NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
23 Sep 1996
CaliforniaSan Francisco County
- 32.0 km W of San Francisco; Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary
- 37.75049 -122.75165
Stereo=1; Decoded MS stereo
September 23, 1996
00:00 -More whale recordings at sea -quite windy -+ John with radio calls.
10:08 FX: Camera click
10:53 FX: Boat start at sea [NVG because tape stops quickly]More description reo cow/calf whales
15:00 -16:15 Whales and wind blowing
17:00 -FX: good boat slams at sea with gentle engine purring
20:03 -FX Camera clicks
22:00 -23: AMBI BED/FX: Good reo gentle wind/boat slams, light whale blows, camera clicks
[G] AMBI -Bed -at sea-Rocking of boat/gentle puttering of engine, splashing waves against boat, windy [ok], no whales -good bed for under copy
29:00 -31:00 Ambi bed -wind/boat putter thrashing waves bigger
31:26 JC on radio phone -[no]
31:10 FX -Beep [VG]
32:29 -33:00 FX -Boat start and fast take off at sea [VG]
36:12 -57:22 AX -John Calambokidis interview at sea
See log of interview (next pages)
59:13 -59:54 FX Motor start and take off [VG]
John Calambokidis and Chuck Thompson
32:29-33:32 -motor start up and moving through water
35:56 CT -we have seen a number of whales today ...we have been chasing them around quite a bit ..... .
36:12 JC -I am John Calombokidis. i am a research biologist with cascadia research and we are doing a survey hear, currently just of the Farallon Islands we are looking to make sightings of humpback whales and blue whales and cover as broad an area as possible. as we are sighting these animals we are trying to get identification photos of them so we can recognize them individually. we will use that information so we can see how many animals were out here, where these animals are coming from and where they are going to. we will also use it to estimate the population size of animals. we are about half way through the survey we've got quite a bit of ground that we have covered. we will be covering more ground as we pass each set of animals. we are recording their behavior, the water depth they are in, what they seem to be feeding on, looking on that on the depth sounder, plus taking these photos. the main goal will be to use this with gather over the about last 6 months. we will have over a thousand of these identifications over the course of the season, and they will give us a pretty good picture of how these animals have moved up and down the cali coast. we actually started the season up in washington state and we have animals up there and some of those animals will have moved down here. we're also connected to researchers working in other parts of the north pacific and can actually look at long range movements .... we have had animals move as far west as japan from off the coast of washington state. animals off california have moved as far south as costa rica and panama. so we can look at long range movements. we also hope to with our population size information -is it increasing or decreasing. we know these populations are just a fraction of what they were when they were commercially hunted. we hope they are recovering and increasing since the end of hunting. and the area we are in right now is actually an area where humpback whales were hunted in just 30 years ago. hunting out of 2 whaling stations in sf bay continued to the mid 1960s. so we are really on whaling grounds used not that long ago. and this is an area that over a thousand humpback whales were killed just right around these waters we are in right now, and several more thousand further north and south just along the coast.
38:53 CT -you have talked about some other experiences that you have had -the ones you have described on occasion a whale approached your boat and was caressing it.
39:06 JC -it is a very new thing we are starting to see. we started our work in 1986, but we didn't see this behavior until 6 years later in '92. and that is where humpback whales approach the boat -the very first experience was 2 animals that actually ended up lifting my boat right up in the air, would lean against it, would push the boat around with their long pectoral fins, which are their fins on the side of their body. and that occurred one time in 1992 and each year since then it has happened more and more often to the point now where it is happening almost every other trip we go out on, more than a dozen times in a season last year, and it is going to be higher than that this year. what it seems to be is curiosity on the part of these animals, a behavior that in the past would have resulted in their death had they shown that kind of curiosity but now it sort of welcomed and quite a thrill, not only to us as researchers but these animals are doing this to some of the other boats that come out here, some of them whale watch boats, and that gives quite a thrill to people. 40:10
CT -whales occasionally come out of the water -you call that breaching the water -and today we were watching a couple of whales do that and from way off it was quite dramatic and i guess there can be some danger to that -could you describe that a little bit -
40:38 JK -of all the whales humpbacks are the most active in terms of aerial displays. we have seen 2 animals breaching, which is 2 animals coming vertically out of the water and then falling on their sides. but humpbacks also do other things: tail
lobbing where they lift their flukes, their tail, high in the water and slap the water with them. peck slapping where they will take these long pectoral fins that are about a third of their body length and they will slap the water with them. so these animals are really active that way. that generally doesn't really pose much of a hazard bc these animals seem very aware of their surroundings. there have been very few, rare cases where an animal has either crashed into a boat, and in one case a breach where an animal hit a boat. and so what are the precautions that we try to take is to keep our engines on when we are around animals that are exhibiting that kind of behavior and make sure they know right where we are, and we try to stay out of their path. hopefully that is not something that will happen. we have had -i have had an animal breach less than 10 yards from the boat and drenched the boat, but that is about as close as it has gotten in terms of a near miss breach. 41:51
41:55 CT these whales cover quite a bit of ground
41:59 JK -yes, they are really, really mobile animals and along the cali coast that is a really key feature bc the productivity, where the krill are, where the upwelling -the cold water being brought to the surface by currents and wind is variable through the season and from year to year. so the areas where there might be these dense swarms of krill that these animals rely on is page 3 WHALES DAT 2 different year to year. so the animals seem to be constantly moving, shifting with those changes with the prey that they are after. we tend to want to think of this -making this kind of set movement up and down the cali coast like the grey whale does, but in reality our movement patterns of these animals show these animals are moving north and south and back north. moving around, staying in areas for maybe a week or two then moving and shifting. they still go through a general north south migration where they go to wintering grounds on warm water. warm water areas during winter months and they will be leaving these water in november/december and headed south. most of them going to mexico and down off central america, and they usually fast during that time period. but even when they are up here they are still moving a lot, so very mobile animals. 43:11
43:16 CT -will you describe this area we are in right now ....
43:23 JK -well, we are off amazingly off sf bay only about 20 miles from a major metropolis, but out of sight from land -don't see the main coast anywhere with it being 20 miles off shore we can't see it. we are close to the Farallon islands, a remote set of jagged rocks jutting out of the water here in an area called the gulf of the Farallons. this is kind of a shallow bank area that extends off shore and it has been one of the most consistent areas for whales feeding. this is a fairly typical late summer/fall day with a heavy marine overcast, a low cloud cover. we can still see a few miles but it is still fairly hazy. though inland it might be sunny and warm out here it is pretty cool and that is fairly typical. we have got about 5, 6 foot swells which is fairly low for this time of year. and just about 10 to 15 knots, well 10 knots of wind which is just giving a few white caps on top of the water, and that is pretty light winds for around here. generally grey which is a typical condition for around here. every now and then we get a sunny, bright day, but that is fairly unusual.
44:42 CT -i was trying to think of a way of describing the experience of going out into the pacific ocean in a 15 foot boat with you, and i believe it must be the equivalent of water skiing on a cork with a hundred horse powered motor (JK laughter). some people might think you are a little nuts. why a 15 foot boat out here. Why not something larger, something that would be a little more safer -though i don't feel unsafe at all.
45:17 JK -well it's a 17 foot boat, and it's got a fiber glass hull which gives a lot of speed ont he water. its got these inflatable pontoons on the outside which gives it a great deal of stability which means that it can't get swamped or sunk yet it does it with very light weight. this allows the boat to travel really fast, really efficiently. the V hull on the fiber glass lets it cut through the waves. we are able togo up to 40 miles an hour when seas allow. we can maneuver very quickly around animals yet it is a fairly economical boat to operate. we can trailer it easily. move it up and down the coast where weather is good and where whales are concentrated. and tow it with just a normal vehicle. so it is a very practical, efficient boat. it lacks in creature comforts i think would be its main draw back. you take a pounding in a small boat. if it is wet you get wet. whatever it is outside you are really in it. but i like that. i want to be able to photograph in any direction that the animals might come up in, so i don't want any sort of a cabin blocking my view. it is probably one of the best equipped 17 foot boats anywhere with GPS, LORAN radios, EPIRBs, depth sounders. it is fairly pretty safe and we have emergency survival suits that we can get in to if we have to. and we have a back up engine if our main engine goes out. so we are in pretty good shape 46:54
46:59 CT -there are 2, 3 types of whales out here ...what are these types .....and what is their value to mankind -why are you counting these whales? do we really want to know this since we had to get them on the endangered species list to start saving them in the first place ... ?
47:41 JC -well, there are quite a few different types of whales out here. the largest of all the whales are the baleen whales which are whales that don't have teeth. we have been seeing predominantly humpbacks today but also out here is the largest animal that has ever lived in the history of the earth -the blue whale. fin whales, the second largest whale, just slightly smaller, fairly common out here but a bit further off shore; and we also see a number of other kinds of whales like Minke whales that show up a little less often. we also show some of the tooth whales which include killer whales or orca and sperm whales are also fairly common out here. so we have quite a rich variety of different types of whales. the humpback and blue whales seem to be the most numerous and the place we are at here has more humpback than blue whales, but on the cali coast on a whole blue whales are more numerous than humpbacks. the value of whales, and the value of studying them the main value for hundreds of years was for hunting them and pursuing them. you could translate that currently into other types of economic value that whales have as for ex. the interest in whale watching and the commercial products that brings. not too much off of central cali, but in southern cali, HI, other area -the east coast of the US whale watching is a major industry and brings in a lot of money. but i think that doesn't really encapsulate the value of these animals. speaking to elementary kids i think is one of the most powerful ways i have seen the degrees in which these animals have captured the imagination of people and kids. they become a symbol for protecting the marine environment as a whole. people might not think about saving the krill or saving the ocean but they can certainly relate to saving whales. and to save whales you have to save the ocean habitat and the life that lives in it that they are dependent on it. so they become a symbol for protecting the whole marine environment. to a large degree i think our research is critical bc we have had such incredible adverse impact on the populations of these animals. 49:55 many of them hover on the brink of extinction. at a minimum we owe it to them to try to determine if they are recovering from that what measures can be taken to help speed that recovery and make sure it happens. some species of whales like the northern right whale that was one of the earliest species of whales (bg: radio talk)
(he repeats -but with radio in bg) has not recovered yet even though it has been protected all of this century. so sometimes these populations aren't able to recover even after we stop hunting them. and that is something we want to determine for these other species .... 50:39 (radio bg)
50:51 CT -when you do your job, you count these whales .... log these whales, their location .....what is going through your mind? what are you thinking about when you are doing that? this is a lot of water and the US is blessed to have a lot of water around it -are we taking good enough care of our waters? are we maturing as a nation rapidly enough to make a difference to this water that is shared by a lot of places on earth?
51:35 JC -well, unfortunately i think there is both really good examples of what we are doing and ways we are changing and really bad examples. i mean in this area alone there are really toxic waste dump sites where wastes were dumped right in the waters where we are right now. so i can't say we have a really good history of being good stewards of this environment. there are some definitely some encouraging things. i think certainly the end of whaling and the recovery of some of these whale species is positive. also some of the studies we have been doing on pollutant levels and some of these animals show that by finally restricting the use of chemicals like DDT and PCP we are seeing a major improvement in the levels of some of these pollutants in some of these environments. i think the development of marine sanctuaries and awareness that that fosters -the protection it brings with it are real imp. steps in taking much better care in this sort of marine habitat bc we are used to having parks and we are used to declaring wilderness areas on land but sanctuaries really represent the development of that sort of a concept out on the water and i think that really represents a great step forward that we are making in this country. 52:52 (ambi good thru 53:03)
53:34 CT -this place, the pacific ocean, i feel at times that i am sitting down in a hole and i look up and all i see is water, and other times i rise up and see great distances -like right now i can see a pair of humpbacks blowing off of the western tip of the Farallons. i wonder what does this matter? how many people get out here? i meant i am having really an incredible day, aren't I? i don/t know many people on earth that will ever see what i have seen today. how do we convince them that this water that surrounds this country and all of the countries of the world -if they don/t get to see this l how do we touch them?54:33
54:34 JC -well l i do think again the role of whales as a symbol for that bc i think though many people may not have been able to experience what it is like being out here l floating out on the water l most of them have a love and attachment and appreciation of whales and can appreciate that this is their home and this is the area that we need to protect. i think there are ways that more and more people are able to experience this l maybe not in the way we are experiencing it -going out on boat trips on nature trips the increasing coverage and educational efforts by sanctuaries and other groups to bring the story of what these waters have and the importance of protecting them are good steps. i don't know if it would be a good idea to have everyone trying to experience it on this level -would be crowded with little boats. this is sort of a unique way to see it and appreciate it but i don/t think the other ways are any less ways necessarily. 55:37
55:40 CT -.... is there anything that our listeners ought to hear. is there something they ought to know about?
56:00 JC -well you asked earlier what it is like being out here and the things we are doing. and i think for me there are a number of things that i love about this area and about doing this work. for one this type of identification with this kind of animals we actually get to know individual animals. we see and are able to recognize these animals as individuals. so i will see an animal i have maybe seen off costa rica or another area thousands of miles away and it is another way to learn to appreciate and see these animals not as a species but as a whole as individuals. also being out here i have an enormous respect for the size and the power of this area. i find it very often frightening being out here -it is a scary area. looking for whales can seem like looking for a needle in a haystack. there is just a huge amount of water and i feel incredibly fortunate when we can find these animals and we learn to track in on them but often that search involves a lot of scary times as well. but i think it is part of that beauty and mystery is that power that it is even if it is just scary. 57:21
CT -well with that why don't we see if we can find ourselves so some blues
G 59:14-59:55 motor starts up -and off they go!