Marine mammal Mondays: Walruses

walruses_beachchairscientist

Please feel free to share with your friends and family where you learned something new about whales and dolphins today!

Also, ask away! If you have a question about something you found on the beach or just something you’re curious about just send an email to info@beachchairscientist.com or tweet us!

15 facts about the Portuguese man-of-war that’ll have you saying “Didya know…?”

I won’t say it has anything to do with us … oh, wait … yes, I will. The ocean is getting warmer because of climate change. One effect of this would be that many animals that pretty much only preferred the luxurious tropical waters of the south Atlantic now find the Mid-Atlantic waters great! Oh, fun. Except in the case of the man-of-war this summer. That’s got a lot of folks sketched out and seems to be putting a damper on beach days. Well, at least there’s the opportunity to learn something new … because that’s what summer’s all about, right? Here is a list of fifteen surprising facts about the man-of-war (Number twelve is shockingly cool!):

  1. The man-of-war is not a jellyfish. They’re a siphonophore, a single animal made of a colonial of organisms working together (e.g., coral colony).
  2. The man-of-war is made up of four polyps. The top one is a brilliantly purple, blue, or pink gas-filled float. When the top polyp (i.e., “sail”) is filled with gas it looks like the 18th century Portuguese war ship at full mast.
  3. The top polyp is like an umbrella for the others polyps that are bunched under it. One is made up tentacles full of stinging cells (i.e., nematocysts). They’re used to catch prey such as smaller fish, plankton, and crustaceans.
  4. The tentacles with the stinging cells can get to be 165 feet (that’s longer than a blue whale!) long, but are more on average about 50 feet.
  5. Man-of-war are asexual. That’s right … not a man or a woman! One polyp is responsible for all that action. If you’re counting, that’s three of the four polyps. Can you guess what the fourth is responsible for? Digestion.
  6. The gas that the man-of-war is filled with is Argon. That’s number 18 on the atomic table.
  7. The man-of-war (or, man-o-war) is also sometimes called the bluebottle.
  8. People have died from trying to swim into shore after getting stung by them. However, the sting itself will most likely not kill a human.
  9. Man-of-war that have washed up to shore can still sting you. I was stung by one in Florida. While it was incredibly painful at the time, I lived to tell about it. Here is a “How Not to Get Stung” list.
  10. Man-of-war tend to travel together (up to 1000!) and drift in the wind or current (Note: They do not swim and therefore do not migrate). However, they’ll deflate if there is a threat at the surface of the sea.
  11. The eight centimeter fish Nomeus gronovii is immune to the man-of-war’s stinging cells and lives among its tentacles.
  12. The blanket octopus is also immune to them and not only eats them but also reuses the tentacles to help in hunting other animals. Check out a video of that action here.
  13. The fossil records for the man-of-war go back 600 million years.
  14. South Florida-based fine art photographer Aaron Ansarov was featured in National Geographic for his beautiful images of the man-of-war. Check them out … I am still speechless!
  15. There is a Man-O-War Cay in the Abaco Islands of the Bahamas. I’ve been to nearby Guana Cay several times, so I am quite grateful that over at Rolling Harbour the beautiful place has been described just as I remember.

man-of-war_beachchairscientist-imagewikipedia

Psst … Can someone help me out with the plural of man-of-war? Is it men-of-war or man-of-wars?

Five surprising facts about sharks

Why are we so enamored with sharks? Why are we glued to the television in the summer during the last hours of daylight to watch fish on TV rather than playing a final game of wiffle ball or pick-up basketball? Does it have something to do with the fact that there are over 400 different types of sharks and always something new to learn? Anyway you slice it, these cartilaginous fish are pretty cool. Here are five surprising facts about sharks that will certainly get you excited to learn more and watch this year’s (hopefully) new and improved Shark Week. What is your favorite fact about sharks?

Shark Week will air from July 5-12 on the Discovery Channel

Shark Week will air from July 5-12 on the Discovery Channel

 

Nine signs of summer you’re still a kid at heart

I just got back from a little family vacation where we went to the luxurious place I called home for many years (i.e., “the Jersey shore”). Don’t get me wrong, being with the kids any day takes my breath away (from both ends of the spectrum, let’s be honest). But, spending time along the Atlantic coast on the barrier island where I grew up (as a local, not just “for the summers”) is such a different experience with the kids (four and one) is a remarkable opportunity to really settle and enjoy each moment through their eyes. Here are some fun ways that not only I, but the older family members around me, came to enjoy living like a kid again. Please feel free to comment and share what makes you feel like a kid again too.

9SignsEndlessSummer

Osprey platforms: Foundations that helped a comeback

For more pictures from the osprey banding trip check out https://www.flickr.com/photos/beachchairscientist/sets/72157654936373085

For more pictures from the osprey banding trip check out https://www.flickr.com/photos/beachchairscientist/sets/72157654936373085

Those huge platforms along the causeways are there for a very important reason. Osprey build their nests on them. They’ll also build their nests on any open platform free from predators and near shallow water. But, the man-made platforms have really help to bring back populations of osprey after their sharp decline in numbers due to DDT.  Each year the huge raptors, also known as “fish hawks” because 99.9% of their diet is fish, wait until after the water thaws to build a nest. Since the winter was so long this year along the Mid-Atlantic many of the birds just made their nests in March/April. With an incubation period of just over a month and the young needing just about two months before they take off from the nest it was a perfect time to follow along with Greg Kearns of Patuxent River Park in Upper Marlboro, MD, as he banded juvenile osprey (don’t worry, he has a permit for this kind of thing).

Osprey are banded at a young age to help determine their migration patterns, life expectancy, as well as reasons for mortality. The band that is placed on the young is very light weight and has not hindered their ability to catch food. I am incredibly grateful for his time and dedication to his efforts in conservation and education. Thank you for your enthusiasm and sharing your knowledge with the Mid-Atlantic Marine Education Association late last month. Here are some more interesting facts learned along the way:

  • As with all birds of prey these birds have very sharp talons. But, the osprey have a reverse talon making it easy for them to grasp their prey with two toes in the front and two from behind.
  • The male usually scopes out the spot for the nest to be built several days before the arrival of the female.
  • Osprey are asynchronous incubators and do not hatch all at once. The female typically lay four eggs but usually one two survive. While they do share food distributed by their mother the oldest one dominates.
  • The hunts for food for the mother and young and before he returns to the nest with food he’ll eat about one-third of the fish. Hunting for fish does burn a lot of calories after all. The mother and young will eat the rest of the fish, but seem to not favor the gut of the fish. The adults generally need about 300 grams of fish per day.
  • There is a 40-50% chance of survival for the young. The average age of an osprey is 8-10 years old. The oldest tracked osprey was found to be 33 years old.
  • Their nests are made of sticks from the surrounding marsh plants, as well as animal hide or even litter such as plastic bags.
  • Young osprey have orange eyes that turn brown as they get older.

If you live near shallow water and want to build a platform there are several plans available here: http://www.osprey-watch.org/learn-about-osprey/build-an-osprey-nest/.

To watch a pair of osprey raising their young during this nesting season from the comfort of your own screen check out the Patuxent River Park’s Osprey Cam here:  http://www.pgparks.com/Things_To_Do/Nature/Patuxent_River_Park.htm.

Marine mammal Monday: Whales & dolphins

whales_beachchairscientist

Please feel free to share with your friends and family where you learned something new about whales and dolphins today!

Also, ask away! If you have a question about something you found on the beach or just something you’re curious about just send an email to info@beachchairscientist.com or tweet us!

Squid’s “Passing Cloud” camouflage technique mimicked in artificial skin

passingCloud

Cuttlefish illustrating the “Passing Cloud” pattern. Image (c) “Hiding the Squid! Official”.

Are we one step closer to an invisibility cloak?

Researchers at the University of Bristol have demonstrated how to create artificial skin that can mimic the squid. The squid, as well as other cephalopods like the octopus and cuttlefish, can blend into their surroundings to hide from predators or sneak up on prey.  The squid’s “Passing Cloud” camouflage technique (i.e.,  bands of color spread as waves across the skin) was simulated in the experiment. According to the researchers the implications are more than just avoiding your landlord, they noted that “It could also be used for signaling purposes, for example search and rescue operations when people who are in danger need to stand out”. More patterns are being studied in the future as well.

Maryland moves closer to banning microbeads

Plastic microbeads on a penny. Photo credit: 5Gyres

Plastic microbeads on a penny. Photo credit: 5Gyres

Reported on the Baltimore Sun’s B’More Green  blog, “Consumer products such as toothpaste and cosmetic scrubs containing tiny plastic “microbeads” could be banned from store shelves in Maryland after 2018 under a bill unanimously approved Thursday by the state Senate”. These means that if the bill passes the House, “Maryland will be the second state after Illinois to order a phase-out of the manufacture or sale of consumer products containing the beads”.

What is a microbead? It’s a tiny particle of plastic that never break down. What’s incredibly harmful is that they are being drained into local streams, creeks, rivers, lakes, and ocean and affecting our waterways. There are over 50 products on the shelves in the US that contain harmful microbeads! Find a list of products sold in the United States that contain microbeads (i.e., polythene) here.

Here is some alarming information on the microbeads, marine debris, and our ocean trash in general.

  1. A single tube of facial cleanser can contain over 3000,000 microbeads.
  2. More than 450,000 microbeads per square kilometer were found in some parts of Lake Erie.
  3. In the ocean there are approximately 5.25 trillion plastic particles.
  4. For every foot of coastline there is approximately five grocery bags filled with plastic, according to estimates in 2010.
  5. Six continents have microfibers washing up on their shores.
  6. Shores near sewage treatment plants have the highest concentration of microfibers washing up.
  7. Nearly 275 million tons of plastic waste was generated by coastal countries in 2010 — and that 4.8 to 12.7 million tons of that plastic made its way to the oceans.
  8. Each year, 8.8 million tons of plastic goes into the oceans.
  9. The estimate for 2015 is 9.1 million metric tons.
  10. On average, Americans use 220 pounds of plastic per year.
  11. 17% of all marine animals impacted by manmade debris are threatened or near threatened.
  12. Trash will likely increase tenfold over the next decade.

One Big Wave, and Millions of Lost Legos

Lego dragons Bigbury

Photos courtesy of Tracey Williams

On Feb. 13, 1997, about 20 miles off the coast of England, a massive wave hit the freighter Tokio Express, toppling 62 giant containers into the rough north Atlantic seas.

Trapped inside one of them: nearly 5 million Legos. Many floated to the surface. Carried by currents, they’re still being found on beaches around the world nearly two decades later. Others remain on the ocean floor. It’s not unusual for fishermen trawling the Atlantic to haul up tiny Legos.

The fact that so many of the pieces were nautical themed – sea dragons, pirate swords, sea grass and scuba gear, among others – has turned the Lego spill into one of the most famous and unusual marine debris incidents in recent maritime history.

In Newquay, a seaside town in England, writer and longtime beachcomber Tracey Williams started a Facebook page a few years ago – Legos Lost at Sea – that tracks the whereabouts of the lost Legos as they wash up onto beaches.

Williams recently spoke to the Beach Chair Scientist blog about her work, and you can hear more of what she has to say below. But she hopes to turn the public fascination, much of it generated from a recent BBC story on the spill, into a teaching moment about the harmful environmental impact of marine debris.

Lego octopus Terena

“Clearly, 5 million pieces of Legos spilling into the ocean isn’t good for the environment,” Williams said in a recent phone interview. After the BBC interviewed her about her site a while back, the publicity resulted in people contacting her with stories about beach-bound Legos around the world.

“It has connected beachcombers all around the world, which is fascinating,” Williams said.

She received one report of a Lego flipper found on an Australian beach. She’s also heard from the family of a woman who had scoured the beaches for Lego dragons as a hobby in her 80s, passing her finds along t0 younger generations.

“Obviously, marine debris is a big problem. But I think many children have been captivated by this whole Lego story … I think it reminds people of their childhood. It’s the whole issue of marine debris. Oceanographers are interested in how far it’s spread.”

Meanwhile, she also hears from fishermen who come across Lego pieces in their nets.

“Half of it sinks and half of it floats,” Williams said, referring to the sorts of Legos that fell off the Tokio Express. “So clearly, while we’re finding certain items washed up on our shores like the spear guns and the flippers, fishermen are actually finding other pieces like window frames and car chassis.”

While the lost Legos have made for fun beach combing and treasure hunts, there are bigger questions beneath the surface. If the contents of just one toppled shipping container can spread around the world for decades, what about far bigger and more dangerous spills that go unnoticed because they don’t happen to have Legos in them?

“There were 62 containers that fell off the Tokio Express back in 1997 and we only know about what  was in three of them,” Williams said.

“What’s in all of the others and when will that all wash ashore?”

You can listen to more of Williams and the story of the lost Legos here:

Gifts for the ocean lover: For kids of all ages edition

Still looking for that perfect gift for a certain little one? I have to admit I am the aunt that likes to wrap up books (yes, and usually one of these ocean-themed children’s books). However, in the spirit of the giving during the holiday season, and in watching little eyes twinkle, it’s fun to also wrap a little something extra. Here are five gift ideas for inspiring a love of the ocean in the next generation:

HorseshoeCrab1. Stuffed horseshoe crab (pictured) from the Partnership of the Delaware Estuary, Inc. Shop: It’s a steal for just under $13! Over the years I have managed to acquire a lot of these and with that my four-year old now thinks horseshoe crabs are cuddly and cute and isn’t intimated by them when she sees them along the coast. She even brought this into preschool for the letter “H”! Proceeds help the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, Inc.

2. Polar Bear from Vermont Teddy Bear: I hear this bear loves warm hugs! “He’s made of super-soft and cuddly, long white fur and his adorable, long Polar Bear snout features a realistic nose.” Made in the USA.

3. Coastal inspired linens and clothes from Wish Kingdom: Wish Kingdom is made from the finest cotton fabrics and trims. All items are pesticide and formaldehyde free. Each applique’ is cut and sewn by hand, so no two are alike. Made in the USA.

4. Match stacks game – sea things from Abe’s Market: “Even toddlers who are too young to play a memory game will love matching and stacking the shapes and vibrant colors while exploring and enriching their vocabulary.” Made in the USA.

5. Ocean Discovery Box from Green Kid Crafts: “Our entire family got in the fun to play pin the tail on the whale. It was hilarious! So thankful for the memories you provide.”

HGurkeesere are some gifts for the big kids that love the ocean, too.

1. Barbados natural rope sandals (pictured) from Gurkees: Who knew they’d make great beach walking shoes in West Virginia? Not only that, but there is also some fun candles, belts, and keychains.

2. Custom map and nautical chart jewelry and accessories from Chart Metal Works: Need I say more? Well, it can get better … the products are made in Maine. Definitely a gift to be treasured!

3. Long time, no sea pillow from Uncommon Goods: Handmade from recycled materials and completely on sale.

4. Mermaid bottle opener from Waypoint: I mean, what’s not to love? It looks like it was found during a shipwreck expedition! It’ll make a great story for anyone.

5. Seashell planter from Ten Thousand Villages (fair trade retailer since 1946) : “Spiraled seashell in creamy ceramic holds a cascade of vines or flowers. Handcrafted in Vietnam.”

24173_zoom16. Sportsman sunglasses from Randolph Engineering: “Designed for the outdoor enthusiast, this extremely durable frame stands up to harsh conditions in high style.” Made in the USA.

7. Sea of love poster (pictured) from Uncommon Goods: Printed on 100% recycled newsprint paper, this 12 x 18 inch print features 12 hand-drawn illustrations and a message of love and is a great gift for the couple that loves to spend time at the ocean. Made in the USA.

8. Taps, tees, pint glasses and a whole lot more from the Dogfish Brewing Company: It’s an idea for the beer girl or guy on your list. And, why not toss in one of these nifty ice buckets from Mr. Ice Bucket made in New Jersey for over 50 years. I’m sure there is a ton of great stuff from your local brewery or winery as well.

9. Food, food, food from the Fresh Lobster Company, LLC: Yum, yum, yum in the tum, tum, tum. Corny, but need I say more? I live in Virginia and am so grateful for every opportunity to travel to the coast for fresh seafood … a gift where it was delivered to my door would be amazing! Shipped from sunny New England.

10. Beach to boat tote from Skipper Bags: Gorgeous, multipurpose bags with lots of great options and colors. I think there is even a code to save on shipping. Fill it with some beer or wine and you have a great hostess gift if you’re traveling over the holidays. Made in the USA.