Archive for July, 2009

Migrations with Peter Pyle

Peter’s talk took us across the Pacific Ocean, following the stories of a few remarkable animals. Two in particular.

He started with two species of albatross that live on Midway island. It was a bit of a puzzle why and how these two closely related species lived together so closely. The albatross for a long time was seen as a problem and the Navy waged war against it until they figured out how to coexist (the albatross managed to do well enough in the battle that a statue was erected in its honor).

The scientific mystery was not solved until they tagged the animals as they left their chicks behind to find food. The chicks are mostly safe and sound on the island (the Navy aside) with not predators, but little nearby food. What the scientists discovered was that the animals flew thousands of miles to feeding grounds, and that is where the species separated: one flew to the Bering sea, the other flew to California.

Parent albatross leave their chicks for a month at a time taking 4 days to fly to near their destinations: upwellings where they could store up on the food they needed for themselves and their chicks. Nearly 7,000 mile round trips. The birds become flying “fat bombs” converting their food to an awful smelling oil that is hard to remove from one’s hands. The birds are also built for the long distances, with their long wings the wind can carry them the whole one way distance without flapping a wing, perhaps even sleeping on the wing.

Equally surprising was what Peter Pyle and his colleagues found with sharks in the Farallones. Peter worked their studying birds, but soon became fascinated with the local sharks (only confirmed after 1980 that they were Great White’s) working to study and protect them.

When they started tagging sharks they found the sharks were swimming thousands of miles. Some would appear regularly in Hawaii, almost all of them would spend some time in a random place in the South Pacific (a mating area most likely, but there doesn’t seem to be any good reason for the spot — perhaps it is some deep deep ancestral spot where there used to be a coastline, sharks being one of the older species on the planet).

They also found that there was a difference between males and females. Male sharks would be gone a year, but females would be gone for two. It’s suspected that the female sharks give birth to their young on the other side of the Pacific, before they make their way back.

He ended the talk touching briefly on a few other journeymen species: leatherback sharks swimming from Indonesia to California (as we’d seen in an earlier talk from this year) and the Bar-tailed Godwit flying some 13,000 miles in its migration to New Zealand.

Astonishing journeys, reinforcing some how little we know about some of the animals that we share the planet with, even some animals like the Great White Shark that we obsess over.

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The Great Transpacific Migrations with Guest speaker Peter Pyle
7:30pm, Thursday July 23rd, 2009

This talk will be about the Great Transpacific Migrations from albatross to turtles, from sharks to shorebirds. Wildlife biologist Peter Pyle will share recent discoveries using satellite tag technology showing some of the amazing ways animals migrate across the Pacific.

Peter is a research scientist who currently works for the Institute for Bird Populations studying changes in North American bird populations. He spent 24 years as a Farallon Island Biologist for the Point Reyes Bird Observatory studying bird, bat, and butterfly migrations, as well as great white sharks.

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Underwater with Mike Boom

Mike Boom gave us a fantastic introduction to the ecosystems off California shores. He started with an amusing pantomime description of what it takes to suit up and equip oneself to make his underwater videos.

The video camera itself was surprisingly normal looking for the stunning results he had on screen. He started with Southern California waters off Catalina Island, showing us from plants, to invertebrates, to fish the host of creatures that inhabit the seas. He left us with a litany of names that probably only scratched the surface of the water’s diversity, but the images brought oohs and aahs from the crowd.

His second segment showed us the waters off Monterey, with a similar progression of creatures — noting how the waters differ in plants and animals and how they are similar, as well as noting the difference in water, how southern waters can be much clearer if only a little bit warmer.

He ended the night with two extra little clips, one showing waters even further north in Alaska — again bringing out the differences of life as water gets colder (creatures from the deep in the south tend to show up at higher depths); the other showed a chance encounter with a juvenile seal which was a delight to watch. First shy, then coy, then outright showing off its splendid mobility in the waters — every now and again stopping for a scratch.

Check out some of his videos (from waters above and beyond Californias) at laughingeel.com.

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