Getting to know three … Bivalve edition

Ever know instinctively that some animals are ‘related’ and just can’t pinpoint their similarities? On the third day of every month I explain three features that are common among three animals of a certain group. Of course, generally each group has more than three representatives and even  many more similarities and then even more differences, but I am going to choose three similarities that link threes to keep it simplified. This month is focused the mussel, scallop, and clam. These three animals are all part of the bivalve group which is the second largest group of mollusks. The largest group of mollusks are the gastropods. Mollusks are well-known for their soft, unsegmented bodies and shell covering (although cephalopods do not have this feature). Check out the image below to learn what the featured animals all have in common.

Bivalves_BCS

 

 

Finned foliage

I wanted to share this image of anthias swimming in the Red Sea to usher in the briskness of autumn! As you know it’s my favorite time to beachcomb, but it’s also my favorite time to be surrounded by the brilliant-colored leaves of trees. The reds, yellows, and oranges are as vibrant as a coral reef

These schooling anthias are interesting because they are born one sex, but then change to another. In fact, all anthias are born female and only change to male if the male in their school dies. Most anthias remain female their entire life. This type of hermaphrodite is known as protogynous (proh-TAH-guh-nus). If it were the other way (beginning their life as male and changing to female) it would be known as protandrous (pro–TAN-dur-us).

RedseaAnthiasThe image is from Free Underwater Images, a new favorite resource. This website “promotes increased awareness of the marine environment by allowing users to download free, high quality underwater photos.  All images are in the public domain and free for any use without prior written permission and without fee or obligation. Images can be used for any non commercial purpose”.

Myth debunked: Delaware Bay not an annual pit stop for all shark species

A fan of Beach Chair Scientist on Facebook recently asked me to demystify a rumor she had heard. This is what she wanted to know: “I was told that over the course of a year, at least one of every species of shark can be found in the Delaware Bay. Do you know if this is true?” I asked Jim Wharton, frequent BCS guest blogger and shark expert, to tackle this one. This is his response.

Sadly, it is not true. There are at least 500 species of sharks in the ocean. They range in size from six inches to sixty feet. They can be found in water ankle deep to the abyssal depths … from the tropics to polar ice caps. To find a nexus point like this anywhere in the ocean would miraculous. Sharks are just too diverse.

Still, there are sharks in Delaware Bay. Anglers might encounter sand tigers, sandbar (brown) sharks, smooth dogfish, and spiny dogfish with other occasional visitors (including at least one record of a juvenile white shark). In fact, the National Marine Fisheries Service has identified the Bay as ‘Essential Fish Habitat’ for several species of Federally protected ‘Highly Migratory Species’ including sandbar sharks, sand tigers, and smooth dogfish. This designation recognizes the critical foraging and nursery habitat the Bay provides for these important species.

Sand tiger shark at the Georgia Aquarium. Image (c) Underwater Times

Dr Dewayne Fox’s lab at Delaware State University is working to create a conservation plan for the sand tiger sharks in the Bay. These distinctive, snaggletoothed sharks are very popular in public aquariums. Despite their fearsome appearance, they rarely interact with people. Sand tigers are top predators and represent a critical keystone species in the ecology of Delaware Bay. Dr. Fox and his students are implanting passive acoustic transmitters inside sharks to better understand their movement patterns. The transmitters emit an identifiable ‘ping’ that is collected by strategically located listening stations to help researchers track the animals in the Bay. Understanding how the sharks use the Delaware Bay is essential to identifying critical habitat for protection. You can learn more about Dr. Fox’s work here.

Sand tigers, by way, are freakish and fantastic creatures that are well-worth saving. No sharks have swim bladders, but sand tigers gulp air at the surface to make themselves neutrally buoyant. Sand tigers are one of many species that explode the myth of the shark in constant motion, frequently found lying near-motionless on the sandy bottom. Sand tigers are fish-specialists, with more-than-a-mouthful of narrow, prong-shaped teeth for grabbing slippery prey. They like to hang-out in large aggregations and may actively cooperate to herd schools of fish. Most fantastic of all…baby sand tigers are “embryonic cannibals.” Sand tiger embryos quickly exhaust their meager yolk sacs and start in on the undeveloped eggs…but they don’t stop there. The largest embryo in each uterus (yes, sharks have two) attacks and consumes its brothers and sisters in the ultimate form of sibling rivalry.

Good references for more on sand tigers:

  • Castro, J. I. (2011). The sharks of North America. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Compagno, L. J. V., Dando, M., & Fowler, S. L. (2005). Sharks of the world. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Thanks for sharing you knowledge, Jim! Check out his other BCS posts on sharks here.

The flight of swallows

That’s a great title for a song if someone wants to use it. In any event, have you ever been to the beach or walking along the marsh and felt the gloom and doom of darkness approach even though it’s a bright and sunny day? Have you ever looked up into the sky to witness the emergence of a feathered tornado? What you’re watching is the flight of the swallows – which can be up to several thousand birds approaching in one flight!

These no-more-than-14-centimeter-in-length birds are commonly seen swarming along the mid-Atlantic coast in September, the tail end of their breeding season. However, they are found throughout central and northern North America during their entire breeding season from May to September. These very social birds winter in Florida and the Caribbean. They’re rarely seen on land and spend the majority of their life in trees, maybe coming down to earth just to graze their wings along the surface of a body of water for a quick bath.

Why are they found along the mid-Atlantic coast in September? Well, they congregate in large flocks to roost among groves of small trees and cattails away threats (e.g., lots of people). They also prefer to make the nest for their eggs in the holes of dead trees away from threats. Male and female swallows are very territorial when it comes to their nest and will stand guard even from approaching fellow swallows.

Swallows produce one brood per year, averaging 5 eggs. These birds prove it takes a village as they make a nest for their eggs using the feathers of other birds to keep the eggs warm. The eggs typically hatch in about two weeks and are able to fly from the nest after three weeks. In one year the young swallow will be mature enough to breed!

And, in case you’re not familiar with the phenomenon – check out this well done amateur video I found on YouTube of a swarm of swallows (set to classical music no less!). It’s quite to spectacular sight.

Other great bird resources:

 

10 tips for a successful beachcombing trip

Pick up that clump! You never know what you'll find.

Pick up that clump! You never know what you’ll find.

It’s my favorite time of year. This is the best time to explore the beach. It’s still sunny and warm, there are frequent storms (you’ll see why that matters later), and there are few people on the beach. For another six weeks along the mid-Atlantic (before it gets too cold), I encourage you to spend some time getting to know your local shoreline. Here are 10 tips for a successful beachcombing trip.

10. What to bring. Here is a list of some items you may want to remember so you’re prepared for any situation.

  • Often the beach is considerably cooler than inland so bring layers. You may want to wear hiking pants and bring a zippered sweatshirt so you’re equipped with lots of pockets for some other items that might be essential.
  • Make sure to have some appropriate soles. Sure it’s our instinct to be barefoot, however if you want to venture out along the jetties or rocks make sure you have some old sneakers or those water shoes with some decent grip (After all, you don’t want to ruin your adventure with a puncture to some sharp object). Also, the water might be a little cooler than you’d prefer and some good foot cover will allow you to wade into a tide pool.
  • Make sure to have a watch.
  • Even during the off-season the sun is shining and is strong enough to give you a burn. Make sure to bring along a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
  • It’s always a good idea to bring a shovel, grabber sick, or even a metal detector so you can gently investigate inside crevices and below the sand.
  • You are going to want to cherish the moments so find that camera and try to make a neck strap so it’s always handy. You can take pictures of items you find and want to learn about later. You’ll also want to catalog those smiles in the sun.
  • Take along a small (i.e., not heavy) identification book so you can learn more about what you find while on your outing.

9. Be hands free. One more item that you’re going to love me for suggesting is a backpack. This way you can investigate a little bit further from your base and your items are quickly at your disposal.

8. Leave important items behind. Don’t ruin the day by losing a credit card or your phone. If you’re active and in the moment you might lose something and it’s going to be difficult to retrace your steps. I won’t say “I told you so”. On the same note it’s important to leave animals, plants, rocks, and seashells where you find them. If you want to have a little bit of the beach in your home check out these great books by Josie Iselin.

7. When to go. To get the optimum experience for beachcombing you’ll want to check on when low tide is at your beach spot. The best time to go beachcombing is 2-3 hours prior to low tide or an hour or so after (This is why a watch is important, you don’t want to get stuck on  shoal during high tide). Many intertidal animals live under the water in the sand during high tide, but come out to play (and seek out food) during low tide. If you can time it so you get to check out the beach after a big storm you’ll be in for a real treat. The strong wind and wave action of storms will wash up a fossils, bones, seaweed, and lot of other interesting treasures from the ocean floor. Also, keep in mind that dawn and dusk are difficult times to identify beach treasures. Although this is a great time to spot birds as many fish tend to come up to the surface at these times.

6. Where to go. My favorite spot to beachcomb is the Stone Harbor Point in NJ, but it’s not always easy for me to get there these days. I like to remind myself from time to time that I don’t need an ocean to beachcomb. There is a lake and creek in my neighborhood and these spots are a great place to spend the afternoon. After all, these waterways eventually lead to the ocean.  No matter where I decide to spend some time beachcombing I always make sure to note the general water quality.

5. Be careful. This is just a reminder to not tamper with obviously dangerous items. Fish hooks, metal canisters, and needles often wash up on the beach. While I am going to also suggest doing your part and picking up marine debris it’s also a good idea to err on the side of caution and when poking around. Also, some rocks look very steady but it’s important to be aware of your surroundings. If you are feeling like having an adventurous day it’s might be a good idea to make sure you have someone else with you. One last thing about being careful,even though the dunes might look like an interesting place to check out – it’s important to know that those grasses are incredibly brittle and can crack easily. It’s also against the law to walk on the dunes. The dunes are an important part of the beach ecosystem as they protect our homes from storm surge.

4. Leave it be. Each rock that you turn over is part of an ecosystem. A rock might be an essential part of an animal’s home as it helps pool water during high tide. Rocks also protect them from predator as well as the sun. It’s important to always remember to not take animals out of their natural setting – especially if you see them in a tide pool. Many animals are naturally attached to rocks for survival and you could be risking their survival.

3. Play. You might not want to go home, but you also might be in the company of some people that just don’t have a very long attention span. Even more frustrating is repeating the phrase, “No, you cannot go in the water today” over and over again. Build a sandcastle. Look to the horizon for dolphins or porpoises. Make a sand angel. Look up to the sky for cloud animals. Check out my ebook for other beachcombing adventures.

2. Bag it and track it. It’s always nice to be prepared to be able to do your part. I prefer to take along a hefty canvas bag that can fit in a backpack so I can tote marine debris back to a garbage can. You might even try to acquire one of these nifty bags with holes for sand to percolate through from the Green Bag Lady. When you head back to the car you can even do some citizen science and log your marine debris on the Marine Debris Tracker.

1. Don’t expect too much. It’s important to remember to relax and respect the area you are exploring. All of the ideas above are simply suggestions and ideas to ensure you get the most out of  a beachcombing adventure. Please don’t hesitate to share your favorite stories, spots, and other ideas for a great day. You can comment below of email me at info@beachchairscientist.com.

5 on-the-ground warriors for marine debris

I’ll be incredibly frank and honest and say that I do not do as much on-the-ground ocean activism as I’d like to do these days. I do participate the occasion stream clean-up and rally from time to time, but with a full-time job and a family including an active toddler, time is scarce and I’m lucky if I can pull it together to write a post or two or marine debris. Since this upcoming weekend is the annual International Coastal Cleanup I wanting to take the time to send a shout out and a huge virtual dose of gratitude for 5 very active on-the-ground marine debris and ocean activists. If you have the chance, check out what they’re doing as I know every time I read up on what they’re accomplishing I am continually inspired. As a matter of fact, you’ll have the chance to get to know one of them a little bit more in-depth tomorrow as a part of the “What Marine Conservationists Are Into …” series. (On a side note, all of my Virginia friends and family should be on the lookout because I am gearing up to gather a crowd to participate in the Virginia Waterways Cleanups!)

Sarah Bayles of The Daily Ocean
Sarah is steadfastly collecting trash from the same beach for 20 minutes at a time for 365 non-consecutive days to “raise awareness for how much trash is on our beaches and getting into the ocean, that the solutions start with us right here on land, and that everyday we can make choices in what we consume and buy that can add up to make a difference”. Her work ethic is inspiring and she’s diligent in posting the weight of the trash she collects. At the point I write this post she collected 1,234.3 pounds in 325 days.

Danielle Richardet of It Starts With Me
Just like Sarah of Our Daily Ocean, Danielle spends 20 minutes a day cleaning a beach but in Wrightsville Beach, NC and she’s focused on finding cigarette butts. Here incredibly positive message is that “It’s simple…everything we do (or don’t do) has an impact on the world we live in. It starts with me and ripples to you…”. I wish Danielle the best as she continues her quest to “create a smoke-free beach and have proper cigarette butt disposal receptacles installed on Wrightsville Beach”. Can you believe she’s collected 50,129 cigarette butts in 156 days?

Harold Johnson of The Flotsam Diaries
Harold Johnson has been researching and collecting marine debris weekly at two very different sites (one active by beachgoers and one non-active) in Maine since June of 2010. As he puts it, “I’m hoping to learn something about the debris that arrives at the beach both by regular beachgoers, and by actions of wave & wind”. You can read his findings weekly on his blog or get some more detailed reviews of his research at Scientific American.

Cheryl ‘Sandy’ King of Sharkastics
Cheryl is interested in everything ocean-related, but has found a niche spreading the word all about sharkastics. Sharkastics are what she has termed “plastics that have obvious bite marks (e.g., jagged serrations and/or punctures). She posts many images of the debris she finds and is more than happy to share them for educational purposes (although she requests you share with her how you use them).

Tim Silverwood of Take 3: A Clean Beach Initiative
Tim is a surfer and plastic pollution spokesperson based in Australia. In 2009, he and his compadres began thinking about proactive ways the public could reduce the amount of waste entering the oceans. The Take-3 initiative was born. As the website states, “The ‘Take 3’ message is simple: take 3 pieces of rubbish when you leave the beach, waterway or…anywhere and you have made a difference”.

Here is a powerful and beautifully done depiction on why everyone is responsible for marine debris. Thanks to designer and illustrator Jenny Wang for reminding us that it is not just those that live near an ocean who contribute to ocean pollution.

What they’re into … with Wallace J. Nichols

It’s Tuesday and you know what that means by now if you’ve been following BCS this summer. Time for another installment of “What Marine Conservationists Are Into …”! This is a series I featured in the summer of 2012 to get a special sneak peek at the many 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 of 2012!) which sets out to illustrate that scientists are not just crazy haired nerds in lab coats. I sent a list of 15 random questions and asked that each person share at least their answers to 5 of them. For the tenth edition, I am delighted to introduce California conservationist extraordinaire, Dr. Wallace ‘J” Nichols.

Dr. Wallace “J.” Nichols is a scientist, activist, community organizer, author, and dad. He works to inspire a deeper, more active, connection with nature, sometimes simply by walking and talking, other times through writing or images. Science and knowledge can also stoke our fires. But he knows that what really moves people is feeling part of and touching something bigger than ourselves.

J. is a Research Associate at California Academy of Sciences and founder of several conservation initiatives including Ocean Revolution, an international network of young ocean advocates, SEE the WILD, an international conservation travel portal and LiVBLUE, a campaign to reconnect people with our water planet. He earned his Bachelors in Biology and Spanish from DePauw University, an MEM in Environmental Policy and Economics from Duke University’s Nicholas School, and his PhD in Wildlife Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from University of Arizona.

He advises a motivated group of international graduate students and serves as an advisor to numerous non-profit boards and committees as part of his commitment to building a stronger, more progressive, and connected environmental community.

Lately he is working on BlueMarbles.org and BLUEMiND: The Mind + Ocean Initiative. He blogs at wallacejnichols.org and lives on California’s SLOWCOAST.

What is the last thing you bought that you shouldn’t have?
I’ve been off coffee for almost a month. But I bought a “dirty chai tea” which has a shot of espresso hidden down in the glass of tea.

What is your favorite fruit flavor?
Organic local you-pick olallieberry, the season is so short and sweet. Always worth the wait.

What is your favorite Sunday breakfast?
Poached eggs from our chickens, fresh pesto, on sourdough bread. And a dirty chai ; )

What’s your favorite midnight snack?
Ice cream w/ olallieberries!

Are you a night owl or a morning person?
A massive night owl who loves early mornings.

What is your favorite room in your home?
My daughters’ room, because we read stories at night and snuggle. It’s the best part of the day and the house.

Which sitcom character do you relate to?
None. I put some thought into this. And, well, none. That probably explains why we don’t have a TV. Or vice versa.

What is your favorite scent?
So, so many. Can I say olallieberry again? Just kidding. Late on a cool night in the redwoods. Just after a rain in the Sonoran Desert. Any kind of pie.

What is your favorite sundae topping?
Guess.

What is your favorite pastime?
Anything with our kids. They really make anything we do so much fun.

What three things would you take with you to an island?
Shakepeare’s Complete Works. A good machete. Olallieberry seeds.

How superstitious are you?
Not a bit.

What is your favorite day of the week?
Thursday, or Thor’s Day. Named after the Norse god of thunder, lightning storms and oak trees. That’s just cool. I think about that every Thursday.

Are you a cat person, dog person, or neither?
Both. Their names are Fisher (Newfoundland), Jack Wilder (Cairn terrier), Penelope (Maine Coon) and Trout (strange but cute black cat)

If you were a geometric shape, what would you like to be?
I rather like the rhombus. I wouldn’t really want to be one, though.

What’s some other random favorite information about you?
My fascination with neuroscience began in college, when I was 19. I gave weekly guitar lessons to a woman who had lost her memory in an accident as therapy for restoring her memories, and it worked. I’ve been interested in the wonders of the human brain ever since.

Almost ten years ago my partner Dana and daughter Grayce (who was just 1 y.o., her sister Julia wasn’t born yet) walked 1,800 km from Oregon to Mexico along the coast. I highly recommend that everyone take a very long walk (months) through a place that is important to them. It’s a deeply human and transformative thing to do.

Image (c) Jeff Lipsky

Getting to know three … Malacostracan edition

Ever know instinctively that some animals are ‘related’ and just can’t pinpoint their similarities? On the third day of every month I explain three features that are common among three animals of a certain group. Of course, generally each group has more than three representatives and even  many more similarities and then even more differences, but I am going to choose three similarities that link threes to keep it simplified. This month is focused on the shrimp, the lobster, and the crab – all crustaceans, but more specifically all are members of the largest of the six classes of crustaceans known as the Malacostraca class. (Need a refresher on the trusty mnemonic device for classification? Click here.)

Check out ‘Getting to know three … Echinoderm edition’.

How to track a horseshoe crab

Today I am excited to bring a new video produced by Coastal Kingdom TV, a television series dedicated to sharing the unique and diverse habitats of the South Carolina lowcountry. Host Tony Mills demonstrates the best way to track horseshoe crabs in the tidal flats of South Carolina and does a superb job enlightening us on some of the animal’s unique characteristics.

It’s a SodaStream sweepstakes!

Time for another giveaway … Would you believe me if I told you there was a smallish kitchen appliance you could use daily to enjoy a refreshing beverage that would reduce the amount of plastic bottles that would potentially enter the atmosphere as marine debris and it was free? While you’re contemplating how this miracle could ever occur, here are some facts on plastic bottles and the impact they have on the environment.

  1. Plastic bottles can take over 1,000 years to decompose.
  2. Enough plastic bottles are thrown away each year in the United States to circle the earth four times.
  3. Over 80% of empty water bottles end up in the nation’s landfills.
  4. Only 8% of the total plastic waste generated in 2010 was recovered for recycling.
  5. 1.5 million tons of plastic waste are created by plastic bottles alone.
  6. 47 million gallons of oil is consumed to produce the bottles that Americans drink out of each year (This is enough oil to take 100,000 cars off the road and 1-billion pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere).
  7. 24 million gallons of oil are needed to produce a billion plastic bottles.
  8. Bottled water costs about 1000 times more than tap water and 90% of the cost of bottled water is due to the bottle itself.
  9. Bottling and shipping water is the least energy efficient method ever used to supply water.
  10. In a study conducted by the National Resources Defense Council one third of bottled water tested contained significant contamination.

Now, how can you reduce the amount of plastic bottles you may potentially contribute to the environment? My suggestion isn’t going to be too surprising if you’ve been following me on Twitter as I’ve become a genuine fan of the SodaStream machine. The SodaStream isn’t a new product by any means. In fact, this home soda maker machine is connected with 1970/1980’s childhood nostalgia in the United Kingdom. The soda maker machine comes with a few durable bottles that you keep filled up in the refrigerator and use the carbonator to turn the cold tap water into delicious bubbly water. There are about 30 flavors to add to the bubbly water to create your own fun drinks (Target carries the flavors to add)! My husband likens the cola flavor to Coke rather than Pepsi. I thoroughly enjoy the plain club soda, but have indulged in the occasional diet Dr. flavor and cannot tell any difference from the Pipp or Pepper original. There are even Crystal Light and energy drink options. I’ve come to appreciate it, not only because it reduces marine debris, but also because there is no dragging bottles from the store to the house and the recycling bin doesn’t need to be emptied as much which I know is also making an impact on the environment.

Of course, the SodaStream carbonator does need to be replaced and that comes with a cost (but, I think it’s worth it!). The carbonator needs to be replaced depending on how often you use it. We’ve had ours for 3 months and will probably make it another 3 before we need to replace it. The carbonators can be exchanged for free to any participating local retailer or through the SodaStream company directly via UPS (yes, you’re essentially hostage to a single overpriced gas supplier).

How can you get your hands on a SodaStream for free? If you share any of my posts on Facebook or retweet any of my posts on Twitter in the next week I’ll enter you into a raffle for a free SodaStream (they were kind of enough to send me one)! You can share as many posts or retweet as many tweets as you’d prefer to saturate your friends, family, and colleagues until noon next Friday. Each time you share or retweet it will be an additional chance to win. I’ll only count the shares from the direct page or the retweets from the original tweet and not the folks that share a share or retweet a retweet. Also, it can be any post or tweet, new or old. Be sure to tag Beach Chair Scientist in anything you share! I will announce the winner next Friday (what a great way to start Labor Day weekend for someone!).

Update (8/31/2012): Thanks to Random Picker for helping make the raffle so efficient! Our winner for the SodaStream is a Beach Chair Scientist Facebook friend! Thank you to everyone that participated your support means the world!