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?

MVPMarineMammals

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.

Happy Chinese New Year … Year of the (Sea) Dragon!

Happy Chinese New Year … Year of the (Sea) Dragon!

January 23 will bring a very significant celebration for those that live by the sea … it is the year of the water dragon which only occurs every six decades! To commemorate such an occasion, BCS will highlight two very remarkable and elaborate dragons found off the coast of south and east Australia. The leafy seadragon (Phycodurus eques) and the weedy seadragon (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus) are related to the more familiar seahorse and pipefish.

Leafy Seadragon

Although they may share the similar feature of a long snout with the seahorse and pipefish, the seadragon’s appendages coming from their solid, armor-like skin are what really set them apart. The leafy seadragon, often yellowish-green, is much more ornate than the reddish colored weedy seadragon. Although, the weedy seadragon does have some striking bright blue bands along its upper body. Unlike seahorses,  seadragons do not use their tails to grasp onto the seaweeds or algae that they call home. In fact, the seadragons prefer to drift although they can use their transparent dorsal and pectoral fins to help navigate.

Weedy Seadragon

Similar to seahorses, male seadragons do the child bearing. The males have a brood patch under their tails (unlike the seahorse that have a pouch on their belly). The female will lay approximately 250 eggs on the patch at the time of fertilization and the eggs will hatch approximately 6 weeks later. The tiny juvenile seadragons look exactly like their parents but are immediately independent from them. This is their most vulnerable time of life when they may be eaten by various anemones, crabs, or hydroids. But if they avoid these predators and eat plenty of zooplankton the seadragon will grow to be either 14 inches (leafy) or 18 inches (weedy). The adults usually feast on sea lice or mysid shrimp. Of course, that is also if they manage to evade people collecting them for black market aquariums and staying away from areas where there is pollution and habitat loss.

Other interesting facts about seadragons are that their eyes move independently and they have no teeth or stomach!

Resources:

  • http://australian-animals.net/dragon.htm
  • http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/fish/sea-dragon/
  • http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/efc/efc_splash/splash_animals_seadragon.aspx

New ‘marine life encyclopedia’ launched

I think there might be another great bookmark to add to your ocean facts files! Please spend some time reviewing this great new resource, a marine life encyclopedia, compiled by Oceana. Over 500 creatures, places, and concepts can be explored. The pictures are bright and colorful and the information is up-to-date and easy to digest. It seems fantastic if you want a quick answer to a question.

Even if you think you know all the answers, test yourself with this Ocean IQ quiz!

The content on the marine life encyclopedia site has been licensed to Dorling Kindersley, one of the world’s leading educational publishers.

How do fish give birth?

There are three general ways fish in the sea give birth to a new generation.

I will start off explaining what is most familiar to us, fish that give birth to live young. This is called being viviparous. There is a structure similar to the placenta that connects the embryo to the mother’s blood supply. Some shark species are viviparous. In fact, in some shark species such as the shortfin mako, the embryo has been known to eat other eggs developed by the mother.

Next is something similar called giving birth oviviparously. This is when the embryo develops inside of an egg that is inside the mother. The difference between this and viviparity is that the embryo gets no nourishment from the mother. Nutrients are taken from within the egg. Coelacanths are a type of oviviparious fish.

Lastly, I will go over how 97% of fish species reproduce. These are the fish that lay many, many eggs and hide them in a dark corner so predators can’t get to them. This is called being oviparous. With most oviparous fish species fertilization takes place outside the body. But with many types of skates and rays (pictured right) the male will use his claspers to internally fertilize the female eggs before she lays them.

Image (c) www.gma.org

A Few Lines from Rehoboth Beach by Fleda Brown

Dear friend, you were right: the smell of fish and foam
and algae makes one green smell together. It clears
my head. It empties me enough to fit down in my own

skin for a while, singleminded as a surfer. The first
day here, there was nobody, from one distance
to the other. Rain rose from the waves like steam,

dark lifted off the dark. All I could think of
were hymns, all I knew the words to: the oldest
motions tuning up in me. There was a horseshoe crab

shell, a translucent egg sack, a log of a tired jetty,
and another, and another. I walked miles, holding
my suffering deeply and courteously, as if I were holding

a package for somebody else who would come back
like sunlight. In the morning, the boardwalk opened
wide and white with sun, gulls on one leg in the slicks.

Cold waves, cold air, and people out in heavy coats,
arm in arm along the sheen of waves. A single boy
in shorts rode his skimboard out thigh-high, making

intricate moves across the March ice-water. I thought
he must be painfully cold, but, I hear you say, he had
all the world emptied, to practice his smooth stand.

Read more about this author here.

What are those yellow looking things that look like a floppy spinal cord?

The strand of half dollar sized pods is an egg case. Actually each pod has about twenty tiny animals in each pod.knobbed_whelk_with_egg_-case_100_2886

The tiny animal that will grow from this egg case is the knobbed whelk. This is basically a northeast version of a conch (pronounced conk). If you hold the tiny discs up to the sunlight you can see the tiny versions of the whelk developing.

The whelk is a mollusk (like clams and oysters) but only has one shell. This shell grows with the whelk as it gets older – as opposed to the hermit crab which moves out as it gets bigger.

Also, if you hold the whelk shell up to your ear you can hear the ocean. Lastly, do not hold up a whelk shell to your ear if it has a tough protective “door” covering its opening. That’s the mantle and means that an animal inhabits the shell. Please place it right back where you found it.

Image (c) Jo O’Keefe.

 

Do you have another great question? Check out www.beachchairscientist.com and enter your request!

What are those tiny black pods with tendrils near the ends?

They are egg cases from a juvenile thorny skate. skateThe skate is related to sharks and rays. Sharks, skates, and rays all have a skeleton made up of cartilage, the flexible material that is found in our noses and ears. One tiny skate will hatch from each egg after nine months – hatching under the surface of the water. Usually, what we see wrapped up in the seaweed “wrack line” is the discarded egg cases. Another nickname for these egg cases is the “mermaid’s purse.” Check out this BCS post to learn the difference between skates and rays.

Image (c) NOAA – Alaska Fisheries Science Center.

Do you have another great question? Email info@beachchairscientist.com!