The Beacon: Andy Sharpless's blog

Aquatic canaries in the coal mine

Evil doers beware - a new soldier's been drafted into the war on terror. If our color coded charts and duct tape sent chills up your spine, wait until you get a load of our bluegills.

San Francisco, New York, Washington and other big cities are using bluegills -- aka sunfish or bream -- to safeguard their drinking water. These fish are highly attuned to chemical disturbances in their environment, and could be able to detect chemical warfare before traditional detection means. When the fish are exposed to toxins, they flex their gills in the same way a human would cough.

Sadly, there are plenty of toxins that could make these freshwater fish "flex their gills" and Osama didn't put them there.

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Diving Mecca discovered

Be careful when you remark, "yeah, when pigs fly!" because we just discovered a shark that can walk. In fact, we discovered two.

Researchers from Conservation International found 50 new species in the Bird's Head region in Papua. The new discoveries include 20 corals, 24 fish and eight mantis shrimp. But the one that's got everyone cocking their head to the side with a resounding, "huh!" is the two new species of epaulette sharks, which spend most of their time walking across the sea floor, swimming away when danger looms. See for yourself.

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Who Needs the Orkin Man?

Every year environmental and animal welfare groups join forces to boo and hiss at (and work to oppose) Japan during the International Whaling Commission meeting. In 1986 the IWC instituted a moratorium on commercial whaling, and ever since, Japan has been fighting to overturn it. This year, Japan and its allies came dangerously close to inhaling the sweet smell of success.

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A rose by any other name...

Juliet knew what she was talking about when she uttered the famous line, "that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." But the question remains "would it taste as good?"

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Let's talk about Intersex fish, baby

Scientists say abnormal "intersex" fish, with both male and female characteristics, have been discovered in the Potomac River and its tributaries across the Capitol Region.  Although scientists are not sure of the source of the problem, they suspect Felicity Huffman is to blame.

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Crikey indeed

irony; from the Latin ironia; incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result; example: earning fame and fortune wrestling crocodiles and being killed by a basically inoffensive marine creature.

Beloved naturalist Steve Irwin, aka "the crocodile hunter," was killed by a stingray during a diving expedition off the Australian coast on Sunday. The stingray's barb had pierced the tv personality's heart and he died within moments.

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What I learned from Newsweek (the ads, not the articles)

Although I'm no fan of the cigarette companies, I have to give credit where credit is due. They have often been on the cutting edge of advertising and marketing. Marlboro made it cool for men to smoke, Virginia Slims made it cool for women to smoke and Camels made it cool for - well, let's not go there.

Flipping through Newsweek the other day, I came across an ad for American Spirit. Since I'm a non-smoker, I didn't realize there was a cigarette company marketing itself as the "organic" cigarette manufacturer. As I was rolling my eyes at the advertisement, a silver lining emerged from the cloud of tobacco smoke.

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Who would you rather have in your corner - FEMA or MENSA?

With the height of hurricane season approaching, and the Katrina anniversary monopolizing the media, it's fair to say America's got hurricane on the brain. While coastal residents and (let's hope) the government prepare for this year's storms, so, too do marine creatures.

Scientists and volunteers near Conch Reef rounded up about 500 long-spined sea urchins (critical to the health of coral reefs) in a shallow rubble zone and moved them to deeper water on the coral reef where they'll be safer.

Take note, Mr. President. Preventative action before hurricanes = good. Still in the "beginning" stages of recovery a year after the fact = bad.

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We're not gonna need a bigger boat

The classic battle of man vs. fish has resulted in dozens of blockbusters and bestsellers. But the drama and adventure that makes these stories great are noticeably absent from most fishing practices in this day and age. Take, for example, sharking.

A recent article in the Sun Herald outlines a simple three-step process for hunting sharks. Follow a shrimp boat. Wait. Stick your pole in the water.

Shrimp boats, after pulling trawls throughout the night, collect their shrimp and then throw the rest of the catch overboard. This "bycatch" is a smorgasbord of dead or dying fish, and a "feeding frenzy" of sharks quickly ensues. According to the article's author, Al Jones, "fishing behind anchored shrimp boats can be an awesome experience once a feeding frenzy is under way."

Quint must be rolling over in his grave.

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Faster than a speeding tuna?

Am I the only one who thinks world record titles should be reserved for people that actually have a skill? I'm not impressed by the fastest tomato ketchup drinker (Dustin Phillips) or the largest group hug (6,623 participants). And I really don't care who the most overrated celebrity is (Paris Hilton - big surprise).

What does interest me is athletes that excel at their sport to such a degree that if it wasn't videotaped we wouldn't believe them. Athletes like Aaron Peirsol.

Aaron defeated American teammate Michael Phelps by 2.37 seconds for a world record in the 200-meter backstroke at the Pan Pacific Championships on Saturday night in what he called "the best swim of my life." Aaron completed the race in 1 minute 54.44 seconds - about the time it takes you and me to make a sandwich.

You're probably thinking, "that's all very nice and good - but what business does this accomplishment have being on an oceans blog?" The answer is Aaron isn't just a three-time Olympic gold medal winner, he's also an ocean advocate. And when he isn't racing for the gold, he's racing for the oceans.

Congrats Aaron!

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