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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Thrilling Dall's Porpoise...and More!

The fantastic October wildlife trips continued today! After a few days of fog and heavy rain (I was amazed at how much we saw yesterday in that weather - not good for taking the camera out though), we got a break in the weather today and had a beautiful afternoon out on the water on the Western Prince.

The Steller sea lions at Whale Rocks continue to be phenomenal. There are dozens of them hauled out every day, and while some sit regally as pictured below, others roar and growl at each other as they vie for the best spot on the rocks:

In addition to all the sea lions hauled out, Cattle Pass is full of gangs of them in the water as well. I'm not sure why they all hang out together at the surface like they do, but you'll see groups of 5-10 of them swimming around together. One big group came over and swam by the bow of the boat, all of them craning their necks to get a look at us as they went by:

The Steller sea lions are impressive, but the Dall's porpoise have been stealing the show day after day. Even when they're not interested in riding the bow, like today, we just stop the boat and groups of them just swarm around us. Today they circled around for a good 15 minutes or more, and when they weren't zipping around at the surface we could look straight down and see them swimming underwater. Here's a photo of one underwater:

When they're going fast the Dall's rooster-tail, or surface so fast they create a big splash around them. While trying to photograph them as they do this its easy to see why they're credited as being the fastest marine mammal on the planet, but hard to catch them! I got lucky on this shot. The spray behind this one is from a second animal that surfaced a split second earlier:

Here's another one I like because you can really see the porpoise both above and below the surface:

There's one porpoise I've seen a few times now that's missing part of its dorsal fin. Who knows what happened to it - maybe it had an unfortunate encounter with a boat (hard to believe since they bow-ride all the time just inches from the boat and don't ever touch it - but accidents do happen I suppose) or possibly it escaped a scrape with a transient killer whale. After a couple of attempts today I finally got a picture of it, though just as it was diving down rather than at the peak of its surfacing. I found another photo of a Dall's porpoise with a dorsal fin diving at the same angle so you could compare the two. Both animals are swimming from right to left:

In addition to the playful Dall's porpoise and the shyer harbor porpoise, we actually see hybrids between the two. Male harbor porpoises mate with female Dall's porpoises and the result is an animal that looks and acts like a Dall's porpoise but is colored like a harbor porpoise. You occasionally see them in and among groups of Dall's porpoise. It was thought that these animals were probably infertile but there have been some sightings of a hybrid animals with calves. This is the first time I've ever gotten a decent picture of one:

The Dall's were breath-taking, but the trip wasn't over there. There have been herds of Mouflon sheep, fallow deer, and sika deer grazing on Spieden Island. Today there was a bit of an unfortunate sight as this female fallow deer got herself into a bit of a bind. She either fell off the cliff or walked down the steep slope to the water, but in either case she was stuck and unable to scramble her way back up. Perched nearby was an adult bald eagle, perhaps awaiting the inevitable?! Nobody wanted to hang around to see how that one ended up, but we all know nature has to take its course.

You may recall from other posts that the animals on Spieden Island are not native, but were introduced as part of a game ranch in the 1980s. They are now left to roam wild, so we get a chance to check out these exotic species you might not otherwise see here. One of the most impressive sights is a male fallow deer with his huge antlers:


Vera said...

Amazing porpoise pictures. Also like the one of the deer, but what a sad story.

The Chatty Housewife said...

Amazing photos! I bet the deer on the ledge was just fine. I have seen deer licking the salt off the rocks a lot. Once we stayed around for a very long time when we thought a deer was in a similar situation, and all of a sudden it turned around and bounded up the rock like it had done it 1000 times. This photo looks like deja vu for me!

Monika said...

Chatty Housewife - I've seen deer down to lick salt as well, and you're right, they can and do often scramble up some amazing cliffs. But we saw this one repeatedly trying and failing and sliding back down to its original position....

The Chatty Housewife said...

Oh that is so so sad!