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 â a la David Hasselhoff.
The researchers found hundreds of the crabs lying in heaps around hydrothermal vents â as many as â600 individuals per square metre." âBaywatchâ 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?
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.
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 didnât have enough small fish to eat?
Individually they donât look like much, but small fish and invertebrates called âforage speciesâ 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, âForage Fish: Feeding the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem,â shows the value of forage fish for fisheries and wildlife â and demonstrates that itâs high time that our fisheries managers recognize their big impact in the ocean.
How many forage fish are needed to feed our oceanâs 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 fisheriesâbut 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!
This is the first in a series of posts about this yearâs Ocean Hero finalists.
Starting today, Iâll be highlighting each of this yearâs 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.
Two expedition updates in one day - hold on to your hats! In this one, Oceana marine scientist Elizabeth Wilson describes yesterdayâs 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 Miamiâs 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 taggingâŠone was 10.5 feet long and was the biggest nurse shark any of us had ever seen.
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 âAlabama Alps,â 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 shipsâ crew to ensure that all the necessary measures were taken to keep us on course.
Hereâs Xavier Pastor:
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 â itâs 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.
A few days ago, I posted a video of Oceana marine scientist Margot getting ready to test the waters of the Florida Keys looking for baby fish. Margot attached a small video camera to the microscope and then pulled the following still images from the video. Pretty cool, huh?
Margot was pleased to find a lot of healthy shellfish, including lobsters and crabs. The expedition crew plans to do similar testing near the oil spill site to see if these same species have been covered in oil.
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 Keysâ important ecological resources.
You can check out Waldoâs location and data throughout his expedition at Rutgers Universityâs web site.
This is the tenth in a series of posts about the 2010 Ocean Hero finalists.
Todayâs featured finalist already has an impressive resume, and sheâs 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.
âWith the escalating loss of marine species comes the loss of stability and productivity in entire ecosystems,â she wrote in an essay for us. âIt will be impossible to protect these species unless a lucid picture of the distribution, genetic differences, and uniqueness of the populations today is provided.â