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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Offline For A Little While

I'm offline for a while. Little diving expected, I'm afraid.

My nonfiction reading list includes: Rachel Carson's "The Sea Around Us," Tony Koslow's "The Silent Deep," Philip Hoare's "The Whale" and Jared Diamond's "Collapse," among others.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Marine Miscellany

  • Alvin lives, we are reminded by Scientist at Work; and the Generation-X research submersible is still doing great work. This time, it's for an expedition to Hydrate Ridge to study carbonate rock, deep-sea ecology, protozoans called foraminifera (whatever that is), and other inscrutibles. Okay, it is showing its age sometimes.

  • Alvin's bio courtesy of Jeffrey Marlow:
    The most important member of the expedition, however, is the 35,000-pound, egg-shaped submersible named Alvin. Alvin has been the workhorse of the deep-ocean scientific community for more than 45 years, allowing us to explore unseen worlds thousands of meters below the surface of the ocean. To sweeten the deal, Alvin comes equipped with robotic arms and an array of sample boxes, so we can collect promising samples and continue our investigations in the relative comfort of a laboratory. Faded photographs and dusty plaques commemorating the sub’s prolific history adorn the walls of Atlantis’s library. Alvin helped recover an unexploded hydrogen bomb in 1966, took Walter Cronkite to hydrothermal vents in 1982 and explored the Titanic in 1986. It hasn’t all been smooth sailing, however. In 1967, an ambitious swordfish attacked Alvin’s foam outer layer, got stuck and was eventually cooked for dinner by the crew. A couple of years later, the sub sank during deployment and spent 10 months on the seafloor before it could be resurrected.

  • Aw, shucks. Chinese and U.S. scientists at BGI-Shenzhen claim to have tracked down the oyster genome. And it looks like this could lead to a genetically engineered oyster that comes out of the water on the half-shell.

  • Scat-terbrained scientists (that's a pun, not an insult) are still on the hunt for the elusive feces of the Whale Shark (Rhincodon typus). If you think the feces are tough, by the way, you should try capturing their urine.

  • More evidence that beachside resorts and hotels aren't taking the threat to hatchling sea turtles seriously. (hat tip: DotEarth)

  • Oceanographer John Delaney delivered a recent TED talk in which he stumped for "new eyes" (that's a Proust quote) in the ocean through the National Science Foundation's Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI). Should man really "be present throughout the ocean at will," as Delaney describes it? My mind's not made up.

  • The Talking Head Said...

    I'm a big David Byrne fan. Big. Like in, everything he's ever done has fascinated, entertained, and usually educated me somehow. (I've lived for nearly two decades in the Czech Republic, and, still, his visit to an eastern Czech city's dilapidated ironworks taught me reams of stuff about the place.)

    So when he casually mentioned on his omnibus blog that on the heels of a trip to Stromboli -- the actively volcanic island near Sicily, not the villainous puppeteer who threatens to make firewood out of "Pinocchio" -- he'd relaxed to the "Planet Earth: Deep Oceans" episode, it put me in the mood to do the same. There is some great footage, particularly the sailfish hunt.

    But in case you've seen the Planet Earth series already, here's another great video:

    Thursday, August 5, 2010

    Hooked Marlin Takes It Out On The Photographers

    A massive marlin showed sportfishermen at a Hawaiian billfish tournament what this apex predator can do.
    What he thought might be a tuna turned out to be a Pacific blue marlin estimated to weigh more than 550 pounds. It leaped and started "careening through the air in every conceivable direction, throwing massive walls of water with every move of its huge tail, and leaving car-size holes in the water when it came crashing down," Schwartz recalled.
    "Schwartz" is fisherman/photographer Jon Schwartz. Fortunately, he and a whole gaggle of photographers were on the scene when the hooked animal took on the press boat:
    Now mind you, I am watching all of this through my 300 mm telephoto lens. I was so focused on getting the shot that I probably lost sense of what was really happening in terms of how the fish was behaving. All I knew was that the fish came at us so quickly that soon I was unable to see it through the camera (see shot #4 in the photo above) and I was starting to miss it because my lens was too long! "It must be close!" I thought! "Where's my wide lens?"
    This is the beast that Ernest Hemingway told you about (that's him in the photo, on a dock in Bimini with four freshly landed marlins in 1935). And these fish can swim at upwards of 100 kilometers (62 miles) an hour.

    Then, as if according to script, the maniacal marlin broke the hook and got away. He probably didn't get the memo that said this was a tag-and-release tournament.

    Tuesday, August 3, 2010

    Fun Viewing: Tagging A Great White (UPDATED)

    Watch in this National Geographic video as a team of "Shark Men" researchers hauls a Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias) out of the leady waters off Guadalupe to tag it and release it -- perhaps a bit harried but unharmed.

    Show it to your kids and they'll grow up wanting to be ichthyologists, I bet.

    (UPDATE: In response to the subsequent discovery that the same Great White had sustained serious injury and speculation that the injury was a result of Dr. Michael Domeier's catch-and-tag operation. This post could put some of that criticism to rest, concluding:
    The full video clearly shows that Junior’s injuries are caused by intraspecies conflict and not a direct result of the capture method. The concern that the tagging method seriously injured this shark is not supported by the evidence at hand.

    Dr. Domeier’s team was able to attach a satellite tag to Junior during his original capture. Data from that tag shows that Junior is still swimming.
    The direct cause of the mutilation near the tagged animal's jaw appears to have been another shark, then, not infection or other effect of the hauling-out and tagging.)

    Monday, August 2, 2010

    New Trove From Marine Census

    The Census of Marine Life has issued a fresh batch of information, and there are some spell-binding images of creatures from some of the best biological "hotspots" on the globe. A tooth-tongued dragonfish, an undersea Venus fly-trap (Actinoscyphia sp.) from the Gulf of Mexico, a deep-sea "flashing" jellyfish (Atolla wyvillei) from Japan's Izu Islands, a cuddly roundnose grenadier fish (Coryphaenoides rupestris) and a new species of knobbed sea cucumber (Elpidia belyaevi) are some of the most arresting.

    It's part of the run-up to the scheduled release in October of the final summary of a decade of this gargantuan project.

    The title this time is "What Lives in the Sea?" with the focus on "an inventory of species distribution and diversity in key global ocean areas." I'll quote from the press release in a moment, but first take a look at these photographs, and these, and videos from CoML (and National Geographic).

    Here's CoML on the publication of these latest findings:
    Scientists combined information collected over centuries with data obtained during the decade-long Census to create a roll call of species in 25 biologically representative regions -- from the Antarctic through temperate and tropical seas to the Arctic.

    Their papers help set a baseline for measuring changes that humanity and nature will cause.
    They also crown five locations as ocean diversity leaders:
    Australian and Japanese waters, which each feature almost 33,000 forms of life that have earned the status of “species” (and thus a scientific name such as Carcharodon carcharias, a.k.a. the great white shark), are by far the most biodiverse. The oceans off China, the Mediterranean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico round out the top five areas most diverse in known species.
    The video notes researchers have found that some of those top five areas "are also the most threatened" -- the Mediterranean, waters off China, and the Gulf of Mexico. Alas, you might notice that a good number of the species in the slide show reside in the Gulf of Mexico, currently saturated with BP crude.

    I just got "World Ocean Census" -- one of many CoML-related books on offer -- a glimpse into what has gone into this incredible, collaborative scientific effort. I look forward to reading it and others ahead of the October 4 findings.

    Sixgill Shark Siblings' Secret Society

    Genetic taggers team up with other scientists in Puget Sound and discover that the siblings of at least one shark species appear to maintain "loose associations," according to Discovery News.
    Mother sharks return to Puget Sound to give birth to pups, and then these siblings make a point of sticking together.
    ..."What we're interested in is if we can flip this observation around: Are the relationships we're seeing between brothers and sisters traveling together and staying together as juveniles transferable to other shark species as well?" said Christiansen. "We don't know; we'd like to see some effort going into other shark species to see if that's present."
    And while you're at the Discovery website, click through Michael Reilly's slideshow of the latest bizarre finds from the Census of Marine Life.

    (Photo of Blunt-nose Sixgill Shark [Hexanchus griseus] off Seattle by Dan Hershman)

    Sunday, August 1, 2010

    Golden Lobster

    A lobsterman finds a pot of gold off Rhode Island: gold lobster, that is. Says the "Providence Journal":
    “I thought, holy cow, this is unusual. And no one else around here has ever seen anything like it either,” said (lobster fisherman Denny) Ingram.
    It might be tempting to launch into diatribes against ecological destruction, factory effluent, or radioactive sludge (or, barring any of those, a villainous scientist bent on global destruction via mutant lobsters). The local lobsters are in trouble, after all.

    But, in fact, the Providence paper says it's no big thing. Like winning the lottery.
    Yellow lobsters are rare, but not unheard of. When one was brought ashore in Massachusetts last year, several experts said its coloration came from a gene carried by both parents, and it occurs in about one in 30 million lobsters.

    The same figure was cited when a yellow lobster was brought ashore in Maine in 2006.
    And it might be a good thing this one was caught when it was, according to Anne Dimonti of the Audubon Education Center. Funky-colored lobsters are at an adaptational disadvantage, she says:
    “Being born a blue lobster is not so rare; what’s rare is surviving into adulthood as a blue lobster,” Dimonti said. “When you’re a bright blue baby lobster walking around on the ocean bottom, somebody is going to pick you off very quickly.”

    Lobster shells are colored with blue, yellow and red pigments, so genetic variations are expected.
    AP adds:
    It's also apparently good luck for this lobster, who will not be heading to anyone's dinner table.
    Judging by the size of it, it's got no business heading to anyone's dinner table. Instead, it should be out frollicking with other juvenile lobsters.

    Like these guys.

    photo by Steven G. Johnson of yellow lobster at the New England Aquarium.