Tag Archives: Whale

The Whale Detective

Here at CIMI our backyard is full of all kinds of marine animals. The biggest of these animals includes the many species of cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises), which pass through the channel between Catalina Island and California quite frequently. As large as these animals are, chances are that you will be viewing them from a distance whether it’s on land or on a boat. Most of the time the only thing you will get to see from these magnificent creatures are there whale spouts, flukes (tail fins), or their backs whenever they surface and dive.

Whale Watch

When whales spout, you will see a geyser of water shoot up into the air that can be seen from miles away. This water that is shooting out however is not seawater but it is the condensation of the warm insulated air that is being shot out of the whales lungs mixing with the comparatively cold air from outside. Every species of whale has a distinctive kind of shape of their blowholes and also has different sized lungs therefore each type of spout shape and size. Each species of whales also will have different shaped flukes and ridges of their backs. The whales that frequently go through our channel include some larger baleen whales such as the grey whale, blue whale, fin whale, and humpback. Baleen Whales have two blowholes whereas toothed whales like dolphins and porpoises only have one single blowhole.

The grey whale can have two very widely dispersed spouts in a “v” formation and can be between 9 and 16 feet in the air. They lack a dorsal fin but have several knuckle like ridges on its back that show as it surfaces or dives down. Their flukes are convex and usually ragged with a distinctive deep notch in the middle making the shape of a “whale” groomed mustache. They may pass through the Catalina Channel coming from the arctic on their way to forage for food in Southern California and Mexico.

Whale Blowholes

Blue whales have been in the channel migrating to tropical waters in order to give birth to breed and give birth to their young. Their flukes are much less robust than the grey whales fluke with much more straight trailing edge and a shallow notch in the middle. Their spouts can be up to almost 40ft high and look like a slender column of spray that looks like the green stalk of a carrot. Blue whales have a small triangular and variably curved fin dorsal fin sitting towards its caudal region and have a smooth back.

Whale Fluke

Fin whale are very similar in appearance to the blues where they have a slightly more robust and curved dorsal fin and fluke and can be seen year round near the sea of Cortez.

Humpbacks have a rugged looking fluke with robust curves and many ridges through out the fluke as well as a deep v shaped notch in the middle of the fluke. They have a low stubby dorsal fine with a broad based followed by slight ridges going down its back towards the fluke. Their spouts can be up to 9 feet high and can be heart shaped. They can typically be found in higher latitudes during the summer to feed in colder water and in the winter will head to warm watered breeding grounds.

The most common toothed whales that come through Catalina Island include the Rissos, common, and bottlenose dolphin and on a rare occasion even an Orca or killer whale. Orcas can be found on the Pacific coast especially in Washington but will sometimes follow food all the way down to Southern California. They have a very distinctive black and white pattern on their tails and have a very widely dispersed spout.

Whale Migration

So just based on their fins, spouts, and flukes you can be an expert in recognizing these magnificent animals. Next time youʼre out on the ocean be sure to bring a pair of binoculars to see if you recognize any whales from a distance!





http://2ap93t1x1l6e2f6gfo3ag4vw.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/ uploads/2017/11/f0k5103-2-1000×480.jpg

http://www.north-atlantic-society.com/_Media/ 75987_441852565862752_91248_med.jpeg

https://voicefortheblue.files.wordpress.com/2017/07/ fin_whale_hero_and_circle_image_107654.jpg






https://i.pinimg.com/originals/8a/ f0/92/8af09277f26585a428ae9d2fa9a8f64a.jpg



Whales Dolphins And Porpoises by Mark Carwardine 1995, 2002

Catalina Island Animal Calls

Raven Animal Calls

On Catalina Island there is a wide variety of animals. Some of the animals that we see include ravens, foxes, bison, sea lions, and whales! Each of these 5 animals make vocalizations, or sounds, for specific reasons.

The common raven typically tends to use one of two calls. The first call is a loud caw or groan. Ravens use this call to communicate with each other. Their call can be heard by ravens that are a mile away! The second call that ravens make is a fast, repetitive caw. Ravens typically use this call when they are hunting prey like rodents, worms, or insects!

The Channel Island fox, Urocyon littoralis, is a relatively quiet animal. However, it can make up to 40 sounds and calls! These calls are used by a foxes to convey different messages to one another. For example, foxes will bark to alert other members of its skulk about danger, such as an approaching predator. The male foxes bark to attract a mate and growl to protect their territory. Female foxes bark to locate their cubs. Sometimes, the small cubs will let out a little  bark just to get mom’s attention!

Bison Animal Calls A bison can often be heard snorting, grunting, and even coughing! Male bison attract a mate by making a deep, low rumbling sound called a bellow. The length, volume, and frequency of the bellow indicates which male is the most dominant and therefore the most likely to find a mate! The female bison uses calls to locate her young. She will produce low grunts and wait for the calf to respond with high-pitched grunts! They repeat this process until they can find each other.

Sea Lion Animal Calls Sea lions communicate both audibly and visually. When they make a sound, they also strike a distinct pose! Male sea lions lift their heads up high in the air and bark when they are claiming their territory. When they are barking to defend their territory from other sea lions, they will bark right in the face of the trespassing seal lion! The female sea lions bark to locate and protect their pups. The female sea lion lets out a loud yell and listens for her pup’s weak crying response!

Whale Animal CallsWhales use clicks, whistles, and calls to communicate with their pod. Toothed whales called odontocetes use echolocation to help them navigate and find food! When echolocating, whales will make a clicking sound and wait for the sound to echo back to them. When the whales hear the echo, they are able to identify the location of the object or animal they are trying to find! Some whales can echolocate prey that is over 1,500 feet away! Whales also whistle and call to socialize with other members of their pod. Scientists discovered that whales have different dialects to help them differentiate between their pod and strangers! Certain low frequency calls can travel more than 10,000 miles across the sea. Pretty wild, right?!



https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Corvus_corax_(Common_Raven),_Yosemite_NP,_CA,_US_-_Diliff.jpg (Raven photo)




https://www.flickr.com/photos/usfws_pacificsw/16512606125 (Fox photo)



https://www.flickr.com/photos/don34685/22654449684/ (Bison Photo)



https://www.flickr.com/photos/catsnorkelscuba/7826945136 (Sea lion photo)





Blowhole, What are They and What are They Used for?

What is a blowhole?

A blowhole is essential the nostril of a whale. Similar to a human the whale’s blowhole is attached to their trachea and is connected to the lungs, however unlike humans the whale’s trachea and esophagus are separate, therefore a whale in there would never choke on food like a human might. The blowhole is also not located on the front of the whale but in fact on top of their head, funny to think about imagine if our noses were on top of our head instead of on our face? How would we wear sunglasses?


The purpose of having their blowhole on top of their head is for the convenience of not having to lift their entire head out of the water to get a breath. In fact a whale can’t even breathe through its mouth it can only breathe through its blowhole. Its mouth is just used for eating, nom nom nom. Just like if you were to hold your breath for a really long time you let out a huge breath of air and then you try taking in a big gulp of air, a whale essentially does the same thing. They take a massive breath and then hold it between 7-30 mins, or if you are a sperm whale you can hold your breath for up to 2 hours. After they hold their breath they let it out once they reach the surface letting out a huge burst of air. This is where we see the water spout that we call a “blow”

There are 2 distinct types of blow holes, 1 blow hole or 2 blowholes. The one blowhole looks kind of like a donut and the 2 blowhole looks kind of like a heart. Whales that have teeth are going to have a single hole, where as a whale that has baleen is going to have 2 holes.

blowhole whale

Blowhole of a Humpback Whale

blowhole blue

Blowhole of a Sperm Whale

Did you know the average human sneeze travels at about 100 mph? A whale will let out a single breath that can travel at speeds of 300 mph, 3 times the average speed of a sneeze!

When a whale let its breath it can travel at incredible speeds but it also reaches up 30 feet in the air, creating a cloud of mist or spray that almost every person on the ocean is looking for.

blowhole tall

Now when these whales let out these mighty blows they aren’t releasing water from their blowhole they are letting out air, because their breath is so powerful it causes the water around its hole to create a cloud of mist. Well that mist isn’t just water it actually contains mucus and oils, it’s almost like the whale has a cold and is blowing its nose, gross…. Those whale blows can also be very stinky!

blowhole final

The coolest thing about a whale blow is that almost every species of whale has an iconic blow. Which means if you see a whale spout on the water you might be able to identify the whale species. If you see a giant heart shape come from the water chances their might be a right whale underneath it, if you see a geyser come up from the ocean it might be a sperm whale coming up from the deep depths of the ocean. The reason that they have iconic spouts is because the shape and design of their blowhole.

Now you know! So the next time you are out on the ocean or if you’re taking the boat over to Catalina Island and you see a big spout coming from the water, try and knowledge drop on your friends and tell them what type of whale you think it is!

Keep in mind: that whales and many other marine mammals are protected by the Marine Mammals Protection Act of 1972, so it’s very important that we respect the law as well as the safety of whales and all animals we see. A great way to make sure that you are being respectful to the animal and law is by staying a reasonable distance away and utilizing long lens for cameras.


What Makes a Dolphin a Dolphin?

Most everyone on the planet knows what a dolphin is and what they look like. Dolphins are incredibly popular animals and just happen to be one of the most charismatic of all marine mammal species. But you may not have known that dolphins belong to an order of species that encompasses many of our favorite mammalian relatives. This is the order Cetacea that contains both baleen whales as well as toothed whales, which is the one our familiar dolphins are a part of. Today we are going to talk about some differences between baleen whales and toothed whales and how we can identify what makes a dolphin a dolphin.

First off lets talk about baleen whales and toothed whales. The baleen whales scientific sub-order is officially called Mysticeti and contains whales such as blue whales, gray whales, and humpback whales. The toothed whales scientific sub-order is officially termed Odontoceti and contains whales like porpoises, orca whales, and of course dolphins! There are many similarities between the two sub-orders such as they both give live birth, have blowholes, and use sounds to communicate with each other, as well as many others. However, there are some glaring differences between the two that allow us to really define what a dolphin exactly is.

The first major difference is that Mysticetes use baleen, (large overlapping plates used to filter feed), to eat small organisms like krill. Odontocetes swallow their prey whole and use their teeth for grabbing and gripping instead of chewing. Secondly, Mysticetes are also mostly solitary animals only coming together for mating or when food is plentiful in a given spot whereas most Odontocetes, especially dolphins shown above, travel in pods. Thirdly, Odontocete jaws are much more asymmetrical (different on either side of the jaw) than Mysticetes so that they can receive sound waves from echolocation much better while they are feeding and locate their prey. Fourthly, sounds made by these two are different; Mysticetes produce much lower frequency songs to navigate and communicate whereas Odontocetes produce many more high frequency clicks and whistles used to locate prey on top of communication and navigation. Fifthly, Mysticetes have double blowholes (shown to the right) while Odontocetes have single ones. And lastly is their size! Odontocetes, with the exception of sperm whales, are generally much smaller than their Mysticete relatives. So, if you see a smaller marine mammal producing high frequency clicks, breathing through a single blowhole, eating larger prey like fish and squid, and smaller in size chances are it’s a dolphin!

Kopelman, A. H. (n.d.). CETACEANS. Retrieved October 27, 2016, from http://www.cresli.org/cresli/cetacean/cetapage.html

Whale Teeth vs. Baleen

There are over 80 species of Cetaceans, or whales, which are divided into two groups, or suborders, based on how they eat. The two suborders of Cetaceans are Odontocetes and Mysticetes. Cetaceans that have teeth belong in a very diverse group called Odontocetes, which includes over 70 different species. Toothed whales typically have a single blowhole and use echolocation to find their food, which they have to chew up to eat.  Some examples of Odontocetes are dolphins, sperm whales, belugas, and narwhals (That’s right! The big unicorn horn on narwhals is actually a TOOTH!).


Credit: Chicago Zoological Society, Sarasota Dolphin Research Program

So if this other group of whales called Mysticetes doesn’t have teeth, then what do they have? Baleen. Mysticetes, quite literally means, “mustache whales,” named after all the bristly, hairy baleen in their mouths. Baleen is an elaborate structure made of hundreds of plates hanging from the upper jaw, while the inner surface makes a dense mat of hair acting as a strainer. This suborder includes over 10 species like the Humpback whale, Sei whale, and Blue whale (which happens to be the biggest animal that has ever lived! Even bigger than the Titanosaur!). Mysticetes have two blowholes, instead of one, and typically do not use echolocation to hunt. They eat by sucking in huge volumes of water (with prey in it), then spitting the water back out through their baleen, which traps the food on its inner surface.

For more information on Whales and their baleen visit https://www.redorbit.com/news/science/1112803585/baleen-whale-teeth-entangle-prey-031413/


We would like to thank you for visiting our blog. Catalina Island Marine Institute is a hands-on marine science program with an emphasis on ocean exploration. Our classes and activities are designed to inspire students toward future success in their academic and personal pursuits. This blog is intended to provide you with up-to-date news and information about our camp programs, as well as current science and ocean happenings. This blog has been created by our staff who have at least a Bachelors Degree usually in marine science or related subjects. We encourage you to also follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Google+, Twitter, and Vine to see even more of our interesting science and ocean information. Feel free to leave comments, questions, or share our blog with others. Please visit www.cimi.org for additional information. Happy Reading!