Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Whale of a Project

How's that for a dorky title?  A friend cornered me at park day and said, "So what is the big project?  Are you going to buy an RV and travel the country for a year?"

Um.  No.  It isn't that big or life changing.  But I hope it will be fun.  We're going to try to see every one of California's 197 native mammals. 

I knew that if I didn't take matters in hand the first mammal we bagged would be a ho hum squirrel or a deer.  Or that roadkill skunk.

I heard there were blue whales in Monterey Bay and thought how great it would be to kick off the project by seeing the largest animal that has ever lived.  So we booked a whale watching tour with a naturalist.

We bagged California sea lions
and harbor seals before we even made it to the boat.
We went through a pod of 3000 Risso's dolphins.  These dolphins have flat faces, no beak.  See the baby behind his mother with his blunt little noggin?

Northern right whale dolphins--which have no dorsal fin--

and pacific white sided dolphins
rode our boat's bow wave.

A baby humpback popped up to have a look at us.  We saw many humpbacks, perhaps 30.  Evelyn kept track but she's off at camp.

But the blue whales stayed hidden.

Until, at the very end, we saw a high spout on the horizon.  Our boat gave chase.  Not really.  It slowly approached the whales until we could sorta see them from a respectful distance.

We saw was their long backs--so much longer than the humpbacks--glistening in the setting sun, their occasional spouts, and...

...a tail.

It was enough. 

A lot of the creatures we are out to see will be even more elusive--flying squirrels!--bats!  And all of them will be a lot smaller.  We've got our stacks of books, we've called in some experts, and an infrared camera is on its way.

I hope you'll join us for our adventure. 


Kat said...

Oh this is going to be fun!

Moira Kenney said...

Susan, Mark says good luck with the fisher (Martes pennanti). Try Kings Canyon. "You gotta go deep" he says. As for the desert bighorn - Mark has a friend who spent two dissertation years looking for one, never saw one. Sounds like a great project. We would love to join on any one of your scouting expeditions.

Susan said...

Kat, we are excited--trackboards, an infrared camera, trips to the sea, the mountains and the desert.

Moira, ha! Fortunately for us alive in its natural habitat is the gold standard we are aiming for, but we are also going to record animals that we see dead (roadkill or museum) or in zoos, as well as animal tracks, homes (beaver lodge, for example), and other signs. Ok, but you've really made me want to see a desert bighorn. And I was thinking that the wolverine was going to be the holy grail. We'd love to have you join us!

patricia said...

So this is the project that you had up your sleeve! What a fantastic one! And how fun that our little habitat group might help you on your way! The expensive book that you may or may not have gotten a discount on will be great for helping you pinpoint the right parks in which to find these creatures. And it will be great fun for your girls to share your project with the rest of our group, so the rest of us can help search for the critters on your checklist.

If I counted right, your trip nabbed you 7 creatures out of 197, including the biggest of all. An auspicious start!

Kristin said...

CA Mammal Alert: Big Horn Sheep in Anza Borega--try February. Bobcat in Sunol; I think I know where it lives. --Have only seen the tail of a Mt. Lion in Tilden (good luck on this one. I've been lookin' and waitin' to see one for years.) Black Bears like to hang out in the chic Tahoe neighborhoods and raid the garbage cans with the gourmet leftovers. Mt. Diablo is abound with wildlife at dusk.

This goal of yours will be an incredible journey for everyone and a fun one for readers like me too.

Stefaneener said...

Sounds like fun.
We really miss you guys.