Review of Mission Blue Documentary about Dr. Sylvia Earle

By , August 26, 2014 5:08 am

On August 15, 2014, Netflix began streaming a biographical documentary on Dr. Sylvia Earle called “Mission Blue.” Sylvia is the pre-eminent oceanographer of our time. She has logged over 7,000 hours underwater, and even walked beneath the ocean untethered to 1,250 feet! She is often called “Her Deepness.”

I have admired Sylvia for most of my life, as she once spoke at my elementary school close to where she lives in Oakland, California. I have read biographies of Sylvia, but none compare to this documentary. It covers her whole life, from growing up in New Jersey (where she was free to romp in the woods), to moving to Florida at age 12 (where she fell in love with the ocean), to today where she is a crusader against all the atrocities facing our oceans today. It not only covers her professional life, but it touches on her personal life including three marriages (and divorces) and being a working mother when it was not common. All women scientists today owe gratitude to Sylvia for blazing a trail on her way through a sexist society. She was often the only woman on an expedition and she endured headlines such as “Sylvia sails away with 70 men,” and for her time with five other aquanauts living underwater, the headline read, “6 women and only one hairdryer.”

Like her terrestrial counterpart, Dr. Jane Goodall, Sylvia travels up to 300 days a year. She is spreading a message of hope for the oceans and often says, “No Blue; No Green. No Oceans; No Us.” The oceans are the Earth’s life support system. They produce oxygen from marine plants, and absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The oceans are the life blood of the planet.

I highly recommend “Mission Blue” for anyone who streams movies through Netflix. You will not only learn about Sylvia’s amazing life, from her first set of SCUBA gear, to the deep sea submersibles she has help built, but also about the many changes happening to our ocean environment. There are breath-taking segments showing the ocean in all its beauty and splendor. It can be depressing at times, like seeing the sharks being finned alive, but overall the theme is “ocean optimism.” Sylvia recommends designating “Hope Spots” around the globe. In fact this was her TED wish in 2009. Less than 3% of the ocean is protected, compared to 12% of land that is protected. Sylvia’s wish is coming true, though she would like 20% of the ocean to be protected by 2020!

A Great White Shark’s view of Shark Week

By , August 11, 2014 8:08 am
great white shark picture

Great White Shark (photo by Cherilyn Chin Jose)

Hi, my name is Boo. I’m the star of Shark Week on the Discovery Channel. At least my species is. I’m a great white shark. My name is Boo because I like to sneak up on my prey. The name “shark” already strikes terror in humans, but adding the “great white” part makes me sound scarier. I must admit, my mouthful of teeth and red gums are very intimidating, and aren’t very pretty. But my mouth sure does scare my prey, which is what matters most to me!

I don’t like how sharks are portrayed during Shark Week. We’re not man-eating mindless machines. I gotta eat, and over millions of years, great white sharks have become very proficient at eating other animals. Eating live prey is messy with blood everywhere in the water. Did you know I can smell one drop of blood in 25 gallons (100 liters) of seawater?

I could have been named a “great gray shark” because my back is gray. This is due to countershading. That means that when animals see me from below, my white belly blends into the sunlight above me. When an animal looks at me from above, my gray back blends into the dark water below me.

I’m not like those show-off great white sharks that live off of South Africa. I don’t jump clear out of the water when catching my prey. Instead I sneak up on my prey from below. I live off the coast of California, and I like to eat sea lions, seals, small toothed whales and carrion (food I scavenge).

I have 300 triangular teeth several rows deep. The teeth are continually being replaced so I never have to see a dentist.

I have no natural predator, except for orcas or killer whales. I have an unnatural predator in humans. Up to 100 million sharks annually are killed, mainly for their fins. The fins are used in shark fin soup, a delicacy in many Asian countries.

I would be safer if I just stayed near California, but a lot of great white sharks travel to the “White Shark Café” between Baja California and Hawaii. Those waters are not protected by any one nation. Why we do that is a mystery to humans, and I ain’t gonna be the one who talks!

I hope if you tune into Shark Week this week that you remember who the true killers are (humans) and that you remember me, Boo. I’m not that scary after all, right?

By-the-Wind Sailors Washing Up on US West Coast Beaches

By , August 4, 2014 8:08 am
Velella velella

By-the-Wind-Sailors or Velella velella photo from Wikipedia

By-the wind sailors, also known by their scientific name Velella velella, have been washing up by the thousands along the West Coast of the United States. They have been found from Monterey, California all the way up the coast to Oregon.

What are Velella? They are distantly related to jellies as both are cnidarians. Velella are closely related to the Portuguese Man of War. They have a blue elliptical base and a transparent triangular “sail.” An individual is actually a hydroid polyp. A polyp is like the less recognizable stage in a jelly’s life when it is anchored to the sea floor, though Velella polyps are free-floating. In this polyp form, they spend their whole lives at the surface. Velella are at the mercy of the wind to get anywhere. They are found in warm and temperate oceans.


Velella eat by using their tentacles which hang beneath the surface. Like jellies, the tentacles have nematocysts, or stinging cells, to catch their food. These stinging cells are not dangerous to humans, though each person’s tolerance to their venom varies.

There are two forms of Velella. One has a left-to-right orientation of its sail, and the other form has a right-to-left orientation of its sail.

The Velella life cycle (like many “jelly-like” creatures) can be summarized as polyp-medusa-egg-planula-polyp. The polyp stage is the one written about in this post. The medusa is the free-floating stage, like any jelly you can think of. The eggs are microscopic and part of the plankton. Planula are the “free-swimming, flattened, ciliated, bilaterally symmetric larval form of various cnidarian species,” i.e. the fertilized egg.

Next time you are at the beach, look for these By-the-Wind Sailors!

Sources used: Univ. of Michigan animal diversity page

San Francisco Chronicle article “Beached blue wonders”

Wikipedia page on planula

Krill: The Most Abundant Animal on Earth

By , July 17, 2014 5:24 pm
Euphasia superba

Krill

Or specifically, the most biomass on Earth. That would be krill, the small shrimp-like creatures like large whales love to gobble down.

My name is Karl, and I am a krill. I live in Antarctic waters. What is it like to be part of a collective or large group? Well, not only am I small at half an inch long, but I live in a swarm of krill. A swarm of krill may be as dense as 10,000 individuals per cubic meter and may stretch for many kilometers. The total biomass, or the total weight of krill is estimated at 379 million tons. Half of that is eaten by animals such as whales, seals, penguins, squid and fish each year! So my life expectancy is less than a year unless I’m lucky. That is if I don’t get caught by a krill fishery either. Krill is used in supplements, aquaculture, aquarium trade, as bait and as food for humans in places such as Japan and Russia.

As a wee lad, I ate microscopic food stuck to the ice. I also depended on the ice for shelter from predators. Climate change is causing the sea ice to melt earlier in the season, and this is a problem for young krill. Some krill populations have declined up to 80% due to climate change.

Let’s hope climate change doesn’t wipe out my species, as it would be detrimental to animals higher on the food chain like whales and seals.

Tentacles Exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

By , May 5, 2014 8:08 am
bigfin reef squid

Bigfin Reef Squid photo by: Cherilyn Jose

The Tentacles exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium contains many species of cephalopods from oceans around the world. Cephalopods include Octopus, Squid, Cuttlefish, and Nautilus. Many species in this exhibit have never been on display before.

I am a cephalopod lover. I have even taught a red octopus to open a jar to get live food inside! So I was thrilled to see species I have never seen in person before, especially the Wunderpus and Bigfin Reef Squid.

I went on a busy Saturday afternoon on April 26, 2014, and the following is the species list that day. The aquarium is going to vary the species list during Tentacles’ run depending on availability. I wanted to review the whole exhibit because I was unsure if I would be able to see each ceph on exhibit given that they are masters of disguise, and many are shy. I am happy to report I saw an animal at each exhibit!

The first tank of the exhibit is the Bigfin Reef Squid. They are housed together in a large tank with many squid visible at once. They are one of the few species of squid that like to school. They school to fool predators into thinking that they are bigger. They were changing colors, and their outreached tentacles looked ready to strike any moment!

Did you know squid and cuttlefish have 8 arms or legs, and 2 long club-like tentacles that strike out to capture their meals?

The next tank was the Day Octopus tank. This ceph was the hardest to find in all the exhibits. That’s a bit ironic as it is supposed to be active during the day, while most other cephalopods are active at night! I saw part of its white body and eye hidden in the reef rocks.

The amazing Wunderpus was next. This is an amazing octopus that changes form to mimic other poisonous creatures, including a lionfish, banded sole, and a sea snake. It was active and crawling along the window so I could see its underside of suckers and mouth.

The Red Octopus is common to Monterey Bay and other cold regions of the ocean. This one was awake and was crawling along the window.

There are 2 tanks of Giant Pacific Octopus. Both were squished into the upper right window corner. One was fully visible, and the other only had some suckers showing. Be careful here, as it is dark and people easily run into each other. The largest recorded GPO was 13 feet (4 meters) long!

I was surprised the Chambered Nautilus tank was so large and full of dozens of nautilus. I have never seen so many at once. I also haven’t seen them stuck to the ledges in the exhibit before.

I love the Flamboyant Cuttlefish, it is worth finding a video about them. I have seen some before at Steinhart Aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences where they were in a tank that didn’t overwhelm them. Here, the tank was much too large and the inches long cuttlefish got lost in the tank. They were visible, though it took most people awhile to spot them. When they are excited, their colors are surreal, and their flashing moves like a conveyer belt along their body. They also are known for “walking” across the sea floor.

I had never seen a Stumpy Cuttlefish. They were small, only a few inches long, and they were camouflaged and hiding in the reef rocks. They were readily visible though.

The last tank was for the Common Cuttlefish, a species I have taken care of before. One cuttlefish even accidentally caught my hand in their tentacles once! There were dozens at the “cute” size of 3-4 inches long. They were floating near the fake sea grass, and the ones buried under the sand were visible to visitors.

It was so busy the day I was there that I didn’t read very many signs, or stop to enjoy the artwork, some of it created just for this exhibit. Overall I give the exhibit an A+. The Tentacles exhibit is worth the trip to Monterey, especially for cephalopod lovers!

10 Amazing Facts About Manta Rays

By , April 28, 2014 8:08 am
manta ray

Manta Ray Silhouette photo by: Jackie Reid NOAA

1. There are two species of Manta Rays: The Coastal or Reef Manta Ray (Manta alfredi) and the Oceanic or Giant Manta Ray (Manta birostris).

2. A Manta Ray’s spot pattern on its belly is as unique as a human fingerprint. (There is an international database of Manta Ray belly pictures called Manta Matcher)

3. Manta Rays feed on the smallest denizens of the oceans, the microscopic plankton. (Manta Rays feed by filtering seawater through their gill rakers).

4. Manta Rays may have self recognition, something only higher primates, elephants, dolphins and humans have. See previous blog entry, “Moby the Manta Ray and Self-Recognition”

5. Manta Rays have the largest brain/body ratio of any fish in the ocean.

6. Despite that their prey is so small, Manta Rays can have wingspans up to 23 feet (7 meters) and weigh 2,980 lb (1,350 kg).

7. When courting, a train of up to a dozen males will follow one female.

8. Manta Rays swim constantly and only occasionally stop to be cleaned of parasites at a cleaning station on a coral reef.

9. Manta Rays like to breach (jump high out of the water), but the reason why is still unknown.

10. Manta Rays are at risk from fishing for their gill rakers. (Manta Ray gill rakers are used in a controversial new formula of Traditional Chinese Medicine)

Guest Post: Cuttlefish by Grant Stirton

By , April 10, 2014 12:51 pm
cuttlefish

Cuttlefish photo by Grant Stirton

The Cuttlefish

There’s one cryptic reef dweller, whose superior intelligence, curiosity and charisma has always captured my heart. With over 120 species worldwide, the cuttlefish is both an adaptable and resourceful predator. They belong to the taxonomic class of Cephalopods and their morphology is closely related to octopus and squid. I’ve been fortunate enough to encounter them many times over the years as they are common throughout the tropical coral reefs of South East Asia.

Why Are They So Interesting?

Behind their curious looks lies a relatively large and well developed brain. Scientific analysis has shown that their cognitive abilities can approach that of a two-year human child, making them the most intelligent of all invertebrates. In my experience, many seem to revel in an encounter with divers, so long as they are approached slowly and in a non-threatening manner. I’ve even put out my hand and had a particularly interested individual swim over and sit down for a short visit. Often they will look directly at you, examining and investigating, until they satisfy their natural inquisitiveness.

One of their most unique adaptions relates to their eyes and how they see. Shaped like the letter W, each eye has two pupils, allowing them to see forward and backwards at the same time. And although they are colour blind, they can detect the polarization of light, which significantly enhances their perception of contrast and ability to spot well-camouflaged prey.

Using a combination of specialized skin cells and pigment, they can also instantaneous change colour to match their surroundings, as a means of camouflage, to communicate or to ward off predators. In one study, biologists were able to train them to produce shapes on their backs as a form of communication when they desired food. Normally, if they feel threatened or are being aggressive, they will change colour to a dark reddish or brown. As you can see from the picture, our little friend was quite calm and happy, even though I was less than twelve inches away with a big camera. He was intent on having a very good look at his reflection in my lens and completely ignored me.

Although they are a mainly a predator of crabs and small fish, they are also prey for larger marine animals including fish, sharks and eels. As a means to defend themselves and escape an attack, they possess, as do octopus and squid, the ability to shoot out a trail of ink that creates a pseudo smoke-screen. Interestingly for photographers, many old sepia-toned prints were made using their ink. Fortunately today, this traditional ink has been replaced with less environmentally destructive synthetic varieties.

All this intelligence, adaption and cleverness requires a solid engine. As a result, the cuttlefish has three hearts in order to ensure orderly circulation. This is a necessity as they do not have the iron containing protein hemoglobin in their blood that vertebrates do, but rather hemocyanin, which is a copper containing protein that is less efficient in the transport of oxygen.

The cuttlefish also uses a form of jet propulsion to move through the water column, allowing them to swim both forwards and backwards effortlessly. An internal structure called the cuttlebone, which is porous and made of aragonite, allows them maintain perfect neutral buoyancy at depth via pumping gas into the structure. Even the United States military has borrowed from this concept and adapted a similar design for maintaining the buoyancy of their nuclear submarines.

If you do come across one of these amazing creatures while diving, here are a few suggestions that will help ensure a memorable, safe and unique photographic opportunity:

1. Always approach them slowly and calmly. A very slow approach from below or at eye level is best, as this is much less threatening than a big, loud diver dropping right in on top of them.

2. I always make sure to leave them an easy way to escape, so that they don’t feel cornered and decide to retreat. This also ensures I don’t end up being sprayed in the face with foul tasting ink.

3. Photographically, they make great subjects, however any erratic movement is likely to scare them. It’s best to back away slightly and ensure your camera settings, composition and frame before slowly getting into the right position for a good shot. It’s much better to get one good shot than a series of mediocre ones. I haven’t found flash to be much of an issue in frightening them, however, I do try to keep it on the lowest power setting possible given the light and conditions. Blinding an animal with a powerful flash is not only poor practice, but also lessens your chances for a follow up shot.

The accompanying photo was taken on the reef slope next to the USS Liberty Wreck located in Bali, Indonesia. We came across this cuttlefish at the end of our dive as we made our way up the shallow reef slope back to shore. This individual was so curious that we ended up spending almost a full ten minutes with each other. This allowed me the chance to get very close with my macro lens and take a memorable picture.

Our oceans are full amazing creatures and for many we are only beginning to understand their lifestyles and importance in the overall eco-system. The cuttlefish is a perfect example of an animal full of personality, but that has also provided us with a wealth of knowledge about the delicate balance of our marine environments.
[100mm macro lens, 1/100 sec @ f/4.0, ISO 200]

Grant Stirton

Grant Stirton

Grant Stirton is a passionate Canadian photographer, writer and avid adventurer who specializes in marine environments, culture and travel. He can be reached at www.grantstirton.com, twitter @grantstirton, Facebook www.facebook.com/LuumbaTribe .

One Drop of Water on World Water Day

By , March 21, 2014 6:11 pm
world water day

One Drop of Water by David Newman

Hi, I am one drop of water. I am here today, World Water Day (March 22), to talk about the drought happening in California. California is in the midst of its worst drought in over 100 years, and the warmest and driest winter in recorded history. California is also in a 3 year dry spell.

As for me, I’m happily ensconced in a pack of snow. The snowpack in California is only 26% of normal. Soon enough though, the snow around me will melt. I will flow down a picturesque river into a reservoir. Then I’ll irrigate some parched land or some parched throats. I shudder to think about all the dried out land-that is what I have nightmares about!

Part of this drought is out of the human’s control. According to this NASA website The Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) is a “slowly oscillating pattern of sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. At the moment PDO is in a negative phase, a condition historically linked to extreme high pressure ridges that block West Coast storms, and give the Midwest and East Coast punishing winters.” I’m quite glad I’m not there, as I probably would get dizzy!

What does this mean for California? It’s time to start conserving water! My buddies and I are becoming scarce. Otherwise farmers in California may not plant over half a million acres, resulting in the loss of billions of dollars in revenue. Some small communities may run out of drinking water.

How you can help?

1. Take shorter showers, even if just by 1 minute!
2. Check faucets, pipes and toilets for leaks.
3. Install low flow showerheads (a good one feels the same as a water guzzling one) and faucet aerators
4. Start dishwasher or washing machine with only full loads
5. Water your yard early in the day (to cut down on evaporation) and avoid watering on windy days


Thank you! You can make a difference in your daily life, visit this website for more water saving tips

Book Review “The Death and Life of Monterey Bay” by Stephen Palumbi & Carolyn Sotka

By , March 17, 2014 11:07 am
by Stephen Palumbi

The Death and Life of Monterey Bay

I just came across this in my notebook, written 3 years ago! The review is a relevant today as it was years ago, though. Here’s my book review:

“The Death and Life of Monterey Bay: A Story of Revival” was a perfect book for me, as a scientist, and as a “history-was-one-of –my-worst-subjects-at-school” kind of person. I worked at the Monterey Bay Aquarium for 2 years, and I have lived in both Monterey and Pacific Grove, California. I always meant to read John Steinbeck’s “Cannery Row,” but never got around to it.

I had known that marine animals were historically exploited in Monterey Bay. Now I know the exact order: sea otters for their luxurious fur, whales for their oil, abalone for their tasty foot, sea urchins because there was nothing else left, and finally the sardines.

I had heard about China Point from my Asian American History class, but I hadn’t known the details of how the Chinese prospered from selling abalone and then squid, only to be forced out because of racism.

I loved being introduced to the former mayor of Pacific Grove, Julia Platt. I would have loved to have met her. She was a marine biologist before women were “allowed” into science at universities. She was outspoken about the affairs of Pacific Grove, and she had the foresight to create the equivalent of a Marine Protected Area off the shores of Pacific Grove.

It was interesting to finally “meet” Ed Ricketts, whom I only knew wrote the book “Between Pacific Tides,” a textbook that was required in my first Marine Biology class. He was quite a character along with his now famous friends, Joseph Campbell and John Steinbeck.

I always love scientists, like Ed Ricketts, who don’t follow the rules of academia. For instance, Jane Goodall started studying chimpanzees without a formal university degree (she later got one). She also named and empathized with her subjects, something scientists are not supposed to do.

Ed Ricketts wasn’t into quantitative data, as he was interested in seeing the big picture. He also saw how the ecology of tide pools fits in with the philosophy of life.

Next time I’m in Pacific Grove, I feel like I should pay a visit to Julia Platt’s old house at 557 Ocean View Boulevard, which is now a bed and breakfast inn, and see her plaque at Lover’s Point.

In short, I highly recommend “The Death and Life of Monterey Bay: a Story of Revival” to natural history lovers, and especially those who have fallen in love with the charm and natural beauty of the Monterey Bay area.

Sex in the Sea: Uncovering the Mating Behavior of the Giant Sea Bass

By , February 28, 2014 12:52 pm
Sea Bass

The Giant Sea Bass: photo by Orange County Register

Brian Clark is a graduate student at California State University Northridge. He is currently crowdfunding his research project “Sex in the Sea: Uncovering the Mating Behavior of the Giant Sea Bass” Here is more from Brian (aka JR) Clark:

The GIANT SEA BASS, Stereolepis gigas, is the big and beautiful goliath of the eastern Pacific. This is a fish that is not only important to its ecosystem, but has been seen as a trophy to fisherman up and down the California coast. Over the years they have been fished to almost extinction and no one was ever able to do scientific research on them. Recently, they have started being spotted in southern California so I thought it would be the perfect time to finally learn a little something about GIANTS. I’m part of Dr. Larry Allen’s Ichthyology lab at California State University, Northridge (CSUN) but we have picked up the nickname as the “Giant Sea Bass Lab.” We are trying to get a well-rounded view on the basic biology and increase the conservation efforts for this endangered fish.

I am looking into the reproductive behavior of this fish and I believe that this study is critical to their preservation. This study will be the first to look at the behavioral aspects and strategies for the fishes within their family, Polyprionidae. Giant sea bass are thought to breed in shallow waters where other species in their family are thought to spawn at extreme depths, making observations not feasible. If you are interested, you can learn more and donate to research here: experiment.com/savethegiants

JR Clark

Brian Clark

A little about myself, I grew up living close to the beach and couldn’t get enough of it. I was always in the water but never really knew what was going on beneath the surface. In school we were only taught about the “beautiful” tropical fishes and never really learned about the beauty of the temperate water fishes, but it was something I was always curious about. So I decided to dedicate my time to studying the temperate waters of California. I started my career as a Marine Biologist at San Francisco State University. While I was there I worked in an evolutionary development lab that focused on fish where I found out that genetic work is not the life for me. I was then given the opportunity to do some research out on Catalina Island and studied dominance behavior of leopard sharks, Triakis semifasciata. It was an awesome project and during the study I realized that I wanted to do observational research on marine organisms, mainly fishes and sharks. Currently, I am a graduate student at CSUN and am extremely excited to be studying Giant sea bass behavior.

As a grad student I don’t have much free time, so when I can, I like to spend the afternoon playing disc golf or just bumming around at the beach. I also recently moved to the Valley and I have made it a mission of mine to try every taqueria in the area (there’s about 10 within a mile of my house). Tacos here are cheap and really really good, so it’s been a fun adventure that my friends and I can partake in!

The Fastest, Heaviest, Largest, Longest, & Oldest Ocean Animals

By , February 24, 2014 8:08 am
oarfish

The Oarfish: the longest fish in the ocean

Now that the Winter Olympics are over, I thought I’d list some record-breaking ocean animals:

1. The fastest fish in the ocean is a sailfish clocked at 68.18 mph (miles per hour)or 109.73 kph (kilometers per hour).

2. The fastest shark is a mako shark measured at 60 mph (96.56 kph).

3. The heaviest bony fish is a Mola mola (ocean sunfish) that was 10 feet long and weighed 4,928 pounds.

4. The largest fish is a whale shark that was 41.5 feet long (12.6 meters) and weighed 66,000 pounds (21.5 metric tons).

5. The largest, heaviest, and longest ocean animal is a blue whale female measured at 109 feet 3.5 inches(33.27 meters) and 190 tons.

6. The longest fish is an oarfish that was 56 feet long (17 meters)

7. The longest colony (of more than one animal) of animals is a siphonophore (similar to a jellyfish) named Praya dubia that is 100-160 feet long (30-50 meters)

8. The oldest ocean animal was an ocean quahog clam named Ming who was 507 years old.

9. The oldest mammal is a bowhead whale estimated to be at least 211 years old.

10. The deepest swimming air-breathing animal is a sperm whale, which can dive to depths of 9800 feet (3 kilometers)

Some facts based on Biggest, Smallest, Fastest, and Deepest marine animals

California’s Salmon Run

By , February 10, 2014 8:08 am
salmon upstream

Salmon jumping upstream picture: Wikimedia Commons

Yee haw! It’s the time of the year when rain means it’s time to spawn. Us salmon were worried as California is in the midst of its driest year on record. But rainfall occurred in the nick of time.

You see, each year the adult salmon at sea (in this case the Pacific Ocean) return up the rivers to the place of their birth. There we spawn (that is lay eggs) on gravel beds, and then we die. The young salmon that hatch then grow up in those rivers before swimming out to the ocean to mature. There they grow up and gain weight. Those salmon then return to their place of birth and spawn, and the whole salmon life cycle is complete.

We are called andromous, which means “running upward,” i.e. our salmon run is upstream.

The really cool thing is that human scientists have figured out that we have a “magnetic map” in our head that helps us navigate. They think we “sense changes in the intensity and angle of the Earth’s magnetic field to establish our position in the ocean.”

Not only that, they think that we are born with this magnetic map and do not learn it during our childhood. I agree with that assumption.

Scientists also think that creatures such as sea turtles, sharks, and whales may navigate in the same way as us salmon.

Did you know that there are 5 species of salmon found off the Pacific coast? They are Chinook, Chum, Coho, Pink and Sockeye salmon.

Parts of this post based on this article “Pacific Salmon Migrate with a ‘Magnetic Map’”

Florida Manatees in 2013: Deadliest Year on Record

By , January 14, 2014 8:08 am
Florida manatees

Manatee calf nursing on its mother

Hi, my name is Flo and I’m a manatee. It’s nice that manatees are now respected by humans. Other than (hopefully) accidental boat strikes, humans are no longer trying to kill Florida’s manatees like when we were hunted pre-twentieth century.

I think it is a term of endearment that we are also called sea cows. We eat only underwater plants just like cows eat grass on land.


Manatees only frequent rivers and lagoons where the year round temperature is 72 degrees F (22 degrees C). I especially like the warm water outfalls of power plants! When those warm areas are under threat, so are we. Unfortunately last year (2013) nearly 17 percent of the Florida manatee population died. I feel lucky to be alive!

This record number of deaths was due for many reasons, including red tides, an unknown disease, and boat strikes.

Red tides occur when there is a potentially fatal algae outbreak. This outbreak starts out at the bottom of the food chain. This dinoflagellate slowly bioaccumulates up the food chain until large animals such as myself eat those infected organisms and possibly get sick or die.

Many manatees (at least 115) died of a mysterious illness that also took the lives of some dolphins and pelicans. This occurred in Indian River Lagoon.

Manatees are very vulnerable to boat strikes because we graze in shallow water. There are just so many boats out there. Plus we sometimes get stuck in fishing nets due to our slow nature, and because the water we live in isn’t always crystal clear.

Phew! Next time I promise not to be so morbid and I will cover more interesting aspects of manatee biology and behavior.

The Seahorse Trade

By , January 8, 2014 11:05 am
pygmy seahorse

Pygmy Seahorses: picture by Steve Childs, Wikimedia Commons

Who hasn’t been beguiled by a seahorse exhibit at the local public aquarium, or even the ones at your local fish store. It is mesmerizing to watch their eyes darting independently here and there on the sides of their head, and it is amazing to watch the slow, deliberating way they stalk their prey before instantly sucking it in. Their body shape is so unlike any other in the animal kingdom, and their bumpy bony armor is just as strange. Strangest of all is that the males get pregnant and give birth! Yet this love for seahorses is costing 20 million seahorses their lives every year. Their main capture is for use in Traditional Chinese Medicine, but they are also sold as souvenirs. Other seahorses are captured alive for the aquarium trade.

I have only seen one type of seahorse in the wild, and it was the pygmy seahorse. Pygmy seahorses are only 0.79 inches (2 centimeters) high, and they are perfectly camouflaged for the red gorgonian that they live in. Red bumps cover their white body in the same pattern of the gorgonian that is their home. What impressed me most was how well they hold on to the branch of the gorgonian with their tiny prehensile tails. They are risking their lives each time they let go of a branch to move to another. The current in which they live was so strong that I had to kick furiously to stay in one place to see them through my dive guide’s magnifying glass. This strong current brings them a constant supply of food, but one false move and there goes your lifelong mate and the only home you have ever known!

Here are some links to help seahorses:
Buy captive born and raised seahorses from Ocean Rider
One of the leading seahorse conservation programs Project Seahorse
You can help! Citizen science: iSeahorse Explore App

UPDATE: There are now estimates that up to 150 million seahorses are killed annually.

Book Review: Surf Sharks, the First Ride

By , October 30, 2013 11:14 am
Surf Sharks: The First Ride book

Surf Sharks by Chance and Shelley Wolf

Surf Sharks: The First Ride is written by Shelley Wolf and illustrated by Chance Wolf.

Surf Sharks: The First Ride is a charming grade-school book about 3 boys who are surfers. They end up befriending 3 sharks right before a surfing contest. They all meet because one of the sharks becomes entangled in the net placed around a beach. This net is designed to keep out sharks. I like how this book brings to light how shark nets are can be detrimental to sharks and other wildlife.

The boys rescue one of the sharks, and the sharks in turn rescue one of the boys. The boys’ surfboards get destroyed, and surprise, the sharks volunteer to be their surf boards. I won’t give away the ending, but it is satisfying and is what is expected.

In all, I like how this book paints sharks in a positive light, and throws in a few educational details, like what denticles on a shark are. I really like the colorful cartoon illustrations, as they complement the story.

In conclusion, I highly recommend this book for any grade school age kid, especially those who likes sharks.

Here’s the Amazon link to buy Surf Sharks: The First Ride

Panorama Theme by Themocracy