Friday, May 23, 2014

Drunk fish turn into leaders

Remember following bold (drunk) friends when you were in college?  Now we know it wasn't your fault, the same thing happens to fish so it's probably hard-wired into your brain.

A new study found that drunk fish swam faster and more erratically, and sober fish followed them.  It is like [that the fish's drunk behavior] is perceived as a boldness trait, thus imparting a high social status,” lead researcher Maurizio Porfiri, an associate professor at New York University Polytechnic Institute of Engineering, told Discover Magazine.
And I thought people followed me just because I was such a natural leader.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Scary trout that eat big things

You probably don't think trout are scary, but if you were just a bit smaller, had fur, and frequented Silver Creek in Southern Idaho you'd be worried.  Here's a great fish story that turned out to be true, huge brown trout that eat mammals--montane voles to be precise.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

My (mostly) excellent train ride

For a short family holiday, I rode Amtrak from Seattle to Portland and back the weekend of May 10-11.  As we were leaving Seattle, I pointed out a very long oil train to my 9 year old son, and told him about recent accidents elsewhere.  Moving on down the tracks, my son soon exclaimed loudly “look dad, there’s another exploding death train,” using my not very polite term.  He repeated that phrase each time he saw an oil train, enjoying it as only a young boy could. 

By the time we completed our round trip, I believe we saw 8 or 9 long oil trains and several other trains with some cars that might have contained oil.  Sometimes I could not read the safety placards to be sure they were oil trains. 

I was struck by the number of oil trains we saw, and by the scary thundering feeling of passing an oil train on an adjacent track going the opposite direction, at a relative speed of what seemed like more than 100mph.  All along the route we saw our vulnerability to accidents, waterways waiting to be polluted by a spill, and people and houses near the tracks at severe risk in the case of an explosion or fire.  

This trip made exploding death trains into a very tangible risk, instead of the more abstract risk I felt after reading about oil trains and accidents.  I recommend a train trip to anyone that spends any time thinking about oil, safety and our environment.  You may find, as I did, that the risks suddenly feel more personal. 

Catfish that catch birds on the beach

Called freshwater killer whales, huge catfish have learned to catch and eat birds.  In southwestern France, pigeons bathing on beaches are in for a nasty surprise.  Big catfish lurking just offshore, waiting for a bird to go just a bit too far into the water.

This is reminiscent of killer whales lunging onto beaches in Patagonia to catch sea lions.

Check out this amazing video to see the catfish in action.  

Hat tip: Not Exactly Rocket Science

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Maggot meal-turning compost into fish

A great solution to food waste, here's how to turn compost into excellent food for farmed fish.  The trick is maggots, feeding the compost to fly larvae and then feeding the maggots to fish.  May not sound yummy, but insects are a natural food source for many freshwater fish.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Copper River salmon frenzy

What an amazing fish party, Copper River sockeye salmon were on sale in my local market on Friday at $34.99 per pound.  The next display was wild troll-caught Chinook on special at $14.99 per pound.  Wild chinook for less than half the price of Copper River sockeye?  Wow.  I had that chinook on Wednesday and it was really good.  I'm surprised, and I would choose the chinook over the Copper River sockeye if the choice was based on taste.

Buying the first Copper River salmon of the year is not only about taste, however.  Good marketing has  created the Copper River frenzy as a happy celebration of a season and a type of eating.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Restoration can't overcome loss of natural shoreline habitats

“My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.”― Lewis CarrollAlice in Wonderland
Shoreline restoration in Puget Sound is failing to keep up with our ongoing development of shorelines.  Despite our best efforts at restoration, we're losing habitat because we won't stop doing the damage.  

I often wonder whether our visible restoration projects are actually solving the problem.  It's pretty clear the answer is no if we develop more shorelines than we restore.  This study only looked at part of Puget Sound, but I doubt the answer is much different elsewhere.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Is your Copper River salmon really wild?

It's Copper River salmon time again, and everyone here in Seattle is looking forward to some lovely fresh salmon.  I'll be waiting a couple of weeks until prices come down, the first shipments tend to be expensive.

Is Copper River salmon worth the high price?  There are a lot of good salmon out there, and I think Copper River fish are great, but so are a lot of other fish that don't have the same hype or high prices.

Another interesting issue is the wild origins of Copper River salmon.  Alaska's industry fiercely protects the image of Alaska's salmon, saying they're all wild all the time.  Nevertheless, somewhere around 20% of Copper River sockeye were not spawned naturally, in a lake or stream.  That's right, around 20% of Copper River salmon were spawned by people in a fish hatchery.  The pre-season forecast  for 2014 from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game predicts that 18% of this year's Copper River sockeye will be from hatcheries.  Also, documents from an ecolabel review show that in 2010, the last year reported, 26% of Copper River sockeye were from hatcheries (page 37 of linked document).

"wild" fish spawning?
Is there anything wrong with Alaska's hatchery fish?  They're good to eat, but they can cause problems, especially when they interbreed with wild fish.  Alaskans say their hatchery fish are well managed, but the independent Marine Stewardship Council review found insufficient information to reliably support that claim.  The MSC is requiring better information to establish that hatchery fish aren't harming wild fish within 4 years as a condition of keeping the ecolabel (see page 11).  By the way, this is an issue that contributed to the split between the Alaska seafood industry and the Marine Stewardship Council.
"wild" fish spawning?

The debate around wild or not is really a question of definition.  Alaskans are proud of their salmon "ranching" system, which is what they call the hatchery system.  So long as the fish are caught out of the ocean or a river, they're defined as "wild."  The Alaska Sea Grant says that Alaska's salmon ranching is part of Alaska's aquaculture industry.  And the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation produces "hatchery-born wild salmon" from their salmon ranching operations.  Sounds like a bit of a word tangle to me.  The reason for all of this linguistic muddle, of course, is to help Alaska salmon compete with farmed salmon raised in net pens until they're eating size.

Decide for yourself.  Is a fish spawned by people like in these pictures a "wild" fish? 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Swimming with huge snakes

My swim around Bainbridge Island was an adventure, but here's a whole new twist--swimming with huge scary snakes.

Scientists say that anacondas don't eat people, but I'm not sure that the deepest part of my brain would be satisfied with that, a giant snake underwater would still feel a bit creepy.

Swiss diver Franco Bonfi went to Mato Grosso in Brazil to find, swim with, and photograph giant anacondas.  The resulting images are something to see.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Herring fart to communicate

Tiny bubbles that stream from their anuses in the dark may allow herring to keep in tight schools when they can't see.  Amusing, unlike human farts, herring farts seem to bring the fish closer together.

Herring farts are not gut gas, rather they come from air gulped at the surface and stored in their swim bladder (air-containing organ used to control buoyancy).

Friday, May 09, 2014

Is your Maine lobster truly wild?

Fishermen are feeding young lobsters in Maine, turning the wild lobster fishery into something less that fully wild.  The way this works is that lobsters enter traps, eat the bait, and then leave (studies show that 90% of lobsters escape after entering traps).  Scientists have found that lobsters get enough food from lobster traps to enhance their growth rate.  Sounds like a cross between fishing and farming to me, something like a lobster feedlot.

Lobstermen know about this, and don't try to hide it.   
"A lot of lobstermen feel that traps are really feeding stations," says Cobb. New England's lobster fishery is in good health - perhaps, says Cobb, because of all the bait that fishermen put out. 

Maine lobsters are great, I can vouch for that.  I wonder, does anyone advertise Maine lobsters as farmed?

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Scary ocean predator you've never heard of..

Watch this big lingcod get caught because it won't let go of it's prey.  Vicious? Stubborn? Not very clever?  Regardless, I'm glad I'm not a fish in lingcod country.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Lingcod tries to eat salmon

Fascinating underwater video, can the salmon escape the lingcod's trap-like jaws?

Hat tip: Salish Sea News and Weather

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Plants vs. Seazombies in Seattle

Good news, plants defeat seazombies in Seattle.  Urban streams breed seazombies when fall rains wash a chemical stew into creeks where salmon are getting ready to spawn.  Some salmon are killed directly, but what’s worse is that some transform into seazombies—poisoned undead fish that come out of streams to eat your brain. 

Fortunately, scientists have discovered that plants can stop the seazombie plague.  Biofiltration by a soil/plant mixture cleans the toxic stew so it’s harmless, protecting salmon.  

Quick, let’s get more plants working in our city neighborhoods before seazombies take over.