suzannah's blog

Bivalve Curious

Posted Wed, Aug 15, 2007 by suzannah

Louisiana oystermen are making more money off oil company settlements than from actually taking oysters out of the sea, says a new study by two Louisiana State University economists. According to this New York Times story, oystermen can claim damages to the seafloor from the oil industry, whether they're reaping oysters from it or not - they just have to have a "lease," often passed down generations, on the underwater space.

It's hard to imagine any situation where an oil company is the victim, but according to the study, oystermen gross up to $14 million annually from oil company settlements, while the state's oyster production is valued at just $12 million.

The oystermen interviewed in the Times piece vehemently deny any shakedown of the oil industry. Meanwhile, the reporter seems be harvesting something of his own - a crush. He calls his subjects "brave little oyster boats" and notes that one source is "shirtless and bronzed from days at sea." I'm guessing he watches Deadliest Catch, too, and will be breathlessly awaiting the new shark hunter show.

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He's Not Going to Need a Bigger Boat This Time

Posted Fri, Aug 10, 2007 by suzannah

Fisherman Frank Mundus, 81, once caught a 3,427-pound great white shark using only a rod and reel, but he's better known as the alleged real-life inspiration behind the character of Captain Quint, the obsessive shark hunter in "Jaws."

Now it looks like he's going to be the subject of his very own reality TV show, according to The New York Times. If it's anything like Deadliest Catch, it will romanticize the image of the lonely fisherman earning his meal - nevermind that most fishing is now undertaken on an industrial scale, and most of the sharks Mundus lands these days are sexually immature, like the four-foot brown shark he uses for chum in the Times story.

Mundus has never proven he was the actual prototype for Captain Quint, but he could take a page out of "Jaws" author Peter Benchley's book. After the movie spawned a generation of shark-haters, Benchley devoted the rest of his life to shark conservation.

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A Really Cold War

Posted Thu, Aug 2, 2007 by suzannah

A Russian submarine planted its country's flag on the Arctic seabed two and half miles below the ocean surface Thursday, and Russian television stations proclaimed the nation's rights to 460,000 square miles of ocean floor.

What? Are they still embittered about that whole race-to-the-moon thing?

Several countries have rights to Arctic resources, according to the United Nations, and so the Russian proclamation was met with derision. Still, it's another troubling example of mankind's endless thirst for natural resources. After all, the Russians don't want to claim part of the Arctic just to look at it - they want it for its rich oil and gas reserves, just like we do.

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In Case You Missed the Boat ...

Posted Tue, Jul 31, 2007 by suzannah

In case you missed today's Washington Post Book World online Q&A with author and marine scientist Callum Roberts, you can read the transcript here.

I posed my own question to Roberts, asking him what needed to be done to restore the oceans to their past glory. His full answer is worth reading, but here's my favorite part: "In the book, I wanted to breathe new life into the oceans of old by revealing them through the eyes of people who witnessed their untrammeled bounty. I hope that these visions will inspire people to fight for the resurrection of these ecosystems by working to recover at least some of what has been lost."

Roberts has been called the Rachel Carson of the sea by The New York Times, and his new book, "The Unnatural History of the Sea," maintains his claim to that title. His research, and conclusions, dovetail with Oceana's own: The oceans need our help, and it's a fight that we can win.

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This One Doesn't Fly - But It Does Swim

Posted Tue, Jul 31, 2007 by suzannah

The dumbo octopus is one of those helpfully-named creatures - unlike, say, the platypus - that you can picture in your head before seeing an actual photo of it. True to its name, the dumbo octopus resembles its Disney namesake, complete with awkward ears and round, soft eyes - or at least it resembles the elephant as much as an octopus can.

Because it resides at the bottom of the sea, this rare creature is almost never spotted. A crew of Canadian scientists mapping the ocean floor near Nova Scotia recently spied the octopus; sadly, they also documented the results of bottom trawling that destroyed habitat for many deep-sea species. Continued habitat destruction will only make the dumbo octopus that much rarer, which is why Oceana works hard to restrict bottom trawling.

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Marine Miscellany From a Favorite Literary Mag

Posted Fri, Jul 27, 2007 by suzannah

The July 23 issue of the New Yorker caught my eye when it arrived in my mailbox yesterday, and not just because it was almost a week late. The cover featured a fanciful watercolor sketch showing polar bears and penguins splashing in the spray of a roadside fire hydrant. Fanciful is right: polar bears and penguins live at opposite poles of the earth.

The misconception that these two creatures live on the same icy plains is a common one, and it's a favorite joke around the Oceana office. I'll skip writing an angry letter to New Yorker editor David Remnick, however. I'm pretty sure we're not meant to take the image of wild animals playing on a Manhattan street too literally.

Inside the issue is another notable item: a book review of Eric Jay Dolin's "Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America." In usual New Yorker style, reviewer Caleb Crain places Dolin's story in the context of a piece of literature, this time Melville's "Moby-Dick," and writes less a review than an impassive but fascinating collection of facts surrounding the whaling industry's quirky and controversial practices.

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Upcoming Q&A With Marine Scientist and Author

Posted Fri, Jul 27, 2007 by suzannah

Here's a don't-miss event for anyone interested in the exploitation of the oceans. Callum Roberts, marine scientist, will be the subject of a Washington Post Book World online Q&A on Monday, July 31, at noon, to discuss his new book, "The Unnatural History of the Sea."

Roberts' book vividly illustrates how humans have been decimating fish and marine mammal populations for centuries. He puts the current crisis in a context most brief news articles can barely hint at, and has already garnered positive reviews. Here at Oceana we got a preview copy, and I'm halfway through it - it's good stuff.

So take an early lunch and stop by with your questions and comments, and get an exclusive preview of Roberts' book, which is due to be released on July 30. (Ok, so it's conceivable you could have bought and read the book before the July 31 chat, but this isn't Harry Potter, is it? Anyway, you can access the Post chat here.)

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More on mercury

Posted Tue, Jul 24, 2007 by suzannah

Thanks to high fish consumption, wealthy New Yorkers are more likely than their less-affluent neighbors to have elevated mercury in their blood, according to a new study that's the first city-specific survey of mercury levels. New Yorkers in the top tax bracket have blood mercury levels 50 percent higher than those in the bottom bracket. The study also found that women and Asian New Yorkers have blood that's more contaminated than the citywide average.

This widely circulated AP story on the study downplays the threat of mercury to people, quoting a health official who admits "it would be best" for pregnant women and young children to avoid contamination from poisoned fish - despite the fact that scientists around the world have declared the danger of mercury contamination to the developing fetus, and believe that adult men may be at risk, too. The story does, helpfully, point out it's probably not the best idea to eat fish taken from the rivers alongside Manhattan, the heavily polluted Hudson and East rivers. Thanks for the breaking news, Associated Press.

Of course none of this is news to Oceana. Read about our findings in our newly released report, "Cleaning Up: Taking Mercury-Free Chlorine Production to the Bank."

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