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

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!

Octopus_BCS

StingRay_BCS

DestinyWhaleShark_BCS

Beluga_BCS

 

GreenSeaTurtle_BCS

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?

Squid’s “Passing Cloud” camouflage technique mimicked in artificial skin

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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.

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.

Longfin inshore squid pulses to Cypress Hill

No one can deny that cephalopods are smart and elusive creatures, and here is yet another example that proves the point. Scientists at Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA did experiments on the axons of the longfin inshore squid and were excited to see a vibrant color-changing spectrum of the squid’s brown, red, and yellow chromatophores. The chromatophores each have muscles that contract when stimulated revealing the pigment below. Check out this video from Backyard Brains to see the results {Fair warning: wear headphones if you’re in the office!}.

Also, you can check out this video to learn more about the cockroach leg stimulus protocol they used for the experiment.

What’s your favorite marine mascot?

We took our daughter to her first major league baseball game this weekend. I will never forget her cheery face when she’d point at the bright orange and black cartoon Orioles on fan’s shirts and say, “buuurrd?” The Phillies lost so it wasn’t the best experience we could have hoped for at Camden Yards, but overall my little family had an enjoyable time (also, impressive despite the 90 degree weather).

Needless to say, the day got me thinking about marine-themed mascots for major league sports in the U.S. This is a list of 9 marine mascots that might inspire your little marine biologists to follow baseball, hockey, or football or conversely that could get your little sports fan into science. I suppose if you’re a teacher, these mascots are also useful teaching tools to introduce different biological units (Ok, I am not certain what lesson you’d ever need Raymond the Seadog to introduce).

  1. T.D. the Dolphin (Miami Dolphins – NFL)
  2. Blitz the Seahawk (Seattle Seahawks – NFL)
  3. Lou Seal (San Francisco Giants – MLB)
  4. Iceburgh the Penguin (Pittsburgh Penguins – NHL)
  5. Fin the Whale (Vancouver Canucks – NHL)
  6. Raymond the Seadog (Tampa Bay Rays – MLB)
  7. Billy the Marlin (Miami Marlins – MLB)
  8. S.J. Sharkie (San Jose Sharks – NHL)
  9. Al the Octopus (Detroit Redwings – NHL)

From what I uncovered, the national basketball association is void of ocean animals as mascots. Please feel free to comment if you can think of another or just let me know if you have a favorite. Lastly, does anyone know where the Phillie Phanatic is originally from?

Cirque Du Baille (or Circus of the Sea)

Now that my little one is getting to the age where she’s off on fun excursions with daycare (today she went to the National Zoo!), I started having nightmares she might ask her father and I to take her to the circus.  I haven’t been to the circus since I was 6 and am not even certain if they still have them or that I want to take her. I do love the idea of taking her to Cirque Du Soleil to enjoy the music and dancing, though.

Then I started to daydream …  “What if I could take her to a circus of the sea“? So, here is my representation of “Cirque Du Baille” featuring the spinner dolphin as the amazing acrobat, the clownfish as everyone’s favorite (or creepy) jokster, the dumbo octopus as the ideal replacement for the elephant, and once the lionfish figures out a way to get those tentacles through hoops he’ll take down the big top.

Octopi this …

In honor of the Beatles (on today the 10th anniversary of George Harrison‘s death) I thought I would feature the incredibly intelligent animal from one of my favorite songs, Octopus’s Garden. The song (released in the US on September 1, 1969) was the second song written by Ringo Starr for The Beatles (but, as my husband pointed out George Harrison did help him write the song).

It’s said Ringo Starr wrote the song while on vacation with his family in Sardinia after learning octopi like to hide under rocks. Pretty cool, right? Here are five more fun facts about these amazing cephalopods that I think Ringo Starr would think are equally as fascinating:

  1. There is an endangered species of octopi that spends part of its life in the rainforest.
  2. The largest octopus is the giant Pacific octopus (up to 30 feet) and the tiniest octopus is the Wolfi octopus (one and a half centimeters).
  3. A female octopus is known as a hen.
  4. Octopi have three hearts.
  5. Octopi can change color and mimic other animals.

Enjoy!

One last thing, if you have not had a chance to purchase your Octopi Wall Street t-shirt I suggest you do soon since they make great holiday gifts!
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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.

Did the squid warn of an earthquake?

Is it possible that squid can warn us of earthquakes? I say yes.

It was pointed out in the The Yomiuri Shimbun earlier this month that fishermen saw in increase of their catch of squid right before several major earthquakes, including this recent one in March 2011.

The article stated that “According to Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry statistics, squid fishermen in Tokushima brought in 491 tons of the cephalopods in 1994–just before the Hanshin quake–which was 1.4 times the 1993 catch and 1.9 times the 1992 catch.”

This is certainly an impressive increase in catch. As it was also when “There were amazing hauls of squid just before the 1946 Nankai Earthquake,” one veteran fisherman from southern Tokushima said. And, most recently the correlation can be noted when just before the March 11 earthquake  “Squid fishermen in Tokushima Prefecture hauled in a bumper catch”.

Also, interesting was a small squid stranding right before a small earthquake in La Jolla, California in 2009.

Some questions have been asked that “if this increase in catch does occur right before a major earthquake has it ever been noted that there is a sharp drop in catch right after?” My instinct is to say that there would be a sharp decline in the catch since squid would not be as easy to catch. It seems to me that since this cephalopod is typically found near the bottom of the ocean floor (close to the Earth’s crust) they must be moving closer to the surface of the ocean where fishermen can catch them easier. According to a Tulane University website,  since earthquakes “occur when energy stored in elastically strained rocks is suddenly released. This release of energy causes intense ground shaking in the area near the source of the earthquake”. It would seem as though squid can detect the grounding shaking phenomenon prior to the rest of us since it happens in their own backyard first.

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