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news & tips

A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching

Track a Pelagic Predator, From the Privacy of Your Own Home

Singing Humpback WhaleToday, I was sitting across from a colleague I have known for many years, as we co-taught her students in my computer lab.  Next week is Ocean Week at our school, and she teaches fifth grade, the subject matter I spent five years with at this same school.  I am well versed in the Open Oceans habitat of the Ocean Week curriculum as a result.  She asked me about tracking some ocean animals, and I got on Twitter and Google to see what I could find.

It wasn’t long before I located a subset of the fantastic Ocean layer in Google Earth.  (I believe this layer became available in version 5, by the way.)  Among other fantastic resources pertaining to the oceans of our big blue planet, there is “Animal Tracking.”  Go on, check it.

We’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I knew Monterey Bay, a bit to our south, would be a great place to begin looking for animals currently being tracked.  And near there I found two Great White Sharks.  Moving south off the coast of Baja California, I located two Pacific Bluefin Tuna.  There’s a Sperm Whale in the Gulf of Mexico, a Humpback off the coast of Guatemala, and a Blue Whale farther out, due southwest of the Humpback.

Oh my goodness.  I got closer to California and found a Fin Whale in the waters due west of Lompoc and a California Sea Lion near the Channel Islands near Los Angeles.  Sometimes people think of California as a land of hippies, movie stars, street gangs, and television sets.  What people sometimes fail to realize is that it is a land rich with biological diversity, and its waters even more so.  We have to take good care of these marine environments, because these animals depend on them.

Humpback whale tailWhen I click on my little sea lion friend, I can swim along with her, quickly or slowly, and I can download a track to view where she’s been.  This one is fascinating.  She beats a steady path back and forth, due north from San Nicolas Island about fifteen and a half miles before retreating due south again, along almost the same path.  The area she travels is less than two miles wide at its widest point. 

By contrast, the humpback (whose gender was not available) had a range that spanned the Pacific coastline from Bodega Bay in the north (famous as the filming location of Hitchcock’s The Birds) to Manzanillo, Mexico in the south, where – I can only guess – she lost her tag, which was made by Telonics and Oregon State University, cost $2860, and transmits for up to twenty months.  How they know she’s in Guatemala now is unclear to me.  But it’s amazing how much the information box about each tagged animal tells you.

I am quite partial to humpbacks, having seen a mother showing her child a boat full of humans (of which I was one) on a fantastic trip over Monterey Bay some ten years ago.  But no matter what your favorite pelagic predator, give this feature on Google Earth a spin with your kids, and help them appreciate some of our friends with whom we share a planet.

Image “Singing Humpback Whales” from Flickr user NOAA’s National Ocean Service, some rights reserved, Creative Commons

Image of humpback whale tail from Flickr user mikebaird, some rights reserved, Creative Commons

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