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.

‘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.