The Beacon: tmarshall's blog

Fun Facts About the Canary Islands

Oceana’s research vessel, Ranger, set sail today for the Canary Islands. This year’s expedition is focusing on the relatively undocumented seabeds and seamounts of that area, but here’s some information we do know.

- Though birds are in the name, the Canary Islands are likely named after a now extinct species of monk seal. Known as “sea dogs” or canines, the concentration of these marine mammals could have inspired the name Islas Canarias.

- Though officially part of Spain, the Canary Islands are much closer to Africa – 100 kilometers off the coast of Morocco and Western Sahara.

- The highest point in Spain at 3,718 m is Pico de Teide on the island of Tenerife.

- In 2007, one of the islands, El Hierro, set in motion a plan to become energy self-sufficient, relying solely on renewable sources.

- Actor Javier Bardem and shoemaker Manolo Blahnik are Canarios.

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Ranger Sails to the Canary Islands

common dolphin

The Oceana Ranger sets sail today from the port of Sagunto, Spain to study the seabeds of the Canary Islands and gather information to propose the designation of new marine protected areas.

The objective of Ranger's fifth annual expedition is to help Spain protect 10 percent of its marine environment by 2012, which is required by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. The Canary Island expedition, which will conclude in mid-October, is a project supported by the Biodiversity Foundation.

Oceana will study the seamounts of the Canary Islands, as well as surrounding seabeds. A team of professional divers will photograph and film the areas up to 40 meters deep. An underwater robot will be used to film down to 500 meters deep, transmitting the images to the ship in real time for species identification.

Ricardo Aguilar, Director of Research at Oceana Europe, explains, “Most of the Canary Islands seabeds remain unexplored since the continental shelf is small and quickly drops down to 3,000 meters. This makes it complicated to know their state of conservation or identify areas of key importance in terms of marine ecology.

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The Scanner

Happy Friday, everyone!

This week in ocean news,

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Tackling the Garbage Patch

Like the Junk Raft last summer and the Plastiki about to set sail, Project Kaisei joins the fleet of expeditions raising awareness and performing research on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

The project is a collaboration between the non-profit Project Kaisei and UC San Diego's Scripps Institution. Their two boats, Kaisei and the New Horizon, departed Tuesday for the North Pacific Gyre. They will spend the month of August collecting debris to study possible retrieval and processing techniques that could be potentially used to detoxify and recycle these materials into diesel fuel.

Few details are known about the size and severity of the gyre and these research trips are huge steps towards understanding marine pollution. If enough information is collected to determine the seriousness of the issue, a clean up plan will be initiated in the following 18 months.

Head over to the Project Kaiseiwebsite where you can track their progress. They also have a blog with daily updates.

Good luck to all participating in the project! We're all anxious to see what you discover.

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NatGeo on Shark Overfishing

Check out Oceana’s own Rebecca Greenberg and Pew's Joshua Reichert in a National Geographic video about a cause in the spotlight this week -- the overfishing of sharks. The images of sharks in a Spanish fish market are very different from your typical Shark Week viewing.

Stick around after the first video for footage from Cocos Island National Park in Costa Rica. Ben Horton, a photographer working with National Geographic, documents the illegal shark trade and attempts to run down poachers.

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Shark Week is Here!

Though the television shows tend to focus on the gore and terror of these apex predators, the Discovery Channel has developed a lot of conservation-centered content on their website. Check out their blog, written by the Ocean Conservancy’s Sonja Fordham. There is a news section that follows the latest in shark happenings worldwide. On the lighter side, you can take a quiz and see what shark you are – I’m a hammerhead!

Also make sure to check out our own website for information on what Oceana is doing to save these graceful creatures. Learn more about them in our Creature Corner and look forward to more shark posts throughout the week.

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Orphans Find New Home

Three California sea lion pups have found a new home at the Mystic Aquarium. Two scrappy girls and one resilient guy from California rescue centers are coming up on their first birthday and are still nameless.

You can change that -- enter your suggestions for these new East Coast transplants on the Mystic Aquarium website by August 12. The winners will be announced at their first birthday party on August 27 and make sure to let us know if your pick wins!

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Mad for Mollusks


The Smithsonian Magazine has once again turned their eyes to the sea. In Mad about Seashells, Richard Conniff delves into how conchylomania -- obsession with seashells -- has shaped economies, cultures, natural history, and science. Pain medicine developed from venomous sea snails. Shells priced over Vermeer paintings. Stolen specimens worth thousands of dollars. Snails that eat sharks. Communists. Poems. Tennis courts. Foul tasting mollusks. Mucus. Turn out seashells have quite an exciting life.

Check out the article for more interesting stories, beautiful photos, and a video of selections from the world’s largest shell collection at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

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Additions to Ocean's Crib

baby sea lion

More new cute arrivals! A male-bonded penguin couple are raising a Humbolt penguin chick at the Santa Barbara Zoo after previous failed attempts at having the adult Humbolt penguins rear their own offspring. Male-bonded penguin pairs have successfully raised chicks at several zoos, inspiring the children’s’ book “And Tango Makes Three”.

Just as baby birds have to learn how to fly, newborn sea lions must be taught to swim. Check out the Pittsburgh Zoo’s youngest pup at an early swim lesson.

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Whale Wednesday: Whales on the Brain

A few weeks ago, I wrote about research that suggests whales and dolphins have cultures the same way humans do. A recent article in the Smithsonian Magazine points to similarities in the brains of social animals -- whales, great apes, and yes, humans -- that might explain the ability to work within social structures. Combining lab research with fieldwork and medical studies, scientists have discovered that the presence of von Economo neurons signifies ability to successfully communicate with others. Elephants and whales, like humans, operate in elaborate societies, quickly adapting to changing situations, such as rescuing an abandoned calf. The absence or destruction of these neurons, as in the case with certain neurological diseases, leads to a break down in social skills and adaptability.

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