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: