10 best in the past nine years

Sometimes it’s nice to look at the past and see what’s worked. From the past nine years of posts on Beach Chair Scientist, it seems that one post has been the “most valuable player”. 100 ocean quotes is a surefire “make you stop by BCS for the first time and join the mailing list” kinda post. It’s the Wayne Gretzky, Babe Ruth, or Micheal Jordan in terms of stats. All other posts just fall short. But in the ethos of sportsmanship, here are ten posts that also bring some well deserved worth to this little blog. Which one are you rooting for?

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Facts about ‘Finding Dory’ friends

Maybe it’s because I’m a full-time teacher now, but my favorite character in Finding Dory is the Sting Ray. I mean, if it wasn’t for the class trip to learn about migration Dory – the blue tang with short-term memory loss –  may never had thought about “going home” and the trek to look for her parents may never have happened. She is supported on the journey with Marlin and Nemo – a class act father and son clown anemonefish duo. However, they meet some other amazing new creatures and reconnect with some old friends. Here are some of my favorite facts to share about Hank the Octopus, Destiny the Whale Shark, Bailey the Beluga, Crush the Green Sea Turtle, and – of course, the Sting Ray Teacher!

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What are your thoughts on the Finding Dory film? Did anyone catch that Dory should now have been able to speak “whale” because of her friendship with Destiny – given Destiny is actually a fish and not a whale?

What you need to know about World Shorebirds Day: Saturday, September 6th

world-shorebirds-day1000My husband isn’t happy about this … But, recently, I have found a new love of birds. It’s because we live in the woods and not near the ocean, so those flighted friends have stolen my heart just like fish did back some many years ago. My husband thinks it is hysterical since we grew up in Cape May County, NJ and birders are synonymous with “tourists”, a group to which locals have a love/hate relationship. But, I don’t care … I can hardly contain my excitement for this Saturday – during World Shorebirds Day!

The celebration was proposed and organized by György Szimuly, a well-known bird conservationist based in Milton Keynes, England. Szimuly set out to promote and celebrate shorebirds.

Find out the differences between a seabirds, shorebirds, wading birds here.

“The idea to hold a World Shorebirds Day was inspired by the ongoing conservation issues we have been facing,” Szimuly said. “I think that setting a commemorative day for shorebirds will give conservation bodies and individuals another chance to educate.” He continues that “This is not particularly a citizen science program, but rather an effort to raise awareness for the importance of regular bird monitoring as the core element of bird protection and habitat conservation.”

“I think the global shorebird counts are a good get-together event,” Szimuly said. “I asked birdwatchers to book their site now, where they can go counting shorebirds on the 6th and 7th of September.” There are hundreds of sites and counters already registered for the World Shorebirds Day. The ‘booked’ sites can be seen on the event’s Google Map. https://mapsengine.google.com/map/edit?mid=z3yRwAVo2mAw.k42bDqIRe7a4.

Follow the activities and learn how to submit data of World Shorebirds Day on the website blog and Facebook page.

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.

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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.

Ho, ho, ho! Look who’s coming to town … it’s the bearded seal!

The rather short snout with thick, long, white whiskers gives this true seal it’s appropriate common name. The bearded seal (Erignathus barbatus) can be as long 8 feet and weigh up to 800 pounds. I guess now we know what idiom they use under the sea instead of “the 800 pound gorilla in the room …”. These seals tend not to be seen in packs like their more social counterparts we view along harbors.

Bearded seals spend most of their lives in the Arctic waters, although one was recently found in southeast Florida. They enjoy feasting on arctic cod, shrimp, clams, crabs, and octopus and have been known to live up to 25 years. For more information on the conservation efforts and status of the bearded seal population please check out this page created by the NOAA Fisheries Service Office of Protected Resources.

Adult bearded seal by by wildlife photographer Paul Souders

Adult bearded seal by by wildlife photographer Paul Souders

Image (c)  www.telegraph.co.uk

If you gooble, gooble the turkeyfish know your source

006The extravagant fins of the lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific, resemble the plumage of turkeys and have thus earned the additional common name of ‘turkeyfish’. What is so ironic about that particular nickname is that scientists and fisheries managers have urged us to ‘gooble’ up this exotic looking creature. What’s happened over time is a gradual introduction of the lionfish along the southeast coast of the U.S., the Caribbean, and in parts of the Gulf of Mexico by way of too many releases from fish tanks in the late 1980’s and early 1990s. Unfortunately, these fish have become quite a nuisance in their new neighborhood. In 2010, Juliet Eilperin wrote this on how the lionfish are destroying the reefs along the southeastern Atlantic coast, “As a top predator, it consumes juvenile snapper and grouper along with algae-eating parrotfish, all of which help keep reefs healthy. Between 2004 and 2008, local densities of lionfish increased by roughly 700 percent in some areas; there are now 1,000 lionfish per acre on certain reefs”. As part of the plan for recovering the reefs, in 2010 a campaign was launched to catch lionfish and deep fry, blacken, sautée, or even turn it into an ingredient in sushi. Although, it is imperative that your know you’re source. This past summer, the FDA tested almost 200 lionfish and found there was a high level of the toxin that causes ciguatera in nearly a quarter of the fish. However, according to Michael Dimin, founder of Sea to Table, sautéeing them is still the best way to regain a more natural balance.

Not interested in eating them? You can even help to control the population by becoming a lionfish hunter yourself!

Are manatees and elephants related?

It might be very difficult to imagine, but manatees (also known as ‘sea cows’) share a common ancestor with elephants which might come as a surprise if you thought manatees shared a common ancestor with other marine mammals such as dolphins, whales, or sea lions. Here are 10 facts that link manatees and elephants as long-lost relatives.

1. Scientifically, manatees and elephants are classified as subungulates. Other mammals in the Subungulata superorder are hyraxes and aardvarks.
2.Manatees and elephants have an uncommon-shaped heart that is spherical. To compare, most mammals have a single-pointed tip at the base (i.e., “heart”—shaped).
3. The West Indian and West African manatee have three or four fingernail-like structures on the tip of their flippers, just like that of the toenails on the feet of elephants.
4. Manatees and elephants both have a thick, gray skin with very sparse hair.
5. Manatees and elephants have molars which move toward the front of the mouth, eventually break off, and are restored by those at the rear. Elephants have a limited number while manatees are never-ending.
6. Manatees have two incisors that bear a resemblance to elephant tusks.
7. Manatees use their large, flexible muscular lips to break apart vegetation in the water and skillfully steer food to their mouths. This is very similar to the action of the elephant eating with his trunk.
8. Manatees and elephants are herbivores. Manatees tend to feast on sea grass and freshwater plants and consume up to 100-150 pounds a day. Elephants tend to feast on small plants, bushes, fruit, twigs, tree bark, and roots and consume up to 330-375 pounds a day.
9. Male manatees and elephants are known as bulls. Female manatees and elephants are known as cows. Young manatees and elephants are known as calves.
10. Manatees and elephants are both endangered. Their numbers have dropped due in a large part to human activities.

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Manatee image (c) cruisenaplesflorida.com, elephant image (c) gallery.hd.org

Here is a fantastic teaching resource from the University of Florida Sea Grant extension I uncovered while pulling this post together.

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.

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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.

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