An Unexpected Encounter With a Water Owl: Cuvier’s Beaked Whale

Several hundred years ago there was said to be a strange and fierce sea creature that attacked ships.  The Water-Owl or Ziphius had the body of a fish and a head of an owl with huge eyes and a beak-like a sword.  Today we think the animal behind these stories is Cuvier’s beaked whale or Goose-beaked whale.  This deep water whale It is the most widely distributed beaked whale species.

In early February I was on a sailing ship in the Caribbean passing through the channel between St Lucia and Martinique.  It is deep in that area –  several thousand feet and suitable for beaked whales. I was not thinking about whales at the time because I was busy photographing the brown boobies that were following the ship.  Suddenly a robust, chocolate brown animal appeared next to the ship below me. I took as many photographs as I could before it disappeared into the deep.  I was pretty certain I had seen a beaked whale but I had no idea what species.  It was not large – about 10 to 12 feet long but had the typical curved dorsal fin towards the back of the body and a strange elongated and slightly bulbous head.  When I returned one of our marine mammal scientists at the New England Aquarium identified it as a young Cuvier’s beaked whale.  I feel so lucky to have seen one of these elusive animals.

Cuvier’s beaked whales can dive deeper than any other marine mammal. A recent study shows that at least one individual went down as far as 9,816 feet!  Not much is known about these elusive and extreme divers, but there is concern that noise in the ocean from sonar and seismic testing may cause these whales to strand.  There is evidence to suggest that some of these stranded animals have surfaced too quickly and developed damage similar to that of the bends in humans.

Noise in the ocean is a serious threat to marine mammals and other marine life.  Commercial shipping noise, sonar testing  and seismic surveys can clearly have significant, long-lasting, and widespread impacts on marine mammal and fish populations. Normally, when we think about pollution in the seas we don’t think about noise. We think about plastics and chemicals and ghost fishing nets.  Noise in its various forms is just as big a problem for life in the ocean.  If we care about the future of strange and elusive mammals such as the ‘Water-owl’ we need to understand and mitigate noise impacts in the ocean far more than at present.

 

DSC_6939

A large and rich brown shape appeared – Cuvier’s Beaked Whale surfaces beside the ship

DSC_6941

Caracteristic dip behind the head and elongated head just visible

DSC_6942

cookie cutter shark scars clearly visible

DSC_6944

robust body

DSC_6943

Small and curved dorsal fin

Posted in environment, General, mammal, marine, Nature, ocean, outdoors, sea, Travel, Whales | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pacific Shore Birds on Rose Atoll

I find that shore birds on distant Pacific islands can be hard to approach.  They are often far out on sand spits or rocky outcrops, and fly off as soon as one approaches.  On Rose Atoll, the southern-most US national monument and part of American Samoa, most of the birds seem fairly relaxed when faced with the rare human intruder to their sanctuary.  I suspect the shorebirds are different because they are migrants and often wary of humans.  An exception are the wonderfully named bristle thighed curlews that breed in remote areas of Alaska and winter on remote Pacific islands.  I have been lucky enough to see these birds in the Line Islands as well. They are flightless for a period during winter molt, so I presume that is why they are usually on secluded islands. As I sat near the high tide line a curlew came out of the bushes and posed for me.  You can see the untidy feathers around the thighs – hence the name.  Later photos show distant pacific golden plover and ruddy turnstones.

DSC_4551 DSC_4553  DSC_4570 DSC_5111 DSC_5136 DSC_4378 DSC_4381

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Posted in American Samoa, birding, birdings, birds, environment, General, marine, Nature, ocean, outdoors, pacific islands, photography, Travel, wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Anna’s Hummingbirds in La Jolla

During the winter in Southern California the hummingbirds are as busy as ever defending their territory and this male Anna’s Hummingbird was no exception.  He was so focused on defending his patch that he let me get very close.

 

DSC_6608 DSC_6582 DSC_6590 DSC_6587 DSC_6592 DSC_6593 DSC_6596

Posted in birding, birdings, birds, Nature, outdoors, photography, San Diego, wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Masked Boobies: Rose Atoll Part Two

The Masked Booby is such an elegant bird however the young are endearing and almost comical – as the first two photographs show.  There were a few chicks and juveniles on Rose Island and I saw several adults flying.  The young were at the edge of the vegetation by the high tide line and appeared unperturbed  as we walked by.

DSC_4784DSC_4783DSC_4631DSC_4632DSC_4633DSC_4506DSC_4505DSC_4640

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rose Atoll, Remote US National Monument. Part One Brown Boobies

Rose Atoll is a tiny speck on the map in the Southern pacific and is part of American Samoa.  This remote place has one small island that you can walk around in twenty minutes but is home for over 300,000 seabirds.  This is the first of a series of blogs about this land of  sun and sand,  sky and sea, pink rocks and guano.  There are three species of Boobies nesting on Rose Island. The brown boobies always seem slightly comical on land but are so graceful in the air.

DSC_4480DSC_4479DSC_4404DSC_4390DSC_5140DSC_4636DSC_4387DSC_4522DSC_5144DSC_4945DSC_5235DSC_4493DSC_4486DSC_4931DSC_5339

Posted in American Samoa, birding, birdings, birds, environment, General, marine, Nature, ocean, outdoors, pacific islands, photography, sea, Travel, wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Ofu Beach American Samoa National Park

The second island in American Samoa I visited was Ofu. It is joined by a slim suspension bridge to Olisega and together they are six kilometers long.  This isolated speck of paradise has steep verdant slopes of thick forest and a lagoon full of coral and bright reef fish.  The South side is part of American Samoa national Park.  I spent an afternoon snorkeling off Ofu Beach  – One of the most magical places I have ever seen.  My photos taken with a small digital camera really don’t do it justice but I hope they give you a glimpse of this pacific jewel

DSC_4308 Ofu caves

DSC_4296 Ofu Coast

DSC_4330 DSC_4321Young Humpback Whale

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ofu

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ofu Breach

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ofu Beach

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ofu Reef

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Algae  eating into the coral looked like a strange hand print

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Marks from Puffer fish feeding on the coral

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Removing species of algae harmful to the coral

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Huge Blue Star fish

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ofu Beach

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Leaving the Harbor

DSC_4337

Posted in American Samoa, environment, fish, General, Landscape, marine, National Parks, Nature, ocean, outdoors, pacific islands, photography, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Beautiful National Park of American Samoa

I have just come back from a remarkable visit to one of our least known treasures and one of the most beautiful places I have seen – A National Park far deep in the Southern Hemisphere spanning several of the verdant volcanic islands of American Samoa. This post shows some of the photographs I took from a  visit to the National Park of American Samoa on the island of Tutuila on a rainy morning in early October. The light was terrible but you will  have some idea of the landscape and birds in the Park.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

View from American Samoa National Park

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Entering US Southern-most Park!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

View of Pago Pago, the Capital of  American Samoa on Tutuila the main island

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The National Park in light rain

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The sun came out briefly

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

DSC_5646 DSC_5647The endemic Samoan Starling

DSC_5681 DSC_5655 The endemic Wattled Honeyeater

 

DSC_5661 DSC_5733The Collared Kingfisher

DSC_5657 Moth  – Alas no idea of the species

DSC_5669 Small blue butterfly –  probably Euchrysops cnejus samoa

DSC_5676 DSC_5741 Fruit Bats

DSC_5697 DSC_5707 Purple-Capped Fruit Dove

DSC_5747Australasian Swamphen

Posted in American Samoa, birding, birdings, birds, Butterflies, environment, General, insects, Landscape, National Parks, Nature, outdoors, pacific islands, photography, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment