March 7, 2019

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By: Rachel Krasna


It’s almost spring! The season for growth, life and new journeys. People everywhere are starting to plan vacations to enjoy their spring break- presumably somewhere warm. During this season of vacation and celebrating, you might encounter some species starting their own journeys, or migrations! Let’s take a look at some common marine species and their vacation plans:

Sharks

Gray Reef Shark (c) Kip Evans, Mission Blue

Every year in March, dozens of shark species begin migrating to the southeastern shorelines. Among them are black tips and spinner sharks, who are escaping frigid waters found in the north. 2018’s migration had researchers nervous with numbers severely decreasing, but this year’s population numbers look promising. The black tip sharks normally appear in Florida’s waterways around mid-January and stay in the area for a few months. They can grow to around 6 feet and are usually following warm currents or schools of fish. Researchers from Florida Atlantic University shared that although the sharks can pose a risk to people during the migration, attacks are extremely uncommon. Other large shark species are known to traverse the region. Recent newspaper reports detailed sightings of Great White sharks right off the coast of Florida!

Turtles

Dr. Sylvia Earle with Turtle (c) Kip Evans, Mission Blue

Friendlier encounters may be had with migrating sea turtles. Sea turtles usually trek from New England or the Mid-Atlantic, facing risky challenges along the trip. Cold snaps and disorientation from coastal lighting can be some of the most challenging, not to mention predators like sharks! Leatherback sea turtles are known as the largest sea turtle species in the world and some males can weigh up to 2,000 pounds! In the spring, female leatherbacks begin to return to their birth places to start laying eggs. This springtime journey is a pivotal point in their annual lifecycle. Annual migration can vary anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 miles depending on where they originated. Leatherbacks have one of the widest migration ranges, particularly because they can retain body heat and survive colder temperatures. This definitely makes them well adapted travelers!

Right Whales

Right Whales from the Air (c) Kip Evans, Mission Blue

North Atlantic right whales are highly endangered with a little over 400 remaining globally. These gorgeous giants begin migrating up north during the start of spring. Right whales opt for cooler water during warmer months similar to many other marine species. Newly born calves spend spring close by their mothers and quickly learn the new migration route for future journeys. Right whales spend the spring months all along the northeast coast of the United States, with many sites designated as critical habitat for their protection. Habitat protection will hopefully further their population growth and prompt many more migrations to come!

Birds

Little Auks Bird Song Island (c) Kip Evans, Mission Blue

Dozens of species of seabirds have left their winter hubs in the south and embarked on their seasonal spring homecoming. What is remarkable is how many hundreds of species migrate during this time all around the country in mass uniformity. The species flocking around the Gulf coast are American White Pelicans, Black-chinned Hummingbirds, Orange-crowned Warblers and Common Loons. Louisiana and Texas are known especially for “bird fallouts,” a phenomenon that occurs when flocks of tired migrants descend upon the first sight of landfall. In the Mid-Atlantic, the best place to witness spring migration is in Delaware Bay. The Delaware Bay estuary lies right in the Delaware River between New Jersey and Delaware. One of the main attractions for the migrating birds is the scrumptious plausibility of horseshoe crabs and eggs! The egg delicacy serves up a fitting feast after the long journey. The threatened species of red knot birds enjoy gorging on horseshoe crab eggs after one of the longest migration routes of any species—more than 9,000 miles from South America to the Canadian Arctic! The birds depend on the crab tremendously for future survival, as it is one of their main food staples. All the way on the west coast is the 70,000-acre Point Reyes National Seashore. This shoreline is one of the best places on the Pacific Coast to spot migratory birds. Point Reyes coastline is home to over 400 species, with plenty of natural habitat and acreage for winged refuge-seekers. The threatened snowy plover and the northern spotted owl are two species frequently seen during the spring months. Bird enthusiast can enjoy venturing to all these locations while they try to spot their favorite birds. Springtime also means bird mating season and you can bet the males are flaunting some bright fantastic color schemes! So you might be thinking what you can do to help species successfully migrate? Well, for one thing, keep their final destinations clean. That means cleaning up any trash or refuse after your own beach day or hikes. Make sure that plastic bags don’t find their way into the ocean, otherwise it might get mistaken for a sea turtles favorite jellyfish supper! We all know by now that trash free seas is critical for all species health and the ecosystems balance. Another tip would be to limit your selfie impulses to prevent harming any species. Numerous vacationers have been in the headlines for foolish ignorant photo opts with dolphins, sharks and turtles- please do not be that person! Even if something like a dolphin came up close to you in the ocean, it’s important to remember they are wild animals and could behave unpredictably. Lastly, always keep an eye out for beach alerts, flags or notifications to ensure you are prepared and aware of your vacation surroundings. Enjoy your spring break and safe travels from Mission Blue!

Tropical Sea Bird (c) Kip Evans, Mission Blue

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