Out There – Buoy Barnacles and Sailed Jellies? And a couple of Blue Whales.
Having finally recovered from having a crashed computer hard drive, I can now share with you some of the wonder and discovery from being on DFO’s offshore survey to aid the recovery of whales.
This past July, the Cetacean Research team went as far as 200 nm (370 km) off BC’s shore and it was a great success. The team sighted over 3,000 cetaceans including two endangered Blue Whales (the biggest animal that ever lived).
And there were around 150 observations of threatened Fin Whales (the second biggest animal that ever lived).
There were so many Dall’s Porpoises out there; some Northern Right Whale Dolphins (I promise that, one year, I will get a good photo) and even a Pacific White-Sided Dolphin with very unique markings.
We had many sightings of threatened populations of Killer Whales – Offshore Killer Whales (offshore fish-eaters); Resident Killer Whales (inshore fish-eaters); and Bigg’s/Transient Killer Whales (mammal-eaters). There was even data collected on some pelagic Bigg’s/Transients that have never before been identified in BC.
There were Sperm Whales, Cuvier’s Beaked Whales (!!!) and threatened Fur Seals . . .
. . . remarkable pelagic birds;
Mola mola and a variety of species of sharks.
To see the big marine animals was astounding especially considering how at-risk many of the species are due to past whaling/hunting and current threats like vessel-strike, prey-availability, and entanglement.
Seeing +/- 60 Humpback Whales flick-feeding together, birds all around them, made me go quiet in sheer wonderment at the beauty of it . . . blows as far as the eyes could see. To think that we could have lost them due to whaling . . . .
But look closely at the image below. Yes, it’s a humpback with a rainbow blow (rain-blow?) but look more closely. See the little white circles? This is one of the little guys that put me in the same state of rapturous awe as seeing the giants. All around the humpbacks, in fact, over almost ever square meter of ocean out there, there were sailed jellies known as “By-the-Wind Sailors” (Velella velella).
This species of hydroid has a buoyant air-filled float and a triangular, stiff sail. It is a colonial animal with a central mouth under the floats. The tentacles trap fish and invertebrate eggs, small crustaceans (copepods) and species of free-swimming tunicates.
To add to how remarkable this species is, some have the sail facing one way where others in the population have their sail facing the other way – so that they get blown in different directions. (For more species information see the JelliesZone).
Velella velella are a species common to our Coast and harmless to humans. However, their numbers this year were extraordinary.
If you live on the Coast, maybe you’ve seen them too this year, washed up on the beach?
The media has been full of articles about them with titles like: “Velella velella turn Tofino, B.C., shore into sea of blue“; “Mysterious Blue Jellyfish-Like Creatures Invade West Coast Beaches“; and “Thousands Of These Bizarre Blue Animals Wash Up Along California Shores“.
But there was another smaller organism way out there that is even more other-worldly, surreal and absolutely mind-blowing – the Buoy Barnacle (Dosima fascicularis).
This species of barnacle is the only one in the world known to secrete its own float. This allows the barnacle to hang downward feeding on plankton, drifting along in the high seas. The float is gas filled and looks like polystyrene.
The little barnacles you see on the outside of the Buoy Barnacle in the above image are another species. They are juvenile Pelagic Gooseneck Barnacles (Lepas anatifera). This species attaches to anything that drifts. See below for a good example of that.
Imagine, imagine learning about this species out on the open sea while helping to take ID photos of threatened Fin Whales, Velella velella EVERYWHERE their sails glistening in the sun as they are propelled over the swell, and among them, these upside down barnacles travelling even faster by wind and current.
Imagine my further delight when, while still at sea, just after I had observed this species for the first time, I got an email from children back home in Telegraph Cove (via the wonderful interpreters at the Whale Interpretive Centre) wanting to know what the mystery organism was that they had found. It was the Buoy Barnacle. They had even found two attached to one buoy.
Here is the video of their find.
From Blue Whales to Buoyed Barnacles, the biodiversity, mystery and fragility of this Coast is simply staggering.
There’s so much to protect.
For the biggest marine bio nerds: Design of a Small Cantilevered Sheet: The Sail of Velella velella.