Posts Tagged ‘Marine Species’

“Sea Monster” Washes Ashore in Australia

Friday, March 4th, 2016

The headline seems silly: “Sea Monster” Washes Ashore in Australia. But photos of what looks like something straight from your worst nightmares or the imagination of Hollywood horror-film producers have made their way around the internet lately. The creature looks like something put together by a mad scientist, with the body of a sea serpent and the head of a crocodile.

seamonster

Photo by Robert Tyndall

Local resident Robert Tyndall photographed the creature near Swansea in New South Wales, Australia, about 20 miles north of Sydney. Tyndall explained that he, along with a few other people, encountered it on the beach and were perplexed. In the photo it looms large, looking like a huge submarine monster, and once the photo hit Facebook and other social media, speculation became rampant — everything from a botched biology experiment to mutation due to pollution, to a surviving dinosaur or a Photoshop hoax was suggested. People in particular noted the seemingly random combination of features — the fish or eel body, the crocodile-like head and the almost dolphin-like snout — combined with the seemingly gargantuan proportions of the creature, as indications that something was very wrong.

Turns out, the real answer is just as interesting. First of all, it’s no Photoshop job; this is an actual creature. And while the picture’s angle does seem to make the animal look bigger than in real life, the photographer stated that it was about 4.5 feet long, so not exactly a small creature — but a mutation or dinosaur it is not.

The animal was identified by biologists as a pike eel, a large animal known to grow up to 6 feet long, and one that packs a very nasty bite. They hunt at depths of up to 300 feet, and are largely nocturnal. They sometimes find their way into nighttime fishermen’s nets, who get quite a surprise when they haul the eel into the boat. There have been reports of serious injuries following pike-eel bites, and an old fisherman’s tale in Australia says that “there is room in a tinnie (a small, metal-hulled boat often used by recreational fishermen) for a fisherman or a pike eel, but not for both.”

Because pike eels are nocturnal and prefer deep depths, they are not well-known to the general public. They have, however, been spotted by swimmers and scuba divers along Australia’s coasts, particularly along New South Wales, where they’re particularly numerous for some reason. Unless caught or cornered, they are not considered dangerous, and local scuba divers consider them an impressive sight in the waters. So it wasn’t a dinosaur or a mutation after all — but the reality is no less fascinating.

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New Shark Subspecies Discovered in Galapagos

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016

A recent expedition by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution set out to study the seamounts, essentially underwater mountains, that surround the islands. These seamounts, more than 70 in total, make up more than 95 percent of the islands, and yet are almost completely unexplored. In the process of seamount exploration, the researcher happened to come across an as-yet unknown subspecies of catshark.

Image from California Academy of Sciences

Image from California Academy of Sciences

Catsharks are a prolific family of sharks, counting more than 150 subspecies. They are distinguished by their elongated, cat-like eyes, from which they derive their name. They often feature a spotted pattern and two small dorsal fins. While catsharks can vary greatly in size, up to about 5 feet, the new shark subspecies is among the smaller members of the family, only about 1.3 feet in length, or about the same size as a standard house cat. And this is not the first time that the Galapagos archipelago has seen the discovery of new species; in 2012, another species of catshark was found in much the same area.

The catshark discovery highlights the importance of seamounts as habitats for marine life, and the need to further explore these underwater mountains, both around the Galapagos Islands and elsewhere in the world. The researchers hope that their findings will help drive legislation to extend the protected status of the Galapagos to include the underwater landscape as well as the terrestrial one.

“Seamounts are biodiversity hotspots and essential stepping stones for migratory species, including many threatened shark, turtle and cetacean species,” says Pelayo Salinas de León, senior marine ecologist at the Charles Darwin Foundation. “We still have many months of samples and data analysis ahead of us, but this expedition highlights the need to include some of these seamounts as protected areas.”

The Galapagos, a group of 13 islands in all, is known for its natural beauty and importance as a habitat for animals above and below the surface. The islands and parts of the underwater landscape that surrounds them are part of the Galapagos Marine Reserve, or GMR, and it is this marine reserve that the researchers now hope can be extended to include the seamounts.

The 3-week WHOI expedition was run from the Alucia, a research and exploration vessel that features two submarines. The expedition explored the seamounts not only via these subs, but also with various side-scan sonar and hull-based imaging hardware. The data that was gathered formed the basis for planning dives, wherein research divers would collect, among other things, geological samples.

“We’ve just begun to scratch the surface as far as characterizing this environment,” said Dan Fornari, a marine geologist at WHOI and co-principal investigator. “We’ve mapped only about 10 percent of the platform, and already we see tremendous value in how these types of studies can inform our understanding of the Galapagos archipelago.”

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Top Five Most Playful Marine Animal Encounters

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

Top Five Most Playful Marine Animal Encounters

By Scuba Diver Life

For most scuba divers, seeing marine animals is the largest lure of the sport, from the smallest nudibranchs and seahorses to the largest sharks and rays. But while most animals simply pass by or hover at a distance, some are interested in interacting with divers, even being playful.

  • First – A Note

    By Scuba Diver Life

    Before we continue, just a reminder to practice sustainable interactions. Do not chase animals; let them approach you. Do not hold or grab animals, and do not corner them so they cannot leave when they want. And let the animals call the shots — let them instigate the interaction and let them end it when they want. With that in mind, here are five of the most playful underwater encounters you’ll ever have.

  • Seals

    By Scuba Diver Life

    These are definitely my personal favorites. Often called “the dogs of the ocean,” they are naturally curious and very intelligent, and often seek out divers to instigate contact. They can be extraordinarily playful, especially the pups, and have been known to bite on fins, regulators and hoses, so it’s worth keeping on eye on them. They will occasionally accompany divers on entire dives, seemingly just for the heck of it. Residents of cooler waters, they are often overlooked when it comes to divers’ tales of animal encounters, but they are always a pleasure to meet.

  • Lemon Sharks

    By Scuba Diver Life

    Yes, sharks can be playful, and lemons are among the most playful of them. Known by some divers as the “Disney shark,” they are known for their distinctive facial features, which make them look as if they are smiling. They are also highly curious, so much so that they can be quite difficult to photograph. They often come all the way up to the diver, butting their snout against the lens, particularly around the Bahamas. While some of this behavior may be due to past feeding, the species does have a natural curious streak.

  • Dolphins

    By Scuba Diver Life

    Dolphins are the favorite of many a diver. These agile creatures are naturally playful and inquisitive, and often seek out swimmers and snorkelers, and sometimes scuba divers as well, though they seem put off somewhat by our noisy bubbles. Depending on the species, dolphins may appear individually or in groups, and will swim around divers, even coming up to nudge them underwater or at the surface. While “dolphin surfing,” wherein you grab hold of the animal’s dorsal fin and let it tow you through the water, has been practiced in the past, it is unacceptable behavior today. 

  • Penguins

    By Scuba Diver Life

    We know — penguins may not be the most common underwater encounter for divers. After all, Antarctica isn’t really a diving hotspot (pun intended). However, penguins are found in more temperate areas, such as South Africa and some parts of Australia. Divers here sometimes see the penguins swimming along with them, observing them, and zooming around like small, feathered torpedoes. At Shelly Beach, in Sydney, one zoomed down and stopped a few inches from my face, hovered and looked at me for a minute. It sped off, only to repeat the whole encounter a few more times.

  • Otters

    By Scuba Diver Life

    Otters are always a treat for freshwater divers. While they rarely dive to significant depths, they are excellent swimmers and can be found in lakes and rivers in temperate climates. Extremely curious, they sometimes follow along for entire dives, observing divers from the surface. They’ve also been known to play with the exhaust bubbles as they reach the surface and break. On one dive I did in Sweden, an otter threw pebbles at us during our surface interval.

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Marine Megafauna Foundation Galapagos Whale Shark Season Press Release

Thursday, October 15th, 2015

 

Puerto Ayora, Ecuador (October 7, 2015)  With the permission  of the Galapagos  National Park Directorate,  experts from around the globe sailed to Darwin Island in the far northern  region  of the Galapagos Marine Reserve in Ecuador. The objective was to document the movements and behaviors of the world’s largest fish, the whale shark (Rhincodon typus), in order to better understand its natural history and improve international conservation measures.

Although  whale sharks are found in tropical and temperate  waters around the globe, little is known about their ecology. Most studies have occurred at locations primarily visited briefly by juvenile males perhaps to feed (e.g., Western Australia, Mozambique,  the Gulf of Mexico, Republic of Philippines). Few adult whale sharks have been seen at these same locations.  The whereabouts, movements, and behaviors  of  adult  whale  sharks  has  long  remained  a  mystery,  and  scientists  have  rarely  had opportunities to get close to them until now in the Galapagos.

Jonathan Green, project leader and member of  Fundacion   Megafauna   Marina  Ecuador, has been observing  whale sharks at Darwin Island for over 20 years. “It became clear to me  that  we  are  dealing  here  with  a  very specific  portion  of the population.  Almost  all whale sharks we observe are large females, with distended abdomens, suggestive of pregnancy.”

The research team pose with the Explorer’s Club Flag. From left to right: Dr. Alex Hearn, Dr. Alistair Dove, Jonathan Green, Dr. Simon Pierce, Dr. Chris Rohner, Leandro Vaca, Dr. Brent Stewart, Clare Prebble. Photo: Brent Stewart.

The research team pose with the Explorer’s Club Flag. From left to right: Dr. Alex Hearn, Dr. Alistair Dove, Jonathan Green, Dr. Simon Pierce, Dr. Chris Rohner, Leandro Vaca, Dr. Brent Stewart, Clare Prebble. Photo: Brent Stewart.

In    2011,    together    with    the    Galapagos National Park Directorate and other partners, Green created the Galapagos Whale Shark Project.   The  project   began  an  ambitious study  to  attach  satellite  tags  to  sharks  at Darwin Island to track their movements. The initial results were surprising. The team found that rather than a resident group of whale sharks, there was a steady stream of whale sharks moving past Darwin throughout the season.

Although there may be only three or four whale sharks present at any given time, the turnover rate is around two days, so over a season several hundred sharks may use the site.”

Dr. Alex Hearn  of Turtle  Island  Restoration  Network  and Universidad  San Francisco  de Quito has worked on the project since its inception.

We found that the sharks were moving over a thousand kilometers offshore along the equatorial front, then back again past Darwin to the highly-productive  waters off the shelf break of southern Ecuador and northern Peru. Could these movements be related to pupping grounds?”

Only a handful of neonate (newborn) whale sharks have ever been reported, some from the bellies of oceanic mako and blue sharks, others from deep-water fisheries. Almost nothing is known about the early life stages of whale sharks.

Thanks to support from the Galapagos Conservation Trust and a private trust, this year we were able to bring together  whale  shark  experts  from all over the globe,  a unique  collaboration  for a unique location,” added Green.

Dr. Brent Stewart of the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute was one of the pioneers of whale shark tracking and has been studying whale sharks in waters around Kenya, the Maldives, Western Australia, the Philippines, Indonesia,  and  the  Gulf  of California.  During the research cruise he attached long-term satellite  tags  to  four  female  whale  sharks. These tags will now provide information on movements for up to eight months.

We hope to document where these adult females travel and spend their time, how they interact with local and regional marine ecosystems,  and perhaps too where they give birth  and  mate,”  he  remarked.  The scientists also attached a further six short-term satellite tags and a custom camera tag.

The  scientists Dive team attaches towed satellite tag to adult whale shark at Darwin Island, Galapagos (Ecuador). Photo: Clare Prebble.

The  scientists Dive team attaches towed satellite tag to adult whale shark at Darwin Island, Galapagos (Ecuador). Photo: Clare Prebble.

Dr. Simon Pierce and Dr. Chris Rohner of the Marine Megafauna Foundation have been working with whale sharks internationally  and are part of a global effort to maintain a photo database of individual whale sharks.

Whale sharks can be identified by the pattern of spots behind their gills, the equivalent of a human fingerprint.  By submitting  photos  to  www.whaleshark.org,  an online  collaboration  system  for whale shark  researchers,  we  are  documenting  global  connectivity  between  feeding  sites  along  with  the residency of sharks at particular favored areas,” explained Dr. Pierce. “Citizen science plays a key role in this effort, and any divers that have visited Galapagos can also submit their encounters to the global database,” added Rohner.

By  taking  small  skin  samples  from  sharks,  Galapagos-born  biologist  Leandro  Vaca  of Galapagos Science  Center,  Universidad  San Francisco  de Quito  and Ph.D.  candidate  Clare  Prebble  from the Marine Megafauna Foundation hope to determine where the sharks are spending their time and what they eat.

The tissue samples can be analyzed for their stable isotope levels and fatty acid content, which can then  be  related  back  to plankton  samples  we  took  during  the  cruise  at Darwin,”  explained  Vaca. “Unlike at other places where whale sharks are regularly seen, the sharks at Darwin have never been observed  feeding.  Using  tiny  pieces  of skin,  we can  compare  the sharks’  tissue  composition  with samples from Peru and other locations to reconstruct their movements between feeding and possible breeding or pupping areas,” added Prebble.

Dr. Alistair Dove of Georgia  Aquarium  in Atlanta is leading  the effort to take blood from the whale sharks in order to analyze their hormonal levels and carry out basic health assessments.  “We have developed techniques to take blood under aquarium conditions, but applying them in the field presents huge challenges. After this trip however, I am confident that it can be done.” Dove was struck by the marine  life at Darwin.  “This  is such  a special  location,  not just because  of the whale  sharks.  We encountered walls of hundreds of scalloped hammerhead sharks just off the reef on every dive, along with yellowfin tuna, bottlenose dolphins, silky and Galapagos sharks and green turtles. The Galapagos National Park Service have a jewel here, and we feel honored to be able to contribute to their work conserving the rich biodiversity of these islands.”

The  Galapagos  National  Park  Directorate  is  currently  reviewing  the  zonation  of  the  marine  and terrestrial  areas.  The  information  gathered  on habitat  use  for whale  sharks  and  other  key  marine species  is  extremely  important  for  this  process,”  said  biologist  Harry  Reyes,  Head  of  Marine Ecosystem Use and Conservation at the Galapagos National Park Directorate. His colleague Eduardo Espinoza, Coordinator of Marine Ecosystem Monitoring, explained that the Galapagos National Park Directorate carries out conservation actions for protected species in accordance with the international agreements  and treaties  to which  Ecuador  is party.  Whale  sharks  are listed  on the Convention  of Migratory Species and are categorized as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

OUR PARTNERS

Turtle Island Restoration  Network works to mobilize people and communities  around the world to protect marine wildlife, the oceans and the inland waterways that sustain them.  www.SeaTurtles.Org

HubbsSeaWorld Research Institute’s mission is “To return to the sea some measure of the benefits derived from it” by conducting research on marine fauna to support conservation and maintenance of vital populations on in healthy oceans.

Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that contains more than 10 million gallons of water and has the largest collection of aquatic animals. Georgia Aquarium’s mission is to be a scientific  institution  that  entertains  and  educates,  features  exhibits  and  programs  of the  highest standards,  and  offers  engaging  and  exciting  guest  experiences  that  promote  the  conservation  of aquatic  biodiversity   throughout   the  world.  Georgia  Aquarium   is  an  accredited   member  of  the Association  of Zoos and Aquariums  and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums.  For additional information, visit  www.georgiaaquarium.org.

CONTACTS

Jonathan R. Green
Director of Whale Shark Investigation Fundación Megafauna Marina, Ecuador jonathangwsp@gmail.com

Dr. Alex Hearn
Marine Science Advisor, Turtle Island Restoration Network Professor/Researcher,  Universidad San Francisco de Quito

Ahearn@usfq.edu.ec,  alex@tirn.net

Brent S. Stewart, Ph.D., J.D.
Senior Research Scientist

Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute
bstewart@hswri.org

Sara Flores
Coordinadora de prensa

Universidad San Francisco de Quito
sflores@usfq.edu.ec

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Hawksbill Turtle Is World’s First Known Biofluorescent Reptile

Tuesday, October 6th, 2015

While filming the Solomon Islands’ biofluorescent reefs in late July, marine biologist David Gruber and his team discovered something quite unexpected: into the frame swam a large hawksbill turtle, its shell illuminated with vivid shades of neon green and red. The turtle stayed with the team for several minutes, allowing them to capture never-before-seen footage of the world’s first known biofluorescent reptile. 

A phenomenon discovered relatively recently, biofluorescence refers to an organism’s ability to reflect blue light hitting a surface, and re-emit it as a different color. It is most often seen in corals, but has also been detected in a host of other marine creatures, including fish, sharks, rays and mantis shrimp. Biofluorescence is not the same as bioluminescence, a similar phenomenon wherein organisms generate their own light through a series of chemical reactions. 

The most common biofluorescent colors are green, orange and red. Previously, it was thought that an organism could only emit a single color, but the footage of the Solomon Islands turtle glowing both green and red challenges this assumption. Gruber, of City University of New York, hypothesized that the red biofluorescence may be separately generated by algae clinging to the turtle’s shell, but when he examined captive juvenile hawksbills kept by one of the islands’ local communities, he found that their shells also glowed red. 

The discovery has raised a number of exciting questions, including how the turtles generate their biofluorescence, and whether the ability is limited to the Solomon Islands population. Gruber is eager to study other turtle species, including the green sea turtle, to see whether they also possess biofluorescent abilities. In the wake of Gruber’s recent discovery, scientists are particularly keen to find out the purpose behind the turtles’ glow-in-the-dark tendencies.

Director of the Eastern Pacific Hawksbill Initiative Alexander Gaos told National Geographic in a recent interview that “biofluorescence is usually used for finding and attracting prey, or defense, or some kind of communication.” Gruber comments that the hawksbill’s mottled shell provides the turtle with incredible camouflage as it moves amongst the reef’s rocky outcrops during the day. He theorizes that perhaps the biofluorescence serves the same purpose at night, helping the turtle to blend into a reef alive with glowing corals. 

The recent discovery also shines a spotlight on the plight of the hawksbill turtle, a critically endangered species pushed to the brink of extinction in recent decades by the demand for tortoiseshell. With global populations struggling to recover from a 90 percent decline, Gruber says that it will be “difficult to study this turtle because there are so few left.” Hopefully, however, the new interest in the species sparked by his recent discovery will help to generate support for hawksbill conservation projects around the world. 

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