‘Baby beluga’ dies

I’m not certain if my dear family friend Janie had been watching too much CeeLo Green on television this summer or if she got wind that the little white whale that inspired the classic children’s song ‘Baby Beluga‘  by Raffi Cavoukian died last week, but in any event she asked me to write a post on belugas and I am more than happy to oblige with a post (even if it is one of sad news). It really wouldn’t surprise me that she did hear the news as she is a teacher and mom to 1-year old twins.

The inspiring whale, named Kavna, was 46-year old and passed away last Monday at the Vancouver Aquarium. She died of cancerous lesions that didn’t respond to treatment. Cavoukian stated in the San Francisco Gate that Kavna was “a beautiful whale, a magnificent creature. She had a profound impact on me when I met her in 1979. The folks at the [Vancouver] Aquarium brought me to poolside and the trainer helped me to play with Kavna. Kavna even came out of the water and placed a gentle, graceful kiss on my cheek and I couldn’t stop talking about it for a couple of weeks!“. The book version of the song is on my own daughter’s bookshelf. I can tell you that it is already one of her favorites. I’ve posted the lyrics below in dedication of this mystical creature that made an impact on so many and never even knew.

Belugas live in the Arctic all of their lives. Their bulbous head can change shape allowing them to make strange facial expressions that produce chirps, whistles, and squeals. These sounds are used for communication, in particular for finding food. Belugas are often called the ‘sea canaries’. Here’s a quick graphic with 30 facts on Arctic whales (e.g., belugas, bowheads, and narwals).

Baby Beluga

Baby beluga in the deep blue sea,
Swim so wild and you swim so free.
Heaven above and the sea below,
And a little white whale on the go.

Baby beluga, baby beluga,
Is the water warm? Is your mama home,
With you so happy?

Way down yonder where the dolphins play,
Where you dive and splash all day,
Waves roll in and the waves roll out.
See the water squirting out of your spout.

Baby beluga, oh, baby beluga,
Sing your little song, sing for all your friends.
We like to hear you.

When it’s dark, you’re home and fed.
Curled up snug in your waterbed.
Moon is shining and the stars are out.
Good night, little whale, good night.

Baby beluga, oh, baby beluga,
With tomorrow’s sun, another day’s begun.
You’ll soon be waking.

Baby beluga in the deep blue sea,
Swim so wild and you swim so free.
Heaven above and the sea below,
And a little white whale on the go.
You’re just a little white whale on the go.

– Raffi

A little dose of ocean conservation inspiration

This is a whimsical – yet still direct and profound – image I wanted to share from from my Ocean Conservation Inspiration Pinterest board. Do you have a particular phrase or image that drives you?

More on marine debris …

I suppose this post is inspired by my frequent visits to populated beaches and the marine debris I’ve been collecting with the help of anyone that asks what I am doing. I hate scare tactics, but pictures make a big impact when it comes to what happens with what we leave behind on the beach. The effects are long lasting and unfortunately out of sight. This is just a little reminder that I hope you share.

What is the fastest marine mammal?

The 2012 Summer Olympics are less than 10 days away and with this comes lots of intense swimming competitions (among other events). This got me wondering, if I lined up various species of marine mammals which one would be taking home the gold? Check out the average top speeds of 10 species in the graph below. (Now time to get the image of an orca wearing a Speedo out of my mind.)

Resources:

1. http://www.speedofanimals.com/water
2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Porpoise
3. http://marinebio.org/oceans/marine-mammals.asp

No balloons at the celebration for the Beach Chair Scientist …

Today is the fourth birthday of the Beach Chair Scientist blog. Despite the fact that some companies label latex balloons as ‘biodegradable’ and therefore, ‘safe’ for the environment, I will not be decorating any birthday celebration with balloons. Balloons blow! What has been widely spread is that latex balloons breakdown at ‘the same rate as an oak leaf from a tree‘. First, let me explain ‘latex’. Latex is a white tree sap of rubber particles from the plant, Hevae brasiliensis. After it is processed it becomes rubber. Rubber, as we know, is used in a variety of products because of its strong resilience and tear resistance. Balloons are made from latex (essentially, liquid rubber) once colors are added.

It just would not feel like a celebration for Beach Chair Scientist because I have been to countless beach clean-ups and see those latex and mylar balloons, as well as the strings that are tied to them, along the shoreline. Balloons are just not following the path that balloon manufacturers want us to believe. It may be true that research done in a controlled setting proves that when latex balloons rises to almost 30,000 feet they will freeze and bust into tiny slivers that fall back to earth. However, there are just too many natural factors (e.g., trees, wind) that impede balloons from rising to that height prior to losing their helium and flaying to the earth whole. Not to mention that even if latex balloons do break apart into tiny shards the tiny shard are still detrimental to the ocean. According to Sea Turtle Foundation, “Most balloons are made from ‘biodegradable’ latex, which degrades on exposure to air. However degradation can take up to six months and balloons floating in seawater can take up to twelve months to degrade”. In many areas it is illegal for mass balloon releases. Please check out your area for the local laws on balloons.

Here are ten examples of balloons affecting the ocean ecosystem:  

  1. On a New Jersey beach a sperm whale was found dying because it had a balloon in its stomach halting the passage of food.
  2. At a clean-up was on an island 5 miles out to sea – the distance cleaned at the 4 sites we targeted was about 1/2 mile of shoreline – in southern Maine this past June over 550 pounds of marine debris were found, including 232 pieces of debris (9 of which were balloons and one was found right next to a gull’s nest).
  3. Birds will collect plastic debris for their nests, and unknowingly construct death traps for their young.
  4. Balloons, plastic straws, plastic bottles, plastic bags, and metal beverage cans were found to be the most abundant type of marine debris litter as a 10-year national survey completed in 2008.
  5. Most of the trash found along the California coast during a 2003-2010 survey was 82% land-based plastics, including plastic bags, plastic bottles, balloons and straws.
  6. Fishing gear fragments, packaging materials, balloons, bottle caps, and straws were found to be the most common items found during a Cape Cod survey that collected 5,829 items along one-kilometer.
  7. A leatherback turtle starved to death because a latex balloon was stuck in its stomach. After the turtle necropsy, the only thing found in its intestines was three feet of nylon string attached to a balloon.
  8. Animals can become entangled in balloon ribbons and string, restricting their movement and their ability to feed.
  9. Bottlenose dolphins in California, loggerhead turtles in Texas, and a green turtle in Florida were all found dead after ingesting latex balloons.
  10. In the UK, Risso’s dolphins in French waters and fulmars in the North Sea are known to ingest balloons.

If you’re still keen on celebrating with balloons try to do activities where you can control them and not have them released into the atmosphere. You can put prizes inside them or decorate them or play games. Below are are alternatives for decorating and commemorating without balloons. Check out the background image from Orlando Sentinel with the juvenile loggerhead turtle swimming close to the floating balloons.

One last thing, if you’re in the DC area Saturday, July 21st and would like to join me during a stream clean-up with United By Blue please feel free to come along! It’s a great event co-sponsored by Subaru and fun for the whole family. Read this article about my first experience volunteering with them. Please feel free to drop me a line at info@beachchairscientist.com or leave a comment below if you have anything else you like to add to this post or just a question in general.

Jim Gaffigan on whales

For a little humor over the weekend. I hope you enjoy the list of their top predators!

31 facts about Arctic whales

This past week offshore drilling in the Arctic was approved to get underway (it’s been 20 years since this previously happened). This is going to severely affect the quiet and serene home for whales and other marine animals in the area. Here are 31 facts about the beluga, narwal, and bowheads whales – species that exclusively call this area home.

Resources

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?

Call for permanent ban of whale products sold on Amazon.com

If you have not, please sign this petition calling for a permanent end of the selling of whale products on Amazon.com. 

“Whales have an important lesson to teach us. Whales have a large and complex brain but show no signs of threatening their own destruction. They haven’t reproduced themselves into oblivion, they haven’t destroyed the resources upon which they depend, they haven’t generated giant holes in the ozone, or increased the earth’s temperature so that we might end up with the greenhouse effect. The lesson whales teach us is that you can have a brain of great complexity that doesn’t result in the death of the planet”. – Dr. Robert Payne, Founder and President of Ocean Alliance. He is best known for his discovery (with Scott McVay) that humpback whales sing songs.


‘Inside the Arctic Circle’: What if James Lipton interviewed a polar bear?

In honor of International Polar Bear Day, I was wondering how a polar bear – if interviewed by the esteemed James Lipton and could speak – would answer to the following questions on an episode of “Inside the Arctic Circle”. Please feel free to disagree and add in your comments.

  1. What is your favorite word? Seal
  2. What is your least favorite word? Endangered
  3. What turns you on? Conservation efforts, small or large.
  4. What turns you off? Thinking others will take care of shared problems.
  5. What sound or noise do you love? Besides my young cubs learning to hunt, it would be a room full of scientists and policy makers agreeing to do something about climate change.
  6. What sound or noise do you hate? I’d like to quote Simon and Garfunkel and say the ‘sound of silence’. People doing nothing and ignoring the fact that my population has reduced more than 30% in three generations due to climate change is disheartening.
  7. What is your favorite curse word? Coke. That company used an unflattering picture of my sister on their packages, and, frankly, the word has become synonymous with unhappiness here in the Arctic. I think they can do a lot more.
  8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? A writer.
  9. What profession would you not like to do? Mining, I don’t want to look like all those other bears.
  10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates? Thanks for trying your best. That’s all that was needed. Balance will prevail.