10 brief facts on bioluminescence

We all get excited thinking about bioluminescence in nature. Ironically, that excitement is only one of the reasons animals glow like an elf in Middle Earth. Here are some ‘basics on bioluminescence’ you can share with your friends and family the next time you all ogle a firefly and wonder ‘why?’.

    1. Insects (e.g., fireflies, glow worms) and deep sea ocean animals (e.g., squid, hatchetfish) aren’t the only ones that emit light. Many plants (e.g., jack-o’-lantern mushroom, algae) also produce bioluminescence.
    2. Bioluminescence is light emitting from a living organism. Bioluminescence is produced through a chemical reaction, which is what sets is apart from fluorescence or phosphorescence.
    3. Luciferin and luciferase are the two chemicals that must be present for an organism to luminesce. Luciferin produces the light and luciferase is the catalyst. Life in the sea most often use coelenterazine, a type of luciferin.
    4. Sailors commonly saw waves glowing in the wake of ships. This was caused from dinoflagellates, a single-celled algae, which glows when its startled.
    5. Anglerfish use a long illuminated appendage, called a protuberance, to attract young and vulnerable prey. Luring prey is one way bioluminescence is used to an animal’s advantage. They may also use it to stun prey or to attract or recognize a mate.
    6. Conversely, many animals use bioluminescence as a defense mechanism. They’ll cleverly create smoke screens or burglar alarms, as well as counterilluminate or startle predators.
    7. Some animals that luminesce use it defensively and offensively.
    8. Sperm whales, the deepest divers of all the whales, depend on bioluminescence to help locate food. Echolocation is also key to locating food.
    9. The U.S. Navy tapped into the science community for help to develop products that monitor bioluminescence because bioluminescent algae have been known to endanger military missions.
    10. The pulsing light of creatures found in the deep sea is “perhaps the most common form of communication found on our planet”. That phrase was from a video (below) which takes us on a visual journey of what the first deep sea explorer, William Bebe, described in 1934 from his expedition off the coast of Bermuda. This video was produced by National Geographic.

What they’re into … with Brittany Biber (Sea turtle trainer)

I am sure you know by now, but this is a series I have been featuring each Tuesday this summer to get a special sneak peek at the different personalities behind the scientists, activists, and educators (including bloggers) who play an integral role in the marine science conservation field. It’s essentially an extension of the overwhelmingly popular and well done Tumblr blog, This Is What A Scientist Looks Like, (BCS was featured in April!) which sets out to illustrate that scientists are not just crazy haired nerds in lab coats. I’ve sent a list of 15 random questions to some folks I know and asked that each person share at least their answers to 5 of them. Here you get a glimpse into what one of my old co-workers who is lucky enough to interact with sea turtles everyday is into, introducing Brittany Hascup Biber.

Brittany works at Florida Oceanographic Society’s Coastal Center on Hutchinson Island in the Aquarium and Life Support Department. Her responsibilities include food preparation, quarantine treatments, and medication dispersal for all the marine life property. The animals on site range from estuarine species such as snook and red drum to sharks, rays, and smaller reef species. In addition to the gilled animals, she also cares for three non-releasable sea turtles, two green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) and one loggerhead (Caretta caretta). All of the sea turtles on site have been deemed non-releasable due to buoyancy issues. Lily, the 140lb loggerhead, was struck by a boat and has deep scars on her carapace that serve as a good reminder to why obeying boating rules and regulations is so important. Turt, the 90lb green turtle pictured right, has a spastic intestine and must be administered medication every other day to allow him to swim through the water column with ease. Hank the smallest is still a juvenile and weighs around 50lbs. He has carapace deformities that probably led to his floatation problems. Because these turtles will never be released back into the wild they must get accustomed to interactions with their caretakers so that they are calm and receptive when they need to be fed, weighed, or cleaned. She have been in charge of the training and care of the turtles on site since they each arrived here. Each turtle has its own colored “target” that they have been trained to respond to. When the target is placed in the water the corresponding turtle swims over and receives its food and medicine if needed. The training is done every day for all the turtles and it allows her to have daily interactions and alone time with each turtle away from the other animals housed in the 750,000 gallon lagoon they call home. Training the turtles is always the best part of her day, and she says she may be tooting her own horn but she think it is the turtles’ favorite time of day as well (probably since she’s feeding them). When she graduated from college she hoped to work in the animal husbandry field and she is proud to be doing just that. So even though most days she smell like fish and squid she get a chance to interact with species most people rarely get to see and she says she learns something new about them everyday and it makes all the stinky stuff worth it. Brittany has a B.S. in Environmental Studies from the University of Central Florida. You can reach Brittany at bbiber@floridaocean.org.

What is the last thing you bought that you shouldn’t have?
An overpriced bikini.

 What is your favorite fruit flavor?
It’s a tie between watermelon and pineapple.

Are you a night owl or a morning person?
Night owl, I love sleeping and my bed always seems super comfy when I have to get up for work.

What is your favorite room in your home?
My back porch that overlooks the river, I love watching the wading birds like the Eastern oystercatcher and great blue heron feed on the shore. 

What is your favorite scent?
Coconut, because it makes you smell like you’ve been at the beach all day.

What is your favorite pastime?
Going on the boat with my husband; it’s nice just being with each other away from the responsibilities that wait for us on land.

Thank you for participating, Brittany! It was a honor to read about your interesting day at work.

Don’t forget to read the rest of the “What they’re into …” series.

Getting to know three … Echinoderm edition

Sure you know that some animals are related to one another. Often though it’s difficult to pinpoint their similarities.  Well, on the third day of every month I am going to explain three features that are common among the animals of a certain group. Each group generally has more than three representatives, but I am going to choose three to keep it simplified.

To get us started … Have you ever thought about what a sea urchin, sea star, and a sand dollar have in common? Among others in this group those three animals are in a phylum of marine animals know as the echinoderms. Sea cucumbers and brittle stars are also well-known echinoderms. Check out the image below to learn what these animals all have in common.

Please do not hesitate to email me at info@beachchairscientist.com with questions, comments, or suggestions.

What they’re into … with David Shiffman (@WhySharksMatter)

This is a series I’ve been featuring each Tuesday this summer to get a special sneak peek at the many different personalities behind the scientists, activists, and educators (including bloggers) who play an integral role in the marine science conservation field. It’s essentially an extension of the overwhelmingly popular and well done Tumblr blog, This Is What A Scientist Looks Like, (BCS was featured in April!) which sets out to illustrate that scientists are not just crazy haired nerds in lab coats. I’ve sent a list of 15 random questions and asked that each person share at least their answers to 5 of them. This week features David Shiffman of Southern Fried Science and I am so glad he agreed since I know this crowd loves shark talk.

David with a sandbar shark in Charleston harbor

David is a Ph.D. student at the University of Miami’s Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy. His research focuses on shark behavior, ecology, and conservation, and he has interacted with over 2,500 sharks on three continents. David writes about shark science and conservation topics for the marine biology blog Southern Fried Science, and is active on Twitter @WhySharksMatter. Additionally, David has a B.S. with distinction in Biology from Duke University, and a Masters in Marine Biology from the College of Charleston. If you and your class or community organization are interested in joining David and the RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program for a shark tagging expedition in the Florida Keys, please let him know!

What is your favorite Sunday breakfast?
When I lived in Charleston, SC, crab cake eggs benedict. They don’t have that here in Miami, but there’s a place around the corner from my apartment that makes peanut butter and chocolate chip pancakes.

What’s your favorite midnight snack?
Homemade cookies. My first word was “cookie”.

Are you a night owl or a morning person?
Although field research often involves getting up at 4:00 a.m., I am not a morning person. I enjoy having morning people in the car with me when I have to drive to our research locations before the sun rises, though.

Which sitcom character do you relate to?
I’m not sure if “Glee” counts as a sitcom, but if so, Sue Sylvester. If not, Jack Donaghy from “30 Rock” or Ron Swanson from “Parks and Recreation”.

What is your favorite scent?
Bacon. Or maybe popcorn. Actually, they make bacon-flavored popcorn now. It’s surprisingly not gross.

What three things would you take with you to an island?
If this is an island I’m vacationing on, I’d bring snorkel gear, beer, and beer. If this is a deserted island I’m going to be stranded on, I’d bring a satellite phone, a GPS, and a boat to help getting un-stranded.

Are you a cat person, dog person, or neither?
I am definitely a dog person. My new puppy Magnolia is sitting at my feet in my office as I answer these questions.

Bonus random fact you’d like to share about yourself?
There is a hot dog named after me (the Shiffman) at the hot dog stand on Duke’s campus. It is a hot dog served on a twinkie.

Yum! Thanks for the amazing idea for dinner tonight, David! Also, thanks for sharing your personality with us. For more ‘What they’re into …’ with other ocean folks click here.

What they’re into … with Miriam Goldstein (Deep Sea News)

This is a series I am featuring each Tuesday this summer to get a special sneak peek at the many different of personalities behind the scientists, activists, and educators (including bloggers) who play an integral role in the marine science conservation field of today and tomorrow. It’s essentially an extension of the overwhelmingly popular and well done Tumblr blog, This Is What A Scientist Looks Like, (BCS was featured in April!) which sets out to illustrate that scientists are not just crazy haired nerds in lab coats. I’ve sent a list of 15 random questions and asked that each person share at least their answers to 5 of them. This week features my favorite commentator over at Deep Sea News, Miriam Goldstein.

Miriam is a Ph.D. student studying Biological Oceanography at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. For her thesis work, she is researching the impact of plastic debris on zooplankton communities and invasive species transport in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. She is the principal investigator on the SEAPLEX cruise, which explored plastic debris in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre in August 2009. Miriam is an active science popularizer and educator, and has appeared on CNN, CBS, NPR Science Friday, and PRI’s The World, among many other media outlets. Her popular writing has appeared in Slate Magazine and Open Laboratory, and she currently writes for the web’s leading marine science blog, Deep Sea News. Miriam has been a Fellow in the NSF Marine Biodiversity and Conservation IGERT program and the NSF GK-12 teaching program. She holds an M.S. in Marine Biology from Scripps Institution of Oceanography and a B.S. in Biology from Brown University. Before coming to Scripps, she worked as a construction project manager in New York City, an outdoor educator in New Hampshire, and an environmental consultant in Boston. Miriam is originally from Manchester, NH.

What is your favorite fruit flavor?
I don’t really like fruit flavored things that aren’t fruit, but I LOVE berries. One of the best things about living in southern California is all the strawberries, especially in February! But my very favorites are raspberries and blueberries.

What is your favorite Sunday breakfast?
That’s really hard since brunch is my favorite meal. I’d say it’s a tie between my own homemade popovers with maple butter (I like to bake) and my husband’s chilaquiles (a spicy mix of fried corn tortillas, eggs, and onions). {Scroll down for the chilaquiles recipe}

Are you a night owl or a morning person?
Definitely a night owl, which is sort of unfortunate since marine biology is organized around a lot of early mornings. I still do my best to never start work before 9:30 or 10 AM, since I don’t really wake up fully until then.

Which sitcom character do you relate to?
I’m a huge nerd and I love kickass female characters. So one of my favorite shows is Buffy the Vampire Slayer (though I’m really more of a Willow than a Buffy). I also love Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica and Zoe from Firefly. Veronica Mars is probably my favorite TV character closest to being a scientist, since she’s a detective.

What is your favorite pastime?
I like to waste time on the internet, bake, and backpack. My favorite thing to bake is pie, any kind of pie, though my husband’s favorite is my apple cranberry crisp. We’ve been backpacking the John Muir trail in the Sierras for the past few summers – last summer we did an 100-mile hike from Bishop to Mt. Whitney, most of which was above 10,000 feet. Standing on top of Mt. Whitney was pretty amazing – it’s so high that if we were in an airplane, we’d be able to use our electronic devices!

Are you a cat person, dog person, or neither?
Both! I love dogs, but I travel too much to have one. I have two cats, one skinny and one…not so skinny. It’s a constant battle to keep the fat cat at an acceptable level of fatness. (She shared a picture of them here too!)

If you were a geometric shape, what would you like to be?
A dodecahedron so I could have the coolest name.

What’s some other random favorite information about yourself?
My new favorite thing is Spotify, the music service. I’ve become a little obsessed with making themed Spotify mixes. You can check them out here: http://sharemyplaylists.com/members/miriamgoldstein/playlists.

I am honored that Miriam shared some insight into her day-to-day life and I definitely agree that being a dodecahedron is the way to go as far as shapes. Be sure to check last week’s featured ocean conservationist David Helvarg, Executive Director of Blue Frontier, and check back next Tuesday for a guy who loves his job so much that Fridays and Mondays are meaningless. Now that’s the way to live!

Chilaquiles recipe
Serves two people, scales linearly. The better the tortillas, the better the dish. Fresh salsa will be better, too (from the refrigerator aisle, or homemade, if you have the energy). This recipe will be mildly spicy. There are lots of way to give it more kick, but my preferred is to add a habanero to the jalapenos.

1 medium onion, chopped
2 jalapeno peppers, chopped into 1″ pieces. Not too small.
4 eggs
8 high quality corn tortillas, sliced into 1″ x 3″ strips (approx.)
salsa (at room temperature)
cheddar cheese (for grating)
half avocado, chopped (optional)
vegetable oil

Tools: Skillet or frying pan, knife and cutting board for chopping, two dinner plates, 1 medium mixing bowl, and 1 small mixing bowl.

1) Heat 1 tbsp. oil in a skillet at medium, enough to coat pan and then some.
2) Put onions into pan and sautee. After a  minute, add peppers. Saute both until soft.
3) Put onions and peppers into small bowl and set aside.
4) Add oil to pan until it’s 1/2″ deep, and heat oil on medium high. When you put a piece of tortilla in, it should sizzle. If it doesn’t, oil isn’t hot enough.
5) Put in tortillas and fry. Push them around until they start to get crunchy. Tortillas will cook unevenly, which is fine. Remove when you have reached preferred level of crunchiness. We like them with some bend left in them.
6) Remove tortillas to bowl with paper towel in it. Pour off oil in pan until there’s enough left to  coat the pan.
7) Put half of tortillas and half of onion-pepper mixture back into pan. Push around until everything is warm again.
8) Crack two eggs over tortilla-onion mixture. Scramble quickly so eggs will cook into mixture.
9) When eggs are cooked, pile onto empty plate.
10) IMMEDIATELY grate cheddar over mixture, enough to make a thin layer over the center of the mixture. Add more if you like more, less if you like less. Cheddar shreds will melt over hot mixture.
11) Repeat steps 7-10 for each person.

Add avocado chunks, if you have them. Put a few tablespoons of salsa on top of each plate. Put the salsa on the table, in case diners prefer more. Eat promptly.

The Dating Game: Marine Biologist Edition

With just ten days until Valentine’s Day, I thought I would try to uncover the most sought out after fictional marine biologist. Fill out the survey and on Valentine’s Day, the character with the most votes will be revealed.

I do recognize that this is skewed and only includes male marine biologist characters. What can I say – I’m a girl married to a man and this is my game.

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.

10 questions with a marine biologist

Here are some question and answers with Professor Jeffrey Levinton of Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY. He is a Distinguished Professor of Ecology and Evolution at Stony Brook University. He has been lucky to be able to teach college students for many years at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, which has a Marine Biology Major. He greatly enjoy seeing students learn about the marine environment and sometimes decide to embark on a career in marine biology.
In case you are interested in the field here is what you are in for:

1. What, in your opinion, are the disadvantages of being a Marine Biologist?
Don’t see any real disadvantages at all. Can’t complain about freedom (a fair amount), opportunities (lots in everything from government to teaching to popular book writing)

2. What, in your opinion, are the advantages of being a Marine Biologist?
Advantages include doing what you love to do; travel, often to fascinating and lovely places; interactions with interesting folks.

3. If you could do it all over again, would you have chosen this field? Why?
Maybe, but maybe not. Who knows why? Life is complex. I started wanting to be a writer, but found that I loved geology and majored in this in college and in graduate school. It was in graduate school that marine biology took over as my primary interest.

4. What do you find the most satisfying part of this field?
Following your interests as a researcher, teaching students.

5. What are some related occupations to the field of Marine Biology?
Oceanographer, Environmental Manager, Molecular Biologist

6. How did you first get interested in marine biology?
This is hard to say but I am pretty sure that it was seeing Jacques Cousteau‘s famous film “The Silent World.” My father took me to downtown NY City to the Paris Theater to see this movie, which was then regarded as a great artistic film, directed by the great Lous Malle and winning an Academy Award. The coral reef was enthralling and I was hooked. Incidentally, I have to say that I am pretty cross with those marine biologists who dump upon Cousteau and see him as an opportunist who took advantage of scientists and stole center stage; he coinvented SCUBA and has inspired more people in this world to love marine biology than any 100 other marine biologists. As a boy he wrapped an above-water camera in a clear bag and shot many underwater pictures. His obsession has been to our great benefit.

7. What does a high school student need to do to become a marine biologist?
These days the college route is essential, but don’t feel that you have to go to a school that specializes in marine biology. Find a college that is first rate in science but has good humanities and communications training as well. In the summer of your junior year or senior year make SURE that you get a summer job or take a course in a marine lab (see marine lab links and internships/ summer course links on the main page of the MBWEB URL). This will do more for you than any 5 marine biology courses in college. After college your marine biology education will be acquired in graduate school. Another good strategy is to be a biology major in a college that has marine biologists doing research. If you wish to become a technician a Masters degree will do, but a Ph.D. is essential these days to become an independent scholar who can supervise research projects be a well-placed official in an environmental protection agency, etc.

A masters degree will usually take about 2 years to complete. It is important to choose a university where the program has substance. You want to pick up a core education in marine biology, but, depending upon your career goals, you may want a very specific set of courses and an opportunity to do some research. It may be possible to rapidly complete a masters but you may have no substantive education to apply to a job. This will especially be true if you want to work in a specific field, such as shellfish mariculture. The Ph.D. degree will take an average of six years in a United States graduate school, but there is considerable variability around the world. In the United Kingdom and Australia for example, Ph.D. degrees tend to take 3-4 years, as they tend to omit formal course work, emphasizing research. In the USA many Ph.D. programs take good students right from their undergraduate school, but a substantial number of students take a masters degree first, to see if they want to go through with a Ph.D. Institutions such as the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook and the Virginia Inst. of Marine Sciences have dual programs, which allows a smooth transition from Masters to Ph.D. student status.

8. What do you do as a marine biologist?
I am a university instructor who gets to spend a substantial time doing research, writing textbooks and working with other groups interested in marine problems. My research may seem obscure to many, but it involves understanding how the functioning of individuals can be connected to population fluctuations. An example of this is to study how the feeding and burrowing activities of marine clams, worms, and other sediment-eating animals affects the environment by helping decomposition of organic matter, stirring and oxygenating the sediment, and controlling the particles in the sediment. If you ever walked on a gooey mud flat you are on my territory! I also have been very interested in how filter feeding oysters and mussels affect their ecosystem by rapid filtration of the water column; filtering of such creatures is very efficient and inland waters may be stripped clean of food particles. I also have been working on the effects of pollution on marine bottom populations, particularly with regard to resistance to toxic substances. Often a toxic pollutant will kill all but a few individuals, who are genetically distinct and resistant to the substance. These individuals reproduce, leading to a genetically resistant strain. This can be bad because such individuals may concentrate a toxic substance and transfer it up the food web, sometimes to be eventually consumed by human beings.

9. What types of problems do you encounter?
A major problem is balancing responsibilities, e.g., teaching time against research time. Also, for much research grant funding is essential, but also very competitive. I have been reasonably successful in getting grant funds, but it becomes more difficult as time goes on.

10. What type of actions do you take to solve those problems?
Working on research away from campus helps deal with time use conflicts. I spend every summer at a marine lab nearly 3000 miles from my university. This makes it easier to return and devote time to students without feeling that I am missing something. Applying for grants is a time-consuming process and one has to be creative in finding funds from different sources and getting involved with different projects.

Thanks for sharing you insight Dr. Levinton!

When did life begin in the ocean?

Actually, before there was life on land there was life in the ocean. Life in the ocean began about 3.1 to 3.4 billion years ago. Life on land began only 400 million years ago.

Do you have another great question? Email info@beachchairscientist.com and let me know!