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.

Guest Post-Marine Conservation is Everyone’s Business

By , August 3, 2015 6:12 pm
Green Sea Turtle Honu

Green Sea Turtle photo by: Ken Muise

This is a guest post from Ken Muise of snorkelstore.com. Ken is an active duty Soldier stationed in Honolulu, Hawaii. He believes he is best snorkeler in the world, although many disagree with him. His website helps people make good choices on snorkel gear, appreciate and respect the marine environment, and gives tips on keeping safe in the water.

Marine Conservation is Everyone’s Business

The planet Earth is bestowed with a spectacular existence of plant and animal life. The charm and grace of the planet is almost beyond description. The many creatures on land and at sea add to the attraction.

Ecosystem processes are designed to support the planet’s life, which includes the human species. These processes include filtration and pouring of the water basin, pollination, flood moderation and renewal of soil fertility. These natural processes are largely overlooked and not given the value they deserve.

For example, let’s look at the contribution of pollinators to the production of fruits such as blueberries, melons, and apples. According to experts the estimated value of pollination services, which are carried on by insects, is about $ 217 billion each year.

The world has been moving towards rapid industrialization and urbanization. Humans, to satisfy their materialistic desires, began ignoring natural habitats. This has affected the natural habitats of different creatures. Now various species of terrestrial and aquatic plants and animals are on the brink of extinction.

Habitat conservation, both on land and at sea, for wildlife is amongst the most vital issues confronting the environment. As the human population expands, area utilization increases. Wild species have less space to call home.

The surface of the Earth has changed due to human actions, such as severe deforestation, loss of topsoil, and biodiversity extinction. Some species can’t live outside their own living space without human mediation, such as zoos and aquariums. The conservation of their natural surroundings is crucial to their protection. Transitory species are more vulnerable against environment devastation, especially along their migratory routes. Changing a creature’s living space can bring about a domino effect that can undermine an entire ecosystem.

It is important for people to actively participate in repairing the ecosystems that have been widely damaged due to human intervention. Volunteer efforts in conservation projects aim to remedy this loss of biological resources. People are able to take an active part in preventing the extinction of certain species and help maintain ecosystem integrity.

Marine conservation has gained momentum. Aquatic beings are faced with various dangers. Coral reefs are an epicenter of biodiversity. They provide various marine animals with food, protection and shelter. In addition, coral reefs are important to humans as a source of the food (i.e. fish, shellfish, etc.) and for eco-tourism.


Unfortunately due to human impacts on coral reefs, they are increasingly degraded and in need of conservation. The greatest threats include overfishing, destructive fishing practices, sedimentation and pollution from land. Along with increased carbon in the oceans, coral bleaching and diseases, there are few pristine reefs worldwide. In fact, up to 88% of coral reefs in Southeast Asia are now threatened, with 50% of those reefs “high” or “very high” for risk of extinction.

Coral reef degradation is harmful to island nations such as Samoa, Indonesia and the Philippines because many people there depend on coral reef ecosystems to feed their families and earn a living. Many fishermen are unable to catch as many fish as they used to. They use cyanide and dynamite fishing, which further degrades the coral reefs. One solution to stop this cycle is to educate the local community about why conservation of marine areas is important. Once the local communities understand the issues, then they fight to preserve the reefs. Coral reef conservation has many economic, social and environmental benefits, not only for the people who live on these islands, but for people worldwide as well.

Government agencies and other organizations have been working hard to alleviate the problem of coral reef decline. With various laws, acts, and campaigns, they aim to educate people. There are various programs that facilitate marine conservation. Marine conservation can be accomplished if people join hands to achieve this goal.

MarineBio Conservation Society is deeply committed to marine conservation. It is based on the idea that by sharing marine and maritime life, people will be inspired to protect the oceans. I hope people will consider becoming members of the MarineBio Conservation Society. Pollution free oceans will then be enjoyable to all when diving with snorkel gear.

Children’s Book Review-Larry the Lazy Blue Whale

By , July 20, 2015 7:54 pm

Larry the Lazy Blue Whale

Larry the Lazy Blue Whale


Children’s Book Review of Larry the Lazy Blue Whale by Burt Kempner

Larry the Lazy Blue Whale: A Mild Wild Story by Burt Kempner is a children’s book about a blue whale making his way to his winter feeding grounds. He takes a nap. Little does he know that two pirate ships are about to lay claim to him as land!

The rest of the book is about the two pirate ships, their fighting and eventual resolution. I won’t give away the ending, but it is satisfying and has a good moral.

I liked the introduction to the blue whales, but lost some interest when the pirates came along. The pirate part is written fine. I was just expecting more about the natural history of Larry.

The illustrations by Stephanie Richoll are outstanding and help move the story along.

If you like children’s pirate adventure books, then this is the book for you. If you’re expecting to learn just about Larry’s life history, you’ll be disappointed. But if you like blue whales and pirate books, then this is definitely the book for you! It’s a book you won’t mind reading to your children over and over.

10 Facts About the Lion’s Mane Jellyfish

By , July 13, 2015 9:30 pm
Lion's Mane Jellyfish

Lion's Mane Jellyfish photo by: NOAA

Note: Since Jellyfish aren’t really fish, I will now refer to them as Jellies instead…

1. The Lion’s Mane Jelly is the largest Jelly in the ocean. Its bell can reach up to 8 feet in diameter, and its tentacles up to 120 feet long (that’s longer than a blue whale!).

2. The Lion’s Mane Jelly lives in the North Atlantic, North Pacific, and Arctic Oceans.

3. The Lion’s Mane Jelly is bioluminescent (glows in the dark!).

4. Like all jellies, the Lion’s Mane Jelly has no brain, blood, or nervous system.

5. Like all jellies, the Lion’s Mane Jelly is 95% water.

6. There are 200 species of True Jellies.

7. All Jellies are radially symmetrical.

8. Jellies have no eyes, but rather eye spots that detect light and dark.

9. Lion’s Mane Jellies have nematocysts in their tentacles that they use to sting their prey. Nematocysts are barbs (sharp points) filled with venom.

10. A Jelly can sting you even if washed up on the beach so be careful! Jelly stings on humans can be treated with vinegar to lessen the pain.

Happy World Oceans Day!

By , June 8, 2015 7:41 pm
Clark’s clownfish Wakatobi Indonesia

Clark’s clownfish photo by: Cherilyn Jose

Happy World Oceans Day! Each June 8 I stop and ponder the state of the oceans. It’s not a pretty picture as there is overfishing, pollution and climate change effects to worry about. Since I last wrote this post, “The Three Most Pressing Issue for World Oceans Day”up to 80% of the world’s fisheries are now exploited, up from 53% just 2 years ago. Over 1 billion people rely on fish for their primary source of protein. What are they to eat once there are not enough fishes to catch?

Ocean acidification has become more of a hot button issue, as the effects of it are already being seen on commercial shellfish and pteropods (a marine snail). Ocean acidification is a ticking time bomb for coral reefs. There are a few studies on places with naturally lower pH and the corals there survive, but overall it’s a bleak picture for coral reefs as far as ocean acidification is concerned. There’s also coral bleaching due to higher seawater temperatures. What is to become of the coral reefs that house 25% of the ocean’s wildlife?

More people are now aware of the problem of plastic in the ocean. If it was just plastic water bottles and plastic bags, then it would be easy to clean up. Unfortunately most of the plastic, over 90% of it, is microscopic-sized. The plastic is small enough for plankton to eat. The plastic bioaccumulates up the food chain. The little fishes eat the plastic and the bigger fishes that eat the little ones also get a dose of plastic and so on until you get to the top level predators such as sharks and humans that get an even bigger dose of plastic. Humans carry around several pounds of plastic in their body!

Phew, fortunately there are things you can do to help the oceans (taken from a previous post):

*Marine protected areas (MPAs) can help fisheries become sustainable by being a nursery for the fish caught right outside the MPA borders. Unfortunately only 1% of the oceans are protected.

*You can help by eating only sustainably caught seafood. Download the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guide as a start.

*Curbing carbon dioxide emissions (i.e. using less fossil fuel) by using other alternative energies will help tremendously in slowing down ocean acidification.

*Driving less and using public transportation are great ways to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Also consider getting solar power for your home or workplace.

*Plastic pollution is preventable, especially by cutting down the use of single use plastic bags. Please bring your own bags to the grocery store! Support local plastic bag bans. Pressure manufacturers to use only recyclable packaging. Recycle as much plastic as you can.

Every little action counts in the big picture!

Zale’s Tales-A Children’s Book Review

By , June 1, 2015 8:08 am
Zale's Tales Book Review

Zale's Tales by Everett Taylor

Zale’s Tales is a children’s book written and illustrated by a husband and wife team under the pen name of Everett Taylor.

Zale’s Tales follows the adventures of a boy who picks up a special pearl on the beach. Instantly he is in the ocean and is transformed into a sailfish! Zale loses the magic pearl (fish don’t have any pockets!) and has a long journey ahead to retrieve the pearl. His journey is filled with transformations into animals such as a mako shark and a giant squid.

Zale’s Tales is a beautifully illustrated and innovative children’s book. I enjoyed the illustrations, and my 5 year old daughter enjoyed Zale’s adventures in the ocean. This book is a great introduction to the ocean world and its inhabitants for young and old alike. I highly recommend this book to any ocean lovers, or to those who would like to nurture the next generation of ocean lovers.

Note: I did receive a review copy of this book, but I reviewed it as honestly as possible.

Guest Post- Jane Cui and Southeast Asia Diving

By , May 26, 2015 12:13 pm
National Geographic Raja Ampat Indonesia

Scuba Diver in Raja Ampat, Indonesia Copyright National Geographic

5 Amazing Places to Scuba Dive in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asian waters contain the Coral Triangle, an area that comprises Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and East Timor.

The Coral Triangle has the largest amount of marine biodiversity in the world, including around 500 species of coral, according to the WWF foundation.

Scuba diving in the Coral Triangle is world-class. More than 3000 species of fish live there in a range of habitats that support almost 25% of marine life on Earth.

This is a list of 5 fantastic places to scuba dive in Southeast Asia:

1. Raja Ampat, Indonesia

“Raja Ampat” means “Four Kings” in Indonesian, and refers to the four islands that surround the reef and surrounding ocean.

Raja Ampat is number one on this list because it has the some of the world’s healthiest reefs. You can see a high density of hard and soft coral all around the four islands. Marine surveys by Conservation International has shown that the marine diversity here is the highest recorded in Southeast Asia.

Raja Ampat, located in a strategic position between the Indian and the Pacific oceans, is remote and undisturbed by human interaction. It is a top priority region for conservation due to its function as a fish larval dispersal area.

2. Sipadan, Malaysia

Sipadan Island is the place to see large pelagic fish such as barracuda, jackfish, and groupers. The island sits on the remnants of an extinct underwater volcano. The nutrients from the ashes of the volcanic eruption has given life to a large coral reef which covers the underwater wall next to the island.

More than 3000 species of marine life have been classified in Sipadan. Unfortunately, Sipadan has been affected by coral bleaching in the past, and the remnants of this damage remains.

Recent conservation efforts by the Malaysian Government has stopped development of resorts on the island.

3. Republic of Palau

The coral reefs in the tiny nation of Republic of Palau are unique. They are located in an area where 3 major currents in southeast Asia meet. The dive sites here are home to more than one thousand identified species of fish, and over five hundred species of coral and anemone. Because of the high current, scuba diving here can be rough, but the visibility can extend 20-30 meters.

Palau is also the home of Jellyfish Lake, a marine lagoon connected to the ocean through an underwater reef system. The jellyfish in the lake have been isolated for 12,000 years, and have evolved to lose their stingers. Only snorkeling is allowed in the Jellyfish Lake. The bubbles from the oxygen tanks of scuba divers harm the jellyfish.

4. Similan Islands, Thailand

The Similan Islands Marine National Park, located west of Thailand, are made of granite boulders formed by the eruption of an ancient volcano around 65 million years ago. The sea slopes down, dropping around 70 meters, and are covered by coral. The scuba diving hilight here is the cavernous underwater topography. The currents at the Similans can be strong.

The Similans also have a turtle hatching program, as several marine turtle species lay eggs on the islands. Several Thai marine biologists have blamed excessive tourist activity for the damage to coral reefs around the popular Tachai island. As a result, a few islands are now closed to the public.

5. Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India

Located in the ocean between India and Myanmar, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are in a remote location far from human activity. The Andaman Islands are a chain of over 500 mostly uninhabited islands and are an extension of the mountain range of Myanmar.

Due to the isolation of Andaman and Nicobar islands, the marine and terrestrial life have evolved over thousands of years in a unique way. Ten percent or more of the life here is endemic.

Thus, the scuba diving here is pristine and untouched. Some of the dive sites here have a clear visibility of up to 30 meters. Andaman offers hard black coral that are rare in other Southeast Asian waters.

Biography: Jane Cui is the owner of Down Under Scuba. Follow her on twitter @janecui11 for information on scuba diving in Southeast Asia.

Interview-Tim White & Shark Finning

By , May 18, 2015 8:08 am
Timothy White Hopkins Marine Station

Tim White building his housing

On April 18, 2015 I attended MARINE’s (Monterey Area Research Institutions’ Network for Education) Ocean Colloquium. There I heard Tim White of Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford University speak about shark finning in a remote Pacific island. This interview was conducted by e-mail:

1. Tell me a little about yourself and how you came to be at Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford University.

After graduating from UCLA with a degree in biology, I was lucky to become involved in a few different marine experiences. I spent one autumn interning as a research diver within the National Park Service , and that following winter I worked as a fisheries observer in the Bering Sea. After a few months on crab boats it was pretty clear that I wouldn’t stay at that gig forever. Very cool learning experience, but it was time to search out other opportunities. We would stay out at sea for a few weeks, and then have spend a busy 24 hours in port offloading crab before heading back out to sea. During one of those offloads in Dutch Harbor, I searched through online conservation job boards, found a posting for a research technician position through Stanford/Hopkins Marine Station, and it worked out!

2. What is shark finning?
Shark finning is a harmful fishing practice that is driven by the demand for shark fin soup. Sharks are captured, their fins are cut off, and the carcasses are often dumped back into the ocean. The fins end up being used in shark fin soup, which is considered a delicacy in some cultures. In the fishery that I ended up studying the fishermen would actually keep the carcass, but the motivation to hunt sharks still stemmed from the fact that shark fins can be incredibly valuable. The arbitrary and extreme value of shark fins has senselessly put them at great risk – much like the plight of rhinoceroses and their horns.

3. How did you become interested in shark finning?
My overarching motivation is to study the ways that humans impact the ocean, so that we can mitigate and minimize impacts as needed. My involvement with shark finning began once I was hired at Stanford, but I’ve been interested in marine conservation and fisheries ecology for years so the topic has always been loosely on my mind.

4. Where did you study shark finning? Briefly describe your exciting journey getting there.
We studied shark finning in the country of Kiribati, which is an island nation that spans thousands of miles along the equatorial Pacific. I spent three months on an island that is located 1000 miles south of Hawaii. Getting to this remote location was challenging but necessary; one objective was to study shark finning in a region with minimal external/industrial fisheries, and the island of Teraina certainly fit the bill. I flew into an island called Christmas Island and was lucky enough to join a sailing cargo ship that was passing through the region. That fantastic ship dropped me on the island of Teraina and said goodbye. I was certainly happy to see their sails along the horizon three months later – I hadn’t seen another ship since they dropped me off!

5. How did you communicate with the natives?
This project was made possible by some really meaningful partnerships between some Stanford researchers and the communities of Kiribati. My advisors have been working in the region for nearly a decade. In Kiribati, they primarily speak a language called Gilbertese and their English proficiency varies by island. On the particular island I stayed on the prevalence of English was very limited. I began learning Gilbertese on the sail over to the island, so I still had lots to learn! After a few weeks of charades and lots of translation help from a few English-speaking friends, I became competent in the day-to-day essentials like fishing terms, foods, pleasantries. Being 100% immersed in the language certainly helped – I spent nearly every day aboard Kiribati fishing boats that exclusively spoke Gilbertese, so it was a sink or swim scenario.

Timothy White Hopkins Marine Station

Tim White measuring a shark


6. What were the main lessons you learned there?
We tried to take a broad, interdisciplinary look at shark finning. While I was there I collected data on the motivations of shark finning, the species involved in the trade, the impacts on shark populations, and the benefits to local fishermen. It was no surprise for us to learn that shark finning appears to be having really drastic impacts on local shark populations, though this was an important trend to measure. Sometimes folks assume that these tiny, remote islands are in relatively good shape, but this showed that even traditional technology (canoes/single hooks) could have really devastating impacts on shark species in a short time frame.

7. How do you think we can solve shark finning, especially as consumers?
As consumers we need to be sure to absolutely avoid unsustainable shark products. Conservationists have approached this problem from a number of ways. From the conversations I’ve had, it seems like one of the most effective strategies to reduce shark finning is to reduce consumer demand. Conservation groups have launched awareness campaigns in regions of high shark fin consumption, such as Hong Kong. It appears that the general public demand for shark fins is decreasing as people become more aware of the damage that the practice can cause.

10 Facts You Didn’t Know About Sea Sponges

By , May 6, 2015 10:23 am
blue vase sponge Wakatobi Indonesia width=

Blue Vase Sponge photo by: Cherilyn Jose

1. Sea Sponges are animals, not plants.

2. Sea Sponges have been in the ocean for 500 million years.

3. Sea Sponges don’t move, but they filter lots of water for food (plankton) and oxygen.

4. Sea Sponges are among the most simple of multi-cellular organisms.

5. There are about 5,000 species of sea sponges worldwide.

6. Some sponges are found in freshwater lakes and rivers.

7. The smallest sea sponges are 1 inch long (3 cm) (or flat against a rock), the largest over 4 feet tall (1 m).

8. Sponges do not have heads, eyes, brains, arms, legs, ears, muscles, nerves or organs!

9. Sea Sponges have pores that filter water in for food and oxygen, and pores that push out waste.

10. Sea Sponges have few predators other than sea turtles, and fish because some produce toxins.

Interview-Hannah Rosen & Humboldt Squid Communication

By , April 28, 2015 1:56 pm

Humboldt squid & National Geographic crittercam width=

Crittercam being put on Humboldt Squid photo by:Joel Hollander


On April 18, 2015 I attended MARINE’s (Monterey Area Research Institutions’ Network for Education) Ocean Colloquium. There, among many interesting speakers, I heard Hannah Rosen speak about her research on Humboldt Squid communication at Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford University. I was fascinated and I later asked if I could interview her for my blog. The following interview was conducted by e-mail:
1. Tell me a little about yourself and how you came to be at Hopkins Marine Station.
Hannah Rosen (HR) : I grew up in Pennsylvania, but when I was 11 I went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium with my family. I thought it was pretty much the most amazing place I’d ever been in my life, but never imagined I would someday be working right next door. I went to college at Bucknell University and studied animal behavior. I became fascinated with cephalopods and how smart they are. So I decided to go to graduate school and do research on cephalopod behavior. That’s how I found Dr. Gilly at HMS and decided to do research on squid chromatophores and their use in Humboldt Squid.

2. How did you become interested in studying squid?
HR: I first became interested in octopus after reading about their incredible ability to learn and even play. However, when I did more reading I realized that while there was a lot of research done on octopus and cuttlefish, there almost none done on squid because of how difficult they are to study. I guess I sort of saw this as a challenge and that made me want to be the one to work on this research.

3. How do squid communicate?
HR: Squid communicate mostly through body patterns on their skin. Different species have different colors of the expandable pigments sacs called chromatophores, which they can use like pixels on a screen to create different patterns. They often use these patterns in concert with different body and arm positions, and with light reflecting cells in their skin called iridophores.

4. Why did you study Humboldt squid instead of other cephalopods or squids?
HR: I was interested in Humboldt squid partly because of the interesting dynamic they have within their schools. They are always found in groups, but we don’t know if these groups are static or if members come and go. There is some evidence they hunt together, but they are also very cannibalistic. All these complexities made me think they must have a way to communicate with each other to maintain whatever sort of order that seems to exist. They are also large enough to strap video cameras onto, which makes it a little easier to study them than some other squid.

5. How did you get camera footage of Humboldt squid displaying?
HR: We got that footage using National Geographic’s Crittercam, an animal-borne video package that we put on squid that were caught using a squid jig and hand line. The squid were able to swim freely with the camera, which automatically detached after a few hours and floated to the surface, where we were able to recover it and look at the footage.

6. What do you hope to learn (i.e. what your dissertation is about)?
HR: I’m hoping to learn something about how Humboldt squid use their chromatophores, both for communication and camouflage. I am also comparing some of the anatomy of the chromatophores in Humboldt squid to that in California market squid to see if some of the differences in how they use their chromatophores translate into physical differences as well.

7. Have you come across any interesting facts about squid during your studies?
HR: I have learned lots of interesting facts about squid! Some things I have learned that aren’t about my particular research is that squid have blue blood instead of red because they use copper instead of iron to transport oxygen. Also, the have three, one chambered hearts instead of one, many chambered heart.

10 Cool Facts About Blue Whales

By , April 19, 2015 8:08 am
Blue Whale by NOAA

Blue Whale photo by: NOAA

1. Blue Whales are the largest animal to have ever lived on Earth. They are larger than any dinosaurs were.

2. Blue Whales can grow to 100 feet long (30.5 meters) long. That’s as long as 20 school children laying down end-to-end!

3. Blue Whales weigh as much as 26 adult bull elephants (about 200 tons).

4. Blue Whales eat up to 40 million krill (a small kind of shrimp) a day, or about 8,000 pounds (3,629 kg). That’s the equivalent of eating 32,000 quarter pound hamburgers a day!

5. A Blue Whale’s heart is the size and weight of a compact car. It pumps a whopping 60 gallons per beat.

6. A Blue Whale can live over 80 years.

7. The deep rumbling sounds from a Blue Whale can travel for thousands of miles under the sea.

8. Before whaling, there were 250,000 Blue Whales on Earth. Now there are less than 10,000.

9. A Blue Whale calf (baby) gains 250 pounds (113 kg) a day just from its mother’s milk!

10. Central California, USA has the largest concentration of Blue Whales in the world. There are about 2,000 there seasonally.

Guest Post-Whale Watching: Southern California Style!

By , April 16, 2015 2:00 pm
Humpback whale mother & calf

Humpback whale mother & calf flukes photo by: Vaishali Shah

My name is Vaishali Shah and I am a volunteer Naturalist for the Cabrillo Whalewatch Program sponsored by the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium and American Cetacean Society Los Angeles Chapter.

I have been a volunteer for 5 years and it has been an amazing experience. Currently we have over 100 volunteers who join the whale watch boats on their daily tours from December to April. They educate the public on the variety of marine life found in the Santa Monica Bay, CA.

These months (winter and spring) are when the Pacific Gray whale migrates from Alaska to Baja, Mexico and back again. Being right in the migration path, whale watching boats rarely have go out more than 2-3 miles to see these amazing animals. This particular season has been an epic year for gray whale counting. All along the west coast of US, people count the number of gray whales going past. Volunteers, including Whalewatch naturalists, take part in this activity at the Point Vicente Interpretative Center in Palos Verdes, CA as part of the Gray whale census that lasts from 1st December to April, dawn to dusk every day.

This year has been a record year for the Southbound migration of gray whales as 1900 whales have been counted. This is an all time high in the 32 year-old census. This made for many exciting whale watch trips. Each trip lasts for 3 hours and we would see anywhere between 10-16 whales at the peak of migration. This year was fantastic for me as I got to witness my first breaching whale, (when the whale comes right out of the water and splashes down) a truly breath-taking experience.

The captains of the boats are extremely sensitive to the behavior of the whales and will respect them by keeping their distance. By law all vessels, including paddle boarders, have to stay at least 100 yards away from any whale. On numerous occasions, the captain has shut off the boat engine only for the whale to approach and check us out! One time a Humpback whale came so close, I got covered in whale snot!

We see many other types of whales too. Southern California has a variety of different species. This year in the bay we have had resident humpbacks including a mother and calf, and finback whales (the 2nd largest animal in the ocean). There are already sightings of blue whales (the largest animal known to have lived), which usually come to visit us in summertime to feed. Every now and then we get the very rare chance to see orcas, pilot whales, false killer whales and even sperm whales have been sighted.

Common dolphins seen while whale watching

Common Dolphins photo by: Vaishali Shah

The whales with their gigantic size are what people come to see on the whale watch, but it is often the smaller cetacean species that make the trip worthwhile! Dolphins. There are up to 5 species of dolphins in Southern California and the most well known being bottlenose dolphin (Flipper was one). However, my favorite are the common dolphins. On a good day these animals will jump, leap, tail slap and bow-ride the boat. They can be seen in mega pods of thousands. They come close to the boat. It is truly something when you look down into the eye of a wild dolphin.

Last but not least, a typical whale watch is never complete without seeing California Sea Lions. Whether they are resting on a buoy or porpoising behind the boat, children and adults love them. How could you not with those big surly eyes!

Hope you have enjoyed a brief glimpse of a whale watch trip in Santa Monica Bay.


This is a link to the Cabrillo Whalewatch Program Facebook page, come join us!


I also take photographs on the trips, you can buy
matted prints at my Etsy Store: CreatureCurious

10 Fabulous Facts About Sea Snakes

By , March 23, 2015 8:08 am

Banded Sea Krait

Banded Sea Krait photo by: Cherilyn Jose


Note on picture: Sea kraits are sea snakes that go onto land, true sea snakes spend their whole lives in the water.

1. Sea snakes are reptiles and need to breathe air.

2. 50 different species of true sea snakes live in the tropical waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

3. A beaked sea snake venom is 4x more deadly than a cobra’s.

4. Sea snakes move by wriggling like an “S”

5. Most sea snakes are 3-5 feet (0.9-1.5 meters) long, but some can reach lengths of 8 feet (2.4 meters).

6. A sea snake can hold its breath for 2-3 hours!

7. A sea snakes spits out excess salt on its forked tongue.

8. True sea snakes do not lay eggs. The eggs develop in the female and the young are born alive.
9. Sea snakes have 2-20 young, around 12 inches long (0.3 meters)

10. The few predators sea snakes have are sharks, moray eels, sea eagles (a type of bird).

Meet the Endangered Vaquita Porpoise

By , March 8, 2015 8:08 am
Vaquita Porpoise Gulf of California

Vaquita photo by: Chris Johnson courtesy of http://vaquita.tv

Hello, my name is Vance, and I am a Vaquita. I am also known as the Gulf of California Harbor Porpoise. I live off of Mexico in the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez). There are only 100 of us left, making us the most critically endangered small cetacean (whale) in the world. Eek, that’s a lot of pressure on us, just trying to stay alive. I’d hate to go extinct just because we live in a limited range.

We are the smallest cetacean, reaching lengths of 4-5 feet (1.2-1.5 meters) and weights of 65-120 pounds (30-55 kg). We are hard for humans to study because we avoid boats if possible. It’s nothing personal, except that we’ve had so much trouble with humans setting out fishing nets (see below). We hang out in pairs, but sometimes we get together in groups of 7-10. We eat schooling fish such as croakers and grunts, as well as crustaceans, squid and octopus

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Our greatest threats are through commercial fishing. Gillnets are miles long, and are used to catch shrimp for export to places such as the United States. Shrimp is the most popular seafood of choice there. Gillnets catch anything and anybody in its path, including us Vaquita.
There is also a fish called the Totoaba, whose swim bladders are exported to China for a medicinal soup. This is an illegal fishery, and Vaquita get caught in these nets too.

The bad news is that cetaceans worldwide are caught as bycatch in fishermen’s nets. 300,000 cetaceans die a year, or one every two minutes, just to satisfy human’s demand for seafood.

The good news is that there is a moratorium on gillnets in the Gulf of California for two years. If it gets enforced regularly, then my population of Vaquita have a chance to recover. Females have calves every other year, and the calves already born will have a chance to grow up.

For now, it’s time for my morning meal. It’s time to celebrate!

For more on the Vaquita, visit Vaquita, Last Chance for the Desert Porpoise
NOAA Fisheries Page about the Vaquita

Photos and video taken under permit (Oficio No. DR/847/08 ) from the Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (CONANP/Secretaría del Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (SEMARNAT), within a natural protected area subject to special management and decreed as such by the Mexican Government. This work was made possible thanks to the collaboration and support of the Coordinador de Investigación y Conservación de Mamíferos Marinos at the Instiuto Nacional de Ecología (INE).

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