Monday, December 29, 2014

Final whale tale

Hi Sea Fans,

This is my last post about my visit with the whale! If you remember, I was in Massachusetts with Cynde McInnis and The Whalemobile. The Whalemobile is a life-sized inflatable humpback whale, modeled after an actual whale that summers off the coast of MA. 
The whale is named Nile, and she was 27 years old this year. Cynde helps keep track of the different whales that come off the coast, and Nile has quite a family (although they rarely ever associate with one another as adults). Her mother Mars, first seen in 1979, has had 10 calves over the past 35 years. Nile was born in 1987 and she has had 5 calves. She had her fifth calf with her this past season. The researchers hope to see Nile’s calf next summer!

I left off the last blog at the point where we were going to go inside Nile! It’s so big when you get inside! When Cynde had the whale made, she had the heart, lungs, stomach, ribs and vertebrae sewn on the inside as well. 
A whole class of students (about 25) can fit inside the whale together. It’s a little dark so Cynde has a flashlight and uses it to point all different parts of the whale. She starts with the heart. It’s bigger than a big exercise ball, and in a blue whales, it’s the size of a small car! A whale’s heart beat is much slower than humans. The kids clap their own heart beat and then follow Cynde’s clap to illustrate the whale’s heart beat! They always have a look of surprise on their face when they clap every 6 seconds or so.

Next, Cynde talks about the blowholes and lungs. The whale’s lungs are the size of an adult sleeping bag! While in that area, she points out the ribs and vertebrae that go all the way to the whale’s tail, but not in the tail. Finally, she talks about the mouth and how huge it is. Did you know a humpback whale jaw bone is about 8-10 ft long? Put your thumb on your chin and then your index finger on your ear lobe. That’s about how long your jaw is. It’s a lot smaller! When the whales feed, they open their mouths, scoop up huge amounts of fish and water, and then they use their tongue to push the water out through the baleen plates. The fish then go down their throat to their stomach where they are digested. Cynde asks, “Then what happens?”

Poop!! Yes, as a scientist on the whale watch boat, Cynde keeps track of the color of the whale’s poop. What would that tell her? What the whales eat! If they are eating sand eels, the poop is brown, and if they feed on krill, it turns fire engine red! Now, whale poop has gotten a lot of attention in the media lately. Cynde asks, “Does whale poop benefit the ocean at all?” What does a farmer put on his crops? Manure, right? Why? There are nutrients in the poop that help the plants grow. Again, the same thing is going on in the ocean. The whale poop acts as fertilizer in the ocean. The more whales, the more poop, the more nutrients, the more plankton. Now, does phytoplankton benefit humans? Take two breaths. You can thank plankton in the ocean for one of them. They produce over half the oxygen that we breathe on the planet! I loved watching the students put together that whale poop benefits humans! 

The last thing the students did was talk with Captain John who runs the whale watch boat. He talked trash with the students. Well, he talked about marine debris. He shared with them different pieces of trash that are found in the ocean and which animals can be injured by them. Plastic grocery bags are often found in the bellies of whales when they wash up on the beach. Plastic bits can be found in turtles and birds. They talked about recycling and how important that is to be conscious of the choices that we make. Instead of using plastic water bottles, the kids remembered to use reusable ones. Instead of taking those plastic bags from the shop, they talked about taking cloth bags to the shop. It’s so encouraging to ask the students, “Who recycles at home?” Their response is, “Of course!”

All in all, I had a great time with Cynde and Nile and learned so much about whales! Hope you are all having a wonderful holiday and stay tuned for my next adventure!!

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Whales details

Hi Sea Fans,

Hope you are having a nice holiday season. I wanted to share with you a little bit more about my time with Cynde and The Whalemobile. It was really fun. Cynde started out the day with a presentation to the students about whales. I got to sit with her while she talked to the kids. Did you know that whales are mammals just like us? They breathe air! It’s not water that comes out of their blowhole. Cynde talked about how there are over 85 different species of whales that are divided into two groups—toothed and baleen whales. Toothed whales include the dolphins, porpoises, orcas and sperm whales. They have a single blowhole, and they have teeth in their mouth. Here is a picture of me holding a sperm whale tooth. 

The baleen whales have two blowholes on top of their head, and in their mouths, they have large triangular plates--200-300 on each side! They use these plates to filter fish out of the water. Humpbacks, blue, fin and right whales are all baleen whales.  Here is a picture of me with the baleen from a fin whale.

After showing these artifacts to the students, Cynde then focused most of her talk on humpbacks because that is what she sees most often on the whale watch boat. Humpbacks migrate to the Caribbean in the winter to mate and calve and then to the coast of Massachusetts in the spring, summer and fall to feed. It’s so amazing; whales are off MA feeding the same time the leaves are on the trees. It’s because the growing season in the ocean is the same as that on land. Phytoplankton, the plant-like critters of the ocean, use nutrients, sunlight, water and CO2 to photosynthesize. They grow in huge numbers when all of these are readily available. These phytoplankton attract zooplankton (animal plankton), which in turn attract small fish like sand eels. The food chain!! That is why the whales come to feed! It’s so amazing how it’s all connected!

After Cynde’s talk, all the kids and I got to see the whale inflate! It only takes about 45 seconds, and it’s so amazing to watch. I loved listening to the students get all excited as they watched Nile get bigger and bigger. She’s 43 feet long! After Nile was inflated, we took turns by class and got to go inside!!

Happy holidays Sea Fans!
Chat soon!
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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Whales in Massachusetts!

Hi Sea Fans,

I just spent a couple days with Cynde McInnis from The Whalemobile teaching kids about humpback whales! Cynde also works at Cape Ann Whale Watch in Gloucester, MA. They take passengers out to watch humpback whales on their feeding grounds in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.  A Marine Sanctuary is an area in the ocean that is protected for its cultural, natural or historical significance. In the case of Stellwagen Bank, there are more than 500 plants and animals found in the 842 square miles off the coast of Massachusetts—including 3 species of endangered whales: the humpback, fin and right whales.

Unfortunately, I was too late in the season to go whale watching, but I was lucky that I could work with Cynde and go into schools with her life-sized inflatable humpback named Nile. Did you know that if you go whale watching at Cape Ann, the naturalists will tell you the names of the whales you are seeing? They know them! The same whales come back year after year to these feeding grounds. This summer they saw Pepper, 
and Nile (to name a few). 
Humpbacks along the entire East Coast of the U.S. are given names based on the patterns on the underside of their tail. The names help the researchers remember the animals. All the researchers use the same names for the whales, so “Sockeye” in Massachusetts is also called “Sockeye” in the Caribbean or Canada.

Nile was named for the black line on the left side of her fluke that looks like the Nile River. She was seen as a calf in 1987, so we know that she is 27 years old this year, and her mother is Mars. (The baby stays with its mom for one year.) Hancock got his name because in the upper right corner, the mark looks like a signature, or John Hancock. He was also seen as a calf in 1991 and his mother is Clipper (one of Cynde’s favorites). Pepper was the first whale to be named in 1975! She wasn’t seen as a calf so they don’t know how old she is exactly, but she is at least 40 years old.

But back to talking about Nile. Cynde has seen Nile almost every year she has been a naturalist (over 20 years), so she decided to have a life-sized version of her made! 
Years ago, lots of schools would do field trips to watch whales, but that doesn’t happen as much anymore.  Cynde thought that taking a large whale into the schools was a close second to actually seeing a whale. I went to two schools with her and got to talk to 200 hundred children. The best part was that the students actually got to go INSIDE of Nile. Stay tuned for some of the things that the students were able to learn and see!!!

Have a great last few days before Christmas Sea Fans!
Chat soon.
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Sunday, November 30, 2014

I'm my neighbourhood back home :)

Hi Sea Fans!

A friend of mine sent me a newspaper clipping
Abby’s still exploring the globe
(which I also happened to find on the internet for you guys to have a look at:

with some news of my adventures!!  Seems people are interested in all the folks I've been visiting.  Yay!

Keep checking back with me, you never know what you're going to read!
Have a great week Sea Fans!

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Pipe cleaner penguins

Hi Sea Fans!

For those of you who were looking for a previous post that was removed, here are the instructions again for making the pipe cleaner penguins (you can use pipe cleaners or chenille sticks, your choice):

1. Use 1 orange, 1 black and 1 white chenille stick (CS)

2. Wind the black CS around a pen 5 times, leaving a short straight piece at the end for the wings (if you'd like, you can wind the entire CS and use a separate one for the wings)
3. Cut the straight piece off and bend it in half for wings.
4. Bend each side around your finger to make a loop and twist the ends around the middle to attach. 

5. Push these wings into the coil made earlier about 1/4 of the way down (about 2 twirls)...all the way through to the other side so that they stay in place.
6. Cut a white piece of CS and bend in half.

7. Bend both ends over slightly so that they can hook onto the twirls of the black coil made earlier (at the bottom and just below the first or second twirl to leave space for a beak).

8. Put aside and make the feet with an orange CS.  Bend the end of the orange CS in 3 waves as shown, 

squeeze them together as shown and you have your first foot (curling the end around the base of the foot will hold it in place).
9.  About 1 cm away from the foot, bend the CS and form the second foot about 1cm from that as shown:

10. Twist the end around the second foot so that it can be bent upward from the middle of the feet and put this end into the bottom of the penguin so that the tip pokes out underneath the first twirl of the black coil body (leaving space for eyes) as shown:
11. When the feet are in the correct place at the bottom, bend the beak as shown and trim any excess.

12. Glue on eyes and you have a penguin!
Hope you have fun with these!

Till next time.
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Friday, November 21, 2014

Junior diving

Hi Everyone!

I was asked the other day how old you need to be to dive.  Well, here's the long answer:

PADI - 8 years old+ - Skin diver
          - 8 years+ - There's a Bubblemaker course where you learn about and use scuba diving equipment and you get to take your first breath underwater.
         - 8 years+ - Seal Team is a course that can be taken to get an introduction to wreck, navigation, buoyancy, underwater photography, environmental awareness and more. Once you've learnt more, you get to go on Aqua Missions using your new skills.
         - 10 - 14 yrs - Junior Open Water: this certifies you as a diver but with age-related restrictions.
         - 12 - 14 yrs (all these have age-related restrictions)
                              - Junior Advanced Open Water
                              - Junior Rescue Diver
                              - Junior Master Scuba Diver
For more info, check out

NAUI - 5 years+ - Snorkelling for Kids of All Ages - no certification
           - 8 years+ - Junior Skin Diver
           - 10 years+ - Junior Scuba Diver
           - 12 years+ - Junior Advanced Scuba
          - 15 years+ - Master Scuba Diver

For more info, check out

Hope this helps. 
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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What barks but lives in the sea?

Hi Sea Fans!

Having visited with some seals lately, I feel a little homesick. It reminded me of an amazing dive I did in in Plettenberg Bay on the South African east coast. 

Cape fur seals (Copyright Hans Hillewaert)
The visibility was bad (I reckon 2 metres, but my dive buddy reckons 3 or 4m), we were being pushed around by a surge in shallow water, it was freezing cold (15°C is not my kind of temperature for diving) and the instructor said that usually there are more seals, but hey - we had fun!  They're such curious, cute animals.  We only spent about 15 minutes with them, but it was great. You really appreciate nature when you're up close to animals (not too close mind you!).  I'm so used to seeing them in the aquarium and if I see them in the wild, I'm usually on a boat, but under water...they're quite magical. 

Did you know that the male Cape Fur Seal is the largest of all the fur seals?!  They reach 2 - 2.3 metres and weigh 200 - 360 kg!!  The Cape Fur Seals are found along the coasts of South Africa and Namibia and are not migratory, but will move within their range.  Their diet varies with the seasons, but some of their favourites are maasbanker (pronounced: maahs-bunker), pilchards, hake, squid and cuttlefish.  At the aquarium, the seals get a variety of fish and squid, also depending on the season.  Sometimes I think I should have been an animal in the aquarium, their lunches are often better than mine!  Well, I guess it's off to eat my peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch then.

Have a great November, Sea Fans, and I'll chat to you soon.
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Friday, October 31, 2014

Interesting and weird creatures

Hi Sea Fans!

On my travels I get to see so many beautiful and amazing sea creatures. Two of the more unusual fish that I'd like to tell you about are the Lancer Dragonet and the Longlure Frogfish.
Lancer dragonet (Photo: JE Randall)
The Dragonet is very well camouflaged, as you can see in the picture, but the male is actually quite pretty (see for a better picture) .- he uses his fins to attract females as well as keep other males away.  The prettier Mandarinfish (also a dragonet) is a very well-known aquarium fish because of its beautiful colours.
Mandarin fish(Photo: Luc Viatour /
One of the first dragonets I saw, other than the Mandarin fish, was in South Africa.  We weren't quite sure what it was at first, but when we pulled out the handy Fish ID book, we soon found out that we had found an amazing creature.  We didn't keep it though, we returned it back to where it came from in the sea because we didn't know what to feed it and how best to house it at the time.  That's one of the worst things you can do: get an animal and THEN think about the food and housing requirements.  It's the same when you get a pet, you can't just go and buy a dog without thinking about where it's going to sleep, what kind of food it will need and how much the food, vet bills and other extras will cost.  An animal needs to be taken care of properly and that is why you need to find out more about your animal before you decide to keep it.  Please keep that in mind the next time you go pet shopping, Sea Fans!
Commerson's frogfish.
The Frogfish is even more weird looking!  Very cute though, in an ugly sort of way.  It can also camouflage itself very well...on sponges.  This little guy has an interesting appendage - have a look at the picture below and you'll see the thing poking out of his head.  This is what is used to lure little fish closer so that they can be eaten.  It's like a fishing rod with a piece of bait at the end, but the piece at the end is actually attached to the frogfish.  The little fish doesn't know what's hit it when the frogfish strikes!
Longlure frogfish (
So that's my 2 cents worth for this week Sea Fans.  I hope you have a great week.  Drop me a comment on this blog if you'd like to know anything or just to say hi.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Crayfish or isopod?

Hi Sea Fans!

I had the opportunity to walk around the rock pools a while ago with some kids.  What fun!  When last did you go searching the rock pools for interesting little creatures?  I haven't been in a while because I've been so busy, but the memories of that visit made me want to make more of an effort to get out there.  We found all sorts of things: starfish/sea stars, anemones, mussel shells, crab moults (the outer skeleton that the crab sheds and then it develops a new outer skeleton by hardening the soft layer underneath), barnacles and even an octopus - what a treat! 

One thing that had us confused was something that looked like a baby crayfish.  The kids got so excited.  At closer inspection, we found that it was in fact an isopod.  Isopods are also crustaceans like the crab, crayfish and shrimp, and are found in virtually all marine habitats from the intertidal to the deepest oceans.  The tail-fan of the isopod is what made us think the little creature was a baby crayfish.  (Have a look at the tail-fan of the giant marine isopod below.)
Giant marine isopod that is often displayed in aquariums. (Photo:
Over 270 species occur in southern Africa.  Now isn't that amazing.  Some marine biologists study animals just to be able to classify them so that we can know which animal is which.  Sometimes there is only a very small difference between two animals, but then they are put into different categories (family, phylum, sub-phylum etc).  Fascinating stuff!

For those of you who would like to treat yourselves and see even more animals at the rock pools, find out when the next New Moon or Full Moon is.  Spring tides, which are extra high high tides and extra low low tides, occur shortly after the New Moon and Full Moon.  This is when you can see even more animals because more of the rocks will be exposed at the low tide.  Check out the following link for a cartoon explanation of spring and neap tides:

In other words, when the sun, earth and moon all line up, all the water bodies on earth (including lakes) are pulled away from the earth so that they bulge more than normal, causing the higher high tides and lower low tides that we call Spring Tides or Springs.

Enjoy discovering your rock pools Sea Fans and chat to you soon.

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Ocean Camp

Hi Sea Fans!

Just a quick one today...I was at Ocean Camp in Gulf Shores Alabama!

It was such a quick visit, but I got there at an important time: There was an art show where kids entered t-shirt entries in art design with a dolphin, the Ocean Camp mascot and frequent visitors to Gulf waters.   
Me with Caroline - the 2nd place winner.
The winning entries!
A very cool idea!  Thanks for having me Ocean Camp and Belinda.

Have a great week Sea Fans!
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Friday, September 26, 2014

Whalenet update - resources available and FACEBOOK!

Hi Sea Fans!  

I thought I should just quickly share this with you seeing as I visited Michael a while ago whilst on my world travel adventure:  

"WhaleNet now has a Facebook page.

Join us and access educational resources using actual satellite tracking research data.



Build a Life-sized Whale:

Satellite tracking Data:

We will have a live satellite tag on a marine animal soon.  Stop in Often.

Michael Williamson

Go and have a look.
Have a great weekend Sea Fans!

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Hi Sea Fans!

Now if you thought I was having fun before, just wait, there's more...with Mr and Mrs Fish (!  Yup, that's what they are called at Fish Camp on the campus of Southern Maine Community College in South Portland, Maine.

The Fish campers and I got on really well and HAD A BALL using costumes to show life as it is in the sea! I taught about clams, tide pool life and fish characteristics and the kids became the lessons.  Sounds odd? Well, have a look...

Outside of the classroom, I joined in the “Tests of Strength, Courage and Wisdom”  climbing the wall,

using a parachute to become a jellyfish,
and joking with the Fish Campers as they prepared for exciting challenge activities.

Come rain or shine, nothing stopped us having fun!  When it rained, I became the caller for a tropical ocean bingo style game called Mango.  
AND...I'm proud to say, I was one of the judges for the crazy hat and t-shirt contest. 

The campers thought I was a bit mad when I made friends with “Big Orange” the Fish Camp mascot and demonstrated how a cleaner wrasse contributes to dental hygiene in other fish. 

 An guess what?!  I was voted “Honorary Staff” of Fish Camp!!! 
The staff and my friends at Fish Camp.
So that was my awesome visit with Mr and Mrs Fish.  I hope I get to see them again.

Best Fishes Sea Fans!
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Monday, September 15, 2014

From fish surveys to the DUOY educator workshop!

Hi Sea Fans!

My Texan adventures continue...

I got to attend the annual "Down Under, Out Yonder" (DUOY) educator workshop and scuba field experience at Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FGBNMS).  Participants learned about coral reefs (including reef fish ID) and how to teach about them in the classroom.   Everyone had fun because this involves lectures AND some fun activities that help everyone remember what they are taught (always handy!)  :) 

I helped Geri Kizior, one of the teachers, turn her hand into a coral polyp.  I also helped her keep a journal of all the activities that were going on during the workshop.
Building coral colony shapes out of Lego bricks with teachers Nancy Smith and Sheila Suarez.  (The bumps on top of each brick look like coral polyps sticking out from their skeletons).
More information about the DUOY workshop is available at

All FGBNMS educational activities are available as free downloads from the website at for those mommy's and teachers out there who may be interested
The DUOY workshop wasn't only on land though! On one of the evenings, everyone from the workshop boarded a live-aboard dive boat to head out to Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary for some diving. The sanctuary is over 100 miles from shore and it
takes 7-8 hours to get there, so everyone slept on the trip out to feel rested for the fun ahead. 

When we woke up in the morning we had arrived at the sanctuary and it was time to dive. 
I was ready to dive, but they didn't bring dive gear small enough for me!
Seas were quite calm and visibility was good, so we got some fantastic views of the reef and its inhabitants. Participants also conducted fish surveys as part of their training which gave them an appreciation for the difficulties of working underwater. 
I helped Kelly record her fish count data.  When added to the other participants' data, the total over 3 days added up to 107 different species spotted!
The nice thing is that they can continue doing this type of citizen science (google this, it means that everyone can get involved and help the scientists!!!) on their own after the workshop.

More information on the fish survey program from REEF is available at

In between dives we got to have some fun spotting wildlife and saw 7 whale sharks feeding near the surface!!!
Hard at work : )
And at the end, even teachers have to take tests!
Final fish ID test for teacher Amy Bujacz.
So a little bit of sunburn and a lot of fun later, I'm off to my next host...where will it be?

Have a great week Sea Fans!
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PS. All NOAA images credited to NOAA Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary