Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Learning from Whales

"Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountains and the sea, are excellent school masters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books" —John Lubbock

After months of cold, dark, windy days, the warmth has finally arrived. I find myself looking for more excuses to stay outside and explore everything from the woods to the sea. I'm noticing flowers blooming and birds singing, all new species to me as a newcomer to the Pacific North West. But one this is for sure, with the warmth comes the familiar creatures that I have known and loved for as long as I can remember — whales.

 After almost two hours of not seeing any whales,
 we came across this Humpback Whale lobtailing
 (slapping its fluke on the ocean surface)

Every day I scan the horizon looking for whales — their great exhale or their tall dorsal fins. And while I am excited for Orcas and Grey Whales to be swimming through the Puget Sound, I am most excited to see the Humpback Whales.

This was the first Humpback Whale I identified off of the fluke patterns
Photo Credit: Blue Ocean Society

In the summer of 2012, I was working on a whale watching boat out of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, recording whale behavior and educating the passengers. With each trip out to sea, my love for the ocean grew deeper (as deep as the Mariana Trench!). I learned not only about these wonderful creatures, but how connected they are to their surroundings. I was finally able to apply what I had learned in school to the real world. From then on, my curiosity and desire to learn more about the ocean led me to where I am today. With every job and every move, I become engulfed in a new ecosystem with all of its critters.

Pinball (Left) and another Humpback whale.
Photo Credit: Blue Ocean Society

So as each spring comes, and the whales start coming in, I always think back to that summer on the boat where it all began. While I won't recognize any of the patterns on the underside of Pacific Humpbacks' caudal fins, I am excited to learn the individuals on the West Coast.

KATIE CONROY is the Marine Mammal Stranding Educator and an AmeriCorps member serving at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center.

Next Tuesday, May 3, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center is trying to raise $15,000 for our mission and programs through GiveBIG, a one-day, online charitable giving event hosted by the Seattle Foundation, but we can't do it without your help! Thanks to a challenge match from a group of local donors, your donation will be matched dollar-for-dollar before being stretched even further by the Seattle Foundation! Schedule your gift today!

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