'Whale nerd' zoologist says 'mind completely blown' filming 1,000 fin whales in one spot

Zoologist and photographer Conor Ryan spotted 1,000 fin whales in one spot.

Conor Ryan has seen his fair share of whales, and his Twitter handle—@whale_nerd—isn't just a cutesy nickname. Ryan was just 14 years old when he published his first peer-reviewed scientific paper on killer whales with his best friend, Peter Wilson, in 2001. As a wildlife photographer, a zoologist specializing in marine biology and an expert in baleen whales and small cetaceans, he knows when he's looking at something special in the sea.

In other words, when Conor Ryan says his mind is "completely blown" by a whale sighting, you know it's a big deal. Seeing 1,000 fin whales at once? That's a very big deal.

Fin whales are the second-largest animal in the world, second only to the blue whale. In the 20th century, fin whales were hunted to near extinction before commercial whaling was outlawed. Nearly 725,000 were killed in the Southern Hemisphere alone in the mid- 1900s, and though whaling is no longer a threat, fin whales are still on the endangered species list.


Fin whales get their name from an easy-to-spot fin on their backs. Imagine seeing 1,000 of any endangered species in one location, much less 1,000 of these 85-foot, 80-ton whales all feeding in a single location.

Ryan captured the scene on film and shared it on Twitter, writing, "We found about 1000 fin whales over a 5x5 mile area off South Orkney. Blue and humpback also mixed in. Mind completely blown." The video shows a cluster of whales spouting as far as the eye can see.

According to The Guardian, Ryan spotted the whales from the National Geographic Endurance polar cruiser, in an area between the South Orkney Islands and the Antarctic peninsula. Their ship was in an area with four large krill fishing vessels, which explains the feeding frenzy.

Ryan said it might be "one of the largest aggregations of fin whales ever documented” and that his estimate of 1,000 whales was a conservative one.

“Words fail me,” Ryan told The Guardian. “I have seen maybe 100 fins here before in previous years. Thousands of chinstrap penguins, petrels, and albatrosses, too … It was unusually calm weather and unusually good visibility.”

Though commercial whaling laws have greatly reduced the decimation of whale populations we saw in the 1900s, whales still face threats from human activity. According to NOAA, the main threat to fin whales today is vessel strikes. Cargo and cruise boat ships have increased in number in the past few decades, which increases the risk of running into whales, but they aren't the only ships that pose a threat. Last year, two dead fin whales had to be dislodged from the hull of an Australian Navy ship after it pulled into the naval pier in San Diego. The fact that they are still considered endangered means we have to stay vigilant about their protection.

But as author Philip Hoare wrote in The Guardian, "In a world constrained by woe and threats to democracy…1,000 fin whales can’t help but lift our hearts." Such a number is decidedly good news, which is always worth celebrating and which provides a beacon of hope that we can make impactful changes that help our planet when we choose to.

Leah Menzies/TikTok

Leah Menzies had no idea her deceased mother was her boyfriend's kindergarten teacher.

When you start dating the love of your life, you want to share it with the people closest to you. Sadly, 18-year-old Leah Menzies couldn't do that. Her mother died when she was 7, so she would never have the chance to meet the young woman's boyfriend, Thomas McLeodd. But by a twist of fate, it turns out Thomas had already met Leah's mom when he was just 3 years old. Leah's mom was Thomas' kindergarten teacher.

The couple, who have been dating for seven months, made this realization during a visit to McCleodd's house. When Menzies went to meet his family for the first time, his mom (in true mom fashion) insisted on showing her a picture of him making a goofy face. When they brought out the picture, McLeodd recognized the face of his teacher as that of his girlfriend's mother.

Menzies posted about the realization moment on TikTok. "Me thinking my mum (who died when I was 7) will never meet my future boyfriend," she wrote on the video. The video shows her and McLeodd together, then flashes to the kindergarten class picture.

“He opens this album and then suddenly, he’s like, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God — over and over again,” Menzies told TODAY. “I couldn’t figure out why he was being so dramatic.”

Obviously, Menzies is taking great comfort in knowing that even though her mother is no longer here, they can still maintain a connection. I know how important it was for me to have my mom accept my partner, and there would definitely be something missing if she wasn't here to share in my joy. It's also really incredible to know that Menzies' mother had a hand in making McLeodd the person he is today, even if it was only a small part.

@speccylee

Found out through this photo in his photo album. A moment straight out of a movie 🥲

♬ iris - 🫶

“It’s incredible that that she knew him," Menzies said. "What gets me is that she was standing with my future boyfriend and she had no idea.”

Since he was only 3, McLeodd has no actual memory of Menzies' mother. But his own mother remembers her as “kind and really gentle.”

The TikTok has understandably gone viral and the comments are so sweet and positive.

"No the chills I got omggg."

"This is the cutest thing I have watched."

"It’s as if she remembered some significance about him and sent him to you. Love fate 😍✨"

In the caption of the video, she said that discovering the connection between her boyfriend and her mom was "straight out of a movie." And if you're into romantic comedies, you're definitely nodding along right now.

Menzies and McLeodd made a follow-up TikTok to address everyone's positive response to their initial video and it's just as sweet. The young couple sits together and addresses some of the questions they noticed pop up. People were confused that they kept saying McLeodd was in kindergarten but only 3 years old when he was in Menzies' mother's class. The couple is Australian and Menzies explained that it's the equivalent of American preschool.

They also clarified that although they went to high school together and kind of knew of the other's existence, they didn't really get to know each other until they started dating seven months ago. So no, they truly had no idea that her mother was his teacher. Menzies revealed that she "didn't actually know that my mum taught at kindergarten."

"I just knew she was a teacher," she explained.

She made him act out his reaction to seeing the photo, saying he was "speechless," and when she looked at the photo she started crying. McLeodd recognized her mother because of the pictures Menzies keeps in her room. Cue the "awws," because this is so cute, I'm kvelling.

Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash

Actions speak far louder than words.

It never fails. After a tragic mass shooting, social media is filled with posts offering thoughts and prayers. Politicians give long-winded speeches on the chamber floor or at press conferences asking Americans to do the thing they’ve been repeatedly trained to do after tragedy: offer heartfelt thoughts and prayers. When no real solution or plan of action is put forth to stop these senseless incidents from occurring so frequently in a country that considers itself a world leader, one has to wonder when we will be honest with ourselves about that very intangible automatic phrase.

Comedian Anthony Jeselnik brilliantly summed up what "thoughts and prayers" truly mean. In a 1.5-minute clip, Jeselnik talks about victims' priorities being that of survival and not wondering if they’re trending at that moment. The crowd laughs as he mimics the actions of well-meaning social media users offering thoughts and prayers after another mass shooting. He goes on to explain how the act of performatively offering thoughts and prayers to victims and their families really pulls the focus onto the author of the social media post and away from the event. In the short clip he expertly expresses how being performative on social media doesn’t typically equate to action that will help victims or enact long-term change.

Of course, this isn’t to say that thoughts and prayers aren’t welcomed or shouldn’t be shared. According to Rabbi Jack Moline "prayer without action is just noise." In a world where mass shootings are so common that a video clip from 2015 is still relevant, it's clear that more than thoughts and prayers are needed. It's important to examine what you’re doing outside of offering thoughts and prayers on social media. In another several years, hopefully this video clip won’t be as relevant, but at this rate it’s hard to see it any differently.

Family

Two sisters ask their stepmom to adopt them with sweet memory book

"We were already calling her mom because it felt so natural."

Gabriella Ruvolo/TikTok

Gabriella and Julianna Ruvolo asked their stepmom to adopt them in a touching video.

Sisters Gabriella and Julianna Ruvolo know that they're extremely lucky. Their stepmom Becky Ruvolo has been there for them for most of their lives and it's clear that they're grateful to her for it. On May 9, Gabriella posted a video to TikTok to share the very special way the young women honored their stepmom for Mother's Day.

In the short clip, you can see Becky flanked by the two girls, flipping through a book. On the video are the words "After 12 years… we finally asked our step-mom to adopt us." As Becky goes through the pages, you can see her becoming increasingly more emotional before she gets to the last page. By then, all three of the women are crying.

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