Hammerhead Sharks at Cocos Island

By , August 31, 2016 1:29 pm
Hammerhead Sharks, Cocos Island Photo by Edwar Herreno, Undersea Hunter

School of Hammerhead Sharks, Cocos Island Photo by Edwar Herreno, Undersea Hunter

Ah, it feels great to swim around in a school of Hammerhead Sharks. My name is Sam. Here at Cocos Island, off of the shore of Costa Rica, I can roam free with hundreds of other hammerhead sharks. I used to swim in schools of thousands of hammerhead sharks before the humans came. In other areas of the oceans, populations of all types of sharks have been decimated.

Unfortunately, fishermen target sharks for their fins. Ouch, I need my fins to steer and swim, thank you very much. The shark fins are used in a soup served in many Asian countries, mainly China.

Fortunately, there are shark fin bans around the globe. The United States for instance, has 11 states and 3 territories that ban the sale, trade and possession of shark fins. Recently, on June 23, 2016 a bill called the Shark Fin Elimination Act of 2016 (S.3095/H.R. 5584) began its call to action in the United States Congress. This bill would ban the selling of shark fins across the entire United States. Stay tuned for updates!

Another reason for hope is Marine Protected Areas or MPA’s. There are over 6,500 MPA’s around the globe that fully or partially protect the flora and fauna that live there. These MPA’s make up less than 2 percent of all the world’s oceans though. Humans can do better than that! In contrast, up to 15 percent of land is protected.

Animals such as giant manta rays and whale sharks sometimes come to Cocos Island. They are protected while here, but once they swim into international waters, they are fair game for fishermen. That’s why it’s so important that scientists tag these migrant animals and see where they go. For instance, it isn’t known where female whale sharks give birth. Once humans find out, it will be important to protect the whale sharks’ pupping grounds.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my lesson today-please come visit me and my friends someday! Cocos Island is one of the best SCUBA diving sites in the world!

Finding Dory Movie Review by a Marine Biologist

By , August 15, 2016 2:47 pm
Dory from Finding Dory picture by: Disney/Pixar

Dory from Finding Dory picture by: Disney/Pixar

Finding Dory was an immensely enjoyable movie, exactly what I expected from a Pixar/Disney movie. The short animated film shown before the movie, “Piper,” (about a baby shorebird) is worth the price of admission alone! Don’t miss it!

I genuinely laughed and I went through a full range of emotions, from sadness all the way to I’m so happy that I’m crying! The movie takes place at the fictional Marine Life Institute in the not-so-fictional Morro Bay, California.

My only scientific beef with the movie is that the waters of California are a frigid 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Dory, Nemo and Marlin live in a tropical coral reef where the seawater is a warm 70’s-80’s degrees Fahrenheit. The gang couldn’t survive the cold waters off of California. Bailey the Beluga Whale is from the Arctic Ocean so he could survive, but Destiny the Whale Shark needs warmer waters (up to 30 degrees North and South for you geography buffs).

The movie starts with Dory as a youngster, doe-eyed and voiced by a child (not Ellen DeGeneres yet). Dory’s parents treat her short-term memory loss as a disability, a parallel that many human parents will identify with. It isn’t until later flashbacks (yes, Dory will remember some events!) that we see how she and her parents were separated.

The whole movie rests on one memory of Dory’s of “The Jewel of Morro Bay,” which turns out to be the Marine Life Institute. MLI rehabilitates marine animals for eventual release. We have the documentary “Blackfish” to thank for that, as originally the MLI was just an aquarium (that doesn’t release animals).

Ellen DeGeneres does a fabulous job of keeping the audience entertained while keeping you involved in the story. One note if taking young children, my 6 year old was frightened by the squid chase when Dory, Marlin and Nemo first arrive in Morro Bay. She enjoyed the rest of the movie though.

Hank the cranky octopus was animated amazingly, even if his camouflaging abilities were a bit exaggerated for the real world (not out of place in their animation world though).

My new favorite character is Destiny. I didn’t like how she had poor eyesight (anyone who has snorkeled with whale sharks knows that they can turn on a dime in order to avoid swimming into you!) But she won me over anyways with her warm personality.

They didn’t say Bailey’s, the beluga whale, name enough so moviegoers may forget it. The ending is far fetched, but should satisfy most audiences, especially those into animal rights.

I highly recommend Finding Dory. It was well worth the wait, and it will delight fans of Finding Nemo. It can stand alone for those who have not seen Finding Nemo, like young children.

Last note, stay until the very end of the credits for a treat. Hint, we’ve seen them before, somewhere…

Humpback Whales Exhibit Altruistic Behavior Towards Other Animal Species

By , August 4, 2016 5:15 pm

Hunter the Humpback Whale photo by: NOAA Dr. Louis M. Herman

Hunter the Humpback Whale photo by: NOAA Dr. Louis M. Herman


My name is Hunter, and I’m a Humpback Whale. One day I was feeding on krill in Antarctica. I noticed a pod of Orcas on the hunt. They had a poor Weddell Seal trapped on an ice floe. All they had to do was tip the ice floe over and they would have dinner. I felt sorry for the seal, and decided follow my heart and intervene. I am almost 50 feet long and weigh almost 80,000 pounds so I have a distinct size advantage over the orcas. Orcas rarely get over 30 feet long.

The orcas splashed around the ice floe and got it moving back and forth like a teeter-totter. The moment the seal was about to hit the water, I came up underneath him, my belly up. I lifted the grateful seal out of the water. He was a slippery fellow, and I used my long pectoral fins to push the seal back onto my belly every time he slid down. Sure enough, the orcas lost interest and I released the seal into the ocean. He swam off to the safety of another ice floe.

Humans have witnessed and documented over a 100 times around the globe us humpback whales exhibiting this altruistic behavior. We have saved gray whale calves, California sea lions, harbor seals, and Mola mola (sunfish).

It’s just a few moments out of our lives to save an otherwise hapless animal from certain death. As an adult, my safety isn’t at stake. So I help when I can!

This blog post was inspired by this article “Humpback Whales Around the Globe Are Mysteriously Rescuing Animals From Orcas”

Guest Post-Bob Gorman and Reef Rescue: Five Things You Can Do to Protect Coral Reefs

By , June 13, 2016 3:07 pm
coral reef and fish

Coral Reef and Fish photo by Greg Goebel via Flickr

Most people think that there isn’t much you can do about what is happening in the environment. After all, you are just one person. Although you would like to help, what could you possibly do that governments and big companies aren’t doing? There are actions you can take to help the plight of coral reefs. Here are five suggestions.

1. Educate yourself about coral reefs

You can’t do much about the problem of disappearing coral reefs if you don’t know what is going on. Educate yourself about them. Organizations not only serve as an information source, but can direct you in ways you can help (see #3).

2. Take the first step

A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. Don’t litter or dump chemicals down the drain. Those things find their way to the oceans, streams and lakes. Coral reef damage includes direct human contact, excessive soil runoff, sewage dumping, illegal fishing practices (such as using cyanide and blasting), and fertilizer runoff.

3. Volunteer

Make a huge difference by becoming a volunteer with any coral reef organization. Take part in beach clean-ups or spread the word about coral reef degradation.

Reach out to your legislators who can enact laws that will not only protect coral reefs, but also expand marine protected areas. You can even help away from home-by helping the Great Barrier Reef remotely

4. Enact change

A powerful step towards helping preserve the coral reefs is to encourage change. For example, if you have heard about a company that is dumping chemicals into the ocean and is affecting coral reefs, you can encourage them to stop. If they refuse, make it a point to stop purchasing their products and services, and encourage others to do the same.

5. Do it now!

There is nothing stopping a good idea whose time has come. The time to take action in saving coral reefs is now. It doesn’t even mean that you have to give a lot of money. What is important is that you start!

Meet Cooper the Copepod & Learn About Microplastics

By , May 9, 2016 7:59 pm
copepods & microplastics

Meet Cooper the Copepod to learn more about microplastics photo by Uwe Kils Wikimedia Commons

Hi! I’m Cooper the Copepod. What is a Copepod? Well, I am a tiny animal that is part of the plankton. Plankton are the microscopic plants and animals that make up the base of the food chain in the ocean. I have a teardrop-shaped body and long curved antennae.

I am the fastest and strongest jumper on the planet, even faster than jumping land animals like kangaroos! But while I am only 1-2 millimeters long, I reach speeds of 2-4 miles per hour (3-6.4 km/hr) while jumping. The equivalent in a human would be a 5 foot 8 inch person going a whopping 3,800 mph while jumping! (livescience’s article flea-sized creatures are the fastest jumpers)

I’m here today not to impress you with my stats, but to talk to you about garbage in our oceans, specifically microplastics. Plastic pollution in our oceans is a big deal. 8 million tons of plastic are dumped into our oceans each year. You may have heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean, one of many garbage patches in our oceans. They are mainly made up of plastic waste such as soda bottles, bottlecaps, plastic flatware, plastic grocery bags, and discarded plastic fishing nets.

But more important and insidious are the microplastics. These plastic particles are less than 5 mm in size. They include microbeads from beauty products (like exfoliants for your skin), microfibers from washing synthetic clothing (polyester and nylon microfibers are not caught by lint traps nor at the filters in sewage treatment plants) and plastic fragments worn down from larger plastic products.

To tiny critters like me, the microplastic looks good enough to eat, and we do that when come across it. Animals larger than us such as fish eat us, and so on up the food chain until we get to predators such as sharks, tuna, sea turtles and humans. Did you know you contain several pounds of plastic in your body?

Up to 8 trillion microbeads enter the waterways of the United States everyday (CNN Obama bans microbeads). But fortunately in December 2015 the U.S. outlawed the use of microbeads in health and beauty products by 2017!

There is still the matter of other micro and macro plastics in the ocean—the best way to take care of them is to reduce the amount of plastic now entering our oceans. For the sake of me and my neighbors, please recycle plastics! Also take part in beach cleanups or even just clean up in your neighborhood—as Gill said in Finding Nemo, “All drains lead to the ocean, kid.”

The Real Animals (and Fish!) of Finding Dory

By , April 16, 2016 1:40 pm



Finding Dory came out until June 17, 2016. The following was a sneak preview with some corrections now that the movie is out.

Dory is back! Her Mom’s name is Jenny and her Dad’s name is Charlie. She is a Yellow Tail Blue Tang or Blue Hippo Tang or Pacific Blue Tang or Palette Surgeonfish.

Marlin and Nemo are back too! They are Ocellaris or False Percula Clownfish or Clown Anemonefish.

Crush and Squirt are back also! They are Green Sea Turtles, one of 7 species of Sea Turtles. They were named green for the fat on their body, not the color of their shells or skin.

Mr. Ray is back! He is a Spotted Eagle Ray. Fortunately he’s not the type of Stingray shown migrating in the movie or else he’d be leaving his students! There is a specific kind of ray known as the Golden Cow nose Ray that may migrate in groups of up to 10,000!

There is a Beluga Whale named Bailey. Belugas are often called the “canaries of the sea” because of their vocalizations. Their (squishy) fat-filled melons (heads) are supposed to help with echolocation, the sonar that many whales use in the ocean.

Finding Dory, Destiny, Dory, Whale Shark

Dory and Destiny the Whale Shark from Finding Dory Photo: © Disney Pixar 2016

The Whale Shark’s name is Destiny. It’s cute that she and Dory knew each other and can speak whale, but Destiny is a Shark, not a Whale! She’s the largest shark in the ocean, but only eats tiny plankton with her cavernous mouth. Whale Sharks do have poor eyesight because their eyes are so tiny compared to their bodies, but they are not clumsy. Anyone who has snorkeled with Whale Sharks know they can turn on a dime to avoid swimming into you!

The (generic) octopus is named Hank. He is actually missing an arm, so he’s a “septopus.” In real life, the octopus would grow any missing arms back. There are so many neurons in a severed octopus arm that it can move and hunt on its own!

The Sea Lions are named Rudder and Fluke. I’m guessing they are California Sea Lions because part of the movie takes place off of California. If they were both male, then they could be found off of Pier 39 in San Francisco where bachelor males hang out and entertain tourists.

The baby Sea Otters are oh so cute! They are probably Southern Sea Otters, mainly found off the California coast. Sea otters don’t stand up on their hind legs like river otters do, and they couldn’t climb up the poles to the freeway! In some press pictures, it looks like there are baby sea otters in a group. There would never be a group of babies together because a wild Sea Otter pup stays with Mom 24/7 and they rarely socialize with other mother/pup pairs. Even surrogate Sea Otter Moms at the Monterey Bay Aquarium only take care of one pup at a time!

I speculate Becky is a Pacific Loon. Loons may mate for life! They eat mainly fish, crustaceans, and insects.

I loved seeing Finding Dory and here is my review!

For more images of the movie visit Finding Dory Images at collider.com
or
side-by-side (Finding Dory image vs. real animal images) at Mother Nature Network’s Meet the Real Animals Behind Finding Dory

Click here for The Real Fish of Finding Nemo
Click here for The Real Fish of Finding Nemo Part 2

My Manta Ray Encounter

By , March 18, 2016 5:29 pm
manta ray

Close encounter with a manta ray (notice the plankton in the water) photo by: Cherilyn Jose

My Manta Ray Encounter

From the back of the boat, I made a giant stride into the black nighttime water. Underwater, the cumbersome SCUBA equipment strapped to my back was weightless. Warm water crept into my wetsuit. Exhaling, I descended into the pitch black. Pinching my nose and blowing out through it cleared my ears every few feet, and the pain in my ears felt like when ascending in an airplane. Exhaled bubbles surrounded and reassured me. My only lifeline underwater was working properly. I paused to marvel at breathing underwater.

My descent stopped near the bottom of the coral reef. Narrow beams of light danced around as other divers searched for life on the night coral reef. My highlighted view showed motionless fish sleeping. Multi-legged critters scampered out of my light. A hungry moray eel caught an unwary squirrelfish.

Ten minutes of swimming brought me to the “campfire.” Placed in the center of this underwater campfire was a bundle of dive lights so the insects of the sea, tiny plankton, swarmed together. Swarms of plankton attracted various hungry sea animals including fish, and the guests for the night. Divers pointed their lights towards the surface to attract more plankton. Settling down on my knees in the moderate current, plankton surrounded me. Little white dots darted to and fro in front of my dive mask. My dry mouth came from breathing the arid air from my tank and made me cough into my regulator. My eyes watered from the coughing, then cleared. Something emerged in the distance.

From the muted black darkness, and through the backdrop of the bright Hollywood lights of videographers, came an alien behemoth that glided over the all the divers. She was the star attraction for tonight, a manta ray. Her black back with white patches looked spray painted. Her flattened head and head fins swayed in her swim path. Her head fins unfurled to help funnel water into her cavernous mouth.

Her diamond-shaped body measured at least 6 feet across. She flapped her triangular pectoral fins in unison like a bird’s wings. Each powerful flap of her wings sent her flying within inches of divers’ heads.

The manta ray’s black back contrasted with her stark white underbelly. Her belly was full of black splotches. Splotch patterns are as unique as a human fingerprint and they allow scientists to identify and name individuals over time. The manta ray I saw was named Shirley. She gracefully flew inches over my head. I was reminded of the opening scene from the original Star Wars movie when an Imperial Star Destroyer appears to fly over the audience’s heads.

We divers are not supposed to hold their breath underwater, but in a briefing on the boat we were told not exhale bubbles directly onto a manta ray. I unconsciously held my breath as having Shirley so close to me took my breath away. I looked straight into one of Shirley’s eyes. They reflected such depth and soul that I couldn’t help but feel a deep connection with this alien being. It was like looking into a mammal’s eyes. Only manta rays are fish. They have the largest brain of any fish in the ocean, and a similar brain to body ratio as mammals. There is no doubt in my mind that manta rays are thinking beings. What they are thinking is a mystery to us humans though.

With her mouth agape, Shirley’s wide throat was visible. Her gills reverberated from the passage of water through them. A manta ray’s gills not only extract oxygen from the water around them, but also extract food like plankton. She closed her mouth periodically, presumably to swallow the plethora of plankton caught in her gill rakers.

I watched in awe as Shirley did loop de loops to gather plankton. The barrel rolls that manta rays perform are a magnificent underwater ballet. They are elegant and graceful. I could watch them for hours barrel rolling.

Later, another manta ray showed up. His name was Uhane Nui, which means “Great Spirit” in Hawaiian. Estimates placed his wingspan at eight feet across. Manta rays are the largest rays in the ocean. This one was huge. Shirley stayed in the lights, but Uhane Nui faded into the darkness and emerged from the bright videographer lights. Each appearance was a surprise and delight. The manta rays could come within inches of the divers and never bump into them. They could turn on a dime.

That magical night off of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii was my first encounter with manta rays. Upon arriving home, I devoured all the information I could find about them. I was dismayed to find out manta rays are killed when they get stuck in fishermen’s nets. Historically, fishermen would exact revenge on any manta rays that got stuck in their fishing nets and kill them.

I was later horrified to learn that today manta rays are now being targeted by fishermen. I got involved in the fight for California to ban the sale, trade and possession of shark fins. Now, much like sharks being targeted only for their fins, manta rays are now being hunted solely for their gill rakers. Gill rakers are used in controversial new formulas of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Often those hunting for shark fins will fin a shark alive and toss it back into the ocean to die a slow and agonizing death. Similarly, those hunting manta rays will kill them, cut out the gill rakers, and throw out the rest of the manta ray. Killing them that way is inhumane and wasteful.

A live manta ray is worth more alive than dead. Experts estimate a manta ray is worth one million USD over its lifetime due to ecotourism, but worth only five hundred USD when dead. Globally manta ray tourism is estimated to be 100 million USD annually. I’m hooked on SCUBA diving with manta rays-I will add to that total!

How and Why Do Fish School?

By , November 30, 2015 2:57 pm
schooling fish

Schooling Fish by: Wikimedia Commons Eric Kilby

How and why do fish school? First off, an aggregation of fish is when a bunch of fishes are together. Shoaling is when a group of fish come together for social reasons. It is more specifically called schooling when the fish also move together in coordination. Half of all fishes shoal at one point during their lives, and one quarter of fishes shoal their whole lives.

There are a multitude of reasons why fish school. These include safety in numbers , easier to find food, swimming more efficiently and easier to find potential mates. Schooling behavior confuses potential predators, which cannot focus just on one fish to catch.

Schooling takes coordination, as each fish senses its position in relation to the other fishes. All fish have a lateral line around their bodies that help. There are tiny holes with sensitive hairs in them in the lateral line.

Most fishes don’t school when it is dark, so they are dependent on their eyesight.

According to some scientists, how they school is dependent on their genes. It’s not a learned behavior. Scientists did experiments on some small fish (see here for details) and cross bred individuals that preferred schooling to those that didn’t. The results told the scientists that there are parts of the fishes’ genome associated with schooling.

Another mystery is how fish somehow know when they are with fish that look like themselves so they can school together. They don’t recognize themselves in a mirror like more intelligent animals, so how do they do it? An odd fish out in a school increases its chances that it’ll be seen by a predator.

They may use their senses: sight, smell (pheromones), and sound. But otherwise a Google search only comes up with conjectures.

What questions do you have about fish? I’ll cover them in future posts.

I consulted the following
Wikipedia article on Shoaling and Schooling Fish

Elephant Seals, El Nino & Domoic Acid Poisoning

By , November 17, 2015 4:11 pm
elephant seal

Newborn Elephant Seal photo by: Charmaine Coimbra

Hello, my name is Ellie, and I’m an Elephant Seal. I’m excited because I’ll become a mother soon. I’ve been pregnant for eleven months. I’ve come to Ano Nuevo, off the central coast of California, USA. Here there’s what we call a rookery, where elephant seals hang out on the beach. We spend up to ten months a year at sea, so being on the beach is a vacation for us. Well, maybe not for the mothers who have to protect their pups and produce milk that contains up to 50 percent milkfat (human breastmilk is only 4 percent fat).

I feel the pup coming. I push, push and push until plop! My daughter is born! I clean her up by licking her. She’s already vocal, probably because she’s hungry. We have a special call to one another so we can be reunited if separated. The beach is crowded-there’s a lot of elephant seals here.

I worry that some male will bowl over my pup, or my pup will get in the way during one of the dominant male’s battles with rivals. Otherwise our days here will be blissful; sunning ourselves in the sun, nursing, and dozing off. I won’t wean her for four weeks, and after five weeks I’ll mate and finally return to the sea to feed.

Sigh, I’m not looking forward to returning to sea. Sure I’ll be famished, but the food fish just aren’t here. Usually, in a non-El Nino year, there is plenty of food. That is due to something called upwelling, which occurs off parts of the west coast of the Americas. Upwelling is when cold, nutrient-rich seawater comes up from the deep ocean onto the surface. Plankton, microscopic plants and animals that make up the beginning of the food chain, feast on the nutrients. The fish, that I eat, find plankton to eat.

In a non El Nino year, the trade winds blow west warm seawater from the Eastern Pacific Ocean (the west coast of the Americas) to the Western Pacific Ocean (Asia). This allows the cold nutrient dense water that dwells in the deep waters below to replace the warm surface water that was blown away west. This is what causes upwelling along the west coast of the Americas. In contrast, during an El Nino year, the trade winds stop and the warm water stays in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. Warmer water means no upwelling, less plankton, and therefore less fish for me to eat.

To boot, once I find food there’s a horrible toxic algae called Pseudo-nitzschia australis in it. Domoic acid poisoning has neurological effects on animals that eat food contaminated with it. According to the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California, USA, “About three-quarters of the California sea lions at our hospital are suffering from domoic acid toxicity, which primarily attacks the brain, causing lethargy, disorientation, seizures and if not treated, eventually, death.” Recently the Dungeness crab season has been canceled because of this algae. This algae is also responsible for the red tide seen periodically off the coasts that closes shellfish fisheries.

It’s an uncertain world that my daughter will face. I hope she can survive to a few years old to have pups of her own.

YOUR Help Is Needed! Win a $50 Amazon Gift Card & Help a Scientist!

By , October 18, 2015 2:47 pm

Help us do science! I’ve teamed up with researcher Paige Brown Jarreau to create a survey of Ocean of Hope readers. By participating, you’ll be helping me improve Ocean of Hope and contributing to SCIENCE on blog readership. You will also get FREE science art from Paige’s Photography for participating, as well as a chance to win a $50 Amazon Gift Card (100 available, 2 per blog participating!), or a t-shirt! Anyone can participate, even if you don’t regularly read this or other blogs. It should only take 10-15 minutes to complete. You can find the survey here: http://bit.ly/mysciblogreaders. Hurry, survey ends midnight CST November 20, 2015!

Thank you Dr. Jane Goodall!

By , October 10, 2015 7:49 pm

Today I heard Dr. Jane Goodall speak for the 5th time at the Wildlife Conservation Network Expo in San Francisco, CA. Dr. Jane is my personal role model and hero. After hearing her speak for the first time at a Bioneers Conference, a light bulb went off for me. I’m to follow in her footsteps, but for the oceans that cover 70 percent of our Earth.

Dr. Jane inspired me to found a Roots and Shoots group at my children’s school, Kitayama Elementary in Union City, CA. We were honored with group of the month many years ago.

I never tire of hearing Dr. Jane’s talks. Each is unique and inspiring. While all her speeches refer to her time studying chimpanzees in Gombe, today she surprised me and mentioned my favorite animal, the octopus. She said to google “coconut octopus” to see an example of tool use in animals.

During her book signing, I asked Dr. Jane her favorite ocean animal. She said, “I suppose whales.” I definitely don’t think she’s been asked that before! I also thanked her for mentioning my favorite animal, the octopus. I gave her a blue marble (see the blue marble project here) and my business card with my blog url on it. I said I named it in her honor (all her books have the word hope in them) and she said she’d check it out. I forgot to mention that I often write from the (non-human!) animal’s POV. I think she’d approve. Thank you Dr. Jane for continuing to inspire me and so many others to save our natural world!

Book Excerpt Part 2-Ocean Country by Liz Cunningham

By , September 19, 2015 2:49 pm

Humpback whale breaching

Humpback whale breaching © 2015 Charles Costello


Ocean Country: One Woman’s Voyage From Peril to Hope in Her Quest to Save the Seas is available in independent bookstores now or at

We spent four more days like that, looking for whales, watching them on the surface, and getting into the water with them.The stormy seas passed, and the waters calmed. Humpbacks are notorious for their playful acrobatics.We saw them breach and extend their heads out of the water to have a look at us (“spyhop”), and slap the surface of the water with their flukes (“peduncle throw”). A peduncle throw can mean many things. It can mean “bug off, fella,” if a female is tired of a male’s advances. Or a male that has established himself as a female’s “escort” might use it to discourage another male’s advances.
“Sometimes the calves,” Gene told us,“when they get playful, will get a little wound up and wander off and get a little bit too far from mom. They can get separated quite quickly and then mom will fire off a peduncle throw like,‘Hey, Junior! Get back here!’ ”
Once when we were in the water with a mother and calf, the mother rose vertically in the water to breathe. Straight ahead of us, forty-five feet of whale vertical beneath the sur- face. A gentle, living, breathing creature over four stories tall.
And well, I haven’t told you about all of us in the tender. The gear stowed at the center of the boat included small fins and masks and wet suits a third the size of ours. Gene’s partner, Cloe, had come with her daughter, Lucaya, who was six years old. And Dave, a friend of Gene’s since high school, was there with his wife, Suzanne, and their daughter, Eva.
There was a contagious mirth that we couldn’t have replicated without our younger boat-mates.When the humpbacks were “pec slapping,” slapping their pectoral fins on the surface to signal to each other, Lucaya and Eva leaned over the railing and squealed, “The whales are waving! The whales are waving!” (They were right.The whales were waving.)
For more of excerpt, click on page 2 below the social media bar

Pages: 1 2

Book excerpt: Part 1 of Ocean Country: One Woman’s Voyage from Peril to Hope in Her Quest to Save the Seas by Liz Cunningham

By , September 7, 2015 5:46 pm
Humpback mother calf

Humpback mother and calf © 2015 Liz Cunningham

Ocean Country: One Woman’s Voyage From Peril to Hope in Her Quest to Save the Seas is available in independent bookstores now or at

“…With genuine emotion and great pragmatism, Cunningham makes
passionate pleas for the continued health of the planet.”
—Publishers Weekly

In Ocean Country: One Woman’s Voyage from Peril to Hope in Her Quest
to Save the Seas
, Liz Cunningham shows us how people around the world
are practicing “hope in action” and why it’s time for all of us to
join them.

After Liz Cunningham was nearly swallowed by a rogue wave in a
kayaking accident in which she was temporarily paralyzed, she was left
with a sense of despair and alienation from the waters that she had
always turned for solace and healing. As she recovered physically,
Cunningham vowed that she would reconnect with the ocean and recover
hope—hope for herself and for the planet’s ailing waters. In Ocean Country:
One Woman’s Voyage from Peril to Hope in Her Quest to Save the Seas

(Foreword by Carl Safina, North Atlantic Books, September 8,
2015, Paperback), Cunningham shares her two-year global journey to
discover how communities and individuals are fighting to save the
marine world that every living being depends on and how they are
creating hope through action in dire times.

From a former “dynamite fisherman” in Indonesia who walked away from
heftier profits to save the ocean ecosystem his community relies on
for subsistence to a culinary school in Paris that teaches sustainable
cooking practices, people are rescuing our oceans and coming together
to fight the destruction that can seem inevitable. And they are
effecting change—though we rarely hear about. Recently, Bluefin tuna—a
species all but declared extinct—has seen in an uptick in their
stocks. This turn-around is a result of massive, coordinate effort
across industries and communities. It is one of the remarkable stories
of people practicing what Cunningham calls “hope in action.” From the
San Francisco Bay Area to the Turks and Caicos Islands to Sulawesi,
Indonesia to Papua, New Guinea to French islands in the Mediterranean,
Cunningham shows us how people throughout the world are beginning to
see that we can have hope, that we must act, and—most importantly—that
the two are interdependent.

Ocean Country is an adventure story, a call to action, and a poetic
meditation on the state of the seas—but most of all—it is a story of
finding true hope in the midst of one of the greatest crises to face
humankind.

Twenty-one percent of royalties will be given to the New England
Aquarium’s Marine Conservation Action Fund (MCAF), which aims to
protect and promote ocean biodiversity through funding of small-scale,
time-sensitive, community-based programs. This amount was chosen to
highlight the percentage of oxygen in each breath we take and that the
fact that over one half of that oxygen comes from marine plants and
algae in the ocean.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

LIZ CUNNINGHAM is the author of Talking Politics: Choosing the
President in the Television Age (Praeger), which features frank and
probing oral-history interviews with top television journalists such
as Tom Brokaw, Larry King, and Robin MacNeil. She has written for
Earth Island Journal, East Bay Express, the Marin Poetry Center
Anthology, The Outward Bound International Journal, Times of the
Islands, and The San Francisco Chronicle. She has collaborated with
institutions such as the Academy for Educational Development, the
Constitutional Rights Foundation, the Tides Foundation, and the
Smithsonian Institution. She also serves on the board of Outward Bound
Peacebuilding and holds a B.A. in Human Ecology from College of the
Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine. Visit her at: lizcunningham.net.

For book excerpt click page 2 below social media bar:

Pages: 1 2

Guest Post-9 Things You Can Do to Reduce Garbage in Our Oceans

By , August 26, 2015 10:41 am
Plastic Ahoy! Book

Plastic Ahoy! by Patricia Newman

Today’s guest post is by Patricia Newman. She is the author of Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (Millbrook Press), winner of the Green Earth Book Award, one of the Bank Street College’s Best Books for 2015, a Junior Library Guild Selection, and finalist for the AAAS/Subaru Science Books & Films Prize for Excellence in Science Books. Her goal is to help kids become ocean stewards.

9 Things You Can Do to Reduce Garbage in Our Oceans
Don’t you love the sound of waves lapping the shore? The salt breeze cooling your face. Treasures that wash ashore with the tides. But what if the tide washed in hundreds of pounds of plastic on your favorite beach?

I wrote Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch because tons of plastic float in our ocean and wash up on our beaches each year—5.25 TRILLION pieces. The book is my way of persuading you to rethink the way you use one-time plastic—things like cups, water bottles, yogurt containers, plastic bags. It’s no longer enough to simply recycle. We have to use less plastic because we’re drowning in the stuff!

Plastic Ahoy! Book

10 Plastic Waste Facts to Curl Your Hair



The news is bleak, but that’s where you come in. My challenge to you is to choose two of the following action items and pledge to reduce your one-time plastic consumption:

1. Skip the straw. Every day restaurants drop 500,000,000 straws in our drinks—enough to fill 46,400 school buses every year—and virtually none of them are recycled. REFUSE boxed drinks with plastic straws, and REFUSE the straw in every restaurant you visit. In fact, try to get the restaurant to serve straws only on request—or better yet—do away with them all together.


2. Bring your own bags. And not just to the grocery store. Everywhere. Toys R Us. Macy’s. Target. WalMart. Bed, Bath and Beyond. If you forget your bag, simply do without one.

3. Buy eco-friendly school supplies. Lunch boxes without plastic. Pencils made from recycled newspaper. Pens made from recycled water bottles. Recycled paper. You can find them online.

4. Ditch the single-use plastic water bottle. Instead of purchasing large flats of single-use water bottles for parties, school or the office, fill a big urn with water and let people refill their reusable bottles preferably made from stainless steel. If you absolutely need individual servings, consider boxed water.

5. Refuse plastic OJ bottles. Plastic manufacturers are beginning to make PlantBottles. I see them in the orange juice cooler in my grocery store. Yes, they’re an improvement over regular plastic. Yes, they come from sustainable plants. But so far, they are only 30% plant. And it’s unclear if recycling companies will accept them. I still prefer cartons.

6. Refuse plastic to-go boxes. Insist on cardboard boxes or aluminum foil for restaurant left-overs or take-out.

7. Recycle every bit of plastic you can. I recently checked the recycling rules in my hometown and we can recycle a lot of different kinds of plastic. Double-check the rules for your hometown and start filling up that recycling bin!

8. Sign up to participate in the September 19 International Coastal Cleanup.

9. Read Plastic, Ahoy! for other ideas.

Guest post-10 Fun Facts About Northern Elephant Seals

By , August 16, 2015 7:46 pm
elephant seal

Elephant seal (weaner stage) photo by: Charmaine Coimbra

This is a guest post by Charmaine Coimbra, a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists, who writes and edits two marine-focused blogs, Neptune911.com, and Neptune911forkids.blogspot.com. She also writes for local publications. Since 2008 she has volunteered as a docent for Friends of the Elephant Seal in San Simeon, California

Ten Fun Facts About Northern Elephant Seals

1. Elephant seal pups must be born on a beach because they can’t swim or hunt yet.

2. When an elephant seal mother weans her pup from her rich milk, the pup is now called a “weaner.” The weaner will live off of its fatty blubber for several months—until the day it leaves for sea and catches its first food. Elephant seals eat squid, octopus, hagfish (slime eels), rays, skates, small sharks and hake.

3. When weaners leave their birth beach for the sea, they remain alone until they return to the beach in late summer or early fall. All elephant seals stay alone when they leave the beach for the sea. They do not swim in pods, herds or groups.

4. It takes eight years for a male elephant seal to grow to full length, including his elephant-like nose. He may eventually weigh between 3000 to 5000 pounds (1350-2267 kg.), and measure 14 to 16 feet long (2.5 to 3.5 meters).

5. A female elephant seal doesn’t grow a long nose. She is also smaller than the adult male. She will weigh between 900 to 1800 pounds (408 to 816 kg.) and measure between 9 to 12 feet long (2.5 to 3.5 meters).

6. A male elephant seal’s roar is so loud that you can hear it from one mile away.

7. Male elephant seals from different rookeries (beaches where elephant seals go to twice a year) have their own dialect.

8. Adult elephant seals can dive below 5,000 feet (1.524 kilometers) to the bottom of the sea.

9. Elephant seals can stay underwater for almost 2-hours.

10. Elephant seals migrate two times a year. They swim about 12,000 miles a year.

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