Search Results for: sea turtles

Angela loves sea turtles as well as cats!

Angela Martin

Image via Wikipedia

Anglea Kinsey does a wonderful job of being compassionate to the feline population as she plays the role of Angela Martin on the show ‘The Office’. But did you know she also demonstrates equal sympathy for the plight of sea turtles as a spokesperson for Oceana?

Back in December, Angela Kinsey and Racheal Harris (The Hangover) joined up with Oceana for a campaign to get “Sea Turtles Off the Hook!” It is a focused on asking folks to reassess commonly used fishing gear because they may be harmful to sea turtles. She gently reminds us all to “Cut down on your use of plastic shopping bags because many end up in the ocean. If you’re at a beach where there are sea turtles, just let them be. And don’t throw trash out on the street near coastlines. Pick it up!”

A Ray of Hope in a Sea of Chum

Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives
Discovery brings SHARK WEEK viewers on a search for a massive killer Great White shark responsible for a rash of fatalities off the coast of South Africa. One controversial scientist believes that the shark responsible could be Megalodon, a 60-foot relative of the Great White that is one of the largest and most powerful predators in history. Our oceans remain 95% unexplored, and this massive prehistoric predator has always been shrouded in secrecy, but after a rash of newly discovered evidence, authorities are forced to investigate and hunt for the predator long thought to be extinct. A crew of scientists and shark experts examine evidence and fearlessly seek answers to the many questions surrounding one of the last great mysteries of the deep ocean while creating the largest chum slick in history. (http://bit.ly/SharkWeek2013-programming) 

That’s the way Shark Week feels to me these days, like a big, multi-platform chum slick…a greasy, fetid soup of fear and fascination that titillates more that it educates. Is that over the top? Yeah, probably, but then it will fit right into a line-up that includes titles like: I Escaped Jaws, Great White Serial Killer, and Sharkpocalypse. In all honesty, most of these shows will not be nearly as bad as their titles suggest. My primary beef is (and continues to be) the lack of shark diversity during Shark Week.

But hark, what’s that? A bioluminescent beacon of light from the deep? On Thursday, August 8, Discovery’s feature program is Alien Sharks of the Deep. Reading that title out loud makes it sound worse than the rest…like an early draft of the robo-monster blockbuster Pacific Rim. But no, this program appears to explore the weird, wonderful, and diverse sharks of the oceanic abyss. Could this restore my faith in the potential that is Shark Week? Think of some of the possibilities:

 Goblin sharks: Goblins have been known as tenguzame, after tengu, a fantastical creature of Japanese mythology often depicted with an elongated nose or beak. Goblins are fantastical in their own right, with long, blade-like rostrums and slingshot protrusible jaws that have to be seen to be believed.

070209-goblin-shark_big

Goblin shark

 Taillight and lantern sharks: Many deepsea sharks are bioluminescent, creating light with specialized organs called photophores. Many of these sharks use their photophores to hide in the downwelling light by erasing their shadows through counterillumination. Tailight sharks also secrete a blue luminescent fluid from their, um, ‘tail end.’ Since the species is known from only two specimens and has never been seen alive, no one knows exactly what this fluid is for.

 Megamouth: Not to be confused with Megalodon. In fact, the two couldn’t be less alike. Large Megalodon teeth may be 5-7 inches long (about the size of your hand), megamouth teeth 5-7 millimeters (half the size of your pinkie fingernail). Whereas Megalodon likely fed on whales and other large marine mammals and turtles, megamouth is a plankton specialist. There have been only 55 confirmed sightings of megamouth sharks since 1976, and only a handful of these have been examined by scientists.   

Megamouth-shark

Megamouth shark

 Frilled sharks: Frilled sharks are a freak show. They hardly look like sharks at all. Well, they do, just more like sharks from hundreds of millions of years ago. The long, eel-like body, terminal mouth, unusual teeth, fins, and other anatomical features are all distinctly ancient. 

Frilled-shark-showing-specially-adapted-teeth

Frilled shark

 Rough sharks: Rough sharks are another group that breaks the stereotypical shark mold—small and hunchbacked, with large spiny dorsal fins. They may be fairly common in the deep waters where they’re found, but still, we know very little.

Rough shark. Photo Joanna Franke

Rough shark. Photo Joanna Franke

 Six- and sevengills: Cow sharks are another group with distinctly ancient features. Many have seen sevengills in public aquariums, but the larger sixgill sharks don’t do as well on display. Sixgills are broad, ponderous creatures, with large specimens more than 16 feet long and as big around as a Volkswagen (as one diver describes them). These normally deepwater denizens have been occasionally spotted right under pier at the Seattle Aquarium. Puget Sound’s deep, glacier-etched profile provides a unique opportunity to observe and study these sharks without the need for research vessels or submersibles. 

Bluntnose six-gill shark

Bluntnose six-gill shark

 Cookiecutters: Interested in learning about a glowing foot-long shark that feeds on whales, tunas, swordfish, and squid? So are scientists, as they don’t seem to agree on how this small, slow-swimming shark seems to manage it. While they might not have the physique for the feat, they have the oral equipment. Fleshy lips and a strong tongue create a suction grip that buys time for the cookiecutter’s large, triangular lower teeth to cut a plug from its unsuspecting victim. 

Photograph by Reuters/Tokyo Sea Life Park/Handout

Cookie cutter shark. Photograph by Reuters/Tokyo Sea Life Park/Handout

 Cats and dogs: The deepsea is really the realm of dogfish and catsharks…dozens of species, some with names alone that inspire curiosity. Don’t you want to know more about lollipop catsharks, mosaic gulper sharks, birdbeak dogfish, spatulasnout catsharks, velvet bellies, demon catsharks, frog sharks, pajama sharks, pocket sharks, and pygmy ribbontail catsharks? Me too.

 I’m excited for Alien Sharks in a way I haven’t been for Shark Week programming in a very long time. Wednesday night I’ll have trouble sleeping with visions of lanternsharks dancing in my head. There is soooo much more to sharks than white sharks and tigers and bulls (oh my). How can we encourage more programming that highlights this fascinating diversity? We can watch.

 That’s my call to action. Watch Alien Sharks of the Deep on August 8, 10:00/9:00 central. Ask your friends to watch. Throw an Alien Sharks party. Dress up like an Alien Shark for work. Live tweet #AlienSharks like the second coming of Sharknado (you can follow and tweet at me @jimwharton). Show Discovery your love for Alien Sharks and beg them for more. Be as pathetic as you like. Let’s send a message that it’s a big wide world of sharks out there and we want to see more of it…and we’ll be happy to swim through an ocean of chum to get there.

What they’re into … with Brittany Biber (Sea turtle trainer)

I am sure you know by now, but this is a series I have been featuring each Tuesday this summer to get a special sneak peek at the different personalities behind the scientists, activists, and educators (including bloggers) who play an integral role in the marine science conservation field. It’s essentially an extension of the overwhelmingly popular and well done Tumblr blog, This Is What A Scientist Looks Like, (BCS was featured in April!) which sets out to illustrate that scientists are not just crazy haired nerds in lab coats. I’ve sent a list of 15 random questions to some folks I know and asked that each person share at least their answers to 5 of them. Here you get a glimpse into what one of my old co-workers who is lucky enough to interact with sea turtles everyday is into, introducing Brittany Hascup Biber.

Brittany works at Florida Oceanographic Society’s Coastal Center on Hutchinson Island in the Aquarium and Life Support Department. Her responsibilities include food preparation, quarantine treatments, and medication dispersal for all the marine life property. The animals on site range from estuarine species such as snook and red drum to sharks, rays, and smaller reef species. In addition to the gilled animals, she also cares for three non-releasable sea turtles, two green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) and one loggerhead (Caretta caretta). All of the sea turtles on site have been deemed non-releasable due to buoyancy issues. Lily, the 140lb loggerhead, was struck by a boat and has deep scars on her carapace that serve as a good reminder to why obeying boating rules and regulations is so important. Turt, the 90lb green turtle pictured right, has a spastic intestine and must be administered medication every other day to allow him to swim through the water column with ease. Hank the smallest is still a juvenile and weighs around 50lbs. He has carapace deformities that probably led to his floatation problems. Because these turtles will never be released back into the wild they must get accustomed to interactions with their caretakers so that they are calm and receptive when they need to be fed, weighed, or cleaned. She have been in charge of the training and care of the turtles on site since they each arrived here. Each turtle has its own colored “target” that they have been trained to respond to. When the target is placed in the water the corresponding turtle swims over and receives its food and medicine if needed. The training is done every day for all the turtles and it allows her to have daily interactions and alone time with each turtle away from the other animals housed in the 750,000 gallon lagoon they call home. Training the turtles is always the best part of her day, and she says she may be tooting her own horn but she think it is the turtles’ favorite time of day as well (probably since she’s feeding them). When she graduated from college she hoped to work in the animal husbandry field and she is proud to be doing just that. So even though most days she smell like fish and squid she get a chance to interact with species most people rarely get to see and she says she learns something new about them everyday and it makes all the stinky stuff worth it. Brittany has a B.S. in Environmental Studies from the University of Central Florida. You can reach Brittany at bbiber@floridaocean.org.

What is the last thing you bought that you shouldn’t have?
An overpriced bikini.

 What is your favorite fruit flavor?
It’s a tie between watermelon and pineapple.

Are you a night owl or a morning person?
Night owl, I love sleeping and my bed always seems super comfy when I have to get up for work.

What is your favorite room in your home?
My back porch that overlooks the river, I love watching the wading birds like the Eastern oystercatcher and great blue heron feed on the shore. 

What is your favorite scent?
Coconut, because it makes you smell like you’ve been at the beach all day.

What is your favorite pastime?
Going on the boat with my husband; it’s nice just being with each other away from the responsibilities that wait for us on land.

Thank you for participating, Brittany! It was a honor to read about your interesting day at work.

Don’t forget to read the rest of the “What they’re into …” series.

5 (more) fun facts about seahorses

Seahorse at the National Aquarium in DC

Seahorses are a fascinating species to observe. I took my nephew to the National Aquarium in DC this past weekend and we were memorized by the  aquatic centaurian-like bony fish (pictured right).  I’ve written about seahorses in the past, and from the traffic of that post I can tell that a seahorse post is much appreciated by the BCS readers, so I thought I’d take a some time to delve into more of their hallmark traits.

Here are  5 more fun facts about seahorses to add to the list (written almost 3 years ago!). Please feel free to comment below or email info@beachchairscientist.com if you have something you’d love to share about seahorses!

  1. The genus name of the approximately 35 species of seahorses is ‘Hippocampus’. ‘Hippo’ is Greek for ‘horse’ and ‘kampos’ is Greek for ‘sea monster’. The cross section of the hippocampus in our brain is shaped like a seahorse.
  2. For over 400 years many Eastern cultures have been using seahorses in medicines to cure asthma, lower cholesterol, as well as prevent arteriosclerosis.
  3. Seahorses uses their strong prehensile tail to grasp onto sea grasses and other stable plants. They are decent (not strong) swimmers and use their snout to suck up food (plankton, as well as tiny fish and shrimp).
  4. Often storms are a threat to adult seahorses as they will pull the seahorse off its anchoring plant. Other natural threats can include sea turtles, sharks, rays, and tuna. A major non-natural threat are divers that like to scoop up seahorses for aquariums (although, many ‘seahorse ranches’ are popping up).
  5. Seahorses lack the scales that a ‘normal’ fish might have and instead have bony plates arranged as rings. The bony plates are very similar to that of the Stegosaurus. Each seahorse species has a unique number of rings.

If you want to learn more on seahorses (in particular – how humans have learned to immortalize them in artwork, literature, and myths),  I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of Poseidon’s Steeed: The Story of Seahorse, From Myth to Reality by Helen Scales.

Sea turtle track safari!

With amazing spring temperatures so early this year, sea turtles may begin creeping out of the sea earlier than usual. If you’re in the southeastern U.S. during sea turtle nesting season (typically May through October) you may have the opportunity in the early morning to stumble across the flipper tracks of a female sea turtle that dug a nest the night before.

  • Loggerhead sea turtles tracks alternate (comma-like) left and right flippers and there is no tail mark.
  • Green and leatherback sea turtles use their right and left flippers at the same time to crawl up the beach and they both have tail marks.
  • Leatherback sea turtles are the widest at approximately 6-7 feet across. Leatherback sea turtles travel over 3,000 miles to get to their nesting beaches.

Mother sea turtles lay 100-150 eggs in each nest. They may lay up to 3-8 nests per season. The juveniles hatch after 45-70 days under the cover of darkness.

Please note that it is a federal law to harass, feed, hunt, capture or kill sea turtles in the U.S. Do not interact with any nesting sea turtles as it could be interpreted as harassment. Check out the local National Park Service in the area for information on guided tours to witness a nesting female.

Image from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Fish and Wildlife Research Institute: Guidelines for Marine Turtle Permit Holders

Who has the longest commute in the sea?

An animal lives to eat and breed. In order to do this, some animals that call the ocean habitat ‘home’ have to travel great distances to find food or reach a particular breeding ground. Here is a breakdown of some of the most impressive migrations in and around the sea.

Perhaps the longest migration of any mammal on Earth, the gray whales travel 12,000 miles round trip. They spend the summer months in the Bering Sea area between Alaska and Russia. Eventually they make their way to the west coast of Canada and the United States and finally end up in the quiet lagoons of Baja California during the winter months. In the spring they make their way back to the Bering Sea. Also, notable is the migration of the humpback whales. They can travel up to 5,000 miles.

Arctic terns fly over 25,000 miles to the Southern Ocean. Sooty shearwaters travel 64,000 miles over the Pacific Ocean in figure eight patterns.

Leatherback sea turtles travel over 3,000 miles to get to their nesting beaches.

Here is a video from PBS’ Jean-Michel Cousteau Ocean Adventure that gives a nice overview of the migration of the gray whale.

Image (c) mistertoast.blogspot.com

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How did the loggerhead sea turtle get its name?

The loggerhead sea turtle, Caretta caretta, was given the common name because it has such a massive head.  On this massive head is an incredibly powerful jaw that aids the turtle in consuming any type of food it can get its mouth on. This can include corals, sponges, crabs, jellies, fish, other sea turtles,  sea urchins, and even octopi. They are true omnivores. This jaw is the most powerful jaw of all the sea turtles. Out of all the turtles in the world it has the second most powerful jaw coming in behind the Alligator snapping turtle.

Image (c) treehugger.com

3 truths on the fables about ‘dolphin-safe’ labels

It all started recently as my 2 year-old showed those tendencies towards becoming a picky eater. I embarked on a supermarket safari for proteins and soon enough I found myself in the canned tuna aisle. Have you been there lately? It’s a little overwhelming with all of the labels. I usually just go for the salmon for the additional omega-3s, but I had a feeling the toddler would turn that down. Also, I am all about rites of passage and isn’t canned tuna with mayonnaise on toast right up there with peanut butter and jelly and macaroni and cheese? Given that I do care, especially with the recent findings of an Oceana report that states 1 in 3 fish are mislabeled,  the nerd in me had to navigate the meaning behind all those ‘eco-safe’ labels found on canned tuna.

Here’s some surprising truths behind the fables about the ‘dolphin-safe’ label you’ll need to know before baking your next casserole:

1) The U.S. wouldn’t sell anything that’s not ‘dolphin-safe’ – label or not. While it’s true that the U.S. has the most restrictive definition of what it means to be ‘dolphin-safe’ it’s also true that canned tuna is the #1 seafood import in the U.S. The internationally accepted definition of ‘dolphin-safe’ is “tuna caught in sets in which dolphins are not killed or seriously injured,” but the U.S. requires that “no tuna were caught on the trip in which such tuna were harvested using a purse seine net intentionally deployed on or to encircle dolphins, and that no dolphins were killed or seriously injured in the sets in which the tuna were caught.” Unfortunately, if we’re rarely eating tuna from the U.S. we can’t say how it’s caught.

2) ‘Dolphin-safe’ labels are designated by the government. I was shocked to realize that its independent observers (i.e., private organizations) making claims to what is ‘dolphin-safe’. But, then I remembered that tuna are an especially difficult species to manage given that they migrate all over the world. The good news on the horizon is that during his State of the Union address in January, President Obama mentioned the U.S. will begin negotiating a free trade agreement (FTA) with the European Union. What does this have to do with tuna fisheries? Well, apparently the talks for the FTA would include discussions on non-tariff barriers. Non-tariff barriers include “things like labels indicating a product’s country-of-origin, whether tuna is dolphin-safe, or whether your breakfast cereal has genetically-modified corn in it.” The need to be more consistent as to how we label tuna was also acknowledged by the World Trade Organization (WTO). The WTO noted that, “while well-intentioned, the ‘dolphin-safe’ labels are deceptive to consumers and quite outdated”. Also, according to the Campaign for Eco-Safe Tuna, “There’s no denying that more than 98% of the tuna in the U.S. market today is sourced from unmonitored and untracked fisheries where thousands of dolphins are killed every year.” That’s a frightening statistic if you’re trying to make the right choice on what can of tuna to purchase.

leatherback_worldwildlifedotorg

Image (c) World Wildlife Fund

3) If it’s ‘dolphin-safe’ it must be safe for all marine life. Let’s cut to the chase here. Canned tuna that is troll or hook-and-line caught is the best choice for a conscious consumer. Other methods of fishing for tuna (e.g., backdown technique, purse seines) have been shown to cause long-term stress to dolphins (leading to their eventual death), including heart and muscle lesions. You might also be disheartened to realize that sharks, billfish, birds, and sea turtles (see image) are often the unintended catch (known as ‘bycatch’) of fishing for tuna. The fish aggregating devices (FAD) commonly used to catch tuna are known as some as the most destructive fishing practices man has ever used.

Where does that leave me in the decision of what type of tuna to purchase for my family? As I mentioned, choosing hook and line (also known as ‘pole-caught’) canned tuna is the most sustainable choice. Fishing for tuna with hook and line 1) enables fish that are too small to be returned to the ocean, 2) practically eradicates any bycatch, and 3) ensures the ocean ecosystem to remain intact eliminating the potential loss of biodiversity. Be careful though since ‘line-caught’ can mean using a longline to catch tuna. However, this method produces ample bycatch as well.

Please feel free to comment below or email questions on this article to Ann McElhatton, Beach Chair Scientist, at info@beachchairscientist.com.

Sink your teeth into this: 15 facts about orcas

killerwhales_southernresidentsI won’t lie. My inspiration for this post is my obsession with this season’s Top Chef,  set in Seattle, WA (Bye, Kristen! I was very sad you went home). Anyway, here is a list of some captivating facts about the dominating marine mammal (the last one is the most important!).

  1. The killer whale, or orca, is a toothed whale and a kind of dolphin – in fact, it’s the largest of all the dolphins!
  2. Their Latin name, Orcinus orca, means ‘Greek god of the underworld’.
  3. Male orcas can average up to 22 feet in length and can average up to 12,000 pounds.
  4. Female orcas can average up to 19 feet in length and can average up to 8,000 pounds.
  5. Newborn orcas average up to 8 feet in length and weigh up to 400 pounds.
  6. Orcas typically swim to speeds of 3 to 4 miles per hour, but can reach speeds of 30 miles per hour.
  7. Female orcas give birth on average every three years after age 13. Some may average giving birth every ten years.
  8. The dorsal fin of the male orca is the tallest of all the whales! It can be up to 6 feet high. Their dorsal fin will not be at full height until 12-20 years.
  9. Female orcas live to be 90 years old, while male orcas live to be about about 50 years.
  10. Orcas are known for excellent eyesight above and below the surface of the water.
  11. Orcas are common to the Arctic and Antarctic waters, but are found in every ocean around the world.
  12. Orcas eat up to 500 pounds of prey (e.g., fish, walruses, seals, sea lions, penguins, squid, sea turtles, sharks, as well as other types of whales) a day. They live and hunt in cooperative and playful pods forming packs – they’ve even picked up the nickname ‘wolves of the sea’.
  13. Orcas do not chew their food. They use their teeth for ripping and tearing prey, but most often swallow their prey whole. Their teeth are up to 3 inches long!
  14. Orcas have a gray area behind their dorsal fin, known as the ‘saddle patch’, that are unique to each whale.
  15. There are only 86 orcas left in the Pacific Northwest’ Puget Sound population. This population is threatened with extinction due to pollution, climate change and food shortages. You can sign a petition with Change.org to help keep orcas on the Endangered Species Act (Well, you can sign until January 27, 2013).

I am sure I missed many interesting details in this “Sink your teeth into this” post. Please feel free to add your favorite below or you can learn more here.

Image (c) nmfs.noaa.gov

Strike a pose with Shark Stanley for shark conservation

Surely you’ve taken pictures with Flat Stanley, a tool used to advance children’s literacy – But, did you know that you can now take a shark on your adventures? Grab a Shark Stanley printout and show your support for shark conservation by participating in this initiative of the Shark Defenders. Help them reach their goal of collecting at least 5,000 photos! It’s important to gather these photos in time for the upcoming Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meeting in March. Check out all the places Shark Stanley has been on the Instagram and Facebook pages!

Why is shark conservation important?

Sharks are in peril and overexploited due in major part to a voracious demand for shark fins, especially in Asian markets. Shark finning is the removal and retention of shark fins and  discarding the body at sea (The animal is often alive when tossed back into the water!). The Pew Environment Group estimates that “Up to 73 million sharks are killed every year to primarily support the global shark fin industry”. The underlying problem is that sharks grow slow, mature late, and produce few young over their long lifetime – meaning their populations recover slowly once depleted. Depleted populations affect the health of the entire ocean ecosystem. Here are some examples on how it’s all connected:

  • Sharks help maintain healthy fish stocks because they prey on vulnerable sick, diseased, or old animals – thereby, preventing disease or sickness from spreading.
  • Sharks have the ability to ensure we always have vital seagrass beds by controlling their prey, dugongs and green sea turtles – which forage in these beds. Healthy seagrass beds are essential for maintaining good water quality in our estuaries.
  • Sharks are the #1 draw for many divers providing a booming tourism industry to remote places that might not otherwise have a good economy.
Print Shark Stanley and take a picture with him showing your support. Don't forget to tag @SharkDefenders, #SharkStanley, and the country you live (i.e., #USA).

Print Shark Stanley and take a picture with him showing your support. Don’t forget to tag @SharkDefenders, #SharkStanley, and the country you live (i.e., #USA).