Marine Mammal Monday: Elephant seals

elephantseals_beachchairscientist

Please feel free to share with your friends and family where you learned something new about elephant seals 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!

Marine Mammal Monday: Test your knowledge of state symbols

Can you match the state with the marine mammal "symbol"?

Can you match the state with the marine mammal “symbol”?

Download the pdf here. I’ll post the answers next Monday. First person to comment with the correct answers (here or on Facebook) I’ll send a copy of the Smithsonian’s Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises (Flexibound).

Also, if I’ve missed a state with a marine mammal “symbol”, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

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!

Marine Mammal Monday: Walruses

walruses_beachchairscientist

Please feel free to share with your friends and family where you learned something new about walruses 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

 

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!

Marine Mammal Monday: Sea lions

sealions_beachchairscientist

Please feel free to share with your friends and family where you learned something new about sea lions 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.

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: