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.

5 photography contests for nature lovers

If you’re anything like me, you love to snap pictures when you’re outside. It’s a great way to relive the tranquility you get from being outdoors once placed back into reality. It’s also a powerful way to share how you see the world and what matters to you with those near and far!

In an effort to evoke that everlasting sense of appreciation for nature, many environmental organizations engage the public with photo contests – usually with epic prizes.  Here are 5 photography contests that might spark you’re inner Ansel Adams:

Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) Photo Contest: CBF is are seeking photographs (from professional or amateur photographers) that illustrate the positive aspects of the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams.
Deadline: April 12, 2013
Prize(s): First Prize: $500; Second Prize: $250; Third Prize: $150; Viewers’ Choice: $100. In addition, the first-prize photograph will appear in CBF’s 2014 calendar. And that’s not all: All winners will also receive a one-year membership to CBF and will have their photos displayed on CBF’s website, in a CBF e-newsletter, and in CBF’s Save the Bay magazine.

Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES) Earth Day Photo & Essay Contest: From April 22-29, students in grades 5-8 should take a photograph of something that is changing in their local environment, then submit the photo and explanation.
Deadline: May 10, 2013
Prize(s): In addition to having their photos featured on the IGES website, the top three winners will receive a digital camera, digital photo frame, and a digital photo keychain. Also, the top 10 winners will receive a photo book featuring the top 10 photos, with his or her photo on the front cover.

National Wildlife Federation (NWF) Wildlife Photo Contest: Photographers of all skill levels ages 13 and up are invited to enter the 43rd annual National Wildlife® Photo Contest.
Deadline: July 15, 2013
Prize(s): Winners could be featured in an upcoming issue of National Wildlife® magazine, alongside images taken by the world’s top nature photographers and could win a once-in-a-lifetime expense-paid trip for two to photograph polar bears, cash prizes and more!

Nature’s Best Photography (NBP) Windland Smith Rice International Awards: The editors of Nature’s Best Photography magazine invite all photographers (professionals, amateurs, and youth) to celebrate the beauty and diversity of nature through the art of photography, and to use this far-reaching medium as a creative tool for encouraging greater public interest in outdoor enjoyment and conservation stewardship.
Deadline: May 15, 2013 (Note that there may be an entry fee for submission)
Prize(s): Winners in each category and a selection of the Highly Honored photos will be displayed as large-format prints in the annual exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., one of the most widely respected and highly visited museums in the world. In addition, all of the winning images will be published in the Fall/Winter 2013 Collectors’ Edition of NBP.

Picture Our Planet Photo Contest: The Rainforest Alliance is pleased to announce the launch of the 2013 Picture Our Planet photo contest. This year’s contest celebrates sustainable tourism and the power of images to capture the world’s most beautiful places.
Deadline: June 30, 2013
Prize(s): One grand prize winner will receive an eight-day, seven-night trip for two to Costa Rica. Also, one winner will be selected from each of the six categories and will Polaroid high-definition pocket digital video camcorder and an honorary one-year membership at the $100-level to the Rainforest Alliance.

Have fun and good luck! If you’re in need on some inspiration, feel free to check out the pictures I’ve taken while out and about on my Flickr account (below is my attempt at being artsy with driftwood).

http://www.flickr.com/photos/beachchairscientist/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/beachchairscientist/

 

And that concludes my “We affect what goes in our watershed” week

This week I shared insight on the theme what we do in our daily lives affects our waterways. It’s particularly surprising to come to the realization that even though we might not live anywhere near a river, lake, or stream our daily actions have massive consequences on the waterways – and ultimately the ocean. It’s all interconnected. Remember “gas from our cars – not tankers or pipelines – is responsible for 92% of the petroleum spilled into the water”? The products we buy affect marine mammals. Plastic (i.e., marine debris) accumulates not just in the Pacific Ocean, but in the North Atlantic and possibly every sea on the planet. Fish are affected by the medication we take (not just that we dump down the drain!). Lastly, what we use on our lawns and gardens causes eutrophication – depleting waterways of oxygen and leading to the fish kills.

This weekend I am very grateful that my husband and neighbors will be helping me to label the storm drains in our neighborhood as a project for the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District. I have a picture of a stack of 50 below. They look pretty sophisticated. Does your neighborhood have labeled storm drains? Share with me how effective you think they are and if they’re as interesting as these in Baltimore, MD.

photo2

The complete list of the “We affect what goes in our watershed” week

Here are pictures of the storm drain labeling event.

Did you know what we add to our garden affects the ocean?

It’s officially day 4 of the “We affect what goes in our watershed” week (see posts on marine debris, oil, and pharmaceuticals). This time it’s all about fertilizers. Researchers whom published in the February 2011 edition of the journal Environmental Research Letters pointed out the human use of phosphorous, primarily in the industrialized world, is causing the widespread eutrophication of fresh surface water. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never noticed that I dump phosphorus down any drains or waterways. But, did you know that phosphorous and other harmful nutrients are in the fertilizers we use to keep lawns fresh and sprightly each spring (right around the corner!)? While these nutrients may nourish our gardens they also cause the fast growth of algae (i.e., algal blooms). The algae then feed bacteria, which deplete the waterways of oxygen ensuring that many animals and plants do not survive. Also, the fast growth of the algae will block out essential light needed for photosynthesis. This epidemic of eutrophication can be a very costly and damaging to our rivers, streams, lakes, and even ocean. Below is an image from the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (a division of NOAA) comparing places that have a high (right) and low (left) frequency of eutrophication.
healthy-eutro-diagram_coastalscience.noaa.gov
Want a way to ensure you don’t add to the eutrophication? I like the green manure method from Down to Earth for my garden, but McGreary Organics has a good one for lawns as well. I think I’ll be depressing just one more day and ask once again, besides fertilizers, marine debris, petroleum, and pharmaceuticals, what are some other ways fish or aquatic life are affected by what we put in our waterways?

70 Degrees West project

I’m continuing the theme of “We affect what goes in our watershed” this week (see posts on pharmaceuticals and oil) and introducing you to an adventurous and creative couple, Justin Lewis and Michelle Stauffer, working together on the 70 Degrees West project. They launched this project almost a year ago in April of 2012 and have completed Phase I – an expedition to Greenland. They have 8 expeditions planned along the 70 degree line of longitude. According to their blog, they’re currently  traveling, taking pictures, and shooting video in  Penobscot Watershed in Maine.

But, what really brought them to my attention was this Kickstarter project for Phase III. They’re headed to the Sargasso Sea to provide an “informative, eye-opening account about what’s going on in the oceans”. You may have heard of the Pacific Garbage Patch, but there is also one that exists in the Atlantic Ocean. During the expedition they’ll merge science and art to  “demonstrate how human actions on land impact our oceans”, especially with the accumulation of marine debris in the sea. The Sargasso Sea lies in the center of a huge oval of still waters bounded by ocean currents – the only sea not bordered by land. Dr. Sylvia Earle has called the Sargasso Sea “the golden rainforest of the ocean” because of the extensive amounts of Sargassum that floats in mats on the surface of the ocean. The Sargasso Sea is also the epic place that eels mysteriously mate.

The project has just 25 days to go. Check out this video and learn more about them today!

PlasticAccumulation_Wired

Computer model output of where plastic accumulates worldwide from Wired

What is marine debris? It is any type of garbage that can get into the ocean (e.g., glass, aluminum cans, plastic bags). It’s important to remember that even though you might not drop trash at the shoreline, if you’re dropping trash ANYWHERE it will lead to the ocean by waterways such as streams, rivers, and lakes. Did you know that the vast majority of marine debris is plastic? Learn more about how plastic can be harmful to marine life here.

Besides marine debris, petroleum, and pharmaceuticals, what are some other ways fish or aquatic life are affected by what we put in our waterways?

You can read about 5 incredible marine debris warriors here.

Lastly, best of luck to Justin Lewis and Michelle Stauffer as you continue your 70 Degrees West project!

Can’t blame just Big Oil

Yesterday I wrote a post about pharmaceuticals affecting aquatic life our waterways and finished it up with a question, “Have you heard of any other ways fish or aquatic life are affected by what we put in our waterways?” Well, I’m too excited to share another culprit. We all know how oil spills affect wildlife because we’ve seen the commercials and very powerful images after a big spill. However, it happens all the time! According to a 2002 report by the National Academies of Science National Research Council petroleum that enters North American waters comes from human activities  (e.g., runoff, emissions), not from the ships that transport it. Here’s an image explaining the surprising fact that gas from our cars – not tankers or pipelines – is responsible for 92% of the petroleum spilled into the water. This image is taken from the infographic “The Unfiltered Truth About Water” created by Evergreen AES.

water still

Follow these five tips from the American Boating Association to minimize your impact of petroleum entering the waterways:

  1. Operate only well maintained boats
  2. Limit full throttle operation
  3. Eliminate unnecessary idling
  4. Follow recommended maintenance schedules
  5. Eliminate spillage when refueling
  6. And, I’ll add, carpool or take public transportation when possible

So now, besides petroleum and pharmaceuticals, what are some other ways fish or aquatic life are affected by what we put in our waterways?

Do you love infographics as much as I do? Check out this page with some of my favorites.

The world’s horseshoe crab research finally finds a home

This month the Ecological Research & Development Group (ERDG) released a one-stop-shop for research, conservation, and education initiatives on the world’s four species of horseshoe crabs. This was a result of the discussions from the 2011 International Workshop of the Science and Conservation of the Asian Horseshoe Crabs held in Hong Kong.

Be sure to check it out today. There’s lesson plans, peer-reviewed articles, posters, PowerPoint presentations, and more. It’s the intention of the database to serve as a tool to benefit everyone who is in Limulus Love!

I was surprised to learn that the new database includes over 2,000 citations and ERDG is still looking for more materials from people like you and me (Maybe, I’ll submit my cheesy infographic).

Horseshoe Crab Research Database http://horseshoecrab.org/research/

Horseshoe Crab Research Database created by the Ecological Research & Development Group

My favorite posts from 2012

This isn’t the typical list of the most popular Beach Chair Scientist posts throughout the year. Those posts typically include questions typed into a search bar such as ‘Do sharks have bones?’ or ‘How much salt is in the ocean?’. Not surprisingly, my favorite posts aren’t focused on straight up interpretation, but rather have more stewardship and conservation as their subject matter. Here is a list of my favorite posts from 2012 and why I enjoyed writing them.

And here is one of my favorite images posted from this year:

taco_bcsberry

Share your love of the ocean with these unique and inspiring gifts

With less than two weeks before the big ‘gift-o-rama’ day, it’s time to hunker down and get those gifts in time for wrapping and shipping (after all, shipping ground is a lot less harmful for the environment than air). Here’s a list of gift ideas that will inspire anyone on your list to follow your lead to take an active role in loving and learning about the ocean.

1. Beach Amazonite necklace from Peace of Mind on Etsy: It’s a piece to be treasured with a sweet little charm that hangs  on an 18″ sterling silver ball chain with a lobster style clasp. Also, $10 from the sale of each necklace will be donated to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.
2. Cutting board from Waypoint (pictured): Avalon_CB-250x250This sturdy piece features the coordinates of ‘where you want to be’ and is made of solid maple and mahogany. It makes an interesting decoration or is perfect for serving appetizers. The double cleat board features two stainless steel 5” Herrschoff nautical cleats and measures approximately 8″ x 20″. This classic piece was a big hit as a recent gift for my father-in-law who has a cottage in Falmouth, UK. Made in the USA.
3. Driftwood hat or coat rack from nestibles on Etsy: Check out this sturdy, repurposed, shabby chic hook set for your entryway. The wood was collected from Long Island Sound and was sanded with a yellow paint wash.
4. Horseshoe crab pillow from Outer Banks Trading Group: It’s a hand sewn 14″ x 24″ pillow printed with environmentally friendly pigment ink on an organic cotton/hemp blend with a knife edge. Made in the USA.
5. Marine rope doormat from Gaiam: This durable doormat, made from reclaimed lobster trap float ropes, is resistant to mildew and indestructible. It’s 33” x 20½”  and is available with the options of black/teal and blue/green, although they vary because the availability is based upon the float ropes traded in by the Maine lobstermen.
6. Messenger bag from United By Blue: This bag is perfect for any beach adventure. It’s made of 100% organic cotton and United By Blue removes 1 pound of trash from our oceans and waterways around the world for every item sold.
7. Salts of the world from Uncommon Goods: Six varieties of exotic salts for presentation or cooking. It’s set in a groovy and stylish rack made of reclaimed cedar. The salts are from around the world but the tubes are made in the USA.
8. Tumblers from Tervis: These sturdy insulated cups keep hot drinks hot and cold drinks cold by harnessing air and sport all sorts of designs from the Maryland blue crab to your alma mater. Made in the USA.

Check out these fun finds for the kids:

1. 10 Little Rubber Ducks by Eric Carle
2. Lionfish puzzle from Fat Brain Toys
3. Sea life bath puzzle from Abe’s Market
4. Sea plane from Green Toys

These are just some ideas if you’re sitting at your desk shopping. But, why not get out there are check out the gift shop at your local nature center?

Do you know your seafood?

With the holidays right around the corner there will no doubt be plenty of indulgences. It is important to keep in mind that seafood can also be considered an extravagance if you’re choosing an unsustainable option to serve or taste. Did you know that the global fishing fleet can catch up to two and a half times what the ocean produces? 80% of fish stocks are harvested at or above maximum sustainable yield? Check out this infographic by One World One Ocean that was released last month for National Seafood Month  for those facts and a whole lot more, including 1) fish on the red list (not good) and green list (good), 2) reasons why these fish are on these lists, 3) chefs and grocers to support, and 4) important guides to download.

From 'One World One Ocean'

From ‘One World One Ocean’