Our Baltic expedition came upon a sad sight this week: a dozen baby seals lying dead on the seafloor.
The team found the bodies while diving in Bogskär islet off of Finland, home to a small grey seal colony. The dead seals were about six months old, and one was found near a dead adult. The cause of death is a mystery—there were no visible injuries and the rest of the colony appeared to be healthy.
The deaths are being investigated, and hopefully we will find an answer to this tragedy. It’s possible that the seals were accidently caught and drowned in nets and then dumped back into the sea. They may also have suffered from a viral outbreak. Whatever happened, here’s hoping that it was an isolated incident and that the colony is able to recover from the loss of so many young seals.
This is part of a series of posts about our Pacific Hotspots expedition. Today's highlights: On their first day in Washington, the team saw a minke whale, harbor seals and more in the San Juan Islands.
Washington Leg, Day 1
Just before 5 a.m., captain Todd Shuster started the two quiet engines of the eco catamaran, Gato Verde. Shortly thereafter we were riding the waves out of Port Angeles Harbor.
Due to gale force wind advisories in the central Strait of Juan de Fuca, we were forced to re-route our diving to the San Juan Islands. For years, we have been interested in the abundant forage and orca whale populations, steep drop-offs and strong currents in this area. As we approached the islands we were exuberant, curious, and hopeful of what we would find today.
Living among the sand and rocks of Hein Bay, a bed of scallops and sea urchins were kept company by corals and a diversity of fish species. A brief appearance by a minke whale off the bank was a highlight of this dive.
This is part of a series of posts about our Pacific Hotspots expedition.
California Leg, Day 2
This morning after we passed the barking sea lions on the breakwater at the end of the harbor, we traversed through fog so thick there were no signs of land anywhere to be seen. We pushed trough swells upwards of 6 feet to get to our fist dive site of the day. A mola mola (aka ocean sunfish) we passed along the way didn’t seem to mind the intense swells as it basked on the ocean surface.
After motoring out 20 miles across Monterey Bay (north of the Monterey Canyon), we deployed the ROV at the former California halibut trawl grounds. As a direct result of the work of Oceana, this area has been closed to bottom trawling since 2006.
The seafloor here is primarily soft sediment and ranges in depth from 50-250 feet. The areas were teeming with signs of life, including burrows, tracks, and holes. Some places had a lot of juvenile fish and crabs suggesting these areas may be a nursery ground for fishery species. Overall, we were surprised by the diversity of habitat formations and creatures.
This is part of a series of posts about our Pacific Hotspots expedition.
Today, in beautiful Monterey, Oceana kicked off the first part of a three-week research cruise. This week we are aboard the research vessel Derek M. Baylis, focusing on Important Ecological Areas (ocean hotspots) in Monterey Bay.
Today’s goal consisted of conducting trial runs with the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) called Video Ray Pro IV as well as allowing the Oceana crew from South America, Alaska, Oregon, and California to get our sea legs and refine our on-board duties. With a small High Definition camera on the ROV, we recorded about an hour of footage at each of the four sites we visited.
At the Monterey Shale Beds, at depths up to 125 feet, we observed a myriad of life in the nooks and crannies including sea cucumbers, anemones, gobies, juvenile rockfish, kelp rockfish, sculpins, gorgonian corals, an octopus, a wolf eel, and a metridium (an anemone that looks like white cauliflower). We watched a sunflower star feeding and a sheep crab that was not so ‘sheepish’ as it instigated a wrestling match with the ROV.
Sara Bayles is the author of The Daily Ocean blog, where she documents her efforts to collect trash from her local beach for 365 non-consecutive days.
Now Sara and her husband, Dr. Garen Baghdasarian, have embarked on a new and exciting adventure. They are currently at sea on a 4,680-mile research expedition The 5 Gyres Institute across the South Pacific from Chile to Tahiti. It’s the world’s first expedition to study plastic pollution in the South Pacific gyre.
After the trip, Sara and Garen plan to bring their findings to as many people as possible through articles in peer reviewed scientific journals, lectures in the community, school visits, student involvement, photography, video and follow-up research expeditions.
In other news, Sara and Siel of Green LA Girl organized The Blogger Beach Cleanup last year for 350.org’s International Day Of Climate Action. More than 120 volunteers, 40+ bloggers, and several non-profit groups participated to make the event a success.
Good luck to Sara and Garen on a safe and successful journey and we look forward to hearing the results of the trip! You can follow their progress at the 5Gyres blog.
Nominations end this Wednesday, so don’t delay -- nominate an ocean hero in your life today!
Oceana and National Geographic are currently aboard a Chilean naval ship, the Comandante Toro, on a scientific expedition in the waters of the newly created marine park around Sala y Gomez island (FYI, an alternate spelling is Salas y Gomez). Author Alex Muñoz Wilson is the Executive Director of Oceana Chile. This blog dispatch was originally posted at National Geographic.
We woke up this morning to a startling sight: Overnight, a small commercial fishing boat from Easter Island entered the protected waters of the marine park and dropped its lines within site of the Comandante Toro.
The fishing boat's captain was either brazen (why make an illegal fishing foray in plain sight of a large naval patrol ship?) or unaware of the existence of the new park (which would also be surprising, given the substantial publicity in Chile--particularly on Easter Island--surrounding the park's creation).
The Navy captain dispatched a team in one of the Toro's fast boats to interdict the fishing vessel, inspect it, and put a stop to the illegal fishing. According to the captain's report, this was a small commercial fishing boat with tuna in the boat's hold.
The fishing boat's owner said he was aware of the existence of the marine park, and that he was still planning to fish in this area. The navy showed him maps which made it clear that he was harvesting marine life inside the park in a no-take zone where all commercial fishing is banned.
This was the first enforcement action inside the new marine park.
Big news for a pristine patch of ocean off the coast of Chile: Last week the Chilean Senate’s Fisheries Committee unanimously agreed that the Chilean government should establish a 200 nautical mile marine protected area around the Island of Sala y Gómez, near Easter Island.
Oceana and National Geographic have been promoting the protection of this area, which still remains virtually unexplored, and which may well be one of the last pristine vulnerable marine ecosystems in the Pacific.
A hundred days after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, it appears that BP has finally succeeded in controlling the blowout that spewed millions of gallons of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico.
Yet to paraphrase Winston Churchill, this is just the end of the beginning. The creatures that live in, and the people that depend on the Gulf of Mexico will be affected by the oil spill for years, and we are just starting to comprehend the scope of this tragedy.
That’s why I am pleased to announce that Oceana is launching an ambitious, eight-week scientific expedition in the Gulf of Mexico. We will assess the effects of the oil spill on the marine environment, and we will trumpet the message that ocean oil drilling is too dangerous to be allowed to wreck any more of our oceans and our beaches.
This expedition team, led by Oceana’s Chief Scientist Mike Hirshfield and Oceana’s vice president for Europe, Xavier Pastor, will also include research by Dr. Jeff Short, Oceana’s Pacific science director and one of the world’s leading experts on Exxon Valdez and the effects of oil spills from his years as a government scientist at NOAA. The crew also includes scientists, divers and underwater photographers from our U.S., Chile and Spain offices, as well as academic scientists.
Working from the Latitude, a 167-foot ship capable of sailing in shallow and deep waters, the crew will test for underwater oil and study important seafloor habitats as well as the migratory marine life affected by the spill. This includes endangered sea turtles as well as the rare whale shark.
We are fortunate to have supporters who believe in Oceana’s targeted, science-based work and make this kind of original research possible. The facts uncovered by our on-the-water team will be critical in the fight to end dangerous offshore drilling.
You can give today to help us support the critical work of the expedition. Please help us protect the oceans today!
When the expedition launches in early August, we will post frequent updates on Oceana.org, and I’ll be sure to share the most exciting developments with you.
Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana.
Today Oceana and NRDC, in collaboration with Mote Marine Laboratory, are launching an oil-detecting underwater robot off the Florida Keys as a first line of defense against underwater oil plumes from the Gulf oil spill.
For 25 to 30 days, the robot, a.k.a.Waldo, will travel undersea in the water column, an area that satellite imagery cannot access, gathering data every few seconds and transmitting the information to researchers via satellite every three hours.
If oil is detected, Mote Marine Laboratory will provide the local government with this information so that emergency resources and response plans can be activated to help protect the Keys’ important ecological resources.
You can check out Waldo’s location and data throughout his expedition at Rutgers University’s web site.