Science Today: Whale Feeding Frenzy | California Academy of Sciences

Why are we seeing so many whales off of the California coast? The large mammals are rebounding and following the food.
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(Elliott Hazen) We're seeing fin whales, blue whales and humpbacks, kind of in that order. Humpback whales are the most abundant right now in our bay, but the blue whales are taking advantage of the strong krill year we're having right here. (seabirds squawking) (Cotton Rockwood) Well, along the California coast we have upwelling. When the winds travel along the coast it brings water up from deep, which has lots of nutrients,.

So it's like fertilizer for the plant life, and that leads to lots and lots of phytoplankton, zooplankton, and the krill that the blue whales and humpback whales feed on. (whale spouting) (Elliott) The past few years have actually had a record number of sightings. One of the large reasons for that is we've had a very strange warm-water event, in 2013 and 2014, that's been called “The Blob.”.

This past year has turned into an El Niño event, bringing warm waters and some new species to right off of our coast. When the warm water occurs, a lot of the prey species for the whales get really closely aggregated near shore, so it's like a feeding buffet, and at the same time, it seems like a lot of their food resources elsewhere in the California current are depressed,.

so this essentially serves almost like an oasis in the desert, where they can find the food that they need much easier than having to jump around. It's really hard to say if this is the exact future we'll see, but it is very likely that we will be getting more of these warm-water events, more warm-water species, and often probably more interactions between human use and whales right off of our coast. It's a really strong advantage to have the whales so close to shore,.

because the whale-watching industry is able to get people to see these amazing resources in our backyard, but at the same time the overlap between the whales and human uses can serve as a pretty big risk to the whales, so some of the research we're working on is trying to understand ship-strike risk, so looking at basically how migratory patterns, especially if they shift in shore, might put them more at risk from being run over, basically, by ships,.

(Cotton) …and in addition to that, we can also slow down ships. So the slower they're going, the more likely a whale's able to react and avoid being hit. Large whales are one of the tragic stories, but also one of the success stories in marine conservation, because they were depleted, drastically, because of humans, and really only humans, with whaling, but now that whaling has been banned, for the most part, and there's a lot of really excellent conservation work,.

and conservation measures going on, we've seen the recovery of some of the populations, so that's really heartening. We can really make a difference. (onlookers' oohs and ahs) (onlooker) Wow! ♪ (music) ♪

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Science Today: Whale Feeding Frenzy | California Academy of Sciences