The Beacon

Blog Tags: Science

CEO Note: The Government Shutdown and the Oceans

(Photo: Oceana / Carlos Suarez)

After 16 days Congress has finally ended the government shutdown. But while thousands of workers are able to return to work, our oceans will continue to suffer from Congress's misguided bickering.

Yesterday I partnered with actor and ocean activist Ted Danson to discuss just how harmful the government shutdown was for our oceans. In an editorial for the Huffington Post, we revealed how the shutdown affected critical ocean research, and how it could continue to impact fisheries management through next year. 


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A Blue Whale’s Life Story Revealed Through Ear Wax

Blue whales are probably the largest animal that has ever lived. (Photo: NOAA Photo Library) 

Instead of our weekly Creature Feature, we’d like share an awesome new finding about one well-known ocean creature, the blue whale. Scientists discovered that earwax can reveal amazingly details about the life of whales, according to a study published last week in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


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The Amazing Disappearing Octopus

Now you see me, now you don’t. (Photo: Snailgenie) 

This amazing video has been making the rounds on the internet for a while, be we still couldn’t resist sharing it with you! You may know that an octopus can change the color of its skin to blend in with its surroundings. But did you know they were this good?


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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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New Study: Climate Change Threatens Global Fisheries

As world leaders prepare for international climate change negotiations next week in Durban, South Africa, a new study out this week depicts the widespread threats that climate change presents for marine fisheries.

The bottom line? Emissions from the burning of fossil fuels are presenting very long-term if not irreversible threats for the oceans.

Economists and top fisheries scientists at the University of British Columbia published a paper on Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change that outlines the many challenges fisheries face from climate change, and how this can impact the global economy and hundreds of millions of lives. 

Global marine fisheries are underperforming, mainly from rampant overfishing, but climate change also creates several serious threats to the future productivity of fisheries. These chemical and physical changes linked to climate change such as decreased oxygen levels, changes in plankton communities and plant growth, altered ocean circulation and increased acidity can disrupt the basic functioning of marine ecosystems and thwart any potential recovery of global fish stocks. 

The study outlines how impacts can scale up from changing ocean conditions to the global economy, but the authors note that the true scope of impacts to employment are hard to predict.


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New Report: Small Fish in Big Trouble

bryde's whale.

A bryde's whale enjoys a meal. © Randy Morse  www.GoldenStateImages.com

Did you know that the brown pelican relies on northern anchovy for food? Or that the endangered blue whale feeds exclusively on tiny krill at rates of up to 4,000 pounds per day? Or that a record number of young sea lions were stranded on California beaches last year because they didn’t have enough small fish to eat?

Individually they don’t look like much, but small fish and invertebrates called “forage species” school up to form massive underwater bait balls.

These forage fish are the foundation of the marine food web and provide food for nearly everything else higher up the food ladder. Forage species, such as Pacific herring, Pacific sardine, anchovy, smelts, squid and krill are the critical prey for whales, dolphins, sea lions, many types of fish, and millions of seabirds.

Our new report, “Forage Fish: Feeding the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem,” shows the value of forage fish for fisheries and wildlife – and demonstrates that it’s high time that our fisheries managers recognize their big impact in the ocean.

How many forage fish are needed to feed our ocean’s wildlife and preserve the benefits forage species provide us? That is the question we are asking managers to answer and take into account when setting catch quotas. 

As consumers we enjoy forage fish without even realizing it. Activities, such as whale watching, enjoying fresh wild salmon for dinner, and going sport fishing, are all possible because those top predators survive on forage fish. And they are important for the economy, too -- tourism, recreation activities, and fishing brought in over $23 billion in GDP to California, Oregon, and Washington combined in 2004 alone.

Oceana is the first conservation group to assess the current status of Pacific forage fish. Our new report details the role of forage species in the California Current marine ecosystem, the threats to forage species populations, and the flawed management structures currently in place. The report documents the large gaps in stock information and show the fisheries mismanagement taking place at multiple levels of state, federal and international government.

Providing and maintaining a healthy, sustainable ocean ecosystem does not mean shutting down existing fisheries—but it does call for change. The challenge is to extend the principles in our new report to create a new way of managing our resources that goes beyond single-species management, and considers the role of forage species within the ecosystem as a whole.

By highlighting the colossal importance of these tiny forage species, Oceana aims to ensure a healthy, diverse, productive, and resilient California Current marine ecosystem. Be sure to check out the full report and let us know what you think!


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Ocean Hero Finalists: Zach Rome

zach rome

Zach Rome.

This is the first in a series of posts about this year’s Ocean Hero finalists.

Starting today, I’ll be highlighting each of this year’s Ocean Hero finalists on the blog, since their stories deserve more space than what fits in the voting boxes at oceana.org/heroes.

First up we have Zach Rome, whose love for the oceans began at age 11, when his grandfather took him scuba diving in the Florida Keys. He was hooked, and spent subsequent summer vacations scuba diving around the world, climbing the scuba certification ladder.

He went on to study marine biology at the University of Miami, where he learned just how important and fragile the oceans are. He decided that after graduation, he would devote himself to passing on that knowledge.

After spending a few years working as a scuba instructor and middle school science teacher, he founded The Schooba Academy, a nonprofit organization based in Brooklyn, NY that teaches students from low-income communities about science through scuba diving.


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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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Exploring the Gulf’s Underwater Mountains

It was an exciting day yesterday on the Latitude, as Dustin reports. We owe a hearty thank you to Nautica, who is making this leg of the expedition possible.

Saturday, September 11

The heat and humidity did not divert the Oceana crew from the important task at hand today.

After running a few more quick tests on the Spanish ROV, the crew sent it down for its first operation. Positioned near the “Alabama Alps,” the ROV was lowered nearly 250 feet to the ocean floor.

As strong underwater currents tried to move the Oceana Latitude from the operation site, expedition leader Xavier Pastor worked closely with the ships’ crew to ensure that all the necessary measures were taken to keep us on course.

Here’s Xavier Pastor:

Xavier Pastor in Oceana Latitude ROV Control Room September 11, 2010 English from Oceana on Vimeo.


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Day 24: Missing Moorings and Mahi-Mahi



The Oceana crew has officially become used to the life aquatic. After a hard day yesterday and having worked on this leg of the journey for a little over a week, our heads hit the pillows hard last night.

We thought we had seen everything, but this morning we awoke to yet another surprise: silence. No waves, no wind and no clouds. The crew began work today under a clear sky – it’s the first time in this part of the expedition that the seas have been favorable.

Our first task was to seek out a mooring. With the given GPS coordinates in hand the crew took to the deck, eyes on all levels of the ship. We scanned the horizon but saw nothing; the first buoy of the day was missing. The story was the same at the second mooring site. Some of the crew suspected foul play and others thought it may have been run over by another ship, but only Poseidon will know for certain.


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