Ocean of Hope

Meet the Pink Manta Ray!

pink manta ray, manta ray Australia
Pink Manta Ray from Australia photo by Kristian Lane/Instagram

Yes, I’m really a pink manta ray

My belly is pink, whereas in “normal” manta rays their belly is white with black spots and splotches on it. I’ve been nicknamed “Inspector Clouseau” from the movies and tv program called the Pink Panther. You clever humans!

Why am I a pink manta ray?

I don’t know, I think I was just born that way. You intelligent humans have ruled out stress. From a small skin sample (a biopsy) they have ruled out a diet full of red food, it’s not an infection or a genetic mutation.

My pink pigments

So now you humans guess that it’s a “unique expression of melanin” or that my skin pigments are just “off”. Duh, I could’ve told you that! After all there are “strawberry blonde leopards,” and “fuchsia grasshoppers,” due to something called erythrism. That causes animals to appear reddish or pinkish.

I’m a boy!

I was first seen in 2015 off of Australia’s Lady Elliot Island. I’m now 11 feet wide (wingtip to wingtip) and yes, I’m a boy. I was last seen as part of a courting train, which is when a line of males (in this case 8) chase a female to try and mate with. Her pheromones are quite irresistible! If she’s looking for unique, I’ve got all the other boys beat–I’m a pink manta ray after all!

My biggest predator…

Even though as a pink manta ray I stand out in a crowd of manta rays, I’m relatively safe from killer whales and great white sharks due to my size. In fact, my biggest potential predator is you humans!

Devil rays

Yes, all manta rays are at risk at being targeted and hunted by humans. Fishermen nicknamed us devil rays because our curled up head fins look like devil horns. We would often get tangled in their fishing nets and ruin them. They really didn’t like that or us because of that.

What are gill rakers?

Now us manta rays are targeted for our gill rakers. They are thin, comb-like strings on our gills that capture all the yummy plankton from the water I strain through my gills. In other words, my gill rakers are what keep me alive!

Even pink manta rays can’t outsmart humans though…

Unfortunately, a new not-so-traditional and controversial formula of Traditional Chinese Medicine utilizes gill rakers and humans now target us gentle and giant beings. We manta rays have the largest brain-to-body ratio of any fish, but alas, even our intelligence cannot keep us from being hunted, possibly someday to the point of extinction. Coupled with our lack of defense (we have no stingers) we have little hope of surviving unless humans stop targeting and killing us faster than we can reproduce. Its no wonder females have a train of males trying to court them—they only mate every two years and have pups every 2-5 years.

Also see Moby the Manta Ray: Happy Manta Ray Day!

For more on how you can help manta rays, visit these ocean conservation non-profits:

Manta Pacific Research Foundation

Manta Trust

Marine Megafauna Foundation

Wild Aid’s Manta Ray Program

Articles used in this blog post:

Rare pink manta ray spotted near Australia’s Lady Elliot Island

How manta rays gill rakers filter water without clogging

Manta ray reproduction

Lionfish: An Introduced Species Gone Awry

lionfish: introduced species gone awry
Lionfish: Public Enemy #1? Photo by Cherilyn Jose

From Lionfish POV: Psst, humans. First they capture lionfish for their home aquariums and we are considered deadly beauties. Then a few aquarists let us go (accidentally or on purpose) in the Atlantic and Caribbean Oceans and poof! We have become the scourge of the oceans. That is because we reproduce prolifically and can eat anything that fits in our mouths. Lionfish hunts are regularly held, and some humans have even tried to condition wild sharks to eat us. That saddens me because we haven’t done anything other than what our biology tells us, and now we are public enemy #1 in the oceans.

From Human POV: Lionfish hail from the Western Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean, but in the last 20 years have literally taken over the Atlantic and Caribbean Oceans. The main reason why is because humans have overfished the natural predators, such as grouper, of the lionfish.

Introduced species have been studied intensively throughout the terrestrial world, and especially on islands where the invasive species are more apparent. In the ocean however, it is much harder to study introduced species due to fact that there are no real boundaries there.

The main tactic to reduce the unnatural lionfish population has been to kill them. Dr. Sylvia Earle, known as “Her Deepness” for her pioneering Jacques Cousteau type exploration and passion, says of that, “Kill kill kill…is not the solution, Lionfish have replaced a void created by the loss of apex predators, the best way to protect the ocean reefs is to create more Marine Protected Areas (MPA) to bring back healthy numbers of predators, that will in turn bring balance back to the reef.”

Creating Marine Protected Areas has been shown to increase fish that are fished in the areas surrounding the MPAs, so MPAs are really a win win situation both for humans and ocean denizens.

Author’s note: The Lionfish is one of my favorite fish to take care of in aquariums. I always stayed clear of their venomous spines, and they were quite fun to feed. They have the potential to eat until they burst, but there is something very satisfying about feeding an animal. In the lionfish’s case, feeding them until I hoped they were satiated. The particular tank I used to take care of also had a porcupine pufferfish, which is another favorite aquarium fish of mine. Porcupinefish are truly the “dogs of the ocean.”

Why Atlantic Bluefin Tuna May Become Extinct: The True Price of Sushi

fishing for bluefin tuna might cause their extinction
Bluefin Tuna photo by Monterey Bay Aquarium

There’s no feeling in the world like swimming at my top speed of 43.5 mph (70 kph), and sensing a bait ball in the water. A bait ball is when small schooling fishes like anchovies or sardines form a tight ball when predators are near. Their instinct is safety in numbers. To top level predators like me, it’s a dream come true! I live in the open ocean where food is scarce, and I have to be opportunistic whenever possible, or else I swim with an empty stomach.

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Tunny, and I am an Atlantic bluefin tuna. You most likely have encountered me at your local sushi restaurant where I am called “maguro.” Did you know that I am quickly becoming an endangered species? Atlantic bluefin tuna will become extinct if we keep getting fished at current rates. My counterparts in the Black Sea have already become extinct. In the last 40 years, bluefin tuna have declined by 72% in the Eastern Atlantic Ocean, and by 82% in the Western Atlantic Ocean.

There are quotas in place to try and prevent overfishing by ICCAT (International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas), but that does not stop illegal fishing beyond those quotas. One record breaking bluefin tuna sold for a whopping $735,000! We can grow to be 990 pounds (450 kg), which is a lot of sushi.

The danger of fishing for tuna is not just that we may become extinct, but many fishing methods kill other animals during the process. This is called bycatch. On land, the equivalent would be hunting for deer, but also killing squirrels, birds, bears, and wolves along the way. Longline fishing sets out bait hooks at fixed intervals over a fishing line that may be several miles long. In the course of targeting tuna, animals such as seabirds, sea turtles, sharks, dolphins, and whales may also be caught. Those animals either need air to breathe, or must swim constantly to breathe, and they die when caught in a fishing line.

You can help! Download the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch App and avoid eating anything (including me!) on their red list.

Watch The Black Fish’s video about bluefin tuna

UPDATE: A single bluefin tuna has sold for a record-breaking 1.7 million US dollars!

UPDATE 2016: Pacific Bluefin population down by 97% Washington Post article “Sushi-alert: grim outlook for bluefin tuna”

Why Jellyfish May Become the “Cockroaches of the Sea”

jellyfish as cockroaches of the sea
Sea Nettle Jellies photo by Cherilyn Jose

While jellyfish (referred to as jellies for rest of this post since they are not “fish”) have been painted by public aquariums to be moving and floating masterpieces, the ocean itself has a different viewpoint on them. If the oceans keep getting polluted and overfished at their current rate, the ocean may soon teem with jellies and little else.

Pollution can be in the form of chemicals, like fertilizers and treated (or untreated in many parts of the world) sewage. Pollution can also be physical, like garbage. Plastic is particularly common, and all sorts of wildlife ingest it. The most well publicized plastic eaters include sea turtles who mistake not only plastic bags for jellies, but any plastic bits floating in the sea, and sea birds who have been found dead with enough plastic in their stomachs to die from starvation. With those predators dead, jellies take advantage of the increasing amount of plankton and they proliferate like crazy.

Plankton are the bottom layer of the food web. Overfishing takes out of the ocean the edible sized fish that eat plankton and other small bait fish. With their predator fish gone, plankton proliferate. Jellies love plankton, and they can easily outcompete any young fish for it. The young fish die without reproducing and therefore do not replace their parent’s generation. The seas would theoretically become empty of anything but jellies.

Off of Japan there has been a lot of overfishing, and Nomura’s jellyfish are increasing at an astonishing rate. They can grow to be 6.5 feet (2 meters) wide and weigh up to 450 pounds (220 kg)! Fishermen pull up nets with nothing but hundreds of jellyfish in them. Many nets break under the jellies massive collective weight, and one boat even capsized from them! The fishermen’s early strategy to get rid of them by slicing them up actually increased the jelly population due to the special asexual reproductive techniques of jellies. A future post will delve into this unique aspect of jellies.

Not all news relating to jellies is bad, as their tentacles have inspired scientists create a cancer detector. Scientists made a long DNA strand that mimics the sticky nature of jelly tentacles. In experiments, this long DNA strand was able to capture 80 percent of the leukemia cells (a kind cancer cell) in the blood used. For more on this, please visit “Jellyfish Inspire Cancer Detector” at the Huffington Post.

Please note that I was unable to write this post from the point-of-view of a jelly, as they do not have brains!

Polar Bears and Climate Change: Hear from a Polar Bear!

I’m the poster animal for climate change!

How Climate Change Affects Polar Bears

Hello, my name is Ursula. I am a polar bear. While it is flattering to be the poster “animal” for climate change, it just plain sucks to be a polar bear in this day and age. Don’t get me wrong, as I am very grateful to be alive. But life has gotten so much harder than when I was a cub. I was one of three triplets for goodness sakes! Food and mom’s milk was plentiful, and we cubs had plenty of time to play wrestle. When I give birth now, I am lucky if even one of my cubs survives.

The smell of change is in the air. There used to be a clean and cool scent that permeated the Arctic air. I especially liked it when that smell included the faint whiff of newborn seals! Now I sense restlessness, and the air smells foul, which hampers the scent of my prey.

How can humans doubt that climate change is happening right under their noses…oh wait, humans have a poor sense of smell compared to me, that must be why they don’t get it! In any case, climate change affects my every waking moment when the ice is around. Sea ice melts seasonally, but the ice season is much shorter now due to the environment warming. Sometimes the ice is gone before the newborn seal pups are born. Not good for them, and especially not for my tummy!

I love to swim, which is why I am a marine mammal. While I can swim for hours (up to 61 miles/100km), I would prefer not to! It would be nice to have the ice platforms closer together. Then I can conserve my precious energy hunting the fewer seals left! There are fewer seals not just because the ice is melting earlier in the season, but also because humans are overfishing many of the fish the seals eat.

Also see How Seals are Affected by Climate Change
and How Sea Otters Fight Climate Change

For more on climate change and polar bears, visit National Wildlife Federation