Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ocean decline around Antarctica

A variety of human impacts threaten ocean ecosystems around Antarctica. The expected results? According to a new study, unless we change our path the Southern Ocean will face: simplification, homogenization, loss of uniqueness--the "dumbing down" of the ecosystem.
"Antarctica is the most isolated continent on Earth, but it has not escaped the negative impacts of human activity. The unique marine ecosystems of Antarctica and their endemic faunas are affected on local and regional scales by overharvesting, pollution, and the introduction of alien species. Global climate change is also having deleterious impacts: rising sea temperatures and ocean acidification already threaten benthic and pelagic food webs. The Antarctic Treaty System can address local- to regional-scale impacts, but it does not have purview over the global problems that impinge on Antarctica, such as emissions of greenhouse gases. Failure to address human impacts simultaneously at all scales will lead to the degradation of Antarctic marine ecosystems and the homogenization of their composition, structure, and processes with marine ecosystems elsewhere."

Tsunami wipes out Japan's whaling?

Is whaling finished in Japan now that the tsunami wiped away infrastructure and perhaps the will to rebuild this beleaguered industry? People from small coastal whaling towns are reacting with shock and horror to the damage, and some don't see a future.

Japan's whaling industry was already reeling before the tsunami, so perhaps it's time to let go.

But others vow to continue whaling and the government of Japan is not pleased about newspaper stories predicting the industry's demise. Indeed, there's another side to the industry beyond the traditional and cultural relevance that keeps Japan going after whales.

The big distant-water boats that fish in the southern Oceans are government-run, and at least some of them are undamaged because they were out at sea when the tsunami struck. There are plenty more battles to be fought before all Japanese whaling stops. One sticky reason for Japan's persistence might be the cushy jobs for bureaucrats that the whaling industry generates.

Besides that, there are the international precedents that would be set if Japan caves in to foreign demands to stop whaling. What comes next, cutbacks in tuna fishing? Reduced access for Japan's fleets to other resources?

Plutonium leak from Japanese reactor

It's not a health risk--yet--but it's a sign of more bad things to come. Plutonium has been found in the soil outside the broken Japanese reactor. It shouldn't be there, so some very bad things must have happened. Basically, somehow reactor fuel has escaped outside the containment structures.

Traces of plutonium hint at worse problems to come. According to an expert:
"We don't need to worry about its effect on our health at this stage. But the fact that highly radioactive water leaked down to the foundation of the reactor building is shocking."

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Our radioactive ocean

Radioactive iodine is now at scary levels in the ocean near Japan's broken reactors. But we're advised not to worry because the area has been evacuated and fishing has been stopped.

Also, radioactive iodine will decay quickly and become non-radioactive iodine (this is true).

What this doesn't tell us is whether other radioactive elements that last longer are also leaking. One expert says that more releases are likely because it appears that one reactor core has suffered a meltdown.

I think we should expect more bad news about our radioactive ocean, including some elements that are more worrying than iodine.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Moby Duck: when bath toys go rogue

What do you get when 28,800 rubber ducks spill into the Pacific Ocean? In the hands of a good story-teller, truth about the ocean, insight into people, and a grand organizing theory of the universe. Or at least 2 out of those 3.

That's why I'm eager to read Moby Duck--The true story of 28,800 bath toys lost at sea, by Donovan Hohn. Why is this book interesting when the ocean-mapping rubber duck story has already been told by others? Because THIS one has a tremendous new Ocean Odyssey flavor that's just my thing, it's all Swim Around Bainbridge.

Check out this intriguing review in the New York Times, excerpted below:

At once frivolous and freighted with cultural symbolism, the plastic duck makes a perfect subject for a writer of Hohn’s ambition. “What misanthrope, what damp, drizzly November of a sourpuss, upon beholding a rubber duck afloat, does not feel a Crayola ray of sunshine brightening his gloomy heart?” he asks. But both the birth and the afterlife of the duck, Hohn soon learns, are toxic. Adrift on the ocean, the toys can become coated with “persistent organic pollutants” like polyvinyl chloride, bisphenol A and phthalates. Photodegraded into smaller pieces, they can be fatally ingested by sea creatures and will endure, in swirling gyres, for years.

As the ducks drift, so drifts Hohn, from the China-based toy industry to the depths of polymer chemistry; from a history of childhood to Sesame Street’s “Rubber Duckie” and the role of animals in art; from early Arctic exploration to modern maritime disasters and the study of hydrography. Hohn is game to learn as much as he can, and his scholarship is impressive. But his real interests are far more abstract: the nature of quests, the line between fable and fact, the distinction between the natural and the man-made worlds, and the impossibility of fully understanding one’s place — to say nothing of a toy duck’s — in relation to the universe.

Maybe I can get a free review copy from the publisher, there ought to be a few perks to being such an important ocean blogger, right? Or if not, I'll just swim down to Eagle Harbor Books on Bainbridge Island and *sigh* pay for a copy.

Ray jumps on top of boating woman

Bad luck, a large eagle ray jumped out of the water and landed on top of a woman boating in Florida. And the woman had a rough day too.

It ended well for the 5.5 foot, 200 pound eagle ray after it was hoisted back into the water. Oh, and the woman was fine after she managed to get our from under the thrashing fish. Her children were a bit upset after watching the surprising scene, but the family continued their ray-watching trip.

Our radioactive ocean

We humans have put a lot of radiocative material in the ocean over the last few decades. Here's a brief summary, thanks to Deep Blue Home

Once we learned how to make bombs and reactors, we played with them like unknowing toddlers, spewing waste and fallout all over the world's oceans. So we do have some idea how Japan's leaking reactors can affect our oceans. We can expect radioactive fish, etc. And radioactive spinach, and radioactive water, and radioactive.....

My personal link is eating salmon from the Columbia River during the period when releases from the Hanford Nuclear site were getting into the fish. Do I still have a bit in me? Who knows?

Does any of this matter? Only time will tell. So far, radioactivity levels are fairly low--only a thousand times normal in the sea near the reactor--but that may change.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Seafood crisis in Japan

Seafood demand is down in Japan, way down. "The fish are here, but nobody's buying," says one fish seller about business at the Tsukiji auction, Japan's premier fish market.

Tsukiji is normally a busy city, with some 60,000 workers, but prices have plunged by up to 50% for some seafood products.

"The drop in demand from sushi restaurants and the cancellation of weddings and banquets at hotels are partly to blame," an official of the market's marine and agricultural produce section said.

Radiation fears are also a problem according to

Food safety fears have risen since radiation from the coastal Fukushima plant has been detected in vegetables and dairy products grown nearby, and after iodine levels in Tokyo tap water rose above levels safe for infants.

There has been no official warning about the impact on marine life, but operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Thursday that iodine-131 levels in the ocean near the plant were 145 times the legal level, Kyodo News reported.

Japan's seafood world is reeling, and the outcome is far from clear. The problems will likely persist for some time. The biggest long-term risk may be the radiation scare that already has some seafood buyers scared (see photo above of a chef screening imported seafood for radioactivity).

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Nuclear reactor crisis in simple terms

Japan tries to explain the nuclear reactor crisis to kids. What do you think?

… Japanese artist Kazuhiko Hachiya has made a cartoon to help ease the small minds of the nation. “Nuclear Boy” chronicles Fukushima’s reactor cracks and radiation leaks in a way that’s easily relatable to kids:

The nuclear power plant has a tummy ache, and we’re trying to make sure it’s not going to take a great big poop all over the country.

Peer pressure saves the lives of fish

Big schools of fish make better decisions than small schools of fish. Less smoking, less risky sex, and no flirting with predators.

How can this be? Is it more likely that big schools have some super-smart fish that help the group? Or is it just that numbers are helpful? If you've ever watched the behavior of fish schools being chased, you'll probably guess the answer, it's group behavior that helps individual fish survive.

Watch these videos (below) and other you can find online for "super-organism" behavior where fish schools look like one giant creature swooping and swirling.

If I remember right, the great oceanographer John McIsaac once theorized from physical principles that a fish school could function like a lens focusing sound so that the fish could detect predators better in a swarm.

hat tip: Deep Blue Home

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Salmon activist goes to court...again

Salmon farming kills...or does it? Time for a judge to decide.

Salmon farmers have decided to sue environmental activist Don Staniford who has been pushing the message that salmon farming kills. Check out the ominous images at right, equating salmon farming and smoking.

Staniford has been successfully sued before, over unproven claims about use of banned chemicals in salmon farming.

Salmon farming has impacts, like all uses of land and resources. But comparing salmon farming to smoking? That's more than a little bit ridiculous.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Sperm whales use names?

Messages broadcast by sperm whales seem to come with a speaker's signature. At least that's how it looks based on a new scientific paper about sperm whale sounds. Could it be true that whales use names?

It makes sense, if you're a sperm whale listening to whale chit-chat, you want to know who's talking when you hear a juicy bit of gossip. Hey, guess who was out fooling around last night...?? Oh yeah, says who??

Here's an example of a sperm whale sound, and here's a place where you can click and listen to an entire collection of sounds from sperm whales.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Radiation fears? Civil society steps up

Here's an amazing website that shows radiation measurements taken around the world, designed to help display the radiation problems caused by the Japanese reactor crisis.

Active people responding to a crisis...quickly...when an information vacuum is scary. Go see for yourself, at

Thank you!

Sea turtles: garbage in, garbage out

Sea turtles eat garbage. It's not because they're stupid, it's just that our garbage looks like their food.

Imagine you found a yummy-looking box of chocolates that your roommate left on the kitchen table and took a big bite only to find out it was dog poop in disguise. Yucck, that's how we trick sea turtles into doing something stupid.

How much plastic can one sea turtle eat? Look at this photo (right) of the plastic found in the stomach of one green sea turtle. And consider the story of one sea turtle that pooped plastic for a month after getting a blockage cleaned out of its gut. And those are just two of the turtles we know about.

Sea turtles are really smart at being sea turtles. And that means eating floaty, semi-transparent jellyfish and other sea creatures. Oooops, and also plastic. After 200 million years of these grand reptiles swimming in earth's oceans, will they be done in by our plastic garbage (and getting caught by fishing gear)?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

War dividend for fish

What's the best way to save fish? Start a war.

Cod and haddock boomed in the North Sea while people were busy bombing and booming each other and not fishing.

It's not a big surprise really, if we don't catch fish then they can grow up and accumulate in the ocean. Sort of like an MPA--an ocean refuge for fish.

Of course, it hasn't escaped my attention that wars have some harmful consequences, but that's another subject altogether. We're just talking fish here.

hat tip: Branch knol

Extreme lifestyle in the deep sea

In a bizarre deep-sea version of foie gras, male whalefish stuff themselves with copepods early in life to fatten their liver, and then stop eating and consume their own liver while pursuing mates. The lifestyle choice is so extreme that these perversely named small fish actually lose their stomach and esophagus while relying on energy stored in their distended liver (see photo, right).

Female whalefish, being more conventional, continue to eat and do the other normal things that fish do. Males and females of the deep sea whalefish are so different that they were thought to be different species until DNA sequencing revealed the strange truth.

The habits of male whalefish rival the extreme adaptations to the deep sea of the bizarre male anglerfish which transforms into a parasitic appendange of the female anglerfish.

An interesting scientific backstory is that male, female, and juvenile whalefish are so different that they were thought to be three different scientific families of fish, only very distantly related. How strange is it that they're really all the same species? According to the Virginia Institute of Marine Science press release:
To put the team’s discovery into perspective, consider that cats, dogs, and walruses also represent three biological families. It’s as if the researchers discovered that dogs are really male walruses, and that kittens aren’t cats but a walrus’s juvenile form.

Their findings, published in the January 22 issue of Biology Letters, represent “the most extreme example of metamorphoses and sexual dimorphism ever documented in vertebrates.”

From the more turgid scientific paper:
We resolve a long-standing biological and taxonomic conundrum by documenting the most extreme example of ontogenetic metamorphoses and sexual dimorphism in vertebrates...Larvae have small, upturned mouths and gorge on copepods. Females have huge gapes with long, horizontal jaws and specialized gill arches allowing them to capture larger prey. Males cease feeding, lose their stomach and oesophagus, and apparently convert the energy from the bolus of copepods found in all transforming males to a massive liver that supports them throughout adult life.
hat tip: Branch

Monday, March 21, 2011

People will die without weather satellites

This is what a leader looks like. US Congressman Peter DeFazio says "people will die" if we cut funding for things like weather satellites, disaster preparedness, etc., all of which are budget cuts proposed by the Republicans in the US.

He should know. In his district (where I used to live), the recent tsunami devastated a harbor and swept people out to sea.

From Climate Progress, quoting Think Progress:

DeFazio represents Oregon’s 4th district, where the tsunami devastated a local harbor and swept more than four people out to sea. DeFazio told ThinkProgress that furloughs at NOAA and other cuts to “our defense” against natural disasters were “crazy stuff” that would weaken the federal government’s already outdated disaster response system:”If you cut on detection of tidal waves, volcanic eruptions, severe weather events, weather buoys, satellite observation and weather patterns, those sorts of things, people will die. People will die from tornadoes in the Northwest, hurricanes or volcanic eruption or earthquakes. They are also cutting on preparedness funds that go down to the local organization down to the cities and counties, down to the first responders who need equipment.”
I'm proud to say this man was my representative the first time I voted, and he's still there plugging away doing good. Go Peter DeFazio!

Ross sea toothfish decline?

This is very bad. An Antarctic toothfish fishery with a controversial sustainability certification may be the cause of a substantial fish decline. In a charismatic place that scientists care about...a lot.

Toothfish seem to be disappearing from McMurdo Sound in the southern Ross Sea thanks to the eco-labelled Antarctic toothfish fishery. This from deliberate and methodical scientists, not finger-wagging enviro radicals.

If this proves true, it's hard to support the credibility of the Antarctic toothfish certification by the Marine Stewardship Council. And if you have doubts, you're in good company. A star-studded cast of scientists have weighed in with doubts about the sustainability of this fishery.

Toothfish are only one of the cases that fishyfellow is doggedly blogging about at "How Sustainable are Eco-Certified Fisheries?" Want to learn more about spiny dogfish certification? How about surveillance audits of South African hake? It's not the sexiest blog in the world, but it is meat and potatoes for anyone with a scientific bent who is concerned about ocean ecosystems.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Wild Gulf of Mexico seafood

Want to know where your red snapper dinner came from? If you're lucky enough to buy a Gulf of Mexico fish, you can now trace it back to the fishing boat that caught your dinner. Wow. All thanks to that nice blue and white tag on the fish (right).

What do you want to know? Just click and learn:

Track your Fish

Finally, answers to your Gulf of Mexico seafood questions - and they're just a quick click away. Simply enter the unique number from your Gulf Wild seafood tag to access the important credentials of your specific fish:
-Captain's bio and photo
-The harvesting vessel's name and background
-Fish house and city where your seafood was landed
-NOAA Grid ID - where in the Gulf your fish was caught
-Specific fish type
Gulf Wild stands ready to provide real-time answers about your seafood like no one has before.

Look who's showing the world how to bring seafood to customers in the 21st century. Red snapper and grouper fishermen from the Gulf of Mexico. It wasn't that long ago that these guys were arguing for more overfishing, despite a decades-long overfishing debacle that meant there were few fish left.

Now, Gulf of Mexico fishermen are enjoying the fruits of more fish in the ocean and more fish to catch, and they're innovating to make their seafood more than just the best-tasting seafood.

Through Gulf Wild, Gulf fishermen are tagging fish when caught, and tracing that information all the way through the supply chain.

I'm impressed.

Fish protections protect fish

Big surprise, a law that stops trawling in Venezuela protects fish. Local fishermen are seeing better catches after 2 years of ocean protection, including more fish, bigger fish, and fish closer to shore.

Trawling was mostly catching shrimp for export, while about 70% of Venezuela's fish catch comes from the happy fishermen that have been seeking the trawling ban for decades. So it sounds like a good deal for Venezuela, right?

President Hugo Chavez thinks so, seems like he's good for oceans on this issue, better than some US politicians like...say...John Kerry who say they want to help fishermen but plan to do so through the failed policy of overfishing. Who's your friend, ocean lovers?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Eating plastic

Have you ever eaten a yummy piece of plastic? Crunchy bottle chips, or perhaps a nice creamy bag puree?

Probably not, unless you're a fish. A new study found 1/3 of marine fish studied had plastic in their guts.

Nobody knows for sure if it's a problem, but it can't be good. Besides physical blockage of their guts, there is a risk of harm from toxic breakdown products released by digestion.

This is, of course, just one more in the long list of ways plastic affects ocean creatures. Turtles and seabirds are the poster vicitims of getting tangled, choking, and starving because of plastic pollution in the ocean.

But I'm tired of all this worrying. I say it's time for the strong to survive and we need to just get on with adapting to plastic. Life here on Planet Plastic is just going to have to cope with our human-produced plastic flood. In fact, I think we should stop worry and start loving plastic. Maybe someday soon we'll find ourselves talking about the lovely tang of BPA-spiced plastic bottles instead of worrying about the safety of this component of plastics that is after all already detectable in most people.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Best octopus joke

So, a guy comes into a bar in Scotland, carrying an octopus.
"He's the most talented animal I've ever seen," he tells all the bar flies."He can play any instrument you give him."
No one believes him. But they hand him a guitar.
The octopus makes the instrument sound like a string quartet.
Then they hand the animal a flute.
It could have been God's Own Angels, playing the world a lullaby.
Then someone picks up a bagpipe and gives it to the octopus.
The animal looks at it for a few minutes. Then he lays the instrument gently down on the floor.
"Ya can't play it, can you?" says an old Scottsman triumphantly.
"Play it?" exclaims the mystified animal. "I'm trying to figure out how I can take its pajamas off so I can make love to it."

Hat tip: Kraken

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

How an earthquake spawns a tsunami

Watch the birth of a tsunami (video clip below) from a subduction zone earthquake. This scenario is similar to the recent Japanese earthquake and tsunami. Then watch it spread ominously outward in the open water and start hunting for land.

Hat tip: juliawhitty

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Natural disasters and ocean ecosystems

How did the Japanese earthquake and resulting tsunami affect the oceans?

Really, we don't know, but it's nearly certain that ocean effects are less dramatic than effects on people.

Here's an excerpt from an interesting article on the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia:

" was not alone in feeling the impact. Ecosystems and other species were also hit.

To be sure, photographic and video images relayed by the media have shown trees swept away by waves and water-drenched lands. Other reports have mentioned wildlife that escaped the destruction, as some sort of instinct seemed to tell them to seek higher ground prior to the arrival of the tsunami waves. And yet the full scope of the tsunamis’ environmental impact remains under-reported, despite its obvious importance for the recovery of the affected areas and the well being of the survivors.

Experience from previous tsunamis and other major floods suggests that the environmental damage they inflict is linked to saltwater intrusion in ground water and to the disappearance or relocation of beaches. Tsunamis may make small, low islands uninhabitable. Vegetation in large stretches of lowland can be hurt substantially as saltwater-tolerant mangroves and grasses take over from other species. For rare animals with specific reproduction sites, like marine turtles, the tsunami’s effects could spell extinction.

But whereas the damage to the environment on land can be seen, the ravages imposed on the marine environment are hidden. Obviously, when extremely strong waves hit coral reefs, some coral breaks off. But this is a comparatively small problem. The surface of coral is highly sensitive, and will now be exposed to major damage from all sorts of silt and debris carried back by water receding from flooded land.

At the same time, the material brought back from land to sea include nutrients and trace elements that cause a boom among plankton, which in turn feed other marine biota. Locally, but sometimes still at a grand scale, the shock waves cause major sediment slides on steep underwater slopes such as those of the continental shelves.

Closer to the shore, many natural ecosystems, most notably coral reefs and mangroves, act as natural shock absorbers and wave breakers. During the past several decades, these ecosystems have been damaged and reduced in most countries along the Indian Ocean. Indeed, the damage from the tsunami waves was far more devastating than it would have been had they still been intact.

Wildlife may fare better than the physical environment. This is particularly true of fish stocks, owing to large-scale destruction to fisheries. More than 13,000 fishermen were killed and another 5,000 evacuated in Sri Lanka alone, with 80% of the fishing fleet lost or severely damaged. On the Thai coast, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, 4,500 fishing vessels were smashed, jeopardizing the livelihoods of 120,000 people in fishing villages there.

The situation on Sumatra is similarly grim, and it is perhaps even worse in the Maldives, Laccadives, Andamans, and Nikobar islands, where not only fishermen and boats were lost, but harbours were ruined. Along the coast of the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, some 30% of the fishery capacity was lost. Mozambique, Somalia, and Tanzania on the African side of the Indian Ocean have also reported severe damage to their fishing.

Such major losses in fishing capacity, with their far-reaching negative socio-economic consequences on the human populations affected, are bound to have major, mostly favourable, effects on the fish stocks. The reason is simple: with most fish populations nowadays hit hard by over-fishing, fewer fishermen will mean more fish. Another factor that will help fish stocks is a religiously motivated hesitation by the public in some areas to eat marine fish, as they are perceived to have fed on human corpses washed to sea."

And here's an index of tsunami information from National Geographic.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Today's ocean news

What's ocean news right now? It's not the fragile ocean that needs our protection. It's how oceans affect people.

  1. Indian Ocean could help combat climate change

    ABC Online - 6 hours ago
    New research has found the Indian Ocean absorbs three times more carbon dioxide than the Atlantic Ocean. Scientists believe the findings mean the Indian ...

    ABC Online
  2. Scientist is CSI guy for unlucky ocean mammals

    Myrtle Beach Sun News - Bo Petersen - 11 hours ago
    McFee is the National Ocean Service's marine mammal stranding program scientist for the region. His job is necropsy, the autopsy work on ocean animals that ...
  3. Warners Recalls 'Hereafter' From Japanese Theaters Due To Tsunami ...

    Ecorazzi - 14 minutes ago
    In an unfortunate twist of poor timing, Matt Damon's “Hereafter” film – which features a dramatic scene recreating the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami – is ...
    Matt Damon Deleted From Japan's Screens—Why?- E! Online (blog)
    'Hereafter' Is Pulled From Japanese Theaters- New York Times (blog)
    'Hereafter' pulled from Japanese cinemas- Digital Spy
    all 225 news articles »
  4. Japan earthquake: Survivor was swept 10 miles into the ocean - Julian Ryall - Martin Evans - 17 hours ago
    Hiromitsu Shinkawa, 60, was plucked to safety after being noticed in the open ocean by the crew on ...
    Man rescued from roof of house in ocean- Hamilton Spectator
    Tears after two days adrift at sea- The Australian
    Rescued nine miles out to sea, the man washed away on his house- Independent
    ABC Action News -
    all 516 news articles »

    ABC Online
  5. India's advanced tsunami-warning system comparable to the best in ...

    AHN | All Headline News - 2 hours ago
    "We were able to issue the first bulletin just seven minutes after the massive quake in Japan, ruling out a tsunami threat for the Indian Ocean," said the ...
    India has effective system to issue Tsunami alerts: Official- Economic Times
    'Efficacy of Indian Early Tsunami Warning System proved'- The Hindu
    No tsunami threat to India, says expert body- Sify
    Los Angeles Times - Deccan Chronicle
    all 172 news articles »

    Hindu Business Line
  6. Naked rower aims for ocean record

    The Press Association - 22 hours ago
    An ambitious rower plans to set a new world record by becoming the youngest male to cross the Indian Ocean on his own. But Kildare man Keith Whelan will be ...
    Naked Adventurer set to depart for gruelling Indian Ocean rowing ...- JOE
    all 131 news articles »

    Goole Today
  7. Union calls for double pay for sailors in Indian Ocean as well as Gulf - David Badger - 3 hours ago
    The ITF now wants recognition that the threat of piracy now extends well beyond the Gulf into the Indian Ocean. According to IMEC Secretary General Giles ...
  8. Odyssey Executes Second Contract of 2011 With Clients of Robert ... - 4 hours ago
    Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc. (Nasdaq:OMEX) is engaged in deep-ocean exploration using innovative methods and state-of-the-art technology. ...
  9. The Big Guns Of Ocean Freight And Shipping Interests Open Fire On ...

    The Handy Shipping Guide - 15 hours ago
    ... held captive after their abduction at sea whilst sailing in the Indian Ocean. Now some of the shipping industries biggest players are demanding action. ...
    Indian navy captures 61 pirates on Mozambican ship- BBC News
    Somali pirates cut ransoms to clear hijacked ships- Reuters Africa
    Piracy and safety of sea traffic- Ceylon Daily News
    Strategy Page
    all 315 news articles »

    The Hindu
  10. Fearsome new ocean animals at underwater world

    Surrey Comet - 8 hours ago
    The ocean animals in the centre will be joined by some fearsome new neighbours – eight sharks, which include two new bonnethead sharks. ...

Friday, March 11, 2011

Broken ocean metaphors

Big, bad, and scary? Or fragile and threatened? Which ocean are we thinking about today?

With ocean-caused death and destruction
dominating the media, the ocean looks big and nasty today. It's the savage blue killer that engulfs, crushes and drowns cities, sweeping
away cars and whole buildings. The images are shocking and horrifying and they linger in our minds.

What then of our ocean conservation campaigns that request care, caution, and concern from people for the sake of protecting our fragile and threatened ocean? Will a plea like this attract people, or will we get a big WTF?

Maybe we need to rethink our ocean conservation messages. Save the fragile ocean sounds a bit ridiculous when the ocean just finished slapping us around bigtime.

Tsunami wave model 11 March 2011

Amazing, watch the animation:

Julia, how do you find such great stuff??

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sustainable cat food from Mars

No, we haven't found new fisheries to exploit on the Red Planet.

Mars, Inc. is the source of sustainable cat food, see the blue fish on the package (left).

Now you can spend your pet food dollars (or euros) on a cat food that doesn't hurt the ocean.

Leaving aside the debate on the sustainability of keeping pets, if you're going to have pets then it's good to have sustainable pet food options.

I'm sure somebody will say that the fish in catfood is better delivered to hungry people, and so it's not sustainable if it's eaten by a cat when people need food. But I don't think cats get the best fish that people want.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Killer crabs invade antarctic shallows

Warming water near Antarctica has big predatory crabs on the move, threatening soft animals that have been protected by the cold for millions of years.

King crabs die below 1 C, so the cold 0 C to -2 C Antarctic shallows were a safe home for sea lillies, brittle stars, giant ribbon worms and molluscs that are armoured only with thin, soft shells.

Since the 1950s, when records began, the average temperature of the ocean to the west of the Antarctic peninsula has gone up by 1ºC, and king crabs appear to be moving into shallower water. If this is true, climate change may soon claim a set of victims, the unprepared and under-protected soft animals used to being insulated from harm by the coldest ocean water.

Oh, for the sheltering cold.

Killer whales and smoke on the water

Have you ever felt poisoned by car exhaust? Maybe in a tunnel or underground garage? That's how killer whales feel after a day of whale-watching.

Hard to believe? A new study shows that after a busy 12 hour day of nearly continuous whale-watching, killer whales suck in exhaust at levels that hurt.

Boat exhaust tends to hang on the water's surface, right where the whales breathe. And boats can be quite dirty since they're not subject to the same pollution control laws as cars. Combine this exposure with the behavior of sucking in a big breath, holding it and diving deep underwater where the pressure is high, and you have a recipe for sick whales.

According to the Vancouver Sun:

...under average conditions, killer whales have to breathe at least five times more carbon monoxide than is found 100 metres from a busy Los Angeles highway.

"That really surprised me — I didn't think it was going to be that high," said Lachmuth.

"It's because when you're out on the water there's an inversion because the ocean is so cold and in the summer the air is a lot warmer — the CO is sticking right at that interface and it's not moving vertically at all."

Ugh, I never would have expected such nasty pollution exposure for killer whales thanks to well-meaning whale watchers.

We already know that killer whales are the most contaminated wildlife on earth, thanks to eating a diet of contaminated fish. Now we can add exhaust to the list of harms.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Compose your own whale song

Want to sing to a whale? Here's your (virtual) chance, click over to this website and use your keyboard to create and play a whale song. Also check out the tv commercial, it's fun.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Ocean fertilization won't work

"Give me a half tanker of iron and I will give you an ice age." Thus spake John Martin, famously and wrongly.

He thought, correctly, that iron can stimulate ocean plants. But he thought, wrongly, that this would make the ocean suck up CO2 and blunt global warming.

This was an idea with teeth, according to a NASA biography, because it took an oceanographic hypothesis and turned it into a techno-fix for a big social problem.

Now a new report for policy makers finds that the oceanographic hypothesis has merit, iron can fertilize ocean plankton. But the geo-engineering hope was wrong, this process can't capture enough CO2 to make a difference. From the report:
Lead author of the report Professor Doug Wallace from the Leibniz-Institut für Meereswissenschaften (IFM-GEOMAR) says: "The published findings suggest that even very large-scale fertilization would remove only modest amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere over 100 years".
Too bad, it would be nice to have a solution in hand, even though ocean ecosystems would be put at risk. Then, at least, we could do something if we all start to Sizzle.

I knew John Martin, and it was interesting to watch this debate unfold over the last few decades. I suspect he's smiling at this news. His comment spurred a great adventure in oceanography, something he would be pleased to see.

Hagfish eat with their skin

The slimiest thing on earth has a new distinction. Hagfish can eat with their skin.

If you've ever handled a hagfish you know you've touched something special. Hagfish slime abundantly and with abandon. Even stranger, hagfish can and do tie themselves in knots.

The latest news is that hagfish--which feed by burrowing inside of dead animals--can absorb nutrients through their skin. And not just a little bit, hagfish may be able to get as much food through their skin as from their gut.

Just when you thought you knew some strange stuff about the ocean, comes along another one even stranger.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Oily bottom in the Gulf of Mexcio

Spilled oil remains a problem in the Gulf of Mexico. A new scientific study found ongoing problems with oil coating the ocean bottom and killing animals. Ugh.

As if that's not enough, too many baby dolphins seem to be dying in the region.

Meanwhile, deepwater oil drilling will resume, based on "proof" that we can do it safely. Forgive me for being skeptical. I know oil drilling will continue, but the idea that we can do it without spills is farcical.