31 May 2013

SEASICK | CARSICK

Heavy weather + lightweight stevedoring doomed these cars aboard the cargo vessel Astongate en route from Toyama, Japan, to Vladivostok, Russia.
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19 May 2013

EARTH AND SKY PHOTO CONTEST 2013

Beauties of the dark sky. Winners, finalists, and notables of the 4th International Earth and Sky Photo Contest, a program by The World at Night (TWAN) in collaboration with the Global Astronomy Month and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO).
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Earth and Sky Photo Contest 2013 from Babak Tafreshi on Vimeo.

The winner:


14 May 2013

ANCIENT MARINE BACTERIA ATE SUPERNOVA DUST

Fossil bacteria on the floor of the Pacific Ocean carry radioactive traces of iron-60 isotopes thought to originate from a supernova explosion about 2.2 million years ago
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The remains of a star gone supernova. Credit: ESA | Hubble | NASA | Claude Cornen at Wikimedia Commons.
A team of astrophysicists has reported preliminary findings of fossilized magnetotactic (iron-loving) bacteria in sediment cores from the floor of the Pacific Ocean bearing iron-60——a rare isotope not from Earth and first found on Earth in its crust in 2004. If confirmed, the iron traces in the bacteria would be the first biological signature of a specific exploding star, reports Nature News:
  
No one is sure what particular star might have exploded at this time, although one paper points to suspects in the Scorpius–Centaurus stellar association, at a distance of about 130 parsecs (424 light years) from the Sun.
  
More here.
  

02 May 2013

NAPOLEON WRASSE SWALLOWS AND SPITS OUT A GoPRO CAMERA, WHICH FILMS THE WHOLE THING

Another stellar if unintentional GoPro commercial.
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Fave frame: eyeing his catch.





27 April 2013

WORD CLOUDS OF OPENING PASSAGES

Textural language from my books.
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Opening passage from Deep Blue Home.

Opening passage from A Tortoise for the Queen of Tonga.


Opening passage from The Fragile Edge.

26 April 2013

DEEP END DANCE

A short underwater dance film, written and performed by David Bolger, choreographer and artistic director of CoisCéim Dance Theatre in Dublin, along with his 76-year-old mother, Madge Bolger.
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Deep End Dance from Conor Horgan on Vimeo.

The film was shot in the same swimming pool where Madge worked as a swimming instructor for many years and where she taught her son to swim.

"I used to hate going to lessons where you had to swim on top of the water," says David Bolger in the making-of video (seen here)"I always wanted to be under the water." 

Fave frame: Mum and son bust a Langmuir circulation.




23 April 2013

CROWS BUILD A NEST ON A CROW'S NEST

Crows do what nautical folklore always claimed.
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Via BBC and Arboath
A pair of crows has built their nest atop a yacht's mast at a marina in Wales, UK. The owner is happy they chose his boat, though he jokes he'll take it down when the young are fledged because he fears looking ridiculous at sea, reports the BBC.

As for the term "crow's nest," a US Navy page on the origins of naval terminology claims:



The raven, or crow, was an essential part of the Vikings' navigation equipment. These land-lubbing birds were carried on aboard to help the ship's navigator determine where the closest land lay when weather prevented sighting the shore. In cases of poor visibility, a crow was released and the navigator plotted a course corresponding to the bird's flight path because the crow invariably headed towards land. The Norsemen carried the birds in a cage secured to the top of the mast. Later on, as ships grew and the lookout stood his watch in a tub located high on the main mast, the name "crow's nest" was given to this tub. While today's Navy still uses lookouts in addition to radars, etc., the crow's nest is a thing of the past.

22 April 2013

SUE AUSTIN AND HER UNDERWATER WHEELCHAIR JOURNEY

Sue Austin goes scuba diving in a wheelchair and talks about how an arts project can remake identity.
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Sue Austin says: "When I asked people their associations with the wheelchair, they used words like limitation, fear, pity, and restriction. I realized I'd internalized these responses and it had changed who I was on a core level." 



Sue's journey to reclaim her identity spoke to me on so many levels. Particularly after spending seven-plus months on crutches and at times in a wheelchair recently. In the feedback from strangers——usually unspoken——I could feel my core identity beginning to erode. So brava to Sue for finding a way for others to see her for the brave and adventurous woman she is. Oh, and happy Earth Day.

19 April 2013

JIMI HENDRIX AND THE SPRINGTIME TSUNAMI

Razorshells, dead man's fingers, brittlestars, otter shells, anemones, runner crabs——all ripped from the sea floor during epic Irish winds and tides. This short film is set to possibly the most underwatery song ever performed: Hendrix's 1983... (A Merman I Should Turn to Be). 
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Filmmaker George Karellas writes of the tsunamilike destruction along the springtime shores of County Meath, Ireland, on his YouTube page. His account is worth a read in its entirety. One of my favorite parts:
 
A pair of interesting little tidbits that came up in my researching some of the species I hadn't seen before; a group of starfish is known as a constellation, fittingly enough, and a dead starfish on the shore is called a wreck.



The Hendrix lyrics here.

18 April 2013

WHALE WASHING

Help get the saltwater off these poor creatures.
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Via arbroath

16 April 2013

LEOPARD SEAL BEARHUGS KAYAK—OR TRIES TO MATE WITH IT—DOESN'T EAT ANYONE

Paul Scriver managed to capture this interaction with a leopard seal off Pleneau Island, Antarctic Peninsula.
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Leopard Seal Kayak from Paul Scriver on Vimeo.

Scriver writes:
  
This guy (I have it on good authority that it was in fact a male) found us and started being quite inquisitive. He mostly swam around the kayaks and we would loose him when he was underwater, but then he started to become quite playful and did the exact thing shown in this video a few times before I calmed down enough to actually try to film him with my gopro.
Fave frame: the glance.



13 April 2013

TRUE FACTS ABOUT THE SEA PIG

Everything you need to know.
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From zeFrank1


11 April 2013

THE SHORT STRANGE DNA TRIP OF COMB JELLIES

The ethereal comb jellies, or ctenophores, have taken a far-out trip down Lineage Street and ended up somewhere nothing else has ever been.
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The ctenophore Mnemiopsis leidyi. Photo by EricksonSmith at Flickr.
Researchers have for the first time decoded the mitochondrial genome of a comb jelly——specifically the wide-ranging (often invasive) species Mnemiopsis leidyiAnd it's the weirdest genome imaginable. From the paper in Mitochondrial DNA:
  
At just over 10 kb, the mt-genome of M. leidyi is the smallest animal mtDNA ever reported and is among the most derived.   

Mitochondrial DNA is passed down only from mothers and doesn't suffer mutations well. Those that appear are pruned out, leaving the mitochondrial tree shorter (derived). As lead author Walker Pett told me:
Ctenophores have taken this process to the extreme. Mnemiopsis has the smallest, fastest evolving, most highly modified mitochondrial genome of any animal. It has lost half of its genes, and the remaining genes are so different from those in ctenophores' closest relatives that some of them are almost unrecognizable.

The pattern isn't restricted to mitochondrial DNA, either. Pett continues:

Ctenophore DNA appears to be extremely fast evolving in general, which makes it difficult to place ctenophores on a phylogenetic tree. Surprisingly, it is still an open question whether the earliest animals were sponges or ctenophores, in part because the DNA of ctenophores has mutated so much that it is difficult to determine which animals are their closest relatives.
Other owners of odd mitochondrial DNA: Upper left, clockwise: box jelly (Tamoya ohboya) | Ned DeLoach via tessarazoa at Flickr; tunicates (Clavelina moluccensis) | Nhobgood at Wikimedia Commons; scyphozoan (Chrysaora colorata)  | Sanjay Acharya at Wikimedia Commons; chaetognath (Chatognath spadella) |  Zatelmar at Wikimedia Commons.
Pett says that other planktonic (often gelatinous) animals, like box jellies, Scyphozoans, tunicates, and chaetognaths also have some of the strangest modifications to their mitochondrial DNA. He wonders if they might share common boom-and-bust cycles in their population biology.

However the ctenophores got their weirdness, you can see from the video below it also begat extreme beauty.
  

Iridescent Ctenophores from Parafilms on Vimeo.

The paper:

08 April 2013

GENTOO JUNCTION

Two roads diverged in yellow snow, and I— 
I took the one less traveled by
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07 April 2013

FISH SURVIVES EPIC JOURNEY ACROSS PACIFIC FROM JAPAN TO WASHINGTON IN TSUNAMI WRECKAGE

Two years after Japan's 2011 tsunami, and 5,000 miles away, a striped beakfish (Oplegnathus fasciatuswashed ashore in Washington state in a boat believed to be wreckage from that disaster.
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The little survivor probably ate other stowaways aboard the boat. It now lives in an aquarium in Oregon.

Even more amazing, two other individuals of this species have been spotted in the Mediterranean——twice as fas away——in recent years, possibly arriving as stowaways aboard the sea chests of large ships. What are sea chests? According to an article on the University of Malta website:
  
[M]edium to large sized ships do not pump seawater directly from the sea but from a chamber know as a 'sea chest' which opens to the outside on the ship's hull below the waterline, and in large ships sea chests may hold several cubic metres of seawater. In effect sea chests act like seawater aquaria and provide a means of transport for marine species that does not involve passage through a pump. Although sea chests are protected by grids, these have large openings and are often damaged or dislodged in transit. There are therefore quite plausible ways in which fish of the size of the [striped beakfish] found in Malta could be transported from a source area thousands of kilometres away and be released into the wild in a good state of health.

Fave frame: The ultimate sea chest, with fresh food daily.
  

06 April 2013

SALTWATER LINKS

Currents worth following and eddies worth lingering in.
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Phytoplankton blooming in an eddy: Image courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory

Horned ghost crabs change camouflage to match day and night, but only in their translucent juvenile phase. From the BBC.

Remote coral reefs fare better in a warming ocean than those near people. From ScienceNow, originally at Science.

Maps of Louisiana show 80 years of land lost to subsiding earth and rising seas. At ClimateWatch.

A NASA satellite recently spied a remnant piece of the mighty B-15 iceberg 13 years after it calved off Antarctica's Ross Ice Shelf. From The Antarctic Sun.
Male Ascension frigatebird with chick: Drew Avery at Flickr

The late, great Roger Ebert wrote one of his last columns about climate change: "I have watched with a kind of petrified fascination in recent years as the world creeps closer to what looks to me like disastrous climate change." At the Chicago Sun-Times.

Follow the travels of Jospehine, Napoleon, and Nellie——three GPS-tagged Ascension frigatebirds——as they forage at sea during the breeding season. True to his namesake, Napoleon is roaming the farthest. From seaturtle.org


05 April 2013

POLAR BEARS ARE AWESOME PADDLERS, BUT ONLY MEH DIVERS

Which is why my old film buddy Bob Cranston lives to tell the tale of awe and horror filming polar bears underwater. From the IMAX 3D, To the Arctic
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Fave frame: Mum swimming with two cubs.



28 March 2013

A TRUE BRIDGE BETWEEN HUMANS & DOLPHINS

In this intense short film by Matthew Brown, William Trubridge sets a new freediving world record while bringing attention to the plight of New Zealand's diminutive Hector's dolphin.
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HECTOMETER - World Record from Matty Brown on Vimeo.

According to the New Zealand Whale and Dolphin Trust tiny (4.5 feet 1.5 meter) Hector's dolphins (Cephalorhynchus hectori) are in urgent need of protection from entanglement in fishing nets in waters out to 100 meters 328 feet deep. The inshore waters of New Zealand's South Island are the only habitat of this species. The IUCN Red List catagorizes them as endangered, their population decreasing (real or projected) by 50 percent over three dolphin generations. Meantime their kin, New Zealand's Maui's dolphins (Cephalorhynchus hectori maui) from the North Island, are the most endangered cetacean on Earth, with only 55 individuals remaining.

William Trubridge, I hope your breathhold diving has worked a miracle and jumpstarted some new action. 

Meanwhile, New Zealand: Really? 
  
Hector's dolphins. Photo courtesy of NZ Whale and Dolphin Trust.

Fave frame: The way up.
  

26 March 2013

FISH BONES

Horror in the mouth. Gorgeous in the flesh.
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Anglerfish (Lophius piscatorius): Didier Descouens at Wikimedia Commons
 
Mola mola: Via Scientific Illustration
 
Stained skeleton, species unknown: Via
 
Via DesignNocturne
 
Juvenile paddlefish: M.C. Davis
 
Longnose batfish (Ogcocephalus corniger) with ingested prey: Sandra J. Raredon, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History at Flickr

 
Via backyardzoologist
 
Long-spine porcupinefish (Diodon holocanthus): Sandra J. Raredon, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History at Flickr

21 March 2013

SECRET SAILORS: SEA URCHIN BÉBÉS

Sea urchins begin their lives as ethereal wanderers.

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Sea Urchins - Planktonic Origins from Parafilms on Vimeo.

Hellacool video, as usual, from the French team at the Plankton Chronicles. I particularly like the kinda creepy (in a good way) narration.

Fave frame: symmetry.
  



16 March 2013

PILOT WHALES IN MASS STRANDINGS OFTEN NOT RELATED TO ONE ANOTHER, GENETIC RESEARCH SHOWS


Pilot whale stranding on Farewell Spit, South Island, New Zealand. Credit: Chagai via Wikimedia Commons.
Pilot whales that died in mass strandings in New Zealand and Australia included many unrelated individuals at each event——challenging a popular assumption that the whales follow each other to almost certain death on the beach because of family ties. This according to a new paper in the Journal of Heredity.

The researchers conducted genetic analyses of 490 individual pilot whales from 12 different stranding events and found multiple maternal lineages among the victims in each stranding. The bodies of mothers and young calves were often separated by large distances, and in many cases the mothers of calves were missing entirely from groups of whales that died in the strandings. This suggests that strong kinship bonds were disrupted prior to the actual stranding——and that these disruptions maybe played a role in triggering the strandings. Which challenges another popular hypothesis: that taking care of close maternal relatives may be the cause of otherwise healthy whales stranding.

The study has implications for people trying to save beached whales. "Rescue efforts aimed at refloating stranded whales often focus on placing stranded calves with the nearest mature females, on the assumption that [she] is the mother," says co-author Scott Baker, associate director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University. "Our results suggest that rescuers should be cautious when making difficult welfare decisions——such as the choice to rescue or euthanize a calf——based on this assumption alone.

"It's usually assumed that environmental factors, such as weather or the pursuit of prey, bring pilot whales into shallow water where they become disoriented," says Baker. "Our results suggest that some form of social disruption also contributes to the tendency to strand. It could be mating interaction or competition with other pods of whales. We just don't know."

Whale warfare?

Interestingly long-finned pilot whales are the most common species to strand en masse worldwide and most of their beaching events are thought to be unrelated to human activity... unlike the strandings of some other species, which have been linked to the heinous noise of naval sonar and seismic exploration.

14 March 2013

DID SUNBURN FROM THE EPIC ARCTIC OZONE HOLE OF 2011 KILL SEALS AND WALRUSES?

Healthy ringed seal in snow. Credit ilovegreenland via Flickr.
In the summer of 2011 indigenous hunters in the Alaskan Arctic began to find sick and dying seals covered in oozing sores and losing hair. That year more than 200 ice seals (ringed, bearded, and spotted) were found in Alaska, Canada, Russia, and Japan suffering from  unusual hair loss, delayed molt, skin lesions, and lethargy. Some Alaskan walruses showed similar symptoms. NOAA declared an unexplained mortality event (UME) and began to investigate the causes. In 2012 Alaskan polar bears were found with  hair loss, inflamed and crusting skin, and oral lesions. NOAA has not yet declared a UME for them.

No official explanation has been determined for the seal and walrus ailments. But now the Alaska Dispatch reports that Bruce Wright, senior scientist with the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, thinks sunburn might be the cause. And not just any sunburn, but sunburn caused by the anomalously huge ozone hole in 2011. I reported on that in my last post here. From the Alaska Dispatch:
Wright isn't suggesting all symptoms uncovered during necropsies of the affected seals are [sunburn] related. Some of the animals were found to also have bleeding and swelling in their lungs, livers, lymph nodes and other internal organs.... Wright questions the interrelatedness of multiple stressors, including sun and UV radiation exposure, and other illness or nutritional deficiencies on the overall health of the animals. He plans to present his theory in May at a science conference in Russia. “It all just made sense to me. I have just been baffled that nobody else has proposed this (sunburn) hypothesis,” he said.
Ringed seal with sores on head and face. Credit: NOAA / North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management staff
Among the other possibilities that other researchers are investigating:
  1. Is some illness in the body producing light-sensitive blood chemicals, similar to hepatitis?
  2. Are the large algal blooms in Kotzebue Sound / Chukchi Sea that began in 2009 triggering a chemical reaction that triggers photo-sensitivity?
  3. Is exposure to Japan's 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant accident involved?
The real cause may never be known since cases have now tapered off. As has the ozone hole.