1. Starfish aren’t fish! They are echinoderms, invertebrates, and are related to sea urchins and sand dollars.
2. If an arm of a starfish becomes detached, it can grow a new one (though it might take up to a year to grow)!
3. To eat, a starfish spits out its stomach and digests whatever it’s eating (like a mussel or snail) on the outside of its body. Then it sucks back in its stomach to finish digesting.
4. There are 1,600 kinds of starfish in the ocean. They range in color from red, orange, brown (there’s a chocolate chip sea star), purple, yellow and more!
5. The tube feet of a starfish are amazing. They create suction by sucking in seawater. The tube feet help the sea star move, and manipulate its prey.
6. A starfish can live up to 35 years.
7. Starfish are eaten by other sea stars, fish, manta rays and sharks.
8. Not all starfish have 5 arms, some have up to 24 arms, like the sunflower sea star!
9. The crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS) is found in the Indo-Pacific and outbreaks of them cause damage to coral reefs. COTS eat exclusively coral polyps and cause the coral to turn white and die. The COTS cause almost as much damage as coral bleaching, like on the Great Barrier Reef off Australia.
10. Starfish have no brain, no blood and no central nervous system. They can “see” with eyes on the end of their arms. These eyes sense light and dark.
My Experience Snorkeling with Humpback Whales off the Silver Bank, Atlantic Ocean
I slid into the Atlantic Ocean off the small boat like a seal sliding off a rock and into the water. I heard my breathing through my snorkel and blinked while focusing on the deep blue beyond.
Suddenly, there they were, a 40 foot (12.2m) long mother humpback whale with her 15 foot (4.6m) long calf circling her. It was an astonishing sight. I have seen humpback whales and their antics above the water off of Hawaii and California, but here was the gentle giant in her own watery environment.
They swam around us and our boat, eyeing us. No doubt they were curious about the ungainly creatures who had literally came out of the blue. The mother and calf swam next to us, under us and so close that I knew with flick of her tail, it could be the end of me.
It was like a dream, one that would be long lost if it weren’t for the pictures my small point and shoot underwater camera took. There were full body shots of the mother and calf, and body parts like flukes or the long pectoral fins filling the entire frame.
The calf needed to come up for air every few minutes, with mother in tow even though she could average 20 minutes per breath. The calf swam close to its mother the whole time they were with us, a good 30 minutes. They circled our boat many times. Our 25 foot long boat paled in comparison to the mother. Female humpbacks can grow up to 50 feet (15m) long and 35 tons (31.8 tonnes)!
Out of the water the pair put on quite a show, tail lobbing (slapping their flukes on the surface of the water), pectoral fin slapping and breaching their whole bodies out of the water!
Intentions are powerful. The previous night while introducing ourselves (our group had all previously snorkeled with wild dolphins in the Bahamas with Wildquest over the years) and why we were there, I shared that I wanted to see a mother and calf pair underwater as well as write a blog post, a children’s book and article. I’m not saying I’m solely responsible for the long and memorable encounter—the humpback whales made that happen—but considering we only got into the water once more during the week (we heard a male humpback singing underwater!), it made this encounter even more special.
Aquatic Adventures specializes in “Passive-in-Water Whale Encounters” or PIWEE (pee-wee) on the Silver Bank Marine Sanctuary, which is halfway between the Dominican Republic (where we flew in to) and the Turks and Caicos islands in the Atlantic Ocean (the Caribbean borders the other sides of the Dominican Republic).
From Aquatic Adventure’s website, “Research indicates that the Silver Bank contains the largest seasonal population humpbacks in the North Atlantic Ocean, if not the world. The sanctuary is only 40 square miles but 5000-7000 humpback whales pass through each winter.”
The Silver Bank is a calving and mating ground for humpback whales. The calves grow quickly on their mother’s milk of 70% fat (whole cow’s milk is only 4% fat in comparison!). They are born 10-15 feet long and 1-2 tons in weight. The mother will not feed again until she reaches somewhere north like Stellwagen Bank off of Massachusetts, USA.
I want to thank everyone on the boat, guests and crew alike, for an amazing experience in and out of the water. For more on snorkeling with humpback whales in the Silver Bank, visit Aquatic Adventure’s website.
This International Women’s Day (March 8) I wanted to write about one of my role models, Rachel Carson. So who was Rachel Carson? Well, she single-handedly started the modern environmental movement with her seminal book, Silent Spring. She, along with Jane Goodall, are my role models. As such, you would’ve thought that I would have dove into and finished all of her books, but alas I haven’t. Part of it is jealousy because she became so famous and I write similarly to her. But I’m following in her footsteps as a science communicator, which is someone who takes complex scientific concepts and makes them easy to understand to the general public.
I’ve delved more deeply into her life and who she was as a person. She was shy, introverted and deeply invested in nature. She loved the ocean, but spent precious little time in it. Though she spent a lot of time on its shores by her house in Maine. She bought that house with the proceeds from her books. Authors can make a living from writing 😉
She wrote mainly about the east coast where she lived (her book, Under the Sea Wind, was about the animals that lived on the shoreline there), and especially near Silver Spring, Maryland where she worked for the government (US Fish and Wildlife Service) as a writer and editor. Rachel actually visited my neck of the woods, San Francisco once. She loved Muir Woods and wished she had more time to explore San Francisco.
I like reading her old letters to her friends and colleagues, especially to the love of her life, Dorothy Freeman. It’s a shame she had to hide her love, though she did express herself through her letters. In this day and age two women loving each other is acceptable, but Rachel couldn’t even talk straight to her doctor when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Doctors didn’t like the fact she wasn’t married and didn’t speak frankly with her about treatment because there wasn’t a male intermediary.
Rachel ultimately decided to hide her cancer from the public, and wrote about the dangers of the pesticide, DDT, in Silent Spring while having cancer. She also testified in front of Congress, weak from radiation treatments but still eloquent and convincing. The chemical industry didn’t slur her findings, but in desperation used personal slurs. They tried to mar her character by saying she was unmarried old maid, a communist and a cat lady (!)
The Environmental Protection Agency in the USA was formed after her death and continues to protect the environment to this day. The National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, was passed by Congress. We celebrate Earth Day each April to thanks to her. So now you know who was Rachel Carson!
Rachel Carson’s legacy lives on, and I would encourage anyone interested to read at least one of her best-selling and award-winning ocean book trilogy, Under the Sea Wind (my favorite because she named the animals, and the inspiration for my writing, including this blog), The Sea Around Us, and To the Edge of the Sea. Silent Spring is important to read but harder to get into.
Be sure and let me know which book of Rachel Carson’s is your favorite!
Hello, I’m Bumpy, a Western Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtle. The largest of all the 7 species of sea turtles, I migrate across the Pacific Ocean (from Asia to California, USA, over 6,000 miles!!) feasting on jellies.
Recently I had a strange adventure. I was happily swimming along looking for jellies to eat when bam! I couldn’t swim any longer. Something was tied behind my shoulders. Soon I was pulled out of the water. I hadn’t been out of the water since I was a hatchling racing towards the ocean after busting out of my egg shell! The water usually buoys me up, but man have I put on some weight (1,419 pounds to be exact).
Then again, maybe I have been out of the water since. Scientists recognized me from when they pulled me out of the water in 2016 to weigh and measure me. They named me Bumpy for the marks on my carapace (soft-shelled back) that I got from some ship strikes. Now that’s a story for another time.
I’m probably 20-25 years old, but who’s counting? I’m only halfway through my life, assuming I survive the perils ahead of me. Ships can strike leatherback sea turtles at the surface because we’re hard to see (I’m case in point).
We can get tangled in fishing gear, be illegally poached (our eggs especially) or have reduced nesting sites in places such as Indonesia, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.
Don’t get me started on all the plastic in the ocean, especially because I can’t tell the difference from a plastic bag full of water or a jelly full of water.
Like most large animals in the ocean, we can be by-catch from different fisheries. Gill nets are very thin nets made of almost transparent monofilaments that are stretched out for miles. Big fish, like swordfish are targeted but any animal that runs into the net including sea turtles, sharks, dolphins and seabirds get caught. They drown because they can’t get to the surface for air (like me) or because they can’t swim anymore to breathe (like sharks).
After taking biological samples from me (ow!) the scientists fitted me with new acoustic and satellite tags. They’re a drag, so to speak, but worth it to my kind if scientists can learn enough about us to help save our remaining population.
Unfortunately I’m endangered and our Western Pacific population has declined by 80% in the last 30 years. Scientists estimate that only 55 leatherback sea turtles return to the coast of California now.
My ancestors are 100 million years old—older than the dinosaurs but alas, we cannot contend with all the problems humans throw our way.
Fortunately in California (but not the rest of the world) there are rules that protect us from getting potentially entangled in fishing gear. The Dungeness crab fishery is “delayed indefinitely” due to our presence. Sorry to all you crab-eating humans out there, but I appreciate your patience as we feast on jellies in the area!
“The Circus at the End of the Sea” by Lori R. Snyder is a heartwarming, delightful and joy-of-a-book to read. It’s a middle grade fantasy book (ages 8-12 years old) about magic on Venice Beach, California.
Although I read MG books extensively because I write in that genre, I ordinarily wouldn’t pick up a fantasy book about magic. But the main character, Maddy, gains a cephalopod sidekick in the blue octopus with yellow spots named Ophelia. I instantly fell in love with this charming, protective and lovable sidekick who sits on Maddy’s shoulder.
Ophelia is fashioned after the real-life mimic octopus, who “mimics” real animals to escape predators. It can become sea snake, lionfish, or flatfish to name a few. (Search “mimic octopus on YouTube for some fascinating videos!) Ophelia is an octopus living in a magical world, so she can squirt magical ink and turn into words!
The protagonist, Maddy, has seen magic in the ordinary world her entire life. As an orphan shuttled around different group homes, she has learned to keep this ability secret. Until one day she is drawn to the end of a pier in Venice Beach during the beginning of a storm, and she discovers Il Circo delle Strade, the Circus at the End of the Sea.
There she discovers a magical circus which boasts a number of unique characters including a muse and guide named Vanessa that gives her magical leg warmers. She embraces her magical abilities and begins to find out the mystery of the silver bracelet she can’t remove and was given to her by the parents who abandoned her as a newborn. She even learns why she has a heart condition she needs medication for.
Besides Ophelia, her best cephalopod friend, she meets her best human friend Skeeter, who is also a skateboarder. He wants to become a part of the circus but is too young. He too is an orphan. Skeeter and Maddy bond over that and being able to see the magic all around them.
I wasn’t expecting spiritual philosophy in a fantasy children’s book, but there’s a good balance of seeing magic in the ordinary, to finding out your true nature and discovering real friendships.
There is never a dull moment in Circus at the End of the Sea, whether it’s quiet contemplative moments, or a race on a roller coaster through the clouds. There is also the Bridge of Sighs that Maddy must cross and face her fears in order to reach the Heart at the End of the World. Most of all, this book is about about possibilities, and that our destinies are what we make of them.
I won’t give anything else away, but if you are intrigued, check out your local library or independent bookseller.
This is the Amazon link Circus at the End of the Sea. It comes out October 19, 2021.
The end notes are about the real Venice Beach, California, which is a character all onto itself in this book. I haven’t been there before but feel I have thanks to this book!
I know the author of this book, Lori R. Snyder, who is also a marine biologist and writer. She is the founder of the Writer’s Happiness Movement, which does free online writer’s retreats and has free yoga over zoom among many other wonderful things. I do her weekly 5 minute Writer’s Happiness Exercises as often as I can.