Monday, May 19, 2014

Dietary Concerns

"It's a bad day to be a krill."

Thus spoke Giancarlo, our naturalist onboard the Sanctuary, as he gazed down upon the surface of Monterey Bay from his perch atop the wheelhouse, as my fellow passengers and I watched a pair of 45-foot long adult humpback whales sink back into the briny depths, as thousands upon thousands of teeny-weenie marine crustaceans became lunch in one gargantuan gulp. Make that two gargantuan gulps.

Hello again, landlubbers. Meet krill.

I've only one picture to post - the above - and it's stolen from the National Geographic website, as is the text below. Hope they don't mind.

"The lowly krill averages only about two inches (five centimeters) in length, but it represents a giant-sized link in the global food chain. These small, shrimp-like crustaceans are essentially the fuel that runs the engine of the Earth’s marine ecosystems. Krill feed on phytoplankton, microscopic, single-celled plants that drift near the ocean’s surface and live off carbon dioxide and the sun’s rays. They in turn are the main staple in the diets of literally hundreds of different animals, from fish, to birds, to baleen whales."

Okay, back live.

In my quarter century - and counting - of avid Pacific Ocean whale watching I'd only ever seen krill as a Show and Tell curiosity, usually a few utterly dead individuals in a small glass jar on a boat out past the Farallon Islands, 26 miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge. But a few weeks ago, on Wednesday April 30, 2014, to be exact, I saw krill by golly - a whole lotta lotta krill - on the surface of Monterey Bay. Buckets and buckets of live, active krill that tainted the water a brick-ish red color, that you could actually see in the sea (what those in the know call a "surface bloom"). Surrounding our boat the Sanctuary and swimming frantically, their little shrimp-like legs paddling overtime to navigate the ocean currents and collect tasty phytoplankton; even more importantly, perhaps, to escape the massive cetacean maw that might soon become their final destiny.

Because humpbacks were on the prowl. Hungry hungry humpbacks.

From the boat we could see a half dozen or so misty spouts in the distance, but we paid them little heed. Our eyes were instead trained on two hefty whales that were much closer; casually going about their leviathan lives, casually lunge-feeding on the blooms of krill as if we weren't even there. It was so cool. And rare, as krill usually spends the daylight hours submerged, which means most baleen whale feeding happens below the surface as well, unseen by humans, during dives that can last many, many minutes. I'd only even witnessed surface lunge-feeding once before, again out past the Farallon Islands, and I remember the spectacle to this day.

For an hour we watched one of the largest creatures in the ocean feast upon one of the smallest, gazed in awe as the two big humps (40 tons a piece?) performed a slo-mo aquatic ballet of startling precision and beauty; working in unison, using their exhaled bubbles to corral the krill into a tight knot on the surface, then lunge up at the mass from below, baleen-fringed mouths agape, for the kind of mouthful your mother always told you not to take. Over and over the pair kept at it - surfacing port side then starboard, a ways off the bow and then aft, their appearance always preceded by that strategic eruption of bubbles - intent only on Food Glorious Food! Even more memorably, a few times the whales popped up maybe 10 feet from the boat (surprise surprise!), so incredibly close we could see inside their mouths and watch individual krill, a whole lot of individual and panicked krill, do their acrobatic best to jump the hell out of harm's way and live another day.

By the way…humpback whales will gorge themselves on krill when it's around, sure, but they will hunt anchovies and other small fish as well. You know what pretty much eats krill and only krill? That would be the blue whale, which can reach lengths of 100 feet and weigh 120 tons, and is the largest animal to ever roam Planet Earth.  Crazy stuff, eh?

Point of this brief post is to bring to your attention the wee but mighty krill - Ocean Superstar Extraordinaire! - but also to let you know that it's once again going OFF in Monterey Bay (because of said krill), and if this year is anything like 2013 the aquatic shenanigans will continue straight thru October. I've been out on the water three times in the past couple months, and each trip has been so worth it. Worth the time to drive down and back from San Francisco (very pretty, both ways), the expense (cheap thrill, overall), the planning (usually last minute for me). So if you're into whales and other marine creatures get your ass to Monterey Bay and get out on the water with Sanctuary Cruises Whale Watching. Pronto! Tell 'em Pete sent you. me and let's drive down together. I can tell 'em in person. Plus, it'll give me the chance to remind Giancarlo that I still need to sample some freshly netted specimens, because, along with the memorable one-liner at the beginning of this post, I believe he also thus spoke: "Yup, krill is delicious."

Whale watching and a daily dose of heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids?
Sign me up!
Peter J. Palmer

Monday, May 12, 2014

Art & About

It sure as hell took me a while, but last Friday, thank goodness, I finally made it over to the M. H. de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park for Georgia O'Keeffe: Modern Nature and Lake George. Finally and just barely, as after a three month run the exhibit was scheduled to close two days later on Sunday evening. It also took a reunion with my longtime friend Pamela Thomas from Ohio; she happened to be visiting the Bay Area for the week and was staying over in Oakland. On the phone and via email, prior to her arrival, we avowed to get together while she was local but never really figured out the when and where that would be. Turned out to be the perfect rendezvous, a visit to the de Young, as Pam had never before been to the museum, even though she lived in Oak-town for a good spell around 10 years ago. That, and the fact that we first met as students at the University of Cincinnati - College of Design, Architecture and Art - way back in (gasp!) 1981. Holy shite that's a long time ago.

Following are some thoughts about the exhibit and the day.

Georgia O'Keeffe lived to a ripe and fabulous 98 years old (1887-1986). And thanks be to Allah for that(!), as her long life meant more paintings for us, for the world, for posterity.

The de Young exhibition displayed only the paintings she completed at Lake George - and of Lake George - in the Adirondack Mountains in New York State, before she moved west to New Mexico and began all those iconic dessert scenes. Been plenty of Georgia O'Keeffe retrospectives throughout her seven decade career, but this show, apparently, was the first time these early works (1918-1930) have been assembled and showcased solely on their own. Which seems odd, and long overdue, because these are the very images and visual themes that initially caught the attention of photographer Alfred Stieglitz (her benefactor, and later husband) and propelled her to stardom in the New York art world.

The show also explained that O'Keeffe was surprised (at times dismayed) by the critics who immediately labeled (and continue to find) her Lake George flower paintings as sexual in nature. The whole phallic stamen thing; the vagina seen in soft, curvaceous botanical innards: she never intended any of that.

Each room of the exhibition included examples of the subject matter that influenced O'Keeffe's painting: photography from the early 1900's, including some images by her husband Alfred Stieglitz (photographers were, at the time, working to be taken seriously as true artists); Japanese painting; fruits and vegetables from her garden; farmland architecture; magazine pictures of and articles on Lake George, which was fast becoming a summertime playground for New Yorkers. The rooms also displayed wall-sized quotes by the artist, like the following from an interview in 1927: "If only people were tress…I might like them better."

In all my visits to the de Young I'd never eaten at the museum café. Pam and I did just that, and I gotta say...the food and drink is pretty impressive! (I think Loretta Keller of CoCo500 oversees the menu and kitchen.) Tables inside to out, in the shade or sun; thirst-quenching iced tea and lemonade; commendable looking wine list, including some decent half bottles; tasty selection of fresh food to "grab and go" (prepared sandwiches, salads and desserts) or a more ambitious menu to order at the counter and have delivered to your table (more salads, flatbread, quiche, soups and stews). It was all delicious, what we sampled, and when I go again I will certainly figure in another visit to the café.

Absolutely lovely, the exhibit and the day! Great to spend time with Pam, to get my ass over to the museum again, to learn a bit more about the famed artist, specifically her younger years and the inspiration she found at Lake George, and to experience all those gorgeous paintings in person (a handful of which I found so compelling I had to double back and inspect a second time).

The collection of 55 paintings and drawings (plus a 10 minute documentary film presented in a side room), along with my subsequent research for this brief post, makes me really really really want to hop a plane to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where one can visit the actual Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, which supposedly houses the most extensive collection of her work on Planet Earth.

I could kick myself for not doing this kind of thing more often - taking advantage of the Bay Area art scene in all its many guises - because every time I do my world, and my soul, feels refreshed. Hmmm…shouldn't kick myself, be so negative. How's this instead: "That was awesome! I can't wait to go to the museum again!"

Much better.
Peter J. Palmer