August 10, 2011
We usually think of mammals as land creatures, but there are mammals that make their home in the waters (mostly the ocean) of New York State, and get their food from the sea. But, like all mammals, marine mammals must breathe air. Whales and dolphins use their blowholes, and seals use their noses and mouths. Marine mammals can stay underwater for long periods. In the wild, whales and dolphins communicate with a variety of low sounds that humans can't hear. They also generate echolocation-sound waves, which travel through the water, bounce off objects and return. Echolocation helps whales and dolphins determine the shape, size and distance of objects in the water around them.
Humpback whales are often seen along New York's coast in the summer. This whale is dark gray to black on the upper body, with white patterns on its underside. There are knob-like bumps on the head and snout. Humpbacks like to perform a variety of acrobatics, including breaching (jumping out of the water), slapping their tail and waving their flippers in the air. The humpback weighs 30-40 tons and reaches about 30-60 feet in length.
Bottlenose dolphins are so named because of their short and stubby snout. Usually, this dolphin is light gray to slate gray on the upper part of the body, and pale, pinkish gray on the belly. Bottlenose dolphins grow to 8-12 feet long.
Harbor porpoises are small, with a blunt and rounded snout. Its back is very dark gray or dark brown, and its belly is white. Its flippers are also dark, and a dark stripe extends from the flippers to the eyes. Harbor porpoises can be 6 feet long and weigh up to 200 pounds.
Harbor seals are the most abundant seals found in New York State and are usually seen in the winter and early spring. They have a rounded body with a spotted coat that can range from silver-gray to black or dark brown. Their large eyes, excellent hearing and sensitive whiskers help them hunt. They have no tears, but mucus continuously washes over their eyes to protect them from saltwater. When on land, this makes harbor seals look as though they are crying. Male harbor seals average 5-5½ feet long and weigh 200-250 pounds.
To learn more, please see the article in the August 2010 issue of Conservationist magazine about common whales in New York and where to go for whale watching.
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Whether you live near the ocean or plan to visit the seashore during summer vacation, exploring tide pools is a great activity for the whole family. A tide pool is formed when the ocean's tide retreats, leaving seawater behind in low areas around rocks. These shallow pools are often filled with animals and plants. To visit tidepools, get a local tide table for the area. Sit near a tide pool at low tide (with an adult), and look for some of the species listed below. Remember-safety first! While exploring tide pools, be aware of the nearby ocean, and watch for waves and incoming tides that may wash over the rocks where you're standing. It's safest to explore tide pools when the tide is going out, not coming in.
Animals Found in Tide Pools
Sea anemones: Use tentacles around their mouths to trap food
Sea stars: Have tube feet for moving slowly across rocks
Sea urchins: Hide in holes near rocks
Crabs: Use their claws to scavenge for food
You can also spot barnacles, blue mussels and tube worms in the tide pools. The wrack line (the line of seaweed found on the beach after the tide recedes) contains many small creatures too.
Marine Mammal Watching
In the early morning, head out with an adult to the shoreline, and bring binoculars, extra clothing and snacks. Watch the horizon for blows of spouting whales; they look like puffs of smoke at the surface of the water. Use your binoculars to look for the fluke (tail) coming out of the water as the whale dives deep into the ocean. If you are lucky, you may see a whale leap out of the water and come down with a splash; this is called breaching. Dolphins can be seen leaping in the air or riding behind the wakes of boats. Harbor porpoises can be easily detected by the loud puffing sound they make as they surface to breathe.
Read Conservationist for Kids for more information and activities!
Upcoming DEC Events
Saturday, August 13 from 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM
Skull Session for Kids
Wednesday, August 17 from 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM
For youngsters entering grade 3 to 5
Old-Fashioned Family Sing-a-Long with Chris Ruhe
Friday, August 19 from 5:30 PM to 7:30 PM
Family Fun: Life Underground
Saturday, August 13 at 10:00 AM
Parent(s) and child(ren) must accompany each other.
Citizen Science: Annual Dragonfly Census
Saturday, August 13 at 2:00 PM
Watchable Wildlife: The Great Egret
Tuesday, August 16 at 7:00 PM
A Bluffer's Guide to Pond Ecology
Saturday, August 20 at 9:00 AM
History Happened Here: A Walk through Time
Saturday, August 20 at 2:00 PM
Watchable Wildlife: Bug Eaters
Tuesday, August 23 at 7:00 PM
Where Have All the Bats Gone?
Friday, August 19 from 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM
Call 518-456-0655 to register. Cost: $2.00/person, $5.00/family, children under 5 free
Western New York
Advance registration is required. Call 716-683-5959.
Full Moon Walk
Saturday, August 13 at 7:30 PM
Thursday, August 18 at 9:30 AM
For youth age 12 and older
Outdoor Adventure Club: Forests of the Future
Thursday, August 18 at 10:30 AM
Insects of the Night
Wednesday, August 24 at 7:30 PM