Meet John C. Conlon

 

John C. Conlon holds a B.S. in biology with a minor in environ mental science from Stonehill College. The first nine years of his career were spent conducting environ mental monitoring and impact research at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, MA. He worked for 22 years as senior field guide and first mate for Portuguese Princess Exc., a whale watch company based in Provincetown. John holds a 100 gross ton merchant marine license and in the past has worked as a field guide in the Florida Everglades and for trips to view polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba on western Hudson Bay, Canada.

John presently works for the Dolphin Fleet as a first mate, field guide and researcher specializing in fin whales’ presence and use of the Stellwagen Bank region. The speed and aloofness of fin whales (also called “finbacks”) masks their beauty and obscures our understanding of their place in the ecosystem. Given an ability to recognize fin whales as individuals using their dorsal fins and pig ment markings combined with over two decades of ti me and patience John hopes to share, with Dolphin Fleet passengers, the beauty of fin whales and clarify the obscurity of their place in the world around.

John also works as a field guide for Baja Expeditions hosting week-long whale watch trips in Baja California Sur, Mexico. These trips focus on whales, sea lions, pelagic birds, reptiles, as well as the palaeontology and geology of the gulf and peninsular provinces of Baja California. Blue-footed and brown boobies nest on the cliff faces of the sea lion rookery at Los Islotes which itself lies just north of several exposed fractures of the San Andreas Fault. Blue whales and fin whales feed on krill offshore of San Telmo with its 23 million year old desmostylene (a semi aquatic hippo-like creature mammal) fossils.

  More recently John has accepted a guest lecturer position at the Hel Marine Station on the southern Baltic Sea. The station is part of the Institute of Oceanography, University of Gdansk, Poland. John's lectures focus primarily on the natural history, and research / conservation efforts on whales in the United States and Mexico. Those lectures are presented in reference to whales that venture into the southern Baltic Sea and northern Polish waters.

John has self-published two books. RAZORBACK: A Natural History of the Finback Whale. RAZORBACK gives a detailed look at fin whales on a worldwide scale while incorperating many of John’s personal observations over the years. John’s second book is IN THE GIANT’S SHADOW: Reflections on Finback Whales, Southwestern Gulf of California and Adjacent Baja California Sur. This book focuses on the finback whales of the Gulf of California, Mexico weaving these animals into the broader natural history of the area. The book includes 16 pages of John’s photography of the region. John also maintains an extensive bibliography, most of which is technical publications on the biology, ecology and behavior of fin whales.

Reflecting back on his years of work John recalls with a sense of awe watching a twelve foot long Everglades alligator stand up high on all four legs and for 10 minutes stalk cat-like toward a great blue heron. The heron was keen enough to understand the gator’s slow motion approach. He also recalls a minus 20 degree day in northern Manitoba when the inhaled air was cold enough to be felt going down though his chest and into his lungs. Two subadult male polar bears wrestled to the point of overheated and tired. One of the bears then broke through 6 or 8 inches of pond–ice to go for a quick cooling swim only to e merge from the icy water, briefly shake dry, and then resu me wrestling.

John also recalls a favorite fin whale sighting. The water was glassy calm, transparent and filled with thousands of comb jellyfish also called ctenophores. One fin whale swam beneath the water’s surface. The whale’s slender body, powered by steady tail strokes, glided through the water and among the thousands of jellyfish. The sun cast ctenophore shadows onto the finback’s sides and over its back. Upon passing over the tail’s trailing edge the shadows instantly vanished leaving only the comb jellyfish.

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