In Which there are Whales

One more post from my trip to Vancouver last weekend, which upon reflection definitely had a whaley theme to it. What can I say, I have a soft spot for cetaceans.
On Sunday I went whale watching with the aptly named Prince of Whales company. We almost didn’t see any, but the boat went further than usual on its route after reports that a pod had been spotted. And sure enough, there was a pod of 20 – 30 orcas from the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale community! My only regret is that we didn’t have longer to watch them.

At the time our on-board naturalists thought this was L-pod, but after checking some of the photos they took (which were much better than mine), I think that K-pod may have been hanging out here, too. How can you tell one orca from another? Orcas have distinctive grey splotches on their backs just behind their dorsal fins, called saddle patches. Because the fin and back are exposed when they surface, scientists have been able to catalogue who’s who in each pod, and each orca has a letter and number designation. Based on the naturalist’s photos, we saw K21 (a male born in 1986) and L47 (a female born in 1974). I might have caught K16 and K12 in some of my photos. The Southern Residents were featured in the movie Free Willy (although Keiko himself was from the area around Iceland), and Luna, a famous orphaned orca who made friends with people, was from L pod.

Tuesday I had the chance to visit the wonderful Vancouver Aquarium again. I like a lot of things about this aquarium, such as its focus on the organisms found around Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, and Haida Gwaii. There’s a big emphasis on active research: during the dolphin ‘show’ (and I use the term show very loosely here, as it is not the dramatized muscial adventure you will see at Sea World but more of a casual talk about the animals) there was a demonstration of how scientists at the aquarium are investigating why cetaceans become entangled in fishing gear. There’s no shying away from evolution, either.

Highlights this time included baby wolf eels, comb jellies, and of course the dolphins.

And here is a sea pen! They look kind of like Ediacaran fossils!

All in all, it’s a great place and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting Vancouver. And that wraps up my trip to the Canadian Paleontology Conference, and now I begin my planning for the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting in Las Vegas…

…oh, what the heck:

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