Monday, May 3, 2010


My experience at OBX was one of the best times I have had being an Ashland Student. The first picture is of the sunrise the first morning there. I took it when I went out for a run which I was unable to do the second day due to exhaustion! My favorite activity of the trip was probably kayaking in Monteo or our visit to the aquarium. This picture is of a turtle from the aquarium who, I think, is trying to fly. Another aspect of the class that I thought was neat came from our trip to the salt marsh right across from our camp ground. We read a paper on how the marsh periwinkle was destroying Spartina due to over harvesting of its predator, the blue crab. Well at the salt marsh, we witnessed the paper first hand. The Spartina were absolutely covered in Littoraria. Never have I read a journal article for a class and have actually got to see what was explained in the article in person. Also, in most of my classes, I never get to have conversations with and get to know everybody in the class. This trip allowed me to do just that :)

Friday, April 30, 2010

A Great Trip with Amazing People

This trip was one of the best experiences of my life. Thank you all for making it a memorable time. This picture was obviously taken when we had our fire on the beach the last night...before it was destroyed by the incoming tide and the random truck trying to get down the beach. I thought it was still a pretty fun night overall.
Cape Hattaras light house and Pea Island was one of my favorite day trips. I loved getting to see the dolphins playing off the shore and seeing the light house. I also loved collecting things on the beach by the light house as well. Throughout the whole trip I found several interesting things. I had a lot of fun.

Another OBX post :)

At 5:30 in the morning, I met the rest of my BIO 412 Marine Biology class and left for Outer Banks, North Carolina with Doctors Posner and Saunders, two of the Biology department faculty. The sleep deprivation and the drive were well worth it though because I had such a great time!

Here are just a few of the cool things I saw in the Outer Banks:

Even 15-foot-tall sand dunes are futile attempts to prevent the erosion that barrier islands experience naturally.

We went kayaking in a salt marsh and I spotted a duck. I was able to get close enough to take this sweet pic right as it took off.

The Littoraria snails will climb the Spartina marsh grass to escape predation by crabs below. They can hold on even as they sleep by secreting a sticky substance onto the spot and just hang there, sleeping.

We came across this huge fish skeleton in the salt marsh. I took a picture with my hand next to it to set the scale for how huge this thing was. We wanted such a complete specimen for our lab back in Ohio, so we wrapped it in trash bags and stored it in our lunchmeat cooler.

Once you get the chance, go check out the Outer Banks! But whatever you do, don’t feed the Laughing gulls! They will stalk you forever if you do.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Harmful effects of oil spills on dolphins

With the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico all over the news, I couldn’t help but wonder if dolphins could be hurt as bad as other marine organisms since they can at least swim away from the oil.

I was partially right. They can swim away from the spill, and their skin allows the oil to just run off them as they swim so it doesn’t cause any permanent harm.
However, they do need to breathe sometime. When they come up to the surface, if they happen to take in oil in their mouths or blowhole, it can cause serious damage to their airways, mucous membranes, or digestive tract (like a poison). Oil can also cause eye damage if it gets in their eyes.
Things only get worse from there because panicking or stressed dolphins will surface more often because they are breathing harder and need to breathe more often, which will expose them to more oil floating on the surface.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The spread of the Humboldt Squid

I got to dissect one of these that washed up on the beach of the Gulf of California in Baja Mexico when I taught marine bio in graduate school.  Unlike in this video, my specimen was rotting and covered in flies.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

My Trip Experience

I had a great time on our trip. The picture on the left is from the top of the Hatters Island Lighthouse. For those members of the class that did not climb to the top, it only took a few minutes to reach the top and it was very windy at the top. Once we reached the top the Park Volunteer at the top gave us what could only be described as a small lecture. Also shown in the picture of the left is some extensive salt water trapped behind the dunes, this is due to the hard structure jetty that the other members of the class were near. Where the water is now used to look like the maritime forest behind it 10 years ago, and it is likely that will continue and the lighthouse will be surrounded by a like habitat in 10 years.

The aquarium was very fun to walk around and enjoy. Despite the massive crowd, I was able to touch the manta rays. They had an interesting feel to them (soft, squishy). It was enjoyable, as I had not touched a manta ray since the old Sea World tanks.

I had a great trip, hope you all did too.

New Hydrothermal Vent Discovered

Learning about hydrothermal vents in class piqued my interest and when I came across this news article I was especially interested. They have found a very deep vent in the Cayman Trough in the Caribbean; this vent being the deepest known hydrothermal vent. This vent is 3 miles below the ocean surface. The article called these vents black-smoker vents because of the dark color of the water and other substances being forced out of the vents.

Now that researchers have located this vent, they plan to characterize the organisms that are living there and compare them to the organisms which are living near vents that are not so deep. They also want to study the chemicals and minerals that are being released into the water by this and other vents. Hopefully there will be more information to come about this vent. This article was just introducing the fact that researchers have discovered a vent deeper than any other previously discovered vent. Very interesting research.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Acidifying Oceans Dramatically Stunt Growth Of Shellfish

Research was done on the effects of increased acidic levels on growth of the Olympia oyster. Brian Gaylord, a biological oceanographer of the University of California at Davis, says that one-third of the world's human caused carbon dioxide emissions have entered the oceans. Increasing levels of carbon dioxide cause the seawater to become more acidic.
Gaylord is investigating the effects of this acidic change on the growth of larval and juvenile Olympia oysters on the west coast. He collected adult oysters from Tomales bay, California and kept them until they released larvae. The larvae were reared in one of three environments. The first matched current carbon dioxide levels which is 380 ppm. The second was 540 ppm and the third was 970 ppm. These levels are the estimated carbon dioxide levels for the year 2100.
At day 9, oyster juveniles in the high carbon dioxide treatment had shells that were 16% smaller than those reared in the control. At day 19, the results were more intense. Juveniles of the higher carbon dioxide treatment had grown 41% less than those of the control. Even after the high carbon dioxide treated oysters were placed into current water conditions for a month and a half, they were still 28% smaller.
The increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the oceans could have detrimental effects on the populations of oysters around the world. 85% of global shellfish reefs have been lost making it one of the most severely threatened marine habitats on the planet. These organisms are the engineers of bays and estuaries and with their loss will come the loss of whole ecosystems.

The article can be found here

Bivalves alert us to oil polution

Drilling for oil can be a complicated procedure. First, you have to find oil and then you have to drill to get it out of the ground. Before, during, or after drilling for oil, oil spills may occur. Oil spills can have massive affects on the surrounding environment as well as decreasing the profit for companies. In order to help save the environment and make more money, a company called Biota Guard is utilizing the blue mussel. The blue mussel, Mytilus edulis is being used to help alert oil companies to oil spills. The mussel has been observed to react differently to different pollutants such as oil spills. The reaction of the blue mussel along with other mechanical sensing equipment can be used to help identify and stop oil leaks as soon as possible. After learning about M. edulis in class I thought this was an interesting article to read and was excited to see it being used by humans to help protect the environment. The article can be found at

Ballan Wrasse

Sea lice have been a big problem in the ocean lately. The sea lice have had a major impact on important fishing industries and have become a major problem in the Norwegian aquaculture industry. Researchers have been trying to find many different ways to fight these sea lice and to try to save the industry. They have been trying to develop vaccines and other chemical treatments to fight the sea lice. Unfortunately, some of the lice have developed resistance to the current means of defense. Researchers have now found a possible solution to the problem. “[A] cleaner fish called the Ballan wrasse is being enlisted to eat mass quantities of sea lice directly off infected salmon.”

Now that they have come up with a possible solution to this problem, the new problem has become how to produce enough of these fish to keep the parasite in check in all of the industry hotspots. They also need to figure out a place to keep all of these Ballan wrasse. They have come up with a few possible places that they could use to hold these fish including empty cod tanks which are not currently being used.

They have also run into the problem that these wrasse do not just feed on the sea lice, they can feed on algae and mollusks as well. The problem with this is how to control the wrasse to feed mostly on the wrasse and not its other food sources.

This fish could become a very important part of the effort to save the Norwegian aquaculture industry; researchers just need to find a way to sort of perfect the use of it. The use of animals to help other animals, especially for industrial purposes is a very interesting topic. For more information see the full article.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Hamlet fish helps us understand speciation in marine environments

Scientist know very little about evolution within the Marine environment. New studies with Hamlet Fish may shine light on the process of how new species arise. Hamlet fish are a species of coral fish found in the Caribbean. So far, there are ten known species of Hamlet fish each with unique color patterns. Each species is found in their own regions of the Caribbean. Scientists use to believe that these species arose from geographical isolation, but new studies are not finding evidence of this. Using SCUBA methods, researchers are analyzing the distribution patterns of these Hamlet fish. They are finding that there are "hot spots" for each of the ten species. Some species have more than one hot spot, and many of these hot spots overlap which is not evidence for evolution by geographical isolation. These studies are also helping to understand how competition for space and food influence how these species exist together. These studies are finding that ecology, instead of geographical separation, may better explain the evolution of Hamlet fish. Many scientists also believe that Hamlets are in the process of evolving into a new species. These studies may help us understand this process.
image from:

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Sea Lily vs. The Sea Urchin

Throughout evolutionary history, animals have been evolving to better adapt to their environments. They have changed in ways that will better allow them to hide from and escape from predators, hide from and attack prey, and ways that have made reproduction more efficient. Marine animals are no exception.

Sea lilies have adapted to the fact that they are preyed on by sea urchins. If they sense a predator in the area, they can “shed their stalk ends like lizards’ tails and scoot away.” This is a very interesting find because it was originally thought that sea lilies were sessile and that they could not move from where they were anchored to the substrate. In studying fossils of crinoids, which is what a sea lily is, researchers found that similar marks from sea urchin “mouths” were found on the fossils that they found in current research. They concluded that this escape mechanism was derived from predation pressures and that it is a development that probably occurred only about 150 million years ago. Evolution is interesting! If you would like to read the full article click here.

My Trip Experience

Going to the Outer Banks was the most amazing trip. It was my first time to the beach and in the ocean. I had a lot of fun looking and collecting shells that we learned in class. I found it very interesting that all the shells that were washing up on the beach were actually old, since the Outer Banks is being eroded toward mainland. In this first picture the black clump being held is salt mash soil from the salt marshes that have been moved inward (I like to call it Spartina poop or marsh muffin).

The second pictures shows some class mates kayaking. This was also the first time i have ever kayaked. It was very fun to kayak through the salt marsh and look for Geukensia, Spartina, Juncus, and Littoraria, which we also learned about in class. This trip reinforced many concepts that we learned about in class and it was very interesting to actually see everything in the natural environment interacting with each other. This trip strengthened marine knowledge, friendship, and camping experience.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Thin Billed Prions pick their molting grounds on their own

After seeing many marine birds in class, this one, the Thin Billed Prion, acts different. Migration is common in birds, from geese to the soothy shearwater which travels around the world one and a half times.

The Thin-Billed Prion spends its molting season in two different areas, which are very different from each other. It is suggested that this is an adaption, that these seabirds can change their habitat based on the harsh and differing conditions of the oceans.

During their molting season, it appears as if they either travel to the Antarctica, or on the coast of Brazil. The vast majority of the birds tend to molt in the Antarctic waters, but a few individual birds will go to Brazil. Genetically the same, these are not different species of birds going their own way, they are the same species picking two different spots. This demonstrates that there is flexibility in the marine birds behavior.

To learn more click here

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Oceans - Disney Nature Official Trailer 2010

Tomorrow, April 22 is Earth Day. Last year on this day, Disney released a movie titled "Earth" which paid homage towards wildlife across the globe. This year they have done it once again however, focused their efforts upon the ocean. The film titled "Oceans" explores five of the Earth's oceans and the wide variety of life which inhabit these ecosystems. Extensive effort has be invested towards this film; over the past seven years the directors Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud have gathered footage of truly amazing marine life. For example, it took 28 weeks before footage of a blue whale was captured on film. The duo has previous experience working together on the Oscar nominated documentary "Winged Migration. The main message of this film is to educate viewers of the amazing yet fragile life which inhabit the ocean. To promote preservation, a portion of ticket sales will be donated towards coral reef rehabilitation.

A more detailed review may be found at:


After seeing some young dolphins playing near the shore during our trip to the Outer Banks, I had no choice but to put up a post about dolphins.

I found this great video of dolphins playing with bubble rings on Youtube.

You also hear stories every now and then about dolphins playing near cruise ships, and doing jumps for the tourists.

Marine Census Finds huge Microbial Flats

This article gave a sneak peak about a marine census that has analyzed tiny creatures in the ocean, such as zooplankton and microbes. This census has provided background on the stability of the ocean food chain.

On the west coast of South Africa microbial mats have been recently discovered. These mats are the size of Greece and are a large source of food. This census was one of the largest global collaborations ever done, which included 2,000 scientists from more than 80 nations. Many new species have been identified during the census and each collected species genome was sequenced too. Microbes are the main source of respiration in the oceans; they turn dissolved atmospheric carbon dioxide in to usable carbon for other organisms. Microbes are also recycling other nutrients in the water such as nitrogen, sulfur, and iron.

The census also found abundant patches of zooplankton in various location in the ocean. The amount of identified zooplankton species has doubled with the census. Zooplankton are very important contributors to the food chain. This study also looked at burrowers in the abyss. With current technology an abundance of burrower species were also identified.

You can read more about these finding in this science daily article.
Marine Census finds huge Microbial Flats
The final reports of the ocean census will be presented in London in October.

Sea lion VS Octopus

Usually when you think of a sea lion, you get an image in your head similar to the one I get.

That was why I was surprised to find this video from National Geographic’s “Critter cam” called Sea Lion Attacks Octopus: An Epic Battle.
I had thought that it would show an octopus attack a sea lion pup, with an adult sea lion coming to the rescue. What it does show is a sea lion repeatedly attacking an octopus, trying to eat it. Ignoring the ink-spraying defense mechanism, the sea lion keeps dragging the octopus to the surface to gain the advantage in the fight.

Sea Lion Attacks Octopus: An Epic Battle

This video proves the cold fact that nature is not always cute and cuddly. Sometimes it is a cold, indifferent battle to the death for survival, where only the fittest comes out on top.

Source: National Geographic’s “Critter cam”

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Algae-powered cars

About seven months ago, Rebecca Harrell and Josh Tickell, co-founders of the Veggie Van Organization and producer of the upcoming film FUEL, attempted to drive across the U.S. with just 25 gallons of gas.

It sounds crazy, but it actually worked with only 50 gallons of gas!

The “Algaeus” (a tricked-out hybrid Toyota Prius) gets 150 mpg because it runs on an algae-based biofuel.

Sapphire Energy says it will soon be producing green fuel that can compete with fossil fuels cost-wise.

Sources: [1]

New Reasearch on Coral Deaths

A new mathematical tool has been created to help biologist determine how disease and bleaching can kill corals. The researches from Cornell University are now using this model to better understand the causes of coral disease and bleaching. It has been proven that warmer waters are the cause of the bleaching and disease in areas such as the Caribbean. Mucus layers on the surface of the coral protect it from disease by preventing bacteria from invading the coral. Under warmer waters the corals become stressed and that protective technique declines which allows invasion of the bacteria. The new models were used to stimulate the bacterial community within the surface of the coral mucus under normal water conditions and warmer water conditions. The researchers have also found out that once the bacteria establishes in the coral they continue to destroy the coral even if the water cools down. At that point the corals are to damaged to recovery too. Reducing poor water quality was one idea the researchers suggested to allow coral to be less invaded by pathogens.

Reading the full article will give more information on the new model and how the researchers at Cornell University are continuing their research.

  • Coral Deaths
  • Picture: Partially bleached coral at Looe Key Reef in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Credit to Eric Bartels

Monday, April 19, 2010

Feeding the Bottom Feeders

Larger animals such as crabs. starfish and urchins limit the nutrients available for benthic organisms at the bottom of the sea floor.  Organisms such as snails, worms, and clams get out-competed by larger more mobile animals on the seafloor. Just of the coast of California at the Monterey Canyon one mile beneath the ocean surface these organism battle to consume the limited nutrients available. The underwater canyon which is roughly the size of the Grand Canyon, provides more nutrients than open ocean sea floors. The nutrient rich sediment that dissociates from the canyon walls provide tiny food particles and bacteria to an area that mostly relies on decaying fish and animals to float to the bottom to feed on. Size of snails and clams decreased as the distance away from the canyon walls increased. The researchers found that larger mobile animals such as crabs and urchins swarm the areas where nutrients are most abundant. The swarms of mobile animals consume most of the descending particles before the sediment dwellers get a chance to feed. The result is smaller, less diverse, and less populated benthic organisms as the distance to the canyon wall decreases.The article can be found

Right Whales

Currently scientists are perplexed with the increased deaths of Right Whales. These whales, which wash ashore along the Patagonian Coast of Argentina, are mostly calves, younger than three months old. Adults of this species can grow up to fifty - five feet in length and weigh sixty tons. The fist deaths were recorded in 2005 and currently reach a total of 308 individuals. The only similarity among each whale is the relatively thin layer of blubber (compared to healthy individuals). The high number of calves being washed ashore is most likely due to the shore's proximity to Peninsula Valdes, which is a crucial nursery and calving environment for the Right Whale population in the Southern Hemisphere. About one - third of Right Whales are thought to depend on the waters surrounding the Peninsula Valdes. Although these deaths have been occurring over the past year, later this month a team from the Wildlife Conservation Society as well as experts from other organizations will meet and discuss solutions to this problem. Current hypotheses include: biotoxins, disease, environmental factors, and prey availability at the whales' feeding grounds.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Are different colored sea snakes more susceptible to algal fouling?

Sea snakes evolved from venomous land snakes that reinhabited the oceans about 5 million years ago. Recent research is finding the coloring of a sea snake can influence its vulnerability to algal fouling, which can significantly reduce their swimming speed (by about 20%). Their new life in water forced them to evolve traits that would allow them to survive better in aquatic environments: a paddle-shaped tail for swimming efficiency, valves to close their nostrils, and larger longs for oxygen. Most sea snakes are banded rather than one color, spotted, or stripy. To test whether or not color influenced algal fouling, scientist looked at sea snakes in the tropical Pacific Ocean. In this population, members of the same species could be any color form jet black to black and white banded. Over four years, researchers found that black snakes supported more algal cover than the black and white banded snakes. Next, they had to determine if this color really was the cause of higher algal levels. They suspended models (black, white, and white and black) in the middle water range. The results showed that color does directly influence that amount of algae that grew. They found that the black surfaces had the most algae, while white had the least. The consequence of having high algal growth is decreased swimming speed for the snake, with locomotor trials revealing a 20% decrease. At the same time, the algae may benefit the snake by providing more oxygen levels through photosynthesis. Apparently, the costs of being black is outweighed by some benefits.
Picture from-

Monday, April 12, 2010

Moray eels prove to be an exception to the rules

Eels have many traits that suggest intelligence. They are known to hunt cooperatively with groupers in the wild, and go on hunger strikes when in captivity. They are also famous for being spontaneously aggressive. Moray eels have two sets of jaws; oral jaws and pharyngeal jaws (in their throat). The pharyngeal jaws serve to aid the eel in sending their prey down their throats. Each set of jaws has a set of rear facing fangs. When eels feed, they actually bite their prey twice. Joshua Reece, a graduate student at Washington University, decided to research eels for his dissertation when he saw seven species of eel occupying the same niche and eating the same diet. Upon discovering this he said "species don't do that; if they exploit the same niche they don't diversify, and if they diversify they don't exploit the same niche." This study involves two species of eel: the undulated moray (Gymnothorax undulatus) and the yellow-edged moray (G. flavimarginatus), sampled at a dozen different locations across the Indo-Pacific ocean. The are searching for genetic variations that might indicate a past or recent interruption among the gene flow in the eel populations. Reece and colleagues have found that both species of eel are genetically homogeneous across the entire ocean, despite the vastness of the Indo-Pacific. This proves that eels are the most "cosmopolitan of reef fish" and raises many questions as to how and why the 150 species of moray eel formed separate species at all. One hypothesis stems from a proposed "rule of thumb" that the longer the larvae live pelagically, the more genetically homogeneous the species is likely to be. Moray eels will be great to test this idea. As juveniles, they are poor swimmers, and adults only stick to a few square meters of reef. Eel have extremely long-lived pelagic larvae (several months or even years). These larvae (leptocephalus) is the simplest of the self-sustaining vertebrate forms. It has a slender body that is only one cell thick, and it has relatively no digestive tract. Their simplicity means that they cannot digest plankton, so they feed on the shed exoskeleton or the waste products of plankton. A second hypothesis is that their may be barriers in the ocean that the larvae cannot cross such as the Eastern Pacific Barrier and the Sunda Shelf. This hypothesis didn't seem to hold up when tested. Genetic analysis showed that where the eels were living didn't seem to have anything to do with their genetic makeup. These questions are still under investigation.
Picture from:

Thursday, April 8, 2010

First Animals to live without Oxygen

Roberto Danovaro, of the Polytechnic University of Marche, Ancona, Italy, and his research team have found an animal that can live and reproduce in anoxic environments. These animals are multicellular and belong to the group Loricifera. They took sediment samples from a deep hypersaline anoxic basin which are also known as DHABs from the Mediterranean sea. These environments were believed to be habitats to only viruses, Bacteria, and Archaea. This is not the first time these animals have been found. Before, it was just believed they they had fallen from the water column and fell to the benthos. However these animals are alive, metabolically active, and reproducing. Many were found to contain eggs.
Electronmicroscopy shows that these animals posses organelles that resemble they hydrogenosomes that were previously found in unicellular protozoans that inhabited anaerobic environments instead of aerobic mitochondria.
This finding has opened up possibilities of other metazoan life that could be found in other anoxic environments. It also opens up some light in past evolutionary history.

The full article can be found here

Caviar Anyone?

The Beluga sturgeon has been placed on the Critically endangered list in the Caspian Sea. The Caspian Sea which is the biggest lake on Earth is bordered by Iran and Russia. The beluga sturgeon is fished for its unfertilized eggs that are used to make the World's best caviar. The high demand for the fish that creates the "best" black caviar is pushing the sturgeon to critically low numbers. The United States has banned the importation of the beluga sturgeon since 2005 as it is on the endangered species list. The decline in population numbers is seen in the other 27 species of sturgeon across the globe. In order to increase the population size of the sturgeon, scientists from the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science said focus should be placed on reducing the overfishing of the adult fish. Also, hatchery supplementation should not be relied upon to help increase the sturgeon population. Currently harvest rates are four to five times greater than the fishing levels that would maintain a stable population.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Acoustic Ocean Imagery

Earlier this month, researchers from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) created a new technique to locate fish, and even zooplankton, which eliminates the interference of turbulent waters.
In the past, marine biologists relied on sound waves to locate schools of fish and map the ocean floor. A sound wave was emitted from the surface, and as it traveled deeper into the ocean and made contact with an object, the sound wave would scatter. This information from the scattered wave was then used to determine the size and shape of the object. Unfortunately a single sound wave would rarely consist of more than one frequency and data from different frequencies vary. The inaccuracy of sound wave interpretation increases with seawater turbulence; scientists may not be certain if the small scatterings of sound waves are tiny zooplankton or interference of turbulent waters.
Recently, the researchers at WHOI published details surrounding a new and improved methodology which relies upon broadband systems to measure an array of frequencies, resulting in the broadband acoustic spectra. By incorporating a wider range of frequencies this novel method is also able to determine the population density of fish as well as individual size. Being able to gather such information is crucial for the commercial fishing industry. In regard to zooplankton, this device has the ability to distinguish between zooplankton and ocean turbidity. This new technique is such an advancement in the field, it is being compared to the switch from black and white to color T.V.

Potential Disease Threatens Sea Otters

Researchers from the NOAA's Olympic Coastal National Marine Sanctuary, the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, and some of their partners have recently concluded that the some of Washington State sea otters have been exposed to a pathogens that have caused disease in other marine populations. Even though the sea otters are not having a negative reaction from the effects of the pathogens, they are still concerned with the fact that the otters can still face the threats of the disease because of how small their population is and how limited their distribution can be. The researchers consider the sea otters to be a "keystone species" and a change in their population could affect the entire ecosystem so the pathogens and its effects on the otters is a primary concern. Tissue and blood analysis was taken from a number of otters who had the electronic tracking tag as well as the dead otters. If the otter tested positive, that meant the otter was exposed to one of the pathogens, morbillivirus and Toxoplasma. Researchers believe that if there is a problem in the otter population that it can be a sign of a larger problem in the environment. This study will be used as insight into further studies and a way to keep an eye on sea otters in that area.

Reading the full article gives more information on the study and what researchers are doing to monitor the sea otters.

  • Sea Otters

  • Picture: A Washington State Sea Otter, credit of the NOAA

Hō'ailona the Monk Seal

Hō'ailona, a monk seal, has become an important instrument for understanding the endangered species. Because of their small number, about 1,100 seals, there has not been a lot of opportunity for studying these incredible animals. Hō'ailona was born in Hawaii in May 2008 and was abandoned by his mother shortly after. He was rescued and cared for by scientists who released him back into the wild in the winter of 2008.
Because he had gotten used to being around humans, Hō'ailona was not ready to be in the wild and he interacted with the people on the beaches of Hawaii. Because the people feared that he was in danger of hurting himself or other people, he was recaptured and was taken to a facility where he could be taken care of and eventually be released back into the wild. Before he was going to be relocated and released, a veterinarian check-up found that Hō'ailona had an eye problem: cataracts. At the discovery of this information, the NOAA decided that he should not be released back into the wild.

Scientists have used Hō'ailona to do some experimental studies to begin to understand the monk seal. Studies of other seals have been conducted to understand their metabolism and of how their energy is used. They are also doing different tests to figure out what effect temperature differences have on the metabolism of Hō'ailona. These studies are hopefully going to help provide information on how habitats for these endangered animals can be improved and/or maintained and preserved.

Because Hō'ailona has spent so much time in captivity and because of his eye problem, he will more than likely not be released back into the wild. The people that are responsible for him now have decided that they may eventually put him on display for the public so that they can see the monk seal. The studies that are being done on Hō'ailona are going to be very useful in raising awareness about monk seals and possibly other species of endangered seals as well.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Terrific Threads

Mussels use their byssal threads to attach and cling to rocks; on average, each individual mussel has 50 to 100 threads. As mussels inhabit rocky shores they are exposed to the constant pressure of pounding waves, without these byssal threads these organisms would be immediately swept out to sea. Although the function of byssal threads were known, scientists were unsure of the physical characteristics which allowed byssal threads to successfully secure the mussels. Previously researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam, Germany hypothesized the byssal threads must be both hard and stretchy however, they were unsure of the exact composition.
The physical and chemical makeup of the byssal threads was determined using a microscopic technique. It revealed the center of each thread was composed of stretchy collagen – like material coated in hard material made of proteins linked together with iron ions. The coating (Figure 1) is compared to having a sandpaper – like texture. This outer coating selectively manages where any damage will occur. As waves crash against the mussels, small cracks develop in the threads however; they will only occur between the iron ions. This spreads out the damage along the byssal thread and prevents breakage.
The researchers from this study hope to apply this new found knowledge to engineering materials to be both stretchy and hard.

Full text of this article may be found at:

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Good Bacteria Turns Bad

This article ties in with the presentation that i will be presenting on next week. Coral bleaching is the whitening of coral, from the loss of their symbiont. Coral bleaching is an increasing problem due to the increased water temperatures. Coral reefs are very important to the human economy and to a vast diversity of animals.

This article talks about the bacteria that live on coral reefs, in normal conditions these bacteria produce a mucus layer that protects the corals. This mucus layer prevents the corals from getting infections from bacteria. However, with the increasing temperature of the water the mucus layer breaks down and the good bacteria are replaced with pathogenic (bad) bacteria. This model has also shown that once the water temperatures return to normal the pathogenic bacteria remain on the corals. The mechanism is not quite understood to explain the pathogenic bacteria remaining on the corals when temperatures return to normal. The water temperatures have been increasing over the past years and many steps need to be taken to improve coral reef habitats before they are lost forever.

Good Bacteria Turns Bad

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Loggerheads Unveiled

 Loggerhead turtles are currently a threatened species. However, these turtles on the verge of becoming endangered and are appearing in decreasing numbers. Research by a team of University of Florida biologists from the Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research shows that turtles are unique. The turtles live and eat where they please, but surprisingly they do not eat or live in large numbers. Loggerhead turtles are known to be extensive travelers. They can swim thousands of miles and eat many different bottom-dwelling species such as crab and whelks. However. research has shown that the turtles chose what they eat and prey mostly on what they prefer to eat. The research also has shown that individual turtles stay within a certain range and do not travel far away from the place they make home. The researchers know this because they biopsied fifteen female loggerhead turtles. The removed tissue was observed using mass spectrometry.  The readings showed different densities that correlated with what they ate and where they were living.  The research followed the turtles for a twelve year time span. Future research is being conducted to help predict where the turtles will live and what they will eat. The research then can be used to protect the turtles and help their population size increase.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Are marine microbes our answer to plastic pollution?

Microbes are the most numerous of marine organisms, and recent studies are underway to see just how these organisms interact with plastics in the ocean. Plastic pollution is a big problem, because in the environment, it can take thousands of years to break down. Over time, the size of plastic decreases in the ocean because of natural forces wearing on it. The tiny fragments are dangerous because they can absorb toxins that can be ingested by marine animals. Researchers at the University of Sheffield and the Center for Environment, Fisheries, and Aquaculture science are providing evidence that the type of microbes that grow on these plastic fragments significantly varies from the microbial groups that colonize the wider environments. These microbes may be contributing to the breakdown of plastic pollution and toxins in the marine environment. Using DNA experiments, these researchers are finding that plastic is quickly colonized by many species of bacteria that together form a biofilm along the plastic surface. This biofilm is only formed by certain types of marine bacteria. It's going to take more research to fully understand the impact these bacteria have on plastic pollution, but these experiments could offer insight into the impacts of plastic pollution on the global environment.
Picture from:

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Barnacles enriching the trophic dynamics of the Galapagos waters

Researchers debate what happens to key sources of food during strong upwelling currents. As we learned in class, a strong upwelling can carry larvae from organisms like barnacles from their offshore home out to sea where they would die.

New Research shows that barnacles, a key food source in fact thrive in strong upwellings. When a strong upwelling is present the barnacle larvae is more likely to be recruited to the rocky walls. When this happens the predators of the barnacles, like hogfish and whelks flock to these strong upwelling zones creating dynamic ecosystems where there were thought to be none.

Several studies have shown that strong upwelling zones aren't good environments for barnacles to live and have shown this before. The new research was done in deeper waters and the research was done by one of the only teams to be working in these waters in the Galapagos Islands.

To learn more click here

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Giant crocodile in the United States

Recent studies have been done on the ancient giant crocodile Deinosuchus. Deinosuchus can grow to 29 feet long and can eat dinosaurs as large as them. This current study has been analyzing the jaw and fossilized crocodile dung, some of these specimens are from Georgia.It is predicted that these giant crocodiles fed on dinosaurs and large sea turtles.

Professor Schwimmer and his student Harrell believe dinosaurs were the main diet and preferred food; these conclusions were drawn based on the jaw size, teeth markings on dinosaur bones, and the evidence found in the fossilized dung. The evidence supporting this are the Deinosuchus teeth marks in the bones of dinosaurs found in many different locations in North America

The dung that was analyzed showed many shell fragments and sand particles; this led to the determination that they live in shallow marine waters. Schwimmer and Harrell recently presented their finding in many locations in the US.

Giant crocodile in the United States

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Are Bioluminescent Bacteria Behind Milky Seas Legend?

For several Centuries, sailors have told stories of so called "milky seas." These 'milky seas' seemed to be glowing a dim white light. According to the log of the S.S. Lima as it sailed off the coast of Somalia 11 years ago, they were surrounded by waters that appeared as a field of snow or clouds in all directions. Scientist have been able to go back and look at satellite pictures at the time of this voyage and were able to find pictures confirming the glowing sea. Scientist say that this glow is caused by bioluminescent bacteria. One might ask how many bioluminescent bacteria would it take to light up the seas? Well if one were to cover the earth in a 4 inch layer of sand and then count all of the individual grains of sand in that layer, thats how many it would take. These glowing seas typically only last a few days are usually found in the Indian Ocean.
Scientist hypothesize that the bacterium Vibrio harveyi is responsible for this bioluminescence. There are dinoflagellates that will give off light as well. These organisms however must be physically stimulated to produce a brief flash of light. V. harveyi seem to give off a continuous light on their own. One hypothesis that is mentioned for the bacterium to continuously glow is to attract fish so they can enter their guts and live there.

The article and a minute long video can be found here.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Seaweed the New Diet Fad?

With obesity on the rise in America, American's are looking for alternatives to diet and exercise. According to Dr Iain Brownlee and Prof Jeff Pearson of Newcastle University,  naturally occurring seaweed may help reduce the amount off fat that is absorbed by the body. The seaweed contains a natural source of dietary fiber called Alginate that helps reduce the amount of fat that is absorbed by the body. The Alginate has been scientifically proven to reduce the amount of fat absorbed by the body than current over the counter treatments available right now. According to the test, the seaweed tests better than white bread and may prevent 75% of the fat eaten during that meal from being absorbed by the body. According to researchers at Sheffield Hallam University, a different type of seaweed can be used instead of salt in preserved foods. This would help decrease the excess salt that is consumed by humans. This could ultimately help reduce future heart problems caused by excessive salt intake. Whether your looking to lose weight or protect your heart, seaweed may be the answer for a healthier lifestyle.

These articles can be found on Sciencedaily:

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sea urchin growth

Researchers Amy Johnson and Olaf Ellers are studying how sea urchins (and echinoderms in general) can grow. Somehow, they can do it without having to shed their shells or skeletal plates.

They discovered that as urchins grow, the collagenous tissue inside, outside, and between their skeletal plates softens. The shell inflates like a balloon. The collagen stretches and expands gaps between the plates from the inside, while containing them from the outside. Eventually, the tissue between the plates is reabsorbed and is replaced by hard shell. This mechanism is similar to the growth of a vertebrate skull. [1]

Scientists want to use this information to make “sea farms” of sea urchins possible. Only two experimental hatcheries are in use right now: a commercial one in Lubec, Maine, and another developed by the University of New Hampshire. If they are successful, they could “seed” areas overharvested for sea urchins to restore their populations. (Sea urchins are a delicacy in Japan. In 1993, 30 to 40 million pounds were harvested.)

They are still looking into what makes sea urchins reproduce, grow, and thrive. This research is complicated by the fact that it takes sea urchins six years to reach sexual maturity.
Right now they aren’t sure yet if sea urchin sea farms would be economically viable.

[1] Bowdoin Researchers Seek Methods to Spur Sea Urchin Growth

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Sea urchins may see with their feet

Check out this timely new post from Creaturecast on how sea urchins use photoreceptors all over their body to form visual images.  There are also some nice photos of tube feet.

It points out how much more there is to learn about common marine organisms, simply because no-one has thought to look.

Oyster Reefs Invaded

The Olympian Oyster, commonly found on Tomales Bay in California, has begun to vanish due to humans moving certains species beyond their natural borders and habitats. Native and exotic species relationships may have an effort on the loss of critical habitats due to this discovery. David L. Kimbo, marine biologist and his colleagues from The Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory are responsible for this discovery. The loss of this Olympian Oyster will be dramatic because they provide many settlement habitats for different species. With this study, the habitat management and conservation efforts in Florida will be more successful to help restore the oysters. The Atlantic Coast crabs and snails are the explanation for this oyster decline because of the predator-prey mismatch. The native and non native species being introduced has caused the oyster habitat to become interrupted, which has lead to decline. Kimbo and his team are planning to keep studying this interaction to try and protect those Olympian oysters.

  • Reading the full article will give a more detailed explanation of this oyster decline.

Olympian Oysters

  • Picture shows the Intertidal Zone of Tomales Bay in California, the oysters are present on the rocks.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Scientists find evidence of hyrothermal vents off of the coast of Antarctica

In the past several decades, more than 220 hydrothermal vents have been found around the world. Up until recently, no one has ever looked for them in the freezing cold waters of Antarctica. Hydrothermal vents are known for releasing volcanically heated water from deep within the planets underwater mountain ranges. The chemicals found in these vents are known to influence the biodiversity and chemistry of the ocean, much like sunlight on land. By analyzing thousands of oceanographic measurements, a team of scientists were able to place six hypothetical vents on the Pacific Antarctic ridge. These vents were pinpointed using two important facts; 1) they are areas where the ocean is stratified with layers of lighter water sitting on top of denser water, 2) when a seafloor vent erupts, it releases gases rich in Helium-3, which mixes with ocean water and stays within a density layer that forms a plume that can stretch thousands of miles. When these scientists were analyzing Helium-3 content in the water, they came across a random plume in the southern portion of the Pacific Ocean. This plume was located below a well known plume coming from the East Pacific Rise. But the new plume was too deep to have the same source. Using approximately 25,000 salinity, temperature and depth measurements, the researchers compiled a map of ocean density layers in that region. They located the plume along a single density layer and compared that layer to the topographic map of the region to find out where the plume would intersect. The sites they identified cover 340 miles of ridge line with a chain of volcanic mountains that lies about 3 miles below the oceans surface. They haven't found the vents, but they have narrowed down the places they could look. The map that these scientist created will be helpful in narrowing down the search sites. Once they are within a few kilometers of the vent, they will be able to detect the rich minerals flowing out of it. Study of the vents on the Pacific Atlantic Ridge will offer valuable insight into how the biodiversity varies between the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Radulas and oysters

After talking about the various lethal things that gastropods do with their radulas, I thought you might like this post from the Deep Sea News.

And check out this video on the blue crab fishery in North Carolina:

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Types of breakers

I got this on a bit late, but check it out if you have time before class on Monday.

Sea squirts that may be able to cure Alzheimer's

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, the most feared age related disease. There is no cure only drugs that can slow the affects. The key to curing the disease is the removal of the plaque build up in the brain.

ers from the university of San Diego have found a sea squirt that may hold the key to curing this disease; the sea squirt Ciona intestinalis. While not actually being able to cure any disease through some magical protein the sea squirt is the humans closest invertebrate relative and shares 80% of its DNA with humans making it an amazing model for DNA studies with its ability to incorporate foreign DNA.

This Sea squirt can exhibit the traits of someone with Alzheimer's disease if given the DNA of someone with the disease to incorporate into themselves. While not being able to cure the disease the sea squirt gives us the next best thing; a model to quickly and effectively study Alzheimer's.

For more information click here

Humpback Whales to the Rescue

Allomaternal care (maternal care provided by an individual towards offspring other than one’s own) has been demonstrated by numerous species however, more recent observations now include humpback whales.

The NOAA Fisheries Service expedition, which first observed this behavior, was sailing from South America to the Antarctica Peninsula in search of killer whales and recording their hunting tactics. A main component of a killer whale’s diet is Weddell seals. Researchers aboard the vessel, Robert Pitman and John Durban, were shocked as they watched ten killer whales agitate two adult humpback whales. Further observation revealed a Weddell seal swimming between the two humpbacks. However, it could not be proven the humpback whales were truly protecting the seal; oftentimes killer whales will try to antagonize the larger humpbacks to determine if any are sick or weak.

To the expedition’s surprise a week later they witnessed a different pair of humpback whales preventing a killer whale from attacking a seal. As a group of killer whales successfully dislodged the Weddell seal from its ice flow, the helpless seal immediately swam towards the pair of humpbacks (who were swimming nearby). The humpback closest to the seal, rolled on its back and pushed the seal onto its chest (using its flippers). Following the second display of such behavior the researchers concluded humpback whales were indeed exhibiting allomaternal care towards the seals.

*This blog post was derived from the article titled, “Save the Seal” published in Natural History’s November 2009 issue.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Update from the outer banks

It's been a good week down here at the beach.  Perfect weather for a few days giving way to wind and rain today.  We saw lots of interesting wildlife, from your standard shells and crab parts on the beach, a good diversity of shore birds, a pod of dolphins, one whale, a fox and lots of deer.

Here's a little practice with your knowledge of Atlantic Coast mollusks.  How many of the following taxa can you name:

And here are some shots of taxa that we will work with in lab this week - Arthropods and Echinoderms. The sea star on the left (the genus Asterias) was pretty fresh, but dead, and became a bit smelly over the last few days.  The other sea star is Astropecten.  The crabs are all specimens of Persephona punctata - a purse crab.  There were lots of these washed up on the beach.

Check back for another post tomorrow that will have some video on types of breakers.  This will be one of our topics for Monday's class.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Based on research on dolphins, it has been found that the way we treat them may affect them psychologically. Dolphin brains are very large and are second to humans based on the brain to body size relationship. Their brains are very well developed and have many of the same characteristics as our brains do. They are able to recognize themselves and are very intelligent animals.

When humans capture them and put them in captivity for entertainment purposes, they may be doing psychological damage to the dolphins. In knowing this, capturing dolphins has become an issue under ethical scrutiny. It has become an issue to figure out what effects we could be having on these delicate animals. Hopefully more research can be done in order to determine what effects we are having on dolphins. We need to protect all animals and we need to know whether we are doing harm or good.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Severe Red Tides Predicted for 2010

Many studies have been conducted to watch for red algal blooms. These red blooms are indirectly toxic to humans, because filter feeding mussels eat the algae. The toxins are passed to humans when ingested, which causes paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP).

Scientists follow algae cysts that settle during colder times of the year, in order to monitor the severity of algae blooms. When toxicity levels become to high local fisheries are shut down to protect human health. Alexandrium fundyense is a toxic algae being monitored by the NOAA scientists in the Gulf of Maine. Over the past few years Alexandrium fundyense dormant cysts have been increasing in abundance and producing large blooms. These algae are transported, by winds and currents, a large distance on the New England coast Near the end of 2009 water samples surveyed an abundance of cysts in the water, leading to the prediction of a severe and toxic algae bloom.

Severe Red Tides Predicted for 2010

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Powerpoint presentation

Hey all,

I realize this is a little late for our lab practical but I have put together a PowerPoint presentation that has pictures of all the shells that we identified in lab. If you would like me to send you the presentation, I would be more than happy to attach it to an email. Just shoot me an email at and I'll send you a copy. I'll check my email before I go to bed but if you still want the PowerPoint regardless, I can still send it to you. Just thought I would offer.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Barnacles Flourish in Zones with Upwelling

Most marine ecologists believe that larvae of barnacles and mussels hitch a ride on offshore currents in the presence of upwelling, therefore most of the larvae are absent from coastal intertidal zones. Jon Witman and his team members have recently concluded that barnacles are actually present in zones with vertical upwelling and attach onto rock walls even more when the current is stronger. In vertical current zones the larvae are being bounced up against the rocky walls and find a spot to latch onto according to Witman. He refers to this process as "a contact game" where the larvae are using the rocks to settle. This study can change how scientist view the effect upwelling has on marine communities. Witman and his team believe that this study can prove true to other rocky intertidal organisms and ecosystems as well, if more underwater experiments are conducted.

The full article gives more insight into the study Witman and his team conducted.

  • Article:
  • Image: Barnacles, credit to Jon Witman and Brown University