The Beacon

Blog Tags: Research

Fleet of Gliding Robots Collect Ocean Data

A slocum glider, with its wings, is prepped before deployment. (Photo: Christena MacDonald, OTN/MEOPAR)

It’s a bird… it’s a plane… it’s an ocean-going robot! Scientists from the United States and Canada are teaming up to launch up to 14 ocean-monitoring robotic gliders. These gliders are collecting data on ocean conditions and marine life along the eastern seaboard, traveling from the coast to the edge of the continental shelf.


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Whales Get Sunburns, Too

Sperm whales can develop sunburn-like blisters when swimming near the surface. (Photo: Paul Richards)

 

If you head to the beach without sunscreen, you’ll probably return home with a scarlet, painful sunburn. That’s because you’ve exposed your skin to several hours of UV rays, which damage DNA within your skin cells. But did you know that whales can get sunburned, too?


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Interesting Things About Interests

PeterWallerstein

2011 Ocean Hero Peter Wallerstein works to protect and rehabilitate marine mammals.

If you read the blog yesterday, you may recall two things: (1) the 4th Annual Ocean Heroes Contest kicks off on June 6, and (2) nearly 1/3 of Ocean Heroes finalists hail from California. Now while the a significant proportion of finalists in the contest’s  first three years have been from the same state, our 30 previous finalists cover a wide breadth of conservation issues.

For starters, if you were to ask, ‘How are the Ocean Heroes finalists helping the oceans?’, then I’d tell you there are – in my opinion – seven unique areas where people can invest their time: Political Activism, Habitat Conservation, Education, Pollution Reduction, Animal Rehabilitation, Research, and Promoting Sustainability. As you can see in the chart below, most finalists are politically active –from three girls scouts in Hawaii who rallied the state legislature to make World Oceans Day an official holiday to a physics and math professor in California who pushed Italian officials to end drilling in her native region of Abruzzo, which sits east of Rome on the Adriatic Sea.

Ocean Heroes areas of interest

Now that you see there are many different ways to put your energy into ocean conservation, you may ask, “Where is all that energy being focused?’. Amazingly, there’s no end to the different areas of focus where our Ocean Heroes commit their time and energy – SCUBA lessons for underprivileged kids (Education), developing a mooring buoy system to protect coral reefs (Conservation), saving stranded marine mammals (Rehabilitation), and the list goes on and on. As you can see in the pie chart below, marine mammals and sharks are the most popular focal points for our Ocean Heroes Finalists, but even an intense interest in sea slugs (Bonnie Lei, ’10) can earn someone a bid as an Ocean Heroes Finalist.

Ocean Heroes focus

So, whether you want to nominate yourself or someone else for conservation, education or activism, know that there’s no one sure-fire area of focus that makes someone an Ocean Hero Finalist – it’s about dedication and having an impact.


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Hairy-chested ‘Hoff’ Crabs and Hybrid Sharks

hoff crabs

Piles of the newly discovered "Hoff" crabs. © NERC Chesso Consortium

Happy New Year! Hope all you ocean lovers out there had a relaxing holiday. And what better way to start off 2012 than with some fascinating new ocean discoveries?

First, scientists have identified the first-ever hybrid shark off the coast of Australia, a result of mating between the common blacktip shark and the Australian blacktip shark.  The discovery indicates that some shark species may respond to changing ocean conditions by interbreeding.

And more humorously, scientists in the UK have found a new yeti crab species on the Southern Ocean floor that they have dubbed "The Hoff" because of its hairy chest – a la David Hasselhoff.

The researchers found hundreds of the crabs lying in heaps around hydrothermal vents – as many as “600 individuals per square metre." “Baywatch” and crustacean fans alike are rejoicing, and Mr. Hasselhoff himself even tweeted about the discovery.

If you could have a marine animal named after you, what would it be?


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Tagging Sharks in the Dry Tortugas

Two expedition updates in one day - hold on to your hats! In this one, Oceana marine scientist Elizabeth Wilson describes yesterday’s successful shark tagging adventures, including a monster nurse shark:

Today we traveled to the Dry Tortugas, a small group of islands at the end of the Florida Keys, to study sharks. On board with us is the shark team from University of Miami’s R.J. Dunlap Marine Conservation Program, led by Dr. Neil Hammerschlag. Other members of the team on board are Lab Manager and graduate student Dominique Lazzare and Captain Curt Slonim.

We arrived in the Dry Tortugas National Park, anchored near Fort Jefferson and started surveying for sharks. We had a successful research trip where we tagged and sampled three Caribbean reef sharks and two nurse sharks. We attached identification tags to the Caribbean reef sharks and sent them back on their way. The nurse sharks were too big and feisty to bring on the boat for tagging…one was 10.5 feet long and was the biggest nurse shark any of us had ever seen. 


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Ocean Hero Finalists: Bonnie Lei

Bonnie Lei collecting specimens. (Image courtesy Bonnie Lei.)

This is the tenth in a series of posts about the 2010 Ocean Hero finalists.

Today’s featured finalist already has an impressive resume, and she’s still in high school.

For the past three years, high school junior Bonnie Lei has been conducting independent research on the population structure and evolutionary history of sea slugs to create a better understanding of biodiversity conservation in the Caribbean.

She has reclassified the tropical Spurilla genus, identified a possible new species, and she even presented her research at the international American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS) annual meetings in 2009 and 2010.

“With the escalating loss of marine species comes the loss of stability and productivity in entire ecosystems,” she wrote in an essay for us. “It will be impossible to protect these species unless a lucid picture of the distribution, genetic differences, and uniqueness of the populations today is provided.” 


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Ocean Hero Finalists: Wallace 'J.' Nichols

wallace j nichols

Image courtesy of Wallace J. Nichols.

This is the sixth in a series of posts about the Ocean Heroes finalists.

We’re wrapping up our week of Adult Ocean Hero finalists with Dr. Wallace “J.” Nichols.

J.’s love of sea turtles started when he was a kid, growing out of a dual obsession with dinosaurs and the ocean.

That curious kid grew up to become an ocean activist and Research Associate at the California Academy of Sciences. He has authored more than 50 scientific papers, book chapters, articles and reports on sea turtle ecology and ocean conservation. His work has appeared in National Geographic, Scientific American, Time and Newsweek, among others.


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Whale Wednesday: Squid Herding?

Image via wikimedia commons.

BBC News reports that Oregon scientists using impressive tagging technology have shown that sperm whales may work together in a kind of zone offense to hunt their squid prey.

The researchers have evidence of the whales staying together over several months in the Gulf of Mexico. And their behavior varied with each deep dive, indicating that they alternate roles to spread out the physiological demand of the 1,000-meter dives.

One researcher said that the some whales appeared to guard the bottom of a squid bait ball, while others took advantage of the center of the ball.

Other research has suggested dolphins may exhibit herding behavior, but this is the first evidence in sperm whales; some scientists remain skeptical.

Just remember, whales: there is no "I" in "team."


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