Wisdom the Albatross Has Hatched a New Chick!

Wisdom the Albatross
Wisdom the Laysan Albatross and her chick in 2018 photo by: USFWS

Hello, I’m Wisdom, a Laysan Albatross. I have exciting news! My chick has just hatched after about 2 months of incubation. My life partner, Akeakamai, and I have alternated sitting on the egg and feeding out at sea.

The average Laysan Albatross lives 50 years-I’m an exception as I’m at least 68 years old. I’m the oldest known wild bird! I was banded back in 1956 and estimated to be 5-6 years old since that’s when albatross start to lay eggs.

We, all 1 million albatross (of many species) lay our eggs and raise our chicks on Midway Atoll, just Northwest of Hawaii in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. It is a beautiful place that consists of two flat sandy islands of 2.5 square miles, turquoise water and a stunning coral reef. Up to 3 million seabirds lay eggs and raise their chicks there.

The biologist, Chandler Robbins, that originally banded me in 1956 later me found me in 2002, 46 years later! I have been returning to my birthplace to make a nest ever since. The biologists first noticed me making a nest with Akeakamai in 2006.

Most albatross don’t lay eggs every year– I guess that also makes me an exception as I have laid an egg every year! I may have raised up to 36 chicks in my 68 years of life, but who’s counting?

We can travel up to 10,000 miles just in search of food like squid and fish eggs, fish and crustaceans that are found on the top of the ocean.

We spend 90% of our lives at sea, only stopping to rest on the ocean waves.
I’ve clocked at least 6 million miles of flying.

Biologists found a chick I raised in 2001 nesting just feet from me in 2017. I wish I could recognize my former chicks, but they grow up so fast that I can’t recognize them as adults.

After about 5-6 months, my new chick will fledge and head out to sea to find food, living as I have for the past 68 years.

Note: Plastics and microplastics have become a huge problem in the world’s oceans. Birds like Wisdom ingest plastic and pass it on to their chicks when they feed them, but don’t know that they are doing so. Albatross like Wisdom have been found with bellies full of plastic, many dying from that. See previous post, “Alby the Albatross and Plastic, Plastic Everywhere in the Ocean”

Meet Cooper the Copepod & Learn About Microplastics

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.”

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!

The Endangered Animals of Finding Nemo: Clownfish

”global
Nemo the clownfish from Finding Nemo

Did you know that 1 in 6 animals featured in Finding Nemo is endangered? Here’s one that may soon be listed as endangered:

Hi, I’m Nemo! In school today Mr. Ray told us that clownfish might become an endangered species. Unfortunately, humans have no idea how many of us there are in the ocean! Many divers have seen less clownfish in areas where there used to be a lot of us. This may be because humans are collecting us for pets, or because our coral reefs are sick. My dad told me that clownfish used to have to share anemones! But now where I live, there are plenty of anemones to go around.

Officially, the Center for Biological Diversity has petitioned to list clownfish under the Endangered Species Act. Surprisingly, that doesn’t mean that there are so few of us that we are endangered. What it does mean is that where we live, the coral reef, needs protection. The Endangered Species Act protects the places that endangered animals live.

Global warming warms the ocean and causes coral bleaching (see Ollie the Octopus’ post on coral bleaching). Global warming also causes the ocean to become more acidic (see Terry the Pteropod’s post on ocean acidification) . All ocean habitats are affected by pollution, especially from garbage like plastic (see Ollie the Octopus’ post on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch).

You can help me and my friends by not buying clownfish for your home aquarium. If you do, please get help from an expert and only buy captive born and bred clownfish. Please just enjoy seeing us in the ocean, in public aquariums or in Finding Nemo!

Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtle Conservation Day in California

pacific leatherback sea turtle is California’s official marine reptile
Leatherback Sea Turtle (photo by Mark Cotter)

I’m Tuga, and I’m a Pacific leatherback sea turtle. Today in California (October 15) is Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtle Conservation Day (note: it officially starts in 2013)! That is because I am now California’s official marine reptile! To boot, earlier this year 42,000 square miles of ocean off the West Coast of the United States (off California, Oregon, and Washington) was designated as a protected area for us leatherback sea turtles!

How appropriate California is celebrating my kind, as right now I am off the coast of California feasting on jellies (jellyfish). I just completed my annual 6,000 mile migration across the Pacific Ocean from my nesting beach in Indonesia.

I am one of seven species of sea turtles. I am the largest, at up to 7.2 feet (2.2 m) and 1,500 pounds (700 kg). I am the only sea turtle without a true shell. Instead I have thick leathery skin on my back, hence my name “leatherback!”

I am among the deepest diving marine animals, as I can reach depths of 4,200 feet (1,280 m), and hold my breath for over an hour! The deepest known diver is the Cuvier’s beaked whale, which can dive to 6,500 feet (2,000 m) deep. Elephant seals can dive to 5,000 feet (1,500 m) deep for over two hours.

I also challenge the notion that turtles are slow, as I can swim as fast as 21.92 miles per hour (35.28 kph)!

Six (of seven) species of sea turtles are threatened or endangered. There are only a few hundred of us leatherbacks off the West Coast of the United States. Sea turtles all around of the world are in peril because of:

1. destructive and wasteful fishing methods like long lining (we end up as bycatch)

2. poaching of sea turtle eggs from nesting beaches

3. loss of nesting beaches due to development

4. light pollution, which confuses hatchlings using moonlight to find the ocean

5. plastic pollution

Plastic pollution is the most insidious: a dead sea turtle was found with 74 pieces of trash in its stomach, most of it plastic. 260 million tons of plastic a year finds its way into the ocean, and many animals ingest it, especially us jelly loving sea turtles. Plastic bags suspiciously look like jellies to us, and we can’t help but eat it.

You can help by “precycling,” which means avoiding buying plastic to begin with. If you do buy something in plastic, please recycle it! Also bring your own reusable bags to the store in order to avoid using single use plastic bags that often end up in the ocean. All wildlife in the ocean thanks you for your help! You can make a difference everyday!

For more information on sea turtles, visit Sea Turtle Restoration Project.

For information on sea turtle ecotourism visit SEE turtles.

Sign petition to protect sea turtles from deadly drift gill nets