The Beacon: Rachael Prokop's blog

Marine Monday: Tasseled Wobbegong

tasseled wobbegong

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Some sharks are fearsome predators, all sharp teeth and angular fins. These are the sharks that inspire epic monster movies and give the word “shark” its fearsome connotations.

And then there are sharks that look like a pile of seaweed. The tasseled wobbegong is a flat reef-dwelling shark with leafy tentacles and a name that’s just as ridiculous as its appearance.

But appearances can be deceiving. The tasseled wobbegong settles down on a rock or reef, blending in perfectly with the sand and seaweed. When a tasty fish swims by, the shark comes to life, opening its jaws full of sharp, respectable teeth and snapping the poor swimmer up. Its tasseled face may look rather silly, but this shark is just as efficient a predator as its more fearsome brethren.

Sadly, we don’t know much about the tasseled wobbegong, but we do know that this sneaky hunter is in trouble thanks to overfishing and the destruction of the reefs it depends on.

Oceana is committed to protecting the habitats of tasseled wobbegongs and all the other strange and mysterious creatures of the deep.


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Marine Monday: Olive Sea Snake

olive sea snake

An olive sea snake in Australia. [Image via Wikimedia Commons]

When you think of ocean animals, snakes are not usually the first thing to come to mind, but they live as comfortably underwater as they do on the ground. Today’s Marine Monday features one of these swimming snakes, the olive sea snake.

Olive sea snakes live in corals in the waters above Australia. Divers should be cautious around these olive-brown snakes, as they will swim right up to anything that catches their curiosity, and they will bite if they feel threatened. An olive sea snake bite is venomous and can be fatal.

But don't worry, beachgoers have little to fear from this snake. Olive sea snakes live and hunt within their own small territories in coral reefs and rarely enter open water.

One cool thing about olive sea snakes is that they have a nine-month gestation period and give birth to live young, just like us! But their babies come in litters of five and are the size of a human finger, plus they grow up to be venomous sea snakes, so the similarities end there.

Want to learn more about cool marine creatures? Check out Oceana’s marine encyclopedia.


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Costa Concordia Capsizes near Med's Biggest Marine Park

A fish documented during Oceana's 2006 Mediteranean expedition. © Oceana/Inaki Relanzon

The wreck of the cruise ship Costa Concordia in Italy is a sobering human tragedy, with at least 11 deaths and more missing. Sadly, it could become an environmental tragedy as well.

The Costa Concordia capsized Friday night near the Tuscan Archipelago National Park, the largest marine sanctuary in the Mediterranean. The park is home to a variety of dolphins and whales, and its corals and seagrass create an important habitat for a variety of other plants and animals. Oceana visited the area during a 2006 expedition, documenting the health of the marine life there.

If the ship’s fuel leaks before the salvage team has a chance to drain it, the endangered and threatened species that live near the wreck will suffer.

"The tragic wreck occurred in a protected area that is home to many endangered species, so a spill would cause severe damage to organisms such as cetaceans, sharks and coral," said Ricardo Aguilar, research director at Oceana Europe. This would be a great tragedy for the area, which in the past has suffered coral death due to climate change.

Even without disasters like this one, cruise ships can be a danger to the oceans. Cruise ships can create more than a thousand tons of waste every day, through sewage, fuel, and other pollutants.

We here at Oceana extend our sympathy to the victims and their families. We can only hope that the tragedy ends here, and does not have a lasting impact on the underwater inhabitants of Giglio Island.


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Marine Monday: Giant Clam

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

There’s a lot more to clams than clam chowder. Sure, they just look like a hinged shell with squishy stuff inside, but make them a little bit bigger—or a lot bigger—and you can see how complex they actually are.

We don’t even need science fiction to do it. The giant clam can grow up to five feet long. Unsurprisingly, it’s the world’s biggest bivalve. It lives on reef flats and shallow lagoons in the Indo-Pacific, and it’s one of the most amazing clams you could ever hope to see.

Like its smaller cousins, the giant clam is a filter feeder, surviving off of small particles in the water. But it also has another trick up its shell. It farms out algae inside its shell, giving the big bivalve a constant flow of nutrients.

The giant clam is immobile, but luckily its soft body is safely incased inside its huge shell. Sometimes larger clams can’t close their shells all the way, which gives us a glimpse of their surprisingly colorful—and beautiful—body linings, called mantles.

You can learn more about giant clams and other cool creatures from Oceana’s marine wildlife encyclopedia.


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Shark Fin Victory in Singapore

In Singapore, we’re seeing more proof that dedicated activists can make a difference in the world. Singapore is one of the shark fin capitals of the world, but thanks to an outcry from local customers, its largest supermarket chain, Fairprice, will be pulling fins from its shelves.

Shark fins are often cut from live sharks, which are then thrown overboard to die. The huge demand for fins, considered a delicacy, puts some shark species at risk of extinction.

And while shark fin is a culturally important food in Singapore, the tide is turning. A campaign by divers against shark fins caused one of Fairprice’s suppliers to launch an online attack ad that said “Screw the divers!”

Luckily for sharks, the ad backfired. Not all Singaporeans are shark fin fans. Local groups like Project Fin have been fighting to create change from the inside out, and they are finally having an impact. In response to the ad, Singaporeans sent hundreds of complaints to Fairprice and suggested a boycott.

In response, Fairprice made the smart—and surprising—decision to stop selling shark fins.

"It is encouraging to see FairPrice respond promptly to the public reaction. They can progress further by selling only sustainable food," said Jennifer Lee, founder of Project Fin.

Kudos to the Singaporean shark protectors for such a powerful victory in the wake of cultural pressure.


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Ending Shark Finning, One Wedding at a Time?

Shark fin soup. [Image via Wikimedia Commons]

Shark fin soup is bad for sharks -- we all know this. But can you have a Chinese wedding without it? The folks at Shark Truth say you can, and they're running a contest to prove it.

Shark Truth asks couples holding traditional Chinese wedding feasts to drop one of the traditions: the controversial soup. According to Shark Truth, every ten bowls of soup kills one shark, and many of these couples are holding weddings with hundreds of guests. That's a lot of sharks saved!

The shark-loving couples sent in pictures (some of them quite funny!) of themselves to be voted on through June 6, and the winning couple will be given a honeymoon trip to Hawaii to cage-dive with sharks and see the creatures they are saving.

The practice of slicing off a shark's fin and throwing the shark (sometimes still alive) overboard is cruel, wasteful, and could lead to the extinction of some of these ancient creatures.

Aside from nixing shark fin soup, what else can you do to help? Oceana is urging the U.S. government to do all it can to protect the most vulnerable species. Sign our petition to protect hammerhead and oceanic whitetip sharks from finning.

 


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