Friday, December 21, 2007

Blobfish is back, bigger than ever

Remember blobfish? That captivating deep-sea fish with the world-weary look? HE'S BACK.

With a series of well-timed appearances, blobfish has once again hit number 1 on the Blogfish charts. Here's just a small sampling of what blobfish has been up to.

On YouTube, you can see blobfish starring in a bittersweet tale of life's transitions. Or, check out blobfish mujlu , a strange vignette with anti-Microsoft leanings. There's some reality TV with blobfish appearing in situ at 500+ meters deep in the Ocean, and a brief interview revealing the true depth of blobfish's angst.

Here's a revealing portrait of blobfish and friends, and an ad appearance with blobfish promoting a Toyota concept car. Another appearance that built his image is this edgy bit role in Counter Strike, the violent online game. Finally, no listing would be complete without the inevitable blobfish duet with Ziggy.

Stardom has it's downside and blogfish has sometimes resorted to disguises in public, but the papparazzi seem to find him anyway. Blobfish had no comment after he appeared at number 1 on a "10 ugliest animals list, beating even the repulsive star-nosed mole and the loathed hagfish.

Fan tributes are appearing everywhere, with blobfish as a MySpace nom de plume of a 25 yr old Texan, and a 24 yr old from Tasmania.

On Facebook, we have the blobfish pity society, and the blobfish lovers.

In the blogosphere, we have Blob World, and the underwater Blobfish welcomes you.

Can you believe the reach of this mega-star?

Since blogfish is blobfish central, send your blobfish sightings here, and I'll post regular updates. Now let's say goodbye with a final peek at one of blobfish's finer moments of the last few months (photo at right).

Thursday, December 20, 2007

How lucky do you feel?

Which will it be, column thinking or row thinking? Don't know what I'm talking about? Well, then you're out of it.

Everybody who's anybody has seen this video and can talk about columns or rows. It's at more than 4 MILLION views and counting. Even if you've never watched YouTube, it's easy, just double-click the triangle and go.

It's a bit wonky, but do you want to be the ONLY one who doesn't know? You'll feel like that loser in Junior High School who...well you remember and let's not go there.

Watch the video, all the way to the end...and then change the world Greg Craven's way.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

CO2 poisoning is killing the ocean

Imagine a poison so nasty that it dissolved your skeleton. Sounds like a horror movie, but it's real. Excess carbon dioxide is a vicious ocean killer that dissolves shells and bones, and it's happening today.

How bad is it? CO2 poisoning will kill, corrode, and dissolve most of the world's corals by 2100 if we don't fix our CO2 habit. Unchecked, CO2 poisoning will also kill vital plankton that are food for many of the ocean's fish and whales. And the damage has already begun. Yikes.

OK, are you paying attention now? Shall we do something about this ocean menace? Does "CO2 poisoning" sound like something we need to fix? More so than the bland term "ocean acidification?"

Or, should we stick with a nice 6 syllable word (a-cid-i-fi-ca-tion) to talk about a vicious ocean killer? Does that work, or does it just spell b-o-r-i-n-g to most people?

Is this the best way to talk about CO2 poisoning?
"Under conditions expected in the 21st century, global warming and ocean acidification will compromise carbonate accretion, with corals becoming increasingly rare on reef systems."
Or how about this:
Acidifying the ocean is particularly detrimental to organisms that secrete shell material made of CaCO3, such as coral reefs and a type of phytoplankton called coccolithophorids.

I'll make you a deal. If you're one of the 17 people in the world who really understands all the details of CO2 chemistry in the ocean (see figure, right), then you can say "acidification" in public. Otherwise, it's time to start using real words like CO2 poisoning to talk about this vicious ocean killer.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Turning shrimp into gasoline

What makes more sense, eating prime Gulf of Mexico shrimp or turning them into gasoline? If midwestern farmers have their way, we'll be turning shrimp into gasoline.

If you burn a gallon of corn-based ethanol in your car, you're pouring nitrogen onto a field in the midwest, and the runoff from that field runs down to the Gulf of Mexico where it adds to the dead zone. So instead of shrimp from the Gulf, you have ethanol from the Mississippi watershed.

How do you feel about putting lovely shrimp into your car? I'm not too happy about it. Growing shrimp is a higher and better use for the Gulf of Mexico than serving as a waste receptacle for corn-growing ethanol makers.

We need some way to tie the two problems together, so that we can make the proper judgments about what to do.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Acid oceans worst in North Pacific

If you like the Pacific Ocean, you should start to worry about CO2 in the atmosphere. Because of the way ocean waters move, the acid ocean problem will start here.

How bad is the problem right now?

"Corrosive water between 600 and 700 feet deep has already been detected off the continental shelf of Washington, Oregon and Alaska" said NOAA scientist Richard Feely

So what? Why should we worry? Because the entire ocean food web could unravel. Anything that uses calcium carbonate, for shells or bones will have a hard time making shells or bones. Where acidification is severe, corrosive water will dissolve shells or bones and make it impossible to grow more.

The biggest bad news is that ocean acidification won't go away quickly, even if we reduce CO2 in the atmosphere. Some scientists say the ocean will become permanently more acidic.

“For all practical purposes, this is permanent,” said Steven Emerson, UW oceanography professor. “That’s not true of temperature. But with ocean acidification, the time scales are long.”


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Lumpfish love isn't free

Who knew lumpfish could stir passions so? After yesterday's post on lumpfish, Jón Baldur Hlíðberg from Iceland sent an email saying lumpfish caviar is great, and kindly shared his fantastic illustrations of the fish of Iceland, including this lovely male lumpfish (right).

As if that wasn't enough on lumpfish, the astute Wolfman Jack noted the risks of fishing lumpfish in a comment to yesterday's post...just as I was ready to get some lumpfish caviar thanks to Jón's note. And I didn't get just one or two lumpfish items, the prolific Greg Laden featured lumpfish as "cool and odd" on his great blog, and the blogfish hit counter went nuts on Friday, partially due to lumpfish traffic. We scored over 5,000 unique visits on Friday, a blogfish record. Thanks all for stopping by, and since you seem to like odd sea creature stories I'll try to find more for you.

Now if you really want to know more about lumpfish, they are cold water fish that guard nests of young, some have suckers on their bellies that allow them to cling to rocks, Webster's online dictionary tells us that the word "lumpfish" is used 6 times out of 100 million words written or spoken in English, and the lumpfish is also known as paddlecock or lumpsucker.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Lumpfish caviar, the sublime ugly

Would you buy caviar from this fish? Here's someone who will sell you lumpfish caviar? When the high end caviar gets scarce, who knows where we'll have to go for more.

Maybe it's time to bring back one of our lumpfish caviar, tomorrow blobfish caviar?

Sea lice from salmon farms killing wild salmon

Very bad news from British Columbia, super-dense salmon farms breed sea lice that may exterminate wild salmon runs in the same areas. We may face a choice between salmon farms and wild salmon. Which would you choose?

This isn't a new problem, we've been killing wild salmon for decades with our government-run salmon farms called hatcheries. Meant to protect salmon, we now know that hatcheries harm wild salmon runs while producing fish for people to catch. Hatcheries are controversial at best among wild fish advocates.

What is a salmon hatchery? Salmon hatcheries are fish farms that release fish to live part of their life wild. They're built to compensate for habitat loss, or simply to try to increase salmon production so people can catch more salmon. Fish agencies have routinely blocked and killed wild salmon runs on rivers where hatcheries are built, to protect hatcheries from contamination.

Can wild salmon be helped? Not so long as the seafood industry and the federal government count hatchery salmon as "wild."

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Electric eel lights christmas tree

Is this the ultimate in green energy? An electric eel's power has been harnessed in Japan to light a Christmas tree.

Some eels generate electric fields to detect prey in murky waters, by detecting disturbances in the electric field. By placing electrodes in the eels tank, the eel-power is made to flow through a circuit and light up a christmas tree.

This is cute, but I doubt we'll see eel-power used for industrial purposes.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Science vs. religion clash: is a whale a fish?

What seems like a basic biological question blew up into a vitriolic public smackdown. Sound familiar?

In 1818, a whale oil dealer refused to pay a fish-product fine on whale oil, because a whale isn't a fish. The inspector insisted on the tax, and a spirited court and public battle played out.

This struggle sounds silly today, but it ignited a culture clash much like the current struggle over evolution and creation in public schools.

Ultimately a jury ruled that a "whale is a fish," until the New York legislature settled the matter by voting that whales are not fish. I knew we could count on NY.

This fascinating tale comes from D. Graham Burnett in Trying Leviathan: The Nineteenth-Century New York Court Case That Put the Whale on Trial and Challenged the Order of Nature.

The Princeton University website says this about the book:

In Moby-Dick, Ishmael declares, "Be it known that, waiving all argument, I take the good old fashioned ground that a whale is a fish, and call upon holy Jonah to back me." Few readers today know just how much argument Ishmael is waiving aside. In fact, Melville's antihero here takes sides in one of the great controversies of the early nineteenth century--one that ultimately had to be resolved in the courts of New York City. In Trying Leviathan, D. Graham Burnett recovers the strange story of Maurice v. Judd, an 1818 trial that pitted the new sciences of taxonomy against the then-popular--and biblically sanctioned--view that the whale was a fish. The immediate dispute was mundane: whether whale oil was fish oil and therefore subject to state inspection. But the trial fueled a sensational public debate in which nothing less than the order of nature--and how we know it--was at stake. Burnett vividly re-creates the trial, during which a parade of experts--pea-coated whalemen, pompous philosophers, Jacobin lawyers--took the witness stand, brandishing books, drawings, and anatomical reports, and telling tall tales from whaling voyages. Falling in the middle of the century between Linnaeus and Darwin, the trial dramatized a revolutionary period that saw radical transformations in the understanding of the natural world. Out went comfortable biblical categories, and in came new sorting methods based on the minutiae of interior anatomy--and louche details about the sexual behaviors of God's creatures.

When leviathan breached in New York in 1818, this strange beast churned both the natural and social orders--and not everyone would survive.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Chesapeake oyster tragedy

The fabled watermen of the Chesapeake Bay have just finished digging their own grave, and they're taking the oysters with them.

This is a sad story that didn't have to be this way. Oysters used to be so numerous that they cleaned the Bay every 3 days, and oyster reefs were a hazard to navigation. But overfishing has removed most of the oysters and destroyed the oyster shell reefs necessary to provide a good home for young oysters.

The oyster catch is now down around 1/1000 of the rich plunder of a century ago, and pessimists outnumber optimists. Oytster farming, once a heresy, is now the most likely hope for an oyster revival.

It's enough to make an oyster lover cry. Where did the oyster-loving watermen go so wrong? Why did the government allow it to happen? Why were we the people asleep at the wheel?

hat tip: Shifting Baselines

Monday, December 10, 2007

Better fishing by fishing less

How can a fisherman make more money? By fishing less. This one has blogfish written all over it.

A new study says fishing is better when there are more fish in the water. No big surprise there, but I guess it's a big deal when this common sense idea is dressed up with lots of equations.

Is it going to matter? Will this study lead to better fishing policies? I doubt it, since we've known for a long time that overfishing is bad and yet it still happens. It is an advance to show scientifically that less fishing is more profitable for fishermen. But it won't solve most of our problems. Why?

Because most of our fishing problems are fights over who gets the fish. Until that's settled, few fishermen will quit racing to catch fish.

I don't mean to be cynical and pick on good research. It is a great advance to show conclusively that less fishing is better fishing. And I hope that this research is implemented by fishery managers and politicians. Maybe the scientists involved will help with this messy task?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Blue crab collapse in Chesapeake bay

Another sad story, blue crabs are disappearing from Chesapeake Bay.

Why? We're catching too many, at the same time as pollution makes it difficult for blue crabs. Watermen who catch crabs stubbornly persist in catching too many crabs, even though they're killing their own livelihood.

Blogfish has been here before, complaining about killing too many blue crabs. Now the overfishing has come home to roost.

Talk about killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Carnival of the blue 7

Enjoy the best of ocean blogging at Carnival of the Blue 7 at Natural Patriot.

There are some new entrants, so even if you've looked at the Carnival before, try this month's entry and find some new ocean bloggers.

Mini nuclear power plants

There's a new nuclear power option for producing low CO2 electricity, mini nuke plants. Oregon State University scientists propose baby nukes in the relative safety of Corvallis, Oregon.

This is not the only place where baby nukes are being talked up as a solution. What do you think? Should we have these mini nuclear reactors "dotting the countryside?"

Friday, November 30, 2007

Shark safe surfboards?

If you wanna surf with sharks, maybe you should try Sharkcamo gear. It's stripes for your board or body that are hoped to repel sharks.

Sharkcamo was created based on the scientific fact that Mother Nature protects certain species of animals with distinct coloration patterns. The technical name for this phenomenon is aposematic pattern coloration.

The sharkcamo guys claim they've tested their theory, and it works.

I'm skeptical, but it can't hurt. And they look good anyway.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Prospectors claim Pacific coast for green energy

Is this the new gold rush out west? People are staking claims to large stretches of the west coast, with plans to harness ocean energy in the form of waves and tides. This is good, right? Energy produced without making CO2.

But wait, is there anybody planning the future, figuring out what parts of the ocean are good for energy, and where we should reserve the ocean for other things? No, not yet.

We'd better watch out, or we'll get another mess like western water laws, the crazy quilt claims for using river water that make no sense and harm conservation efforts.

Wave energy makes sense, but we need to decide where to put these things. Otherwise, we'll be sorry when we figure out we put some in the wrong places.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The bluegill that ate Japan

Or at least ate Japan's fish. The problem is so bad that the Emperor is apologizing for bringing bluegill into Japan in the 1960s.

Chicago mayor Richard Daley gave bluegill, the state fish of Illinois, as a gift to the current Emperor in 1960. Hoping to create a new delectable food source, Japanese fish biologists established the bluegill in lakes. Now, bluegill are eating and depleting some native species, and they've become an official nuisance. "Its cultivation started as there were great expectations of raising them for food in those days. My heart aches to see it has turned out like this," Emperor Akihito said.

To control the bluegill, there is a "catch and eat" policy for bluegill. Who knew that these nice little fish could be such a scourge. How long until we have a Bluegillzilla horror movie?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Jellyfish swarm attacks UK

A salmon farm was wiped out last week, by a jellyfish swarm that stung and suffocated salmon in a cage. Now a second swarm is floating off the UK shore. It's Frank Schatzing's Swarm.

These "purple stinger" jellyfish are known from waters further south, but their appearance in a mass off the UK is a big surprise in the cold water of November. And nobody expected a killer swarm that could devastate a salmon farm.

One thing that gives jellyfish a boost is the removal of fish due to overfishing, so we may see more of this in the future if we don't stop overfishing our oceans.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Why does overfishing happen?

Because it's too hard for fishermen to leave fish in the water, according to a prominent fishery manager.
It's as if you put a kid in front of a bowl of candy and say "take just one"
says fishery manager Dan Furlong, as quoted in the Hartford Courant.

I guess overfishing is a simple problem, fishermen just can't resist taking too many fish. And at least one manager doesn't think we should expect fishermen to resist the temptation to overfish.

Wow, I'm amazed. The kids who came to my door on Halloween were all more restrained than Mr. Furlong's fishermen. Nobody whined for more I mean candy.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Oily mess in San Francisco Bay could have been prevented

What do you do when you make a mess? Ignore it and hope for the best? That doesn't work when your mess is 58,000 gallons of highly toxic fuel oil spilled from a cargo ship, all within spitting distance of more than 7 million people. Even worse, some of the oil washed up on the Berkeley shore, where people make pollution outrage into a lifestyle.

This YouTube video shows the San Francisco Bay oil spill from above, and shows how we missed the boat on containing it. The mess could have been contained if proper procedures were followed, and floating containment booms were in place in 2 hours.

Oil spills happen, and a quick move to contain the mess can prevent most of the harm. This point was made years ago, but nobody paid attention. Argh, why do we wait until after the mess to learn our lessons?

Giant sea scorpion creates ocean terror

It's big and it's bad, and it's a real-life monster. Up to 8 feet long and 400 pounds, this sea scorpion lies in wait to grab passing fish or other prey in 18 inch claws. Compare the sea scorpion to an average person in the figure (left). Once caught, the sea scorpion's hapless prey are sliced into smaller bits, and then diced using saws on it's legs.

Believe it or not, this thing is real. But thankfully it's been extinct for 390 million years. Otherwise, snorkeling might not be quite so popular. This newly discovered fossil makes ancient sea scorpions seem even more amazing and dangerous.

image: Biology Letters

Monday, November 19, 2007

Do sustainable fisheries decline?

The decline of Alaska's pollock fishery is raising questions about fisheries sustainability. Is a decline in fish and fishing ok for a fishery certified as sustainable? Is the decline a sign of good management, or proof of bad management?

This year, scientists say pollock numbers are down. In response, managers are poised to reduce fishing limits. Critics view fishing cutbacks as evidence of unsustainable fishing. In contrast, supporters say fishing cutbacks show managers are focusing on sustainability and reducing fishing to ensure the fish recover. Only time will tell who is right.

This debate has played out for New Zealand hoki, and now Alaska pollock, a leading fishery for the Marine Stewardship Council's sustainability certification program.
Blogfish has seen many fisheries fail to cut quotas when fish decline, so at least some effort is being made to protect fish. That's a good thing. And certification helps keep managers on the straight and narrow, so certification does help.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Urban salmon a living legend that people can see

City wildlife don't get much respect, especially the gritty urban salmon of Seattle. But they do matter, even if they just help teach kids about saving salmon.

There are some non-pristine urban creeks where a few salmon return to spawn each year. And there's the Cedar River sockeye run that is grand enough to excite even a salmon-smart biologist.

The map shows where you can find them, with total numbers seen so far this year. There are several good weeks remaining in case you're local and you want to have some fun watching fish sex. It's an amazing sight watching salmon spawn, it'll give you hope for the future.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Crittercams: great way to film animal secrets

If you want to know what really happens in dark and private places, there's a new way to find out. Amateurs are now making the hot new ocean films, thanks to crittercams.

Cameras strapped to animals have been used to penetrate ocean depths and reveal the secret lives of underwater animals. The latest deep sea cameras are the size of a flashlight and can be used under 3000 feet of water. They've been used on sharks, turtles, sea lions, and even penguins (see picture).

image: National Geographic

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Wind power is a misunderstood giant

Telling a story is a great way to make things real. Here's a fun story told by a German company promoting wind power. It has mystery, redemption, and a surprise ending. All of that in just 2 minutes. See if it doesn't change your emotional connection to wind power.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The rise of Captain NIMO--Not In My Ocean

NIMBY has a new cousin, he's called NIMO (Not In My Ocean).

NIMO is showing up wherever someone plans to save the world by doing something in the ocean. And just like Jules Verne's Captain Nemo, our Captain NIMO wears a nice costume, green and glorious, and he has plans to save the world. But NIMO can be just as difficult as his cousin NIMBY.

NIMO's not all bad. Just like NIMBY, he can help prevent some bad things from happening. But NIMO and NIMBY have a blind spot; to them, everything is bad if it's happening in their neighborhoods.

As an ocean lover, I hate to say it, but we can't afford to listen to Captian NIMO. As we move into a world of unknowns, caused by the massive global experiment of increasing CO2, we have to consider ocean solutions. We've already engineered our world by accident, and we can't rule out engineering if we want to fix the problem. If someone comes up with a good ocean idea for getting rid of CO2 in the ocean, we can't afford to reject it just by saying NIMO (not in my ocean).

Things are not looking good. Centuries of burning fossil fuels have us behind the 8-ball. Climate science is grim and getting grimmer. We're producing CO2 FASTER than the worst-case scenario contemplated by the last IPCC report. We can't afford to say the ocean is off limits. Nothing is truly off limits if we want to try to stop the CO2 increase. But, how can we tell a good idea from a bad one? They're all unknown and scary. I don't think simple principles like NIMO are the answer here.

So what is on the table that's scaring NIMO?

Maybe we should pour iron into our oceans in hopes of capturing CO2 into plankton that sinks and saves the world from global warming. Or perhaps we should dump carbon directly into our oceans, to keep it out of the atmosphere? Maybe we should develop our oceans for green energy, using wind, waves and currents to make electricity.

Is there something worth considering here? Maybe. They would all be big experiments, but one or more of them might be a partial answer. Are they any worse that letting the current CO2 increase continue? We won't know unless we consider them.

Yeah, Planktos seems to have a half-baked plan. And Cape Wind isn't good enough for the man from Nantucket. But we are going to do SOMETHING about CO2, right?

NIMO says "hell no, Not In My Ocean" and that seems irresponsible to this ocean advocate. If our answer to solving the CO2 problem is NIMO and NIMBY and NOMH and NOPE and even BANANA (see below), then we better get used to loving CO2.

So I think NIMO needs to join his cousin NIMBY in the closet, where they belong. Next to their other cousins NOTE (Not Over There Either), NOPE (Not On Planet Earth), NOMH "gnome" (Not On My Horizon), and BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anybody). (Thanks Steven Connors of MIT, see slide 5).

Monday, November 12, 2007

Oil spills in San Francisco Bay, Black Sea

It's no surprise that oil is now fouling San Francisco Bay. We were warned years ago that California was unprepared for oil spills, check out this warning from Ocean Conservancy's Warner Chabot in 2000.

Last week, a ship scraped the SF to Oakland Bay Bridge, and began leaking fuel. The crew failed to report the serious leak, and oil spill response was so ineffective that the oil spread all over the bay.

How bad are the problems? You can let the people speak and go to YouTube to watch videos made by concerned locals. Or, try the San Jose Mercury News for their coverage of what's happening

If you prefer, you can go to google maps and see how far the messy goo has spread.

Note that crab fishermen want to dealy their fishing season because of fears that the oil will contaminate crabs and spoil their reputation.

Meanwhile, criminal charges are possible for those responsible for the spill.

What can we learn from this mess? Let's hear from the experts at Ocean Conservancy. Spill prevention, rapid containment, ecosystem protection, and restoration all need our immediate attention at this time.

More oily news, a massive Russian oil spill caused by ships sinking in a huge storm is now threatening to create an environmental disaster in the aptly named Black Sea, along with the human disaster. At least 11 ships, including a small oil tanker, broke apart in a fierce storm. And this is a fairly big spill,

It's been a bad week for oil spills in the ocean.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Humpback whales sing for love and warnings

Scientists finally understand some whale sounds, and they're not too surprising. Males trying to attract mates, mothers warning their calves, etc.

The sounds have intriguing names: wops, thwops, grumbles, squeaks, etc. So far no insight into the romantic new age notion of whales as great philosophers.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Great white shark frenzy resembles fraternity party

Watch this video for an amazing look at a great white shark feeding frenzy that results in the sharks appearing drunk and sexually active. It reminds me of a fraternity party, except fed by whale blubber instead of take-out pizza and beer.

A whale carcass off South Africa attracts 27 large great white sharks, with the sharks lining up to eat 30-40 pound bites of whale blubber. As the sharks eat more and more, jostling each other in the process, they begin to appear intoxicated, moving slowly around the carcass and bumping into each other, the carcass, and the film crews boats and observation cage.

Finally, the sharks appear sexually aroused and active, although actual mating is not observed. Perhaps this takes place upstairs in the more private rooms. The film crew believes this may be the largest congregation of large great white sharks ever observed, and the closest thing to observing white shark mating.

One scientist says this film supports his theory that white shark mating may occur after large aggregations of sharks finish a feeding frenzy.

Stunning video. I don't know if the commentary is accurate, but take a look for yourself.

Hat tip: Sea Notes

Green is the new gold

Business leaders are preaching a new gospel: going green is a business opportunity.

And it's not just hippies in birkenstocks, it includes biggies like Wal-mart, Weyerhauser, and Boeing.

As reported in, business leaders were talking up business opportunities in building global warming solutions at Greater Seattle Area Chamber of Commerce meeting in Victoria, BC last month. It almost sounds like a "beat global warming" rally broke out amongst the suits.

The take home message is that if the Government won't lead, then business leaders will. Now that's an optimistic story on a gloomy nortwest November day.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Protecting people from contaminated seafood

Seafood safety will improve thanks to a US government program announced yesterday by President Bush.

This announcement grows out of the import scandals involving lead-contaminated toys, contaminated pet food, and contaminated feed for farmed fish, etc. Consumer confidence was shaken and action is likely.

The Bush administration has one plan, and Congress has some alternative options in mind, so the final shape of reforms is not yet clear.

One key action seems likely, giving the Food and Drug Administration the power to order mandatory recalls, which is much stronger than the current requirement for voluntary recalls. This should help get unsafe food products off the market quickly when they're identified.

Another important step will be to station US inspectors in foreign countries that export to the US, to look for problems before bad products reach the US.

How bad is the problem? According to ABC News reports, Alabama developed state inspections and now routinely rejects imported seafood that would otherwise reach consumers since US testing programs are currently inadequate. The National Fisheries Institute challenges these claims, and I don't know who's right.

Since we can't even be sure that species labels on fish are accurate, it's hard to believe that everthing's fine in the area of seafood reliability and safety. Some US seafood businesses that compete with imported seafood have testified before Congress regarding lax US inspections of imported seafood, much weaker than European inspection programs. I hope credible seafood businesses work within the industry to provide assurance to consumers that seafood sold in the US is safe to eat.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Sex in the deep blue sea

Ocean animals have sex lives much stranger than anything people can imagine.

Like the deep sea angler fish with passionate life-long love bites between a female and several males. Or the rock-bound barnacles who mate by sending their penis probing around searching for a female. Or sex change in fish. Or group sex. Or...

Read all about it in KamaSEAtra: Secrets of Sex in the Sea, a new book by Sheree Marris.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Carnival of the blue 6

Best of ocean blogging for October now up at Jason pulled together this month's blue blog carnival, and offers up some great posts and commentary.

Stop by and see what you can find at all those other ocean blogs that are very nearly almost as good as blogfish.

Mussels, oysters, and clams to dissolve by 2100?

Acid oceans may be corrosive enough to dissolve the shells of mussels, oysters, and clams in some areas by 2100. This truly scary news sounds like Chicken Little at her worst, but this warning comes from scientist Carol Turley, from Plymouth Marine Laboratory.

OK, this ocean acidification scare is getting serious now. Dissolving shellfish shells? Really?

What you may not know is that building a calcium carbonate shell can be difficult in the ocean below the carbonate compensation depth, since calcium carbonate tends to dissolve in seawater.

Fortunately for shellfish lovers, the compensation depth is currently in deep water everywhere. But rising CO2 has already influenced carbonate compensation and it will get worse in the future. It is now a realistic concern that animals with carbonate shells may see their shells dissolve in shallow water in the future.

Ouch, sounds like that would hurt.

Hat tip: Jeremy Jacquot at

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Toxic chemicals in killer whales

Sad news from the Arctic off Europe, killer whales set a new record for toxic chemicals in their bodies.

Toxic chemicals found at high levels included PCBs and chlorinated pesticides, in other words some nasty stuff. Levels were 6-20 times higher than in other high arctic marine mammals such as beluga whales.

We're killing them softly with our song of modern life.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Garbage in the ocean

When you throw something "away," where do you think it goes? Far too much ends up in the ocean. And a lot of it is plastic that lasts for a long, long time and causes serious problems.

Did you know that there is a massive garbage "slick" in the central Pacific Ocean that is twice the size of Texas and weighs 3.5 million tons? And did you know that most of it comes from land-based garbage? And did you know that it can kill ocean animals like turtles that are used to eating things like jellyfish that look a lot like a plastic bag? Sad, isn't it?

It's the problem of plastic as the new plankton.

There are also some scary new problems emerging, such as the breakdown of garbage into tiny microscopic pieces of plastic that can build up in tissues and concentrate toxic chemicals.

The problem of ocean garbage is getting national attention today, thanks to the efforts of first lady Laura Bush and Ocean Conservancy. At a press event today, Ocean Conservancy released a landmark new study on garbage in the ocean, also known as marine debris, and Bush announced a new US government program to attack the problem of garbage in the ocean.

Bush was reportedly bothered by the large amount of garbage she saw in her visit to remote Midway Island. During her visit, she said:

"People do need to know that if you drop your cigarette lighter in the gutter, it's likely to wash out and finally end up in an ocean and, in this case, end up in the stomach of a baby chick albatross," Bush said. "And I know people aren't that aware of this, and I think if they were aware, they'd be a little bit more careful."

Thanks to Laura Bush for highlighting the problem, now let's hope the new White House program will generate some solutions.

Goldfish synchronized swimming-amazing

You won't believe what these fish can do. The fish-trainer and spectator are pretty funny to watch, even though I can't understand them.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

1872 Mining law reform: a victory for sustainability

What's the biggest political dinosaur that hinders US conservation? Debatable question, but my nominee is the 1872 Mining Law, and I'm not alone.

Well, that dinosaur is endangered--today your House of Representatives just passed meaningful mining reform. That makes it a good day for oceans, rivers, and lakes, and almost anything natural.

And I hate to be a partisan, but the last election did matter in this long-overdue effort to clean up our environment. Check out the roll call on this vote. Of course, there is a Democratic obstacle in the Senate, from the mining state of Nevada, so it's not purely a partisan issue.

For an excellent balanced review of the 1872 mining law, see this article by Robert McClure and Andrew Schneider of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

For some pro-mining law polemics, try here.

Or for some fun info on the problems with the law, watch this cartoon:

Oysters hold key to bone healing

Oysters may help people with bone problems, by sharing the secrets of making pearls.

Human doctors are investigating the shiny stuff in an oyster shell, called nacre or "mother of pearl." They hope that seeding bones with nacre may speed biomineralization (making bone) in people with problems like osteoporosis.

Oyster nacre may also help people with other diseases, including arthritis and some skin conditions.

Oysters are incredibly important in the water, they build habitat by clumping together into sometimes massive reefs that can exceed even coral reefs in size. And, they filter water to get their food, and help keep water clean and clear, which is important for many other animals. But oysters are sadly overfishing almost everywhere they live, and now we're into the oyster restoration game.

Me, I adore oysters, preferable raw. And I'm sure that has nothing to do with their aphrodisiac properties. It's just that I'm a shellfish lover. I'll walk right past almost anything else to get my hands on some succulent oysters or mussels.

hat tip:

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The nuclear renaissance is here

Applications boom for new nuclear power plants, as the need for zero-carbon power rekindles the nuclear power industry.

Remember the Bellefonte nuclear plant? The one that was partially built and then mothballed? Well, it's back. The Tennessee Valley Authority plans to build the first of a new generation of advanced nuclear power plants on the site of the failed Bellefonte plant.

Is nuclear power an answer to global warming and the need to cut CO2 emissions? Some say yes, what do you think? The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (remember them?) expects upwards of 30 applications to build new nuke plants in the US over the next several years.

It's a hard sell here in the northwest, where we're still getting over the WPPSS debacle. The Washington Public Power Supply System (with the unfortunate name "WHOOPS") created a massive public bond default that we're still repaying. We owe $2.25 BILLION and most of the power generation never came online.

Even so, nuclear power is coming back. Who knew in the 1980s that CO2 would turn out to be scarier than plutonium?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Acid oceans movie: A Sea Change

Wanna get scared this halloween? Here's something scarier than ghosts and goblins. It's a new movie about our acid ocean future, thanks to CO2 from fossil fuels poisoning our oceans.

It's ocean acidification, it's a CO2 emission problem, it's real, and it's already happening.

I can't vouch for the movie, I haven't seen it yet. But it claims to be a scientific look at the issues, and here's the trailer. Ocean acidification is real, and I hope the movie raises awareness.

Then comes the hard part, finding solutions.

Hat tip: Ocean acidification

You may have eaten the oldest animal on earth in your clam chowder

A 405 year old clam is the new oldest animal, but someone has probably eaten an older clam since most end up in chowder. Anyone for some ancient clam chowder?

The ocean quahog is a clam that lives upwards of several hundred years. Fishermen use dredges to scoop them out of the sand, and turn them into clam chowder. Without knowing, you may have eaten a 500 year old clam.

The real fate of the world's oldest animal is missing from the news. Everyone's talking about one old clam, without noticing that we eat these little buggers. Scientists found a 405 year old ocean quahog in the ocean off Iceland, from a depth of 260 feet. This "Shakespeare" clam, alive when the bard was still writing plays, was only about 3 1/2 inches long.

Fox News notes ironically that scientists found the oldest animal on earth and killed it. The real news is that people are busy turning the world's oldest animal into clam chowder. Do you want to eat 500 year old animals? Can that be sustainable? Fishery managers think so, but I'm not so sure.

These clams live in the sandy ocean bottom, and there are no fancy corals or other dramatic habitat features that will lead to protection. And typical fishery management lets the biggest and oldest animals get sent to the fish market, so normal management won't protect them. These unsexy old animals will probably keep finding their way into chowder unless we value them simply for being old.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Acid oceans threaten ocean life

It's the little known CO2 problem that is real, scary and already happening. It's acid oceans, brought to you by human CO2 production.

Our oceans are becomming more acid, and this problem threatens to dissolve corals and other important ocean animals, and it looks like it's already happening. YIKES! The acid levels don't sound too bad, in the language of chemistry. Just a few tenths of a pH unit--doesn't sound too bad, right?

But ask a coral and you might get a different answer. If there were such a thing, newspapers written for corals would be screaming bloody murder. Or maybe screaming "acid threatens to dissolve you and your family!" Let's think like a coral and get worried about acid oceans.

Out of sight, out of mind? Or will we rally to the cause and save our oceans from the acid plague?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Best ocean-theme horror movie

Thanks to Rick and PZ, here's a task I can't resist, name a horror movie with an ocean theme.

The Lost Continent, after watching this you'll never again go on a marginal ship into dangerous waters with a cast of sketchy characters (wait a minute, that's oceanography!). Weird, not just horrific.

Honorable Mentions:

Classic, but too easy--Jaws, a movie that made me scared to swim in a lake!

Modern and obvious--Pirates of the Caribbean series, great effects and villian (kraken!)

Awesome, would have been my choice, but it's not quite ocean--Creature from the Black Lagoon, with a truly outrageous "synchronized swimming" scene where the creature swims beneath the babe.

This comes from the hallo-meme started by Rick at Malaria, Bedbugs, Sea Lice, and Sunsets, by way of Pharyngula.

Now it's my job to tag some others (sorry all, they made me do it):

Shiftingbaselines (this is a job for Randy Olson)


Framing science: gossip trumps facts

What's the best way to figure out whether someone is likely to cheat you? Look at facts on their past behavior? Or listen to what others are saying about the other person?

A new study says people rely on gossip more than facts. Why does this surprise anyone? Facts never speak for themselves, and a good story will always trump a set of facts.

What's the value of a good story? A good story provides everything people need to make sense of information, including a relevant context for facts. Facts become the illustration that verifies the story. Naked facts are less useful since they require interpretation and analysis, which is a slow and uncertain process at best.

This adds to the debate over how best to communicate science. Since even questionable gossip trumps a set of facts, this study warns us about the futility of relying on "just the facts" type arguments. In competition with a good story, naked facts will probably be neglected or even ignored.

The study's authors were a bit disturbed that gossip can outweigh facts. But they shouldn't be upset or surprised.

Let's look a little deeper at gossip. What is gossip? Tittering junior high girls talking about clothes and boyfriends? Yes. But gossip is also important communication that builds trust networks and clarifies social behavior rules. In other words, gossip can convey important information. In some cases, failure to gossip can be viewed as a problem in social groups, because important information is withheld from those who need it.

This study reminds us that context is important for facts. A good story can trump a set of facts, so beware of relying on a set of facts alone. In fact, why not build important facts into a story? Embedding facts into a compelling narrative works with normal communication styles rather than fighting against them.

Will this study help? I don't think any of this will matter to a "just the facts" person. Why? Because the messy world of social communication has probably always mystified the type of people who find a safe refuge in the world of facts.

"We all know people who are not calibrated to the social world at all, who if they participated in gossip sessions would learn a whole lot of stuff they need to know and can't learn anywhere else, like how reliable people are, how trustworthy," said Sarah Wert, a psychologist at Yale. "Not participating in gossip at some level can be unhealthy, and abnormal."

The social context of communication matters, and this includes scientific communication. Of course data matters, along with analysis and conclusions. But also important are social factors such as the reputations of the scientists who publish a paper.

Is this surprising? No, scientists are people, often irascible people, and why would anyone expect them to avoid jealousies, rivalries, and stubborness? Do these social factors dominate? No, but they do matter.

So the next time you want to communicate a set of facts, try building them into an interesting narrative and see whether it works better than plain facts. Who knows, you may notice your audiences getting smarter.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Glow in the dark seafood

Imagine making a shrimp dinner and dimming the lights, only to find the shrimp glowing in the dark. That's just what happened to Randall Peters of Seattle last week.

Nervous, he was worried about radiation making the shrimp glow. But a more mundane explanation is likely, bacterial luminescence. Glow in the dark bacteria are not rare, and glowing seafood has been uncovered before.

So if you find your seafood glowing, you probably don't need to worry about being poisoned. Unless you forgot to refrigerate it or otherwise created a risk of food poisoning from bad handling.

Now these genetically modified glowing zebrafish, that's a horse of a different color. Fluorescent transgenic fish that you can buy for your home aquarium.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Sandy River runs free, after dammed century

Well folks, it happened last Friday. High flows blew out the last remaing earthworks of the old Marmot Dam, and the Sandy River now runs free once again.

The undamming era took a new step forward; this dam is now GONE. Not huge at 47 feet tall, but significant as it once produced enough power for 12,000 homes. The biggest dam yet removed in Oregon.

We knew this was going to happen, it was all planned. I invite you to take a moment and celebrate un-development for the sake of fish. It CAN and DOES happen. Click here for video of the blessed event.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Great swallower eats fish 4 times bigger than itself

Like B. Kliban said: never eat anything bigger than your head. Unless you're a great swallower, that is.

A fisherman from Grand Cayman island found a small great swallower floating on the surface with a much larger whole fish in it's stomach. Four times bigger than the great swallower.

The great swallower is a deep sea fish with a huge jaw and a balloon stomach. Known for eating huge prey, this looks like record catch for a great swallower. Of course, the fact that it was dead may mean that it was a bit too big.

Friday, October 19, 2007

What's right with Kansas? Plenty

Grabbing the lead on climate change action, Kansas blocked a coal plant permit because of CO2 emissions. This is a stunning move for a state stereotyped as anti-environmental and anti-science because of right-wing Republican tendencies.

The statement from Dept. Secretary Roderick Bremby is fabulous. It says, among other things:

“I believe it would be irresponsible to ignore emerging information about the contribution of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to climate change and the potential harm to our environment and health if we do nothing,"

This is further proof, as if it were needed, that environmental protection is NOT a partisan issue.

There has been considerable talk in the blogosphere lately that religious beliefs are inherently anti-science and in opposition to important science-based causes like education and environmental protection. Much of this has emanated from the battles over the teaching of evolution and intelligent design in places like Kansas. I guess Kansas is not so one-sided as some might claim.

One sidelight, the permit was rejected by the Kansas Dept. of Health and Environment, a progressive alignment of state functions. Protection of our environment is a health issue, and I wish more states acted on that basis.

Go Kansas!

...and it's not just Kansas...