MarineBio Newsletter 7
Featured Species: Cetaceans!
Issues in Marine Conservation: WHALE CONSERVATION
Current Research: Autonomous Underwater Vehicles
The Sea Below ~ Expedition :: Florida Road Trip
MarineBio is pleased to bring you the 7th edition of our newsletter! We welcome your feedback on its content and would love to hear what you're interested in reading! Send your comments to: Joni@marinebio.org.
- Please join us in welcoming MarineBio's new Director of Invertebrates, Dr. James Wood. Dr. Wood brings tremendous experience to MarineBio and is well-known for his extensive knowledge of cephalopod (octopuses, squids, cuttlefish, and nautilus) biology. Currently, Dr. Wood is an Assistant Research Scientist at the Bermuda Biological Station for Research where he occasionally accepts interns.
Dr. Wood was inspired to specialize in cephalopod biology because of their intelligence, amazing abilities, and visual tricks. His PhD work at Dalhousie University in Canada included research on the behavior and life history of the deep-sea octopus Bathypolypus arcticus. He was the first person to raise baby deep-sea octopuses in the laboratory, the first to document the mating habits of this species and the first to directly investigate the life-span of any deep-sea octopus. Dr. Wood discovered that deep-sea octopuses take more than 400 days to brood their eggs, which is longer than the entire life span of most other species of octopuses. During this time the females never leave their eggs and literally starve to death while they protect the next generation.
He is currently researching the diet of octopuses based on the contents of their middens, which are piles of shells and crab carapaces discarded outside their lair. Using these trash piles, Dr. Wood can determine what octopuses are eating as well as what mollusk and crustacean populations live in the area. Additional current research includes using digital photography to quantify camouflage in octopuses and tagging and releasing Caribbean reef squid to study the effect of water temperature and body size on their growth rates.
Dr. Wood has also been involved in three film productions: The Reef Series, Tentacles, and The Ultimate Guide to Octopuses, two of which aired on the Discovery Channel. Tentacles was the most recent to air, which featured research on visual communication of the Caribbean reef squid. The Ultimate Guide to Octopuses features Dr. Wood's pioneering work on the behavior and life history of deep-sea octopuses. Dr. Wood has also developed websites to share his expertise in the science of cephalopods. He has maintained The Cephalopod Page for more than a decade and co-created an online scientific database of cephalopods.
When he's not studying octopuses or teaching, Dr. Wood can usually be found on the 41 foot sailboat that he lives on in Bermuda. Dr. Wood is also an accomplished underwater photographer and teaches this skill to others. His images have been used on the cover of children's books, aquarium magazines, museum displays, text books, and featured in Tentacles. He has dived all over the world to conduct research and take underwater photographs including: Bonaire, Caymans, Dry Tortugas, Egypt, Nova Scotia, Hawaii, Micronesia, Texas, and Thailand.
We are thrilled to have Dr. Wood as a member of our team!
- It's official! We are incorporated in Florida and will be applying for 501(c)(3) U.S. tax exempt status with the IRS forming an official nonprofit organization to take MarineBio to the next level. We hope to receive our tax exempt certification by early this summer. In the meantime, donations will be tax deductible from March 31, 2006.
This will begin a new era for MarineBio as we hope that the ability to receive tax deductible donations will help us grow and will allow us to work even harder achieve our mission: Sharing the wonders of the ocean to inspire education, research, and a sea ethic. Stay tuned for some new and exciting changes on MarineBio, including ways to help you get more involved if you're interested.
We're planning to implement a membership society program, and will be sending out a survey soon so that you can help us help you and so that we can work together to protect the marine life that we all love. As a member, you will have special privileges around the site and, although we're still working out the details, you can look forward to interacting as much or as little as you like.
- In the meantime, we would like to thank our recent and previous donors for their generosity and faith in our work. Their contributions have helped us add lots of new and interesting content to the site and have enabled us to keep the site up and running smoothly.
- Barry University's Dr. Jeremy Montague submitted this fascinating article "Global Warming And Hurricanes: Only Heat, Or Is There Light?" to MarineBio. Thanks to Dr. Montague for providing us with such an enlightening (no pun intended!) and informative article to help us understand last year's increase in severe hurricanes and to help us predict what lies in store for the 2006 hurricane season.
- Thanks to the generosity of Plankton Forum member Marteee (aka Martin Griffiths) we are now endowed with an excellent set of resources from Cambridge University Press. See MarineBio Recommends below for details on these excellent references. Thanks!
- The Frequently Asked Questions page has been updated recently. There's lots of good information there on MarineBio.org in general, education or careers in the marine life sciences, marine life, and marine conservation.
Featured Species: Cetaceans!
Cetacea is the taxonomic order that includes all 81 known species of whales, dolphins, and porpoises—the mammals most fully adapted to aquatic life. The order is subdivided into two suborders: the baleen whales (Mysticeti) and the toothed whales (Odontoceti). They range in size from the small vaquita porpoise that only measures up to 1.5 m in length and weighs about 55 kg to the enormous blue whale that measures an average of 25 m in length and weighs around 100,000 kg!
Cetaceans evolved from land mammals (most likely from certain hoofed carnivores which also gave rise to the artiodactyls—the even-hoofed mammals, including pigs and the hippopotamus) that adapted to marine life about 50 million years ago. Recent comparisons of some milk protein genes suggest that the closest terrestrial living relative of whales may be the hippopotamus. Throughout their evolution, cetaceans have become perfectly suited to an aquatic environment and have undergone a number of changes (adaptations), including streamlined bodies for efficient movement through the water, forelimbs modified into flippers, a broader tail that consists of two large flukes used to powerfully propel their bodies through the water, the development of a thick layer of fat called blubber used for insulation and buoyancy, and a repositioning of the nostrils to the top of their head creating a blowhole used at the surface for respiration.
Although they breathe air, whales are able to dive for extended lengths of time because they have a higher percentage of oxygen carrying cells in their blood. In addition, during long dives their heart rates slow and blood flow is reduced thereby maximizing their use of oxygen.
- The Odontoceti or "toothed whales," include all the dolphin, porpoise, and whale species that have teeth (including sperm whales, belugas, narwhals and beaked whales) and feed primarily on fish and squid. Toothed whales have only one externalblowhole. Toothed whales use echolocation for navigation and to locate food. They emit directional sounds and clicks and listen to the echoes bounced off objects in the water to form a visual picture based on the sound and how quickly the echo is returned. Whales produce sounds using their nasal passages and larynxes and by forcing air through a partially-opened blowhole. They hear sound waves in the water, which are vibrated through the lower jaw to the inner ear.
- Mysticeti or "moustached whales" (baleen whales), include at least 14 species of baleen whales (blue, fin, sei, gray, humpback, minke (2 species), right (3 species), bowhead, pygmy right, Bryde's, pygmy Bryde's, and the recently discovered (2003) Balaenoptera omurai whales). Baleen whales have a series of plates in the roofs of their mouths made of a fingernail-like material called keratin. The inner edge of the baleen plates is bristly and is used to filter foosd from the water taken into the mouth. Baleen whales feed by taking in large mouthfuls of water and food, usually small crustaceans (krill) or small fishes, causing pleated grooves in the throat to expand. As they close their mouth, they expel the water through their baleen plates and the food is trapped and swallowed. Baleen whales have two external blowholes. Although they do not use echolocation, they still communicate with sounds including moans and thumps. Humpback whales are well-known for their complex songs that can last 30 minutes or longer.
Like all mammals, whales are nourished in the womb through an umbilical cord and after birth with milk from their mothers. Sexual maturity is not reached until 7-10 years of age in most species and most species give birth to only one calf every 1-3 years following a 9-18 month gestation period. Females care for their young for extended periods of time, often at least one year, feeding them and protecting them from predators. Many overhunted whale species are at greater risk of becoming endangered or extinct because of their low population numbers and reproductive rates.
Whales are highly intelligent and often very social creatures. They tend to travel in large pods andhelp each other raise young and find food. In addition, their unique ability to communicate orally is an indicator of their high intelligence given that it may contain some elements of a true language. Another indicator is the brain size of whales, which is larger in some species than any other animal.
Whale conservation has been an issue for many years and, although great strides have been made, these majestic creatures still need protection. Continue reading this issue of the MarineBio newsletter to learn about the reasons why whales are still in jeopardy.
Issues in Marine Conservation
The stranding of a 17-foot long northern bottlenose whale in the Thames River in January generated worldwide media attention. Thousands of onlookers in London lined the banks of the river to watch the rescue efforts of marine life rescue groups, scientists, veterinarians, police, and port authority crews. Sadly the whale died of dehydration and other causes before the rescuers could relocate her to deeper water.
The public's response to this incident was overwhelming and it brought attention to the need for whale conservation both in cases of strandings and in the wild. It is not known exactly how or why this whale found its way into the Thames River, however there was speculation that it was sick or that sonar from Navy vessels may have caused the animal to become confused. Sonar disturbance is just one of the many threats facing all whale species. They are also increasingly threatened by ocean pollution and they are being fished unsustainably—in spite of international legislation limiting whale catches. Sadly, strandings like the above happen frequently worldwide.
The International Whaling Commission, based in Cambridge, England, was established in 1946 under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling to provide for conservation of whale stocks and to ensure that measures taken to govern the conduct of the whaling industry are implemented. The IWC consists of 66 member countries that agree on measures such as: full protection for certain whale species, designation of whale sanctuaries, limits on the numbers and size of whales that may be taken, designation of seasons and areas for whaling, prohibiting the capture of suckling calves and their mothers. The IWC also facilitates whale research and publication of research findings.
In 1986, a moratorium on commercial whaling was enacted by the IWC. Nevertheless, countries such as Iceland, Japan, and Norway continue to take whales above and beyond acceptable catch limits. For example, during the 2005 IWC meeting, Japan announced plans to add humpback whales to its list of target species in spite of the zero quota established by the IWC for humpback whales. Japan is taking advantage of the IWC policy that allows nations to issue permits for scientists to kill whales for research purposes by claiming that their catches are for "scientific whaling." Investigations by the IWC Scientific Committee reports that these kills are for commercial purposes, not science.
Whale species that are killed for commercial use include: Baird's beaked whales, bowhead whales, Bryde's whales, fin whales, gray whales, humpback whales, long and short-finned pilot whales, minke whales, sei whales, and sperm whales.
Countries must simply stop killing whales for commercial purposes or many of these species will not be able to maintain the necessary population levels needed to sustain their species. Of the species listed above, fin and sei whales, are endangered, which is defined by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) as “facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild in the near future.” Humpback and sperm whales are listed by the IUCN as vulnerable, which is defined as “a high risk of extinction in the wild in the medium-term future.”
In addition to the threats to sustainable great whale populations, whaling also threatens their welfare. The IWC and whale conservation organizations have long been fighting the inherently inhumane killing methods used by whalers, which has changed very little since the 1800s. Today, the most common method used is the penthrite grenade harpoon. This explosive harpoon is fired from a cannon and was designed to penetrate the whale's body to a depth of 30 cm before detonating and killing the whale, but death is not always instant and severe suffering is often endured by the whales before they die. For more information on the inhumanity of present-day whaling methods, visit Whalewatch.org and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. The former is working hard to raise awareness on the plight of whales worldwide. Sea Shepherd is well-known for its fearless confrontations with the Japanese whalers in the Southern ocean. In December 2005, Sea Shepherd embarked on a campaign to fight Japanese whalers in the Antarctic using its flagship the Farley Mowat to intervene between the whales and the Japanese whaling fleet. The organization fought with determination and believes it successfully reduced the quota of whales targeted by the Japanese.
Efforts such as these will help put pressure on the nations that continue whaling in spite of the global moratorium, but unless those nations begin to cooperate with the policies of the IWC, whale species targeted for commercial purposes will remain in jeopardy.
Autonomous Underwater Vehicles
Autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), aka Gliders, are increasingly being used for deep sea research including deep sea floor mapping and surveying shipwrecks. According to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), AUVs are now also being used to monitor baleen whales through passive acoustic monitoring that improves on older methods, which were restricted in the amount of data they could collect by their stationary design moored to one location where they could only record data when marine mammals were nearby. The newer AUV is an ocean glider that resembles a model airplane or winged torpedo. The gliders, developed and operated by the WHOI Autonomous Systems Laboratory, can operate as deep as 1,000 meters (3,300 feet), and can move horizontally and vertically. The gliders are capable of recording a variety of data using high-resolution sensors that measure temperature, salinity, and fluorescence (or the abundance of phytoplankton). They can operate up to a month at a time and they move silently through the water, which enhances their use in passive acoustics studies.
WHOI conducted a five-day pilot study using the gliders in 2005 off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts where vocalizations of a number of species of baleen whales, including right, sei, and humpback, were digitally recorded. These and similar studies using the gliders will help scientists determine the habits of marine mammals over weeks to months by collecting both acoustic recordings and oceanographic measurements. The new AUV technology will allow scientists to collect data on baleen whales in ways that have not been possible before, which will ultimately help protect these endangered species from such threats as fishing gear entanglements (bycatch) and ship strikes. The technology will also be used in the future to monitor vocalizations of other marine mammals, such as dolphins, sperm whales, and the elusive beaked whales.
For more information see: Autonomous investigations of baleen whales
The Coastal Ocean Observation Lab (COOL) at Rutgers University Institute of Marine & Coastal Sciences (IMCS) and Webb Research Corporation are working together to develop and deploy a fleet of gliders that will continuously patrol coastal ocean waters. This technology will combine the mobility and long-range communication capabilities of the glider to provide continuous, near real time data on ocean physics and biology. Since November 2003, one glider has been deployed each month to patrol the New Jersey Shelf Observing Systems ENDURANCE LINE, which begins about ~5km southwest of the Rutgers University Marine Field Station and runs offshore to the continental shelf break, approximately 120 km offshore. Each mission ranges from 2-4 weeks, and provides data used by the COOL lab to build a historical database on the physics and biology of the New Jersey Shelf.s
The COOL lab has also deployed gliders near Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, Virginia Beach, Virginia, the West Florida Shelf, and the Sandy Hook National Recreation Area in New Jersey. Communication with the gliders is accomplished via Iridium Satellite phone link, which allows the COOL lab to retrieve data and assign new tasks remotely from the IMCS in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
The Sea Below ~ Expedition :: Florida
Although we're anxious to get back underwater to capture more photos and video of marine life, our most recent trip was spent topside in late December 2005 exploring the coasts of Florida to pinpoint where we'd like to set up offices for MarineBio. We visited some interesting sites along the way as we drove from Houston, Texas to the Florida panhandle, south along the west coast of Florida to Sarasota and east across the peninsula to the West Palm Beach area where we met up with Dr. James Wood in his hometown of Lake Worth, Florida.
While we were on the west coast, we visited the Mote Marine Laboratory and the Florida Aquarium in Tampa. Mote Marine Laboratory was a fascinating adventure and we enjoyed a fun interactive show in the “Immersion Cinema,” a 40-foot wide high-definition movie screen in a theater with interactive consoles where the audience can play along with the film and even compete with other audience members. We participated in the “The Dolphin Bay Project” where we observed Sarasota, Florida dolphins in their habitat and, using the interactive console, helped the science team search for a missing dolphin named Claire and her calf. We also used our consoles to vote on issues facing dolphin populations based on what we learned by watching the film.
In addition to the Immersion Cinema, the aquarium at the Mote Marine Laboratory was a fascinating experience. The exhibits include the opportunity to observe two of Mote's working laboratories; one is focused on benthic (bottom) research and the other focused on the study of coral bacteria to find new ways to keep coral reefs healthy. We also enjoyed Mote's resident sea turtles, including “Hang Tough,” a blind green sea turtle that could not be released after he was rehabilitated. As a permanent resident of Mote Marine Laboratory, Hang Tough enjoys playing with his pvc pipe toy and is a real treat for visitors to see a green sea turtle up close and personal.
Our favorite part of the visit to the Florida Aquarium was the leafy sea dragon exhibit where we watched these amazing creatures feed. It was fun to hear comments from other visitors who at first thought the leafy sea dragons were plants!
We also visited Ft. Desoto State Park while we were on the west coast and took some photographs of terrestrial marine life including ospreys, snowy egrets, brown pelicans, herons, terns, and sea gulls.
As we headed up the east coast toward Jacksonville on January 1, our last day in Florida, we decided to stop by Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Ft. Pierce. Unfortunately, the visitor's center was closed, but we had a great visit none the less. HBOI is planning to renovate its visitor center, which will include displays and exhibits, aquaria, and a small theater.
We highly recommend the following titles from Cambridge University Press:
Cephalopod Behaviour Roger T. Hanlon, 1998.
Conservation Biology Andrew S. Pullin, 2002.
Conservation of Exploited Species, Series: Conservation Biology (No. 6) John D. Reynolds, ed. 2001.
Darwin's Fishes, An Encyclopedia of Ichthyology, Ecology, and Evolution Daniel Pauly, 2004.
Designing Conservation Projects, People and Biodiversity in Endangered Tropical Environments Daniel H. Janzen, 1996.
Marine Biodiversity, Patterns and Processes Sir Crispin Tickell, 1997.
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