No hike, but some elephant seal fun!

Well, the boyfriend came down with a nasty virus so unfortunately, there was no hike this weekend. It was even my birthday weekend! But he is feeling somewhat better so hopefully next Sunday we can do another Sunday Funday hike.

I feel like haven’t written much about The Marine Mammal Center lately. That’s because things have somewhat slowed down. It is nice to have time to sit down and take a coffee and lunch break for a change. The ellies are slowly but surely learning to eat and compete with each other and each week more are released. Soon we will hit a peak again but this time with California sea lions. Each year, most baby sea lion pups are born in June, and since we have just entered june, it is only a matter of time before they take over. That isn’t to say that we haven’t had plenty of sea lions already, but we soon shall have plenty more.

This past Thursday, BBC had a camera crew at the center filming a documentary. Myself and two others from my crew were “volunteered” by our crew-mates to wear microphones and be filmed working with the elephant seals. Specifically, they wanted us wearing the microphones to catch some of the vocalizations of the ellies while we did fish school, which involves tying a string around the tail of a fish and dragging it around the water in the hopes that it will trigger predatory instincts in the pups. One of the others with me wore a GoPro camera on her chest to catch the volunteers perspective during fish school and hand feeding. Then, they used a pole with a GoPro on it to get the ellie’s perspective during fish school and hand feeding. They also took some other video clip angles while we were feeding a pen, including some underwater shots. I think it goes without saying that the pups were very interested in the camera and kept trying to bite at it! They’re so curious, I love it. I don’t know when that will air but I will post it or link to it as soon as it does. That way you all can get a glimpse at some of what we do there!

In the mean time, here is a picture of one of the elephant seal pups being curious as always!

One of the curious elephant seal pups I volunteer with!

One of the curious elephant seal pups I volunteer with!

Weird Wildlife Wednesday: Dumbo Octopus

It was hard to write this week’s Weird Wildlife Wednesday because we have just moved and our internet isn’t set up yet. Luckily, there is a Starbucks with wifi next door to us and our internet will be set up by the end of the day!

Anyway, this week’s bizarre animal is the Dumbo Octopus (Grimpoteuthis). This guy sure is a cutey. They live in the extreme depths of the ocean and hover right above the sea floor. The Dumbo Octopus isn’t just one species, it is a group of species ranging in size from 8 inches to over 6 feet long. They pounce down onto their prey which consists of isopods, bristle worms, etc. They have unusual reproduction characteristics and it is thought that the female can store sperm and continuously lay eggs with no specific breeding season. They use little mantle fins, which look like dumbo ears, to move around in the deep dark highly pressurized ocean. They have been found many places throughout the world but because they live so deep and are rarely seen, there isn’t a lot of information about their population status.

Source: http://www.aquariumofpacific.org/onlinelearningcenter/species/dumbo_octopus

Blackfish: A film about the largest orca in captivity and what drove him to kill

I can’t wait to see this documentary. It played at the Sarasota Film Festival while I was living there but I wasn’t able to attend. This film is about Tilikum, the largest killer whale in captivity, who has attacked and killed more than once. Tilikum lives in Sea World Orlando along with multiple other killer whales. I read somewhere that over half of the killer whales in captivity have Tilikum’s genes because of his extensive use in breeding and artificial insemination.

He, along with two other orcas, was captured from the wild in the waters of iceland back in the early ’80s. That this happened is so sad. He was only 2 or 3 years old and torn from his mother’s side. It is no wonder that he apparently has great anxiety and aggression. He is psychologically disturbed. Whales, and all cetaceans, are some of the most intelligent species on earth. There are some animals that shouldn’t be in captivity, especially those that would reside in a much larger habitat in the wild than can be provided in a park. Orcas travel the world’s oceans, live in family pods, dive deep, and have social relationships. To take such massive and sentient animals and essentially put them in a swimming pool is, not surprisingly, very controversial. The Shamu show is what draws in the big crowds to Sea World, but it is not in the best interest of the animals.

In my opinion (which you do not have to agree with), Sea World and any other place like that should not be allowed to breed cetaceans. The animals they currently own have lived in captivity so long that they cannot be released, they wouldn’t survive. But no more animals should be born into this life. It is one thing if an animal is rescued for rehabilitation and then is deemed unreleasable because of injuries or illness that wouldn’t allow it to survive in the wild. It is a completely different thing thing to intentionally kidnap them from the wild and then use them to breed even more in captivity. This is not conservation. Those animals aren’t being breed to ultimately be released and help the wild populations grow. They are being breed to be trained for a show.

I highly recommend that everyone see this film. Here is a link to showings and theaters.

Check out the trailer for Blackfish here:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G93beiYiE74]

Epcot: The Seas With Nemo & Friends

Some pictures from my birthday trip to Epcot today. They have some really cool animals at the Seas With Nemo & Friends (and Animal Kingdom, but we didn’t go there today).

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Review of Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium

This review isn’t of a zoo, per say, but it is of an aquarium that is very special to me. Today I am reviewing the Mote Marine Laboratory, an aquarium, research facility, and marine animal hospital in Sarasota, FL. This aquarium was the sole reason I moved to Florida in January. I moved here for an internship at the aquarium’s sea turtle and whale hospital. It was an experience that changed my life.

I may be a little biased here, but I highly recommend this aquarium to vacationers. Founded by Eugenie Clark back in 1955, Mote has been a strong research facility since. The main building of the aquarium houses a variety of different fish species, sharks, and the sea lion show during its season, along with most of the research offices. There are various research projects underway including coral conservation, shark research, sea horse breeding, and more. One famous shark scientist, Nick Whitney, who has been seen on tv various times, does his research through Mote Marine and was a member of the OSEARCH research team.

The second building houses the marine mammals and sea turtles of the aquarium as well as the research offices for these animals. There is a pantropical spotted dolphin named Moonshine, two manatees named Hugh and Buffett, and a variety of sea turtles who were deemed non-releasable after being rescued and doing a stint in the hospital.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgebvNY_mgE]

The second building is also where the Sea Turtle & Whale Hospital is located. This is where I interned for forty hours a week from January until April. Below you will see pictures of some of the turtles we rehabilitated along with a video of one being released. This internship was amazing. I met great friends, worked with wonderful staff, and learned so much. I wouldn’t change a thing about my internship and I was definitely sad to see it end.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-1-xK6FOag]

I recommend visiting Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium if you ever find yourself in the Sarasota area. And I definitely recommend their internship program to anyone interested in that line of work. It is definitely worth it.

Enlightenment In Costa Rica

Last summer, in June of 2012, I embarked on one of the most rewarding trips I’d ever been on. I traveled to Costa Rica for 10 days to volunteer at a Leatherback sea turtle research station on the gulf coast called Estacion Las Tortugas with a group organized by EcoTeach. This trip forever changed my life.

After a long flight, a layover, a delay, and then an even longer flight, the plane touched down in Costa Rica. There, a bus and tour guide met me to take me to the hotel where I would be staying. By the time I arrived late that night, my roommate was already in bed asleep. I picked one of the many beds in the large room, put on my pajamas, and laid down, exhausted from the full day of travel and yet excited for what was to come on this trip. The next morning, I officially met my roommate, a woman around 30, who was an interesting character. Covered in seemingly meaningless tattoos, her first time out of the country, and hardly any education paired with a know-it-all attitude that would prove to be obnoxiously annoying.

The rest of our group consisted of a family of four, the parents well traveled yet used to more luxurious dwellings and the two little girls with an endless list of food allergies and intolerances. There were also five more people who all had gone to college together or worked together. They were the closest to my own age, ranging from 23 to 27.

After breakfast that first morning, a preview to what fresh foods Costa Rica had to offer, we loaded our bags onto an old stick shift bus and began the nearly full day drive to the research station. The driver didn’t speak english and the guide spoke a broken english. On the way, we stopped at a small school where the children demonstrated some dances and we joined them for lunch.

School children performing cultural dances and songs for us.

School children performing cultural dances and songs for us.

Eventually, after traversing some windy roads through the Cloud Forests, small towns, and pineapple orchards, we ended up at a dirt road dead end by a small sinking dock. Our bags were unloaded from the bus and we were to wait for a small motor operated boat, slightly larger than a canoe, to take us through the woods and water channels the rest of the way to the station.CostaRicaSeaTurtle_SU2012_336

After what seemed like an unbelievably long time, the wooden sign emblazoned with “Bienvenidos Estacion Las Tortugas” appeared. We carried our bags a little way to the completely isolated and self sustaining station. There were a couple of buildings with “dorms” for volunteers. The word dorm gives you a skewed idea of what they actually were but I don’t know what else to call them. The only electricity was for solar powered lights in the buildings. There were small huts where permanent residents of the station resided. There was an open air dining building and kitchen, an open air educational pavilion, a garden with fruits and vegetables, and free range chickens running around the property. The dorms had two bunk beds with mosquito nets each, able to sleep four people. Luckily there were only two people in each room because it was a tight squeeze with just that. All water came from tanks on the top of the buildings roofs and were only refilled once a week. The water all came out cold, which I thought would be an issue with showering, but as the days wore on turned out to be a blessing.

The hatchery

The hatchery

The "dorms"

The “dorms”

From my room, you could see the beach we would be patrolling each night and the hatchery where Leatherback nests were transplanted to protect them from poachers.

We were told we may not see a nesting leatherback while there because it was near the end of nesting season, but we would definitely see hatchlings. During the day, we explored and helped around the garden. At night we were divided up into shifts to patrol the beach for nesting turtles and hatching nests. It rained a couple of nights and our patrols were cut short, but finally, on our last night at the station, we saw a nesting female.

Every night for five nights we patrolled without flashlights and only the stars to guide us. The night sky on that beach was the most bright beautiful thing I had ever seen. Because we were in such isolation and so far from any towns, there was literally no light pollution. I had never seen so many stars. We counted falling star after falling star to pass the time. We always wondered how we would know if we saw a turtle because it was so dark on the beach that every shadow may have been one. The resident researchers told us when we saw a turtle, there would be no mistaking it. Sure enough when we saw that turtle, we could tell from far away. It was huge, the size of a compact car. It was the most awe inspiring site I’d ever seen.

Each evening, we would release babies that had hatched during the day when the sun was too hot for them to make it to the ocean. We’d stand behind them and encourage them along, trying to deter crabs who would make dinner of the hatchlings.

Me measuring one of the hatchlings from the day

Me measuring one of the hatchlings from the day

Releasing a hatchling

Releasing a hatchling

One day, we were able to help excavate a nest that never hatched. We counted which eggs were eaten by crabs, which had succumbed to bacterial infections, and which were never fertilized to begin with. At the end of our time at the research station, I was sad to go and wished I could stay longer. From there we traveled next to an area where one of Costa Rica’s only indigenous communities was located. We spent the day with a family group. It took us a couple of hours to hike to their home in the wooded mountains. They told us all about their history and culture and fed us the most delicious foods. Their simple life style seemed idilic to me.

Indigenous family's home

Indigenous family’s home

Our last day was spent traveling back to the hotel we stayed in that first night. By then I was exhausted from the trip, enlightened from the experience, and sad that I would soon be leaving this magnificent country. All this being said, I was happy and ready to be going home again. I would love to go again someday and explore more of the country and visit it’s Pacific coast.

This was the first time I had participated in a trip that would fall into the category of voluntourism. This is definitely the way to travel. I met some amazing people, experienced an amazing culture, ate some great food, and was able to help make a difference in conservation efforts. I recommend voluntourism to all the travel lovers out there and there are many great programs you can go through to do this, especially students.

Review of “The Odyssey of KP2”

13403048This will be the first review in my “Book Reviews” category. I have so many books that I want to review but I must give them to you one at a time. I will start out by reviewing The Odyssey of KP2 by Terrie M. Williams. My brother gave me this book as a present last Christmas knowing that I have always been interested in marine animals. I started reading it while doing my internship in a sea turtle and whale hospital and absolutely loved it.

The author of the book is a researcher at UC Santa Cruz who studies marine animals like seals, dolphins, sea otters, and more. The book is all about the journey of an orphaned Hawaiian Monk Seal (KP2 is his name) who, after being handed around from place to place, ends up in the lab of the author and becomes an ambassador for his extremely endangered species. I don’t want to give away details of the book because I think you should definitely read it. It is heart warming and written in such a way that any person could pick it up and understand it. You feel like you are right there with the seal every step of the way. The Odyssey of KP2 is a truly inspirational book for someone like me who loves marine animals and conservation and hopes to work in wildlife rescue, but I honestly believe that any animal or ocean lover would enjoy this book.

Here is a link to the book on Amazon. Enjoy!