ve had incredible views! During the breeding and pupping season, male elephant seals go to battle. Since most of their time now is spent on land to mate, this in water battle offered some incredible viewing.
DSC01307The thick skin around the neck referred to as the “chest shield” offers some protection to the head colliding and bites from other males. Join our naturalist-led adventures at httpa//www.bluewaterventures.org/:::www.bluewaterventures.org

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Thanksgiving Paddle

I am thankful for the amazing gifts of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Humpback whales are still around as well as all the other wonders of the bay. Yesterday, we saw a young male elephant seal “bottling”, a resting position at the surface (not pictured).

DSC00908At first glance from a distance the pointy proboscis had the appearance of a dorsal fin and not that of a cetacean. As we approached, we could then hear the “dorsal fin” breathing and realized it was a pinniped. Elephant Seal sightings from our kayaks are rare but the whales these days are not!

As we left the harbor, we saw the scarred nose of a recently mated female otter as well as great views of buffleheads…what a day!DSC00885

Encounter with a Baby Whale
There are just a few places in the world where in water encounters with whales are permitted and regulated. In a nation where humpback whales were virtually decimated by a whaling industry just decades ago, their population is slowly recovering. Supporting a local economy through regulated whale swims is helping to preserve a fragile population of whales that spend ‘their winter” in the archipelago kingdom of Tonga.

As with all of our encounters, this young and very playful whale initiated the contact with us. It happened repeatedly for well over an hour. Every 10-15 minutes or so, the mother would appear out of the deep blue and escort her baby away. We would simply wait and within a few minutes the mother would drop the baby off for more interaction.

We were brought to tears on several occasions, so moved by the experience. Thanks to a wonderful scouting team, the kind people of Tonga and thank you Mama Whales !

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DSC00660Monterey Bay is making national if not international news once again. An array of wildlife from seabirds to humpback whales are feasting on anchovies which are densely packed into our near shore waters. Try a day trip out to Moss Landing State Beach and watch this incredible show from the jetties. Better yet, join Sanctuary Cruises Whale Watching based in Moss Landing where the “action” currently is. Its impossible to predict where an 80,000 pound marine mammal may choose to feed on a given day, but the crew aboard Sanctuary WILL find the whales.

Last night after reviewing the current marine conditions, I kayaked out and tucked up alongside Sanctuary Cruises to observe an incredible display of behavior. I would not recommend this for inexperienced paddlers. The whales may change direction and approach your vessel. Sometimes they are curious and gain a better perspective of their surroundings by “spyhopping” or raising their head out of the water for a better look. When kayaking, be prepared to deal with surf launching/landing, tides, currents, wind and swell. Moss Landing is notorious for fog banks to roll in abruptly. The best show is from land or aboard Sanctuary Cruises.

DSC00677On Nov. 1st and 2nd, Blue Water Ventures is offering a bioluminescence paddle into Elkhorn Slough, the calm wetlands adjacent to the Monterey Bay whale hot spot.Hopefully, the whales will still be around and we will observe from land before paddling into the glowing water. For details go to: http://www.bluewaterventures.org.

The Best of Baja

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Every february Blue Water Ventures travels to the whale breeding lagoons of Baja and the Sea of Cortez teaming up with our incredible local outfitter, Mar Y Aventuras. For 10 action packed days, we snorkel with sea lions, observe reef fish, sea kayak, beachcomb and hope for a ‘friendly” encounter with the California gray whales of Magdalena Bay.

Baja Highlights
* Kayaking through mangroves and from our secluded base camp of Espiritu Santo Island in the Sea of Cortez

* Unforgettable Encounters with Cailfornia Gray Whales, Magdalena Bay on Baja’s Pacific Coast

* Snorkeling with Sea Lions and Colorful Reef Fish in the blue waters of Baja

* Beach combing for treasures along beautiful deserted beaches

* Delicious local seafood caught and prepared by our Mexican Crew

* Skiff supported base camps with spacious tents

* Naturalist-led hikes, snorkeling excursions and whale encounters

* Sunrises and Sunsets over magnificent desert scenery

*Swimming alongside a filter feeding harmless shark that may be over 30 feet in length

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Each year during our Caribbean programs in Belize and the British Virgin Islands,  our group is invariably drawn to the Caribbean Reef Squid, Sepioteuthis sepioidea. Even seasoned snorkelers become overwhelmed by the explosion of colorful activity found on a coral reef. Suspended in blue water, an erie feeling that something is watching you creeps into your consciousness. A quick glance around reveals a squadron of reef squid. Swim away and they follow. Move towards them and they quickly change color, a deep red if near the reef or pale if over sand, masters of camouflage.

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They may even create false eyes on their posterior end as seen here. The eyes will instantaneously vanish once the threat of a predator is gone. Quite incredible.

 

The  picture  below reveals an unusual white blotch across the dorsal side. I have watched reef squid for decades and have rarely seen such coloration. It appears as though we may have interrupted the amorous intentions of a courting male.

 

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Reef squid not only expand and contract the chromatophore cells embedded in their skin to conceal themselves, but do so as part of their mating ritual. Males may flash an impressive zebra pattern to the female who is revealing a blotchy saddle indicating her sexual receptivity. Mate selection is a serious business to a female reef squid. She will die soon after depositing her fertilized eggs in a safe corner of the ocean floor. Like most cephalopods, the life of the Caribbean Reef Squid is relatively short. They are thought to live for one year, mate and die.

Join Blue Water Ventures on a naturalist-led adventure to the reefs, rain forest,  kelp beds and beyond!

 

 

 

 

seal

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Harbor Seal pupping season is in full swing at Elkhorn Slough and at other locations along the Central California Coast.
When observing harbor seals, please keep your distance and use a telephoto lens. Make every effort to avoid separating moms from pups and never disturb a pup that is alone onshore. The mother harbor seal may be close by and will hopefully reunite with the pup once humans depart the area.

 

DSC01956_2This young pup was actively making a distress cry to locate its mother sounding something like Maaaaaa. Vocalization and scent are two key mechanisms that a mother harbor seal uses to locate her pup. Born at around 15 to 25 pounds, harbor seal pups will enjoy a rich diet of milk that is 40% fat and will weigh approximately 50 pounds as its prepared to be weaned. After 6 weeks the pups are weaned and will now forage and avoide predators on their own.

While in-utero, harbor seal pups, have a white soft coat that is typically shed before birth. In Arctic regions, the lanugo (white coat) is shed after birth. The spotted coloration provides camouflage while resting along our rocky shores.

To learn more about how we can avoid disturbing harbor seals during pupping season please check out: http://marine.stanford.edu/seals/index.htm

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Fantastic discovery today while kayaking in the Elkhorn Slough. We found an  enormous  California brown sea hare, Aplysia californica, a type of marine  slug in the phylum mollusca. Enjoying a hermaphroditic life style, this fascinating guy or girl as the case may be emitted a mildly toxic purple dye as I scooped it up and placed  it on  my spray skirt.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

Using their raspy tongue or file like structure known as a radula, sea hares scrap into their algae diet which later  aids in the pigmentation of their ink. Why do sea hares as well as their relatives, octopus and squid emit a dye? Perhaps the cloud of purple confuses or startles a predator or serves as a screen or decoy. Possessing some of the largest nerve cells in the animal kingdom, sea hares have been used in studies on memory and learning.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy group of kayakers though a bit startled, politely watched as I rolled myself face first into the sand while still cradling the sea hare in my arms. Covered with purple dye from head to toe, I do think they realized what a special find we had!

Join the naturalist of Blue Water Ventures as we explore Central California, Baja, Belize, Tonga and beyond!

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Have you ever wandered a beach and found seashells with a small holed drilled into it? There are several marine snails that use their radula, a file like tongue to bore into their prey. Among them is the moon snail. The tiny single holes in the bivalves pictured here were made by a predatory snail, perhaps a moon snail or oyster drill. The photo reveals a shell on the right which is riddled with multiple tiny holes. This is from the dissolving activity of a boring sponge in the genus, Cilonia. These sponges use a dissolving chemical to bore into calcium rich species such as snails and corals. Rather than seeking prey, boring sponges are in pursuit of a habitat taking up residence in a calcareous animal….life on a gulf coast beach.