Blue Whales At Aquarium of the Pacific
In Long Beach
Story and photographs (unless otherwise noted)
by Greg Aragon
he blue whale is the largest animal to ever roam planet earth. Its
bigger than any dinosaur. It can grow to 100ft-long, weigh 170 tons
and eat eight tons of krill each day. Its tongue is even bigger than
an African elephant. So when I heard that a couple of these magnificent
monsters were currently swimming off the coast of Long Beach, I knew
I had to investigate.
My journey began at the Aquarium of the Pacific, where
I reserved a Blue Whale & Sea Life Cruise combo ticket that includes
a whale watching trip with Harbor Breeze Cruises and a visit to the
aquarium. I then boarded the brand new MV Triumphant, a 150-passenger,
83-foot-long catamaran, specially designed for ocean exploration and
wild life viewing.
The blue whale is the largest animal to ever roam
planet earth and its tongue is bigger than an African elephant
Once aboard the ship, I met two biologists from the
aquarium, Captain Dan Salas, CEO of Harbor Breeze Cruises, and a few
other passengers. After a brief update on the whales we would be looking
for, Captain Dan put the boat in gear and we zoomed at about 20 knots
toward the open sea, passing the Port of Long Beach and the fabled Queen
Mary along the way.
About 10 miles out the captain cut the engines and we
drifted in silence, scanning the surface of the water for signs of the
giant creatures. The whales that have been spotted lately have been
dubbed Hook and Delta. As we searched for the
pair, the captain told us to look for a puff of steam or a puff
of smoke coming from the surface, and also watch for the animals
footprint, which is a glossy, calm area in the water that
resembles an oil spill.
Whale watching in Long Beach offers views of sea
life and famous landmarks
In a few minutes, a crewmember yelled, there she
blows! and we all turned to see a spout of water, followed by
a massive body break the surface. As it gently rolled, we held our breaths
until its gigantic, distinctive tail popped out. The creature then dived
back down for about 12 minutes, until coming up a quarter mile away.
While waiting for the next sighting, marine biologist
Kera Mathes and senior marine mammal biologist Michele Sousa, both of
Aquarium of the Pacific, answered passenger questions about the endangered
whales, and showed us examples of krill, the animals favorite
food. During this time, I also explored the new ship.
Christened last month, the M/V Triumphant is sleek,
powerful and efficient. It consumes 30 to 40 % less fuel than similar
passenger vessels, and its hull design features a hydrofoil wing lifting
system. It also boasts a wheelchair-accessible, wrap-around exterior
walkway on the main deck, a bow with stadium seating, a snack bar and
The new 150-passenger MV Triumphant catamaran is
for whale watching
After watching the whale blow off a little more steam,
we headed back to port, followed by large schools of playful dolphin.
Once disembarked, we strolled over to the Aquarium of the Pacific to
learn more about ocean life.
Playful dolphin love to follow whale watching boats
Showcasing more than 12,500 animals, the aquarium is
built around three themed areas of the Pacific Ocean: the sunny Southern
California and Baja
region; the frigid waters of the North Pacific; and the colorful
reefs of the Tropical Pacific. Sprinkled around these main areas are
numerous other fun and informative exhibits, including Shark Lagoon
and Lorikeet Forest.
The first thing I wanted to see at the facility was
Toby, a 70-pound male harbor seal pup born at the Aquarium of the Pacific
on May 1. Tobys mother Shelby came to the Aquarium in 1998 and
his father Troy came to the Aquarium in 2007. After seeing the adorable
seal, I checked out one Ocean Exploration, an exhibit which transports
visitors into the pitch black world of the ocean's deepest depths. Here,
in a place few humans have ever traveled, the Aquarium sheds light on
mysterious creatures most people have never seen.
The Aquarium of the Pacific showcases more than
12,500 animals and is built around three themed areas of the Pacific
Through this program, the Aquarium hopes to inspire
a push to explore our planets last physical frontier the
World Ocean, says Dr. Jerry R. Schubel, Aquarium of the Pacific
president and CEO.
A highlight of the new exhibit is Wonders of the Deep,
which features unique animals that live beyond the reach of light. Through
lighting and audio-visual effects, I encountered bioluminescent flashlight
fish that produce their own light and hagfish that emit slime. Also
in this section I discovered how animals survive in extreme temperatures,
with scarce food sources, and water pressure that could easily crush
submarines and humans. One way they survive is by eating the bodies
of animals like whales that die and very slowly sink to the bottom.
One of my favorite outdoor Aquarium exhibits is Shark
Lagoon, where visitors get up-close and even touchy-feely with
more than 150 of the ocean's ultimate predators. On my recent getaway,
I peered through glass and came within inches of the chomping jaws of
sand tiger, sandbar, nurse, whitetip and other large sharks.
Shark Lagoon lets visitors get up-close with more
than 150 of the ocean's ultimate predators. Photo Courtesy
of The Aquarium of the Pacific
In another part of the exhibit, docile Zebra, bamboo,
and epaulette sharks are available to touch in three shallow pools.
I learned to use a delicate, two finger touch technique on the animals,
which I think they liked since I still have my fingers. Swimming with
the sharks are giant graceful rays, such as the reticulate whipray that
can grow to 14 ft in length.
Leaving the sharks, I journeyed through Lorikeet
Forest, a 3,200-sq-ft outdoor aviary where a crashing waterfall
and lush trees are home to brilliantly colored lorikeets, which normally
live in the coastal lowlands of Australia. In this rainforest, I bought
a cup of nectar and hand fed flocks of chirping birds as they landed
on my arms and head.
Toby is a cute 70-pound male harbor seal pup recently
born at the Aquarium.
Photo Courtesy of The Aquarium of the Pacific
The Aquarium of the Pacific is located at 100 Aquarium
Way in Long Beach, CA. For information call (562) 590-3109 or visit
The Blue Whale & Sea Life Cruise combo ticket is $59.95 adults
12 or older; $55.95 seniors 62 or older; and $39.95 child.
Harbor Breeze Cruises whale watching only tickets are: $45 on weekdays
and $50 weekends per adult, $40 per senior, $30 per child. For more
information, visit www.2seewhales.com.
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