The Beacon

Blog Tags: Marine Wildlife

Thursday Trivia: Sharksucker

nurse shark with sharksuckers

Sharksuckers hitch a ride with a nurse shark. [Image via Wikimedia Commons.]

Imagine a fish with a suction cup on the top of its head – that’s basically what a sharksucker, or remora, is. This fish isn’t a very strong swimmer, so to get around it hitches a ride with a shark, large fish, whale, sea turtle, stingray, or even a ship.

As an added perk, the sharksucker gets to munch scraps from its host’s meals, in addition to the small fish it catches itself. The shark neither suffers nor benefits from its relationship with the sharksucker (tweet us with the term for this type of relationship, and you could win a cool tote bag!) 

Sharksuckers are found throughout warm waters, either attached to a host or swimming freely over corals, where they help keep reef fish clean. These fish can grow up to about a yard long.

Some fishermen have developed a clever use for sharksuckers: they tie line around the fish’s tail, then release it. The sharksucker looks for an animal to attach itself to, then the fisherman reels the pair back in.

Otherwise, sharksuckers are not popular targets for fishermen. In fact, the main risk they face is shrinking populations of sharks and other large marine animals to host them.

You can learn more about sharksuckers from Oceana’s marine wildlife encyclopedia.


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Marine Monday: Crown-of-thorns Starfish

crown of thorns starfish

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

 

The crown-of-thorns starfish is named for the brightly-colored spikes that coat its legs. This starfish can grow up to 16 inches across and has between 12 and 19 legs instead of the usual five -- that’s a lot of spikes!

These spikes hold poison that can cause temporary paralysis at the sting site and nausea in humans. Like other starfish, the crown-of-thorns can regrow arms. At the end of each of these arms is an eyespot that can detect light and darkness, although not color or shape.

Crown-of-thorns starfish are avid eaters of coral, and just one starfish can eat 13 square miles of coral each year. In order to eat the coral, the crown-of-thorns starfish pulls its stomach out of its body to cover the coral, then feeds through tiny hairs called cilia. All that remains of the coral is its white skeleton. Despite being voracious eaters, crown-of-thorn starfish can survive food shortages of up to six months by living off reserves.

Since the 1970s, plagues of crown-of-thorn starfish have been occurring more and more frequently, particularly in Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Scientists are still debating whether these are natural or have been caused by overfishing crown-of-thorn predators.

There aren’t many creatures interested in such a prickly snack, but a few mollusks and fish like the giant triton and the titan triggerfish play important roles keeping crown-of-thorn starfish populations under control.

Learn more about the crown-of-thorns starfish and other fascinating animals at Oceana’s marine encyclopedia.


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Thursday Trivia: Green Sea Turtle

green sea turtle

Actresses Angela Kinsey and Rachael Harris swim with a green sea turtle. © Tim Calver

Green sea turtles are the most common type of marine turtle in tropical and subtropical waters (How many countries do they nest in? It’s this week’s trivia question on Twitter, so answer now to win!)

Green sea turtles begin their lives on sandy beaches. Every year, females return to the beaches where they themselves were born to leave their eggs buried in the sand. After six or eight weeks, the hatchlings use their egg tooth, which later falls out, to break out of the shell. All of the eggs in a clutch hatch at the same time, and the hatchlings make their way together to the ocean.

This hatching process means that young green sea turtles are often eaten by predators like ghost crabs, gulls, sharks, and dolphins. Those that survive live in the deep ocean for a few years and then move to shallower waters along coastlines and reefs. Young green sea turtles eat animals like jellyfish, crabs, and snails, but adults, unlike most types of sea turtles, eat only plants.

Green sea turtles in Florida and the Pacific side of Mexico are considered endangered by the IUCN; the other global populations are classified as threatened. One of the biggest threats to green sea turtles is accidental capture in fishing gear, also known as bycatch. Oceana’s sea turtle campaign focuses on preventing sea turtle bycatch and protecting habitat.

You can learn more about green sea turtles -- and hundreds of other marine animals -- from Oceana’s marine wildlife encyclopedia.


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Marine Monday: Queen Triggerfish

Happy Monday, ocean lovers! Today’s featured marine animal is the queen triggerfish. Found in coral reefs in the Caribbean and Eastern Atlantic shallow waters, this colorful fish is large and aggressive.

These fish greet intruders with throbbing sounds produced by special membranes. At night, they use their dorsal spine to lock themselves into their burrows so predators can’t pull them out to eat them.

Queen triggerfish are dedicated hunters and prey on lobsters, crabs, shellfish, and urchins. To avoid the sharp spines of sea urchins, they blow water under it to flip it upside-down and expose the safer underside. Sometimes they even pick a sea urchin up by one spine to perform this flip.

The species is considered vulnerable because of hunting pressure (it is popular for human consumption), and there is a possibility it would be at greater risk if its sea urchin prey experienced steep population declines.

You can learn more about queen triggerfish and hundreds of other marine animals from Oceana’s marine wildlife encyclopedia.


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Video: In Nesting Season, Keeping A Close Eye For Oiled Birds

Yesterday, I wrote about tagging along with a NOAA crew as they searched for subsurface oil. The next day, I joined the Fish and Wildlife Service on an expedition with a much more easily visible goal: Checking out the breeding colonies of seabirds that have laid their nests near waters affected by the oil spill.

Nearly 1800 oiled birds have been recovered by rescue teams, and more than a thousand of those were already dead. The majority of the live birds go to Jay Holcomb's bird rescue center. Of course, the Gulf of Mexico is an enormous area, and it's only in recent weeks that a significant number of oiled birds have even been seen – meaning that in the two months since the Deepwater Horizon started gushing oil, there have probably been many more birds affected that we'll never know about.

"This is the tip of the iceberg, what we're bringing in," said Steve Martarano, a public affairs officer with FWS who organized the boat trip to visit the nesting birds. "But we're saving a lot of birds."


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A Visit With Jay Holcomb And Some Oily Birds

brown pelicans yearning to be free

Brown pelicans awaiting release after being cleaned. Photo courtesy Suzannah's iphone.

In a cavernous warehouse in Louisiana’s bayou country, hundreds of oiled birds are getting a chance at survival after the BP oil disaster threatened their lives. Most of them are brown pelicans, Louisana’s state bird, along with some gulls, herons, gannets and terns. Until a couple of weeks ago, there weren’t many birds in this makeshift facility backed up against the Mississippi. But with the oil slick’s expansion closer to shore, the number of birds affected exploded – and the rescue center is racing to keep up.

The center is run by Jay Holcomb, and is primarily staffed by his International Bird Rescue Research Center team. Today, I visited Jay along with Oceana’s pollution campaign director Jackie Savitz, and got a firsthand look at the critical work that Jay and his team are doing.

We were also on hand to congratulate Jay on winning Oceana’s 2010 Ocean Heroes Award. He was unable to attend the award ceremony in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago because he was too busy doing the work of an ocean hero – saving birds in the Gulf.

Here’s a video of Jackie talking to Jay about his work and what happens to the birds after they're released. You can hear the helicopters going out to the spill site overhead.


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The Oiled Bird Photographs Are Here

A brown pelican is seen on the beach at East Grand Terre Island along the Louisiana coast on Thursday, June 3, 2010. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Nearly six weeks after the Deepwater Horizon exploded, the first truly gutwrenching photos of oiled birds have arrived. Here at Oceana, we've been thinking about the oil spill constantly - and yet it's amazing that one image can be so heartbreaking.

Update Friday afternoon: The New York Times' Lens blog has a nice column about the meaning of these first, intimate images of animals in distress. And the AP photo editor who published the images has this hopeful thing to say about the fate of the birds pictured: "I'm told that the birds that were still alive — mostly pelicans and up to 40 of them — were taken to a bird cleaning facility in Ft. Jackson and are being cared for."

Meanwhile, we've surpassed 75,000 signatures on our petition to end offshore drilling. Please add your name to the list if you haven't already.

For more photos, visit Boston.com.


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10 Ways the Oil Spill Could Affect Marine Life

oiled bird

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

While oil-covered birds have become an emblematic image of catastrophic oil spills, sea birds aren’t the only ones affected. Oil is extremely toxic to all wildlife, and the toxic effects on marine life begins as soon as the oil hits the water.

 


Here are 10 examples of how marine life may be affected by the Gulf spill in the coming days, weeks and years


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Oil Spill Threatens Hundreds of Species

It just keeps getting worse.

A NOAA scientist has concluded that oil is leaking into the Gulf of Mexico at the rate of 5,000 barrels a day, five times the initial 1,000 per-day estimate. And a third leak was discovered yesterday afternoon. 

If the estimates are correct, the spill, which is nearly the size of Jamaica, could match or exceed the 11 million gallons spilt from the Exxon Valdez within two months -- becoming the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

 


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Spills Happen!

Image via Wikimedia Commons

...And more often than people think. Just days after the President offered up more of our coasts to the oil industry, an oil pipeline operated by Chevron Pipe Line Co leaked at least 18,000 gallons of crude oil into the Delta National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana.
 
This is another example of how dangerous exposure to an oil spill can potentially be to coastal wildlife and habitat, in a national wildlife refuge no less. Spills happen at every stage of oil production. Whether it is from drilling, pipelines, tankers, or refineries; a spill can occur at every stage of the oil production process. Then when we burn the oil, it contributes to climate change.

Big Oil would have us believe that spills are a thing of the past thanks to modern technology. Unfortunately, the facts play out otherwise. Oil spills are not rare occurrence. Almost one million gallons of oil enter the oceans of North America every year through extraction activities alone.


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