Spying on Monarchs and Catching Whales “Kelping”



This child humpback whale may very well be in a playful temper, however, sadly, there aren’t many toys in ocean waters.

In the event you’re a whale in a playful temper, issues is perhaps a bit troublesome for you. It’s laborious to find helpful toys while you’re in deep ocean waters. Maybe that’s why so many whales have lately been noticed—with the assistance of drone footage—rolling round and “enjoying” with clumps of kelp and different seaweeds on the water’s floor.

In the event you see a playful cetacean as soon as, it might be simple to write down it off as probability. However in case you accumulate greater than 100 examples (as scientists have executed) of whales—grey whales, humpbacks, and northern and southern proper whales—actively searching for out and enjoying with seaweed, it’s extra possible a common conduct that’s been happening for a very long time.

And, such witnessed interactions between kelp and whales haven’t been fleeting; whales have been seen enjoying with kelp for as much as an hour.


Off Australia’s Gold Coast, whales have been caught on digital camera having fun with a marine model of a day spa, scratching off itchy pores and skin and parasites and catching up with their cetacean buddies.

Along with drones, one other sort of robotic is now giving us a singular window into the world of nature. This one takes us right into a grove the place half a billion monarch butterflies lie sleeping—and it’s disguised as a hummingbird.

Kelp play

Beforehand, researchers had documented whales rolling in sandy substrates off the Gold Coast, a area south of Brisbane on Australia’s east coast. They postulated that it was a approach of eradicating useless pores and skin cells and parasites—a kind of sandy pores and skin scrub—throughout the whales’ migrations. However in a brand new paper, printed within the Journal of Marine Science and Engineering in September 2023, scientists analyzed one other understudied conduct in baleen (filter-feeding) whales—akin to humpback whales—that that they had seen in numerous populations throughout the Northern and Southern Hemispheres: the whales gave the impression to be enjoying with clumps of kelp.

On prime of that, this whale conduct with kelp was being seen all over the world. And since it’s taking place throughout totally different populations, state the scientists, it should be essential for higher understanding the species’ habitat preferences.

Around the globe, whales have been seen “kelping” (enjoying with kelp or seaweed). (a) A humpback whale rostrum (giant, flat higher jaw) with brown algae close to Perth in western Australia (©Whale Watch Western Australia). (b) Fluke with bull kelp close to Newport, California (©Kristin Campbell). (c) Dorsal and again with bull kelp close to Ventura, California (©Loriannah Hesper). (d) Pectoral fin with big kelp close to Monterey Bay, California (©Randy Straka Pictures). https://www.mdpi.com/2077-1312/11/9/1802

Utilizing aerial observations, the researchers analyzed three situations of “kelping” on the east coast of Australia together with 100 documented interactions with seaweed from all over the world. These interactions included 163 baleen whales, with humpback whales probably the most prevalent (95 separate occasions), grey whales (two occasions), southern proper whales (two occasions) and northern proper whales (one occasion).

Adults fashioned the most important group of documented interactions (53%), then calves (14%), adopted by subadults (1%) and unidentified sizes (32%).

The researchers conclude that the whale-kelp conduct is extra widespread than previously thought. And whereas the idea of ectoparasite elimination and pores and skin remedy through the use of brown algae’s antibacterial properties is definitely believable, it’s now simply as credible to consider that the whales are simply having enjoyable.

There are two believable theories for kelping: play and/or self-medication. ©Picture adopted from NOAA, 2022. https://www.mdpi.com/2077-1312/11/9/1802

Hummingbird spy

The annual migration of North America’s monarch butterflies is an incredible and distinctive phenomenon. The monarch is the one butterfly identified to make a two-way migration, akin to these made by birds. Not like different butterflies that may overwinter as larvae, pupae and even as adults in some species, monarchs can’t survive the chilly winters of northern climates. Utilizing environmental cues, the monarchs know when it’s time to journey south for the winter, using a mix of air currents and thermals to journey the lengthy distances. Some fly so far as 3,000 miles to succeed in their winter house.

Whereas monarchs in western North America overwinter in California, monarchs in jap North America have a second house within the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico.

They overwinter in oyamel fir forests at an elevation of practically two miles above sea stage in the identical 11 to 12 mountain areas from October to late March.

The mountain hillsides coated with oyamel forests present an excellent microclimate for the butterflies. Right here, temperatures vary from 32 to 59 levels Fahrenheit. If the temperature is decrease, the monarchs will probably be pressured to make use of their fats reserves. The humidity within the oyamel forest assures the monarchs received’t dry out, permitting them to preserve their power.


One of the crucial spectacular migrations is that of monarch butterflies. In response to World Wildlife fund, the monarchs’ 3,000-mile journey from Canada and the U.S. (the place they breed) right down to the forests in central Mexico (the place they hibernate) is probably the most extremely developed of any identified species of their form. Sadly, local weather change and different threats are having a substantial, damaging influence on this migration.

Scientists categorize monarch butterflies as Danaus plexippus, which in Greek means “sleepy transformation.” And when these butterflies get up from their winter nap, it’s actually transformative—for us as observers.

Watch the video under, from the PBS TV collection Nature. In it, a mechanical hummingbird ventures into the center of a panoramic monarch butterfly swarm in Mexico and spies on the bugs simply earlier than they get up. Just like the butterflies, hummingbirds feed on nectar, so the spy hummingbird isn’t seen as a theat. Few filmmakers have been capable of seize this spectacle so carefully.

Tomorrow’s instruments

Figuring out what wildlife does once we’re not round is essential. The extra we will study animals’ seasonal use of habitats and the way local weather change and different human-driven environmental impacts are affecting their conduct, the extra we will shield and/or restore the areas they should survive. However, sadly, our very presence can alter what animals do.


In Mexico’s mountain hillsides of oyamel forests, monarchs cluster collectively to remain heat. Tens of 1000’s of monarchs can congregate on a single tree. Though a single monarch weighs lower than a gram, such giant numbers of them generally trigger branches to interrupt.

New instruments, nonetheless, are serving to to unravel that downside. Animatronic “spy cams” disguised as animals to secretly file conduct within the wild emerged in about 2001, and the thought of conservation drones first turned prevalent in 2011. I feel one other groundbreaking conservation device might be simply across the nook.

And, if it helps to guide us to peacefully coexist with the opposite beings who share our planet on this time, I’m prepared for it.

Right here’s to discovering your true locations and pure habitats,