Saturday, August 29, 2009

Hints at the surface

Of course, seabirds hunt on or near the surface and fly above the waves but so much of the ocean’s life lies below the surface. I always consider myself extremely lucky to catch a glimpse of these fascinating animals when they come to the surface, usually briefly. This trip was remarkable in the number of excellent views we had of marine mammals, reptile and fish.

Always one of the most intriguing hints at the surface is the spout of a whale. We were all excited when we saw a large pod of Fin Whales and got to watch their spouts....

Fin Whale is the second largest cetacean (Blue Whale being the largest) and they have a distinctive shape with the small dorsal fin set well back and usually not visible when they first surface, but then appearing behind them a second or two later as in this photo.

and then as they go down the back arches forward and the fin is briefly exposed...

The smaller Minke Whale break the surface in a different manner, coming up snout first and then rolling the back up and forward as the head goes down in a beautiful arching movement.

Their back has a prominant arch when they do this...

The small Pilot Whale is actually a type of dolphin that behaves like a whale. When they breach the surface you can see their dolphin-like shape...

The head however has a large "melon" whose adjustable shape is used in echolocation

When it protrudes from the surface you can see how larger the melon can be...

Common Dolphins are fast and smooth and a real treat to watch. They like to ride the bow waves of boats and so come close. The first image shows an adult and calf - note the two-toned pattern.

This dorsal fin and tail reveal a Hammerhewad Shark just below the surface

I was amazed how close this incredible animal came (with binoculars you could see the shape of the head well)

A fish out of water? This flying fish leaps above the surface. Their specially modified fins permit them to glide considerable distances above the surface, which helps in avoiding predators below the surface.

A rare sea creature, the Leatherback Seaturtle is easily identified by the ridge on their back. Leatherback Seaturtle are the largest reptile in the world and unique among turtles in their leathery carapace, as opposed to hard scales. Unfortunately, they are ciritcally endangered.

This one is munching on a jellyfish (note the tentacle trailing from the corner of the mouth)

Not seen on the pelagic trip but on the coast was another rare marine reptile - the beautiful Diamondback Terrapin, with their distincitve bluish skin.

That completes this series from the Atlantic Ocean...

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