Watch a Massive Whale Breach a Few Feet Away From a Man's Boat

RobertPlotz/iStock via Getty Images
RobertPlotz/iStock via Getty Images

Gloucester, Massachusetts—about a one-hour drive from Boston and two hours from Cape Cod—is a popular spot for whale watching. According to 7 Seas Whale Watch, which hosts boat tours from mid-April to mid-October, the waters off Gloucester are great places to see humpback, finback, and minke whales. As WCVB Channel 5 Boston reports, a Massachusetts man recently caught a spectacle on camera that even experienced whale-watchers would be impressed by.

The video below recorded by Doug Shatford shows a massive whale breaching from the sea surface just a few feet from his boat. Breaching occurs when a whale thrusts its body out of the water. They perform the behavior for several reasons, including to communicate with other members of their species and to stun prey. The whale in this scenario appears to grab a mouthful from a school of fish as it rises from the sea.

Gloucester is located between two major whale feeding centers called Stellwagen Bank and Jeffreys Ledge. Strong currents colliding with the steep sides of underwater cliffs results in something called upwelling, which happens when cool, nutrient-rich water from the seabed is sucked to the surface. When this water is exposed to sunlight, plankton blooms form that attract the same small sea animals large whale love to eat. That's why the waters outside Gloucester are considered one of the world's prime whale-watching locations.

The breach captured by Shatford is a rare sight, but it only displays a fraction of what whales are capable of. Despite weighing up to 40 tons, humpback whales can jump completely out of the water, as this video demonstrates.

[h/t WCVB Channel 5 Boston]

England Is Being Invaded By a Swarm of Flying Ants That Can Be Seen From Space

Digoarpi/iStock via Getty Images
Digoarpi/iStock via Getty Images

Last week, the UK's weather service registered what seemed like a system of rain showers moving along the nation’s southern coast. But it wasn’t rain—it was a swarm of flying ants.

Though it sounds like something out of a horror film or the Old Testament, it’s actually a completely normal phenomenon that occurs in the UK every summer when a bout of hot, humid weather follows a period of rainfall, The Guardian reports. Flying ants decide it’s a good time to mate, and the queen takes to the sky, emitting pheromones that attract males.

From there, it’s survival of the fittest. The queen will out-fly most of her suitors, leaving only the strongest males to catch up and mate with her, which ensures the strength of her offspring. The others either lose their wings and fall to the ground, or become bird food. (The ants produce formic acid in their bodies as a defense mechanism, which may make gulls that eat them seem loopy.)

According to Smithsonian.com, the queen will chew off her wings after mating and fall to the ground to start a new colony, and the sperm she collected from that one flight will fertilize her eggs for the rest of her life (which could be up to 15 years in the wild).

The official, rather-romantic term for the annual aerial antics is “nuptial flight,” but locals often refer to it simply as “flying ant day.” It sometimes lasts for weeks, during which billions of the harmless insects can be seen in the skies.

A representative from the Met Office explained that its weather satellites mistook the ants for rain clouds because the radar detects the ants in the same way it sees raindrops. Dr. Adam Hart, an entomologist at the University of Gloucestershire, told The Guardian that he thinks the reason the radar registered the ants this year was a result of better satellite technology rather than an increase in the flying ant population.

[h/t Smithsonian.com]

A Retirement Home for Orcas Could Be Opening in Washington's San Juan Islands

MarkMalleson/iStock via Getty Images
MarkMalleson/iStock via Getty Images

Governments and organizations around the world are taking steps to keep whales out of captivity. Earlier this year, Canada passed a "Free Willy bill" that makes it illegal to hold whale, dolphins, and other cetaceans captive for entertainment. But such laws do little to help the animals that have spent their whole lives performing in places like SeaWorld and are ill-suited to life in the wild. To help them, the Whale Sanctuary Project wants to build a $15 million sanctuary in Washington state's San Juan Islands where formerly captive orcas (also known as killer whales) can thrive, The Seattle Times reports.

The retirement home for whales would allow the creatures to live in their natural ocean habitat while receiving they same care and protection they became accustomed to while in captivity. Instead of living in tanks, they would swim freely around a 60- to 100-acre netted-off cove. Veterinarians would be available to provide the orcas with emergency care, short-term rehabilitation, and food.

The Whale Sanctuary Project plans to start with six to eight orcas in the facility, with the first arriving in late 2020 or early 2021. In order for that to happen, though, the organization needs to get the permits necessary to build the facility off the Washington coast and raise millions of dollars to fund it. In addition to the estimated $15 million construction costs, the veterinary staff would cost $2 million a year.

The plan is ambitious, but it's not unprecedented. In June, the world's first open-water beluga sanctuary—located in Iceland—received its first residents. The two whales, named Little Grey and Little White, were rescued from a Sea World-like attraction in China. The Whale Sanctuary Project is considering building a similar sanctuary for beluga whales in addition to the one for orcas. Before it moves forward with either project, the nonprofit will hold a series of public meetings around the Washington coast to garner support.

[h/t The Seattle Times]

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