Where did the word “ocean” come from?

Basically, according to Greek mythology, the Greek god Oceanus was a serpent like being that looked like a river and encompassed the entire world – so, picture that – and you get an ocean. I do like the image because it is a sharp reminder that all of our oceans, estuaries and rivers are connected.

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Is a starfish really a fish?

No. The classic common name is very misleading. Scientists and environmental educators are transitioning their language to seastar when referring to this animal because, well, it is not a fish.

The seastar is in the same family as the sea urchin, sea cucumber, sand image_sci_animal021dollar and a few others that all have these things in common: fivefold radial symmetry, spiny skin and a water based vascular system.

The family is called the “echinoderms” which means spiny skinned.

Image (c) dk clipart.

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What is a rising sea level and how does it effect us?

Ahh, you see the polar ice sheets and glaciers are melting, but the water still needs to go somewhere – the ocean. The water then rises transforming geography, manipulates the balance of salt in estuaries and creates higher flooding intensity.

Basically,  rising sea levels affects coastal areas the most drastically.  But, don’t dismay! The EPA, in cooperation with NOAA and a few other exciting agencies recently released a report – Coastal Sensitivity to Sea-Level Rise: A Focus on the Mid-Atlantic Region – in which many many recommendations are made to coastal towns to plan and adapt for rising sea levels.

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Why do I always see so many dead crabs along the shoreline?

Rest assure those crab skeletons are not all dead crabs. They are the molts from the animals. Crabs, lobsters, horseshoe crabs, and many other crustaceans go through a molting phase and the old shell is basically washed up in the wrack line.

The wrack line is the deposits from the ocean after the tide has gone back out to sea. It’s often defined by seaweed that entangles lots of fun ocean treasures such as sea beans, old leathery sea turtle eggs, and sometimes marine debris. It’s my favorite spot to explore!

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Who are the top celebrity ocean advocates?

Actor Ted Danson (cropped from original)
Image via Wikipedia

Wow! What a fun question to research, thank you! (You’ll surely notice I was picky because there are many environmental activists in Hollywood but  and tried to keep the list to those that focus on primarily oceans.)

I am such a fan of giving back no matter how much I believe we all make a difference. I find myself giving my time to local clean-ups, making contributions to Surfrider Foundation, National American Association of Environmental Education, or Mid-Atlantic Marine Educators Associations, and just in general pitching in where I can.

Here is a list of some celebrity ocean advocates.

Ted Danson, recently appeared before the House Committee on Natural Resources to testify again off-shore drilling. Board member of Oceana.

Sam Waterston board member of Oceana.

Pierce Brosnan donates his time and energy to Oceana, Waterkeeper Alliance, Ocean Futures Society, California Coastal Protection Network, among many others.

Cousin Jennifer did some lobbying and convinced me to put Hayden Panettiere on the list. She is an outspoken advocate for marine mammals (including I think a brief brush with the law for some protesting with Greenpeace). One of her main organizations for this platform is Save the Whales Again.

I know also that musician Jack Jackson has done quite a bit on behalf of the oceans.

For all the people listed above I’d like to say ‘thank you’ for giving a prominent voice to the oceans.

Added 5/9: By default I think that Ewan McGregor can be added to the list since he is rumored to play Paul Watson, founder of Greenpeace, in ‘Ocean Warrior‘.

Please feel free to let me know if you think of others. Just e-mail info@beachchairscientist.com!

What will our oceans look like in 100 years?

WOW! I wish I had the answer to that one…And, also, that reminds me of why I tend to answer the scientific based questions first. However, I do like a challenge and a reason to search for up-to-date information. I found these two articles on a subscription site that provide some insight to the question…

OCEANS: Warming oceans driving fish toward poles — study (02/13/2009)

Climate change could push more than 1,000 species of commercial fish and shellfish away from tropical waters and toward polar oceans, according to a new study.

By studying projected ocean changes, researchers predicted that by 2050, marine species will migrate toward cooler waters at an average rate of between 40 kilometers and 45 kilometers (25 miles and 28 miles) per decade.

“These are major impacts that we are going to see within our lifetime and our children’s lifetime,” said William Cheung, a marine biologist at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom and lead author of the study, which is to be published this week in the journal Fish and Fisheries. “Climate change provides us with a kick in the pants. We can’t think about climate change and biodiversity without thinking about the impact it will have on people.”

The migrations could cause massive food shortages and make fish move away from developing equatorial countries where millions depend on them as their primary source of protein (Azadeh Ansari, CNN.com, Feb. 12).

Global warming disrupting whale migrations — scientists

Gray whales along the West Coast are lingering longer in the north before making their swim to tropical waters for the summer, scientists and whale watchers say.

Every year, grays make a 12,000-mile round-trip migration from warm waters off Baja California to Arctic seas between Alaska and Russia, where they gorge themselves on enough crustaceans to keep them nourished for the rest of the year.

But as the Arctic seas warm because of climate change, competition from new species may be forcing whales to spend more time gathering nourishment and delaying their return to the tropics by an average of 10 days per year, according to Wayne Perryman, a researcher at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, Calif., where scientists have watched whales for 20 years.

Perryman said the change was significant but did not know how the whales’ new schedule would affect the population over time. “The Arctic environment is so darn dynamic,” he said. “We just don’t know how this will play out” (Michael Torrice, Miami Herald, Feb. 12). – PR

Stories compiled from Greenwire

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What do you call someone that collects sand?

An arenophile is someone that collects sand specimens from different beaches.

Not to be confused with a person that loves aviation – an areophile.

But we’ve only scratched the surface here. Check back often at http://www.beachchairscientist.com for more insight about your favorite beach discoveries.

What’s the difference between a conch and a whelk?

Good rule of thumb would be that whelks are found in temperate water and conchs are found in more tropical waters. Also, conchs have eyeballs, while whelks have eyespots. If you’re lucky enough to catch them while feasting, whelks are carnivores and conchs are herbivores. Also, their body colors are different. Conchs tend to be green or gray while whelks are tan or whitish (but can be other colors).

What do sand sharks eat?

“Sand shark” can be a bit of a catch-all term, but it seems to most commonly refer to the sand tiger shark, Charcharius taurus. Sand tigers are an interesting case study in form following function in shark teeth. Sand tigers have long, narrow, prong-shaped teeth—like the tines of a fork. Their teeth are perfectly shaped for spearing slippery prey like fish and squid. But while slippery swimmers make up the bulk of their diet, it is worth pointing out that sharks are always opportunistic. Sand tigers are not above snapping up a wayward crab or lobster.

Jim Wharton
Vice President, Education Division, Director, Center for School and Public Programs, Mote Marine Laboratory

Five facts about my favorite animal…Can you guess what it is?

1) This animal is one of four in its genus. The other three are all native to the Pacific ocean. And, the animal is so well revered in Japanese culture that the shape of a samurai warrior’s headgear was designed after its shell.

2) This animal has its gills under its shell. The gills are flaps that are called book gills because under each flap are more gills, or pages.

3) This animal has blue blood which contains something called lysate used to test for purities in medicines.

4) This animal’s scientific (genus and species name) name is Limulus polyphemus. Rhymes with stimulus jolly-fee-bus. (I know pretty rough around the edges)

5) This animal has been around since before the time of the dinosaurs.

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