29 September 2010


The Unseen Sea from Simon Christen on Vimeo.

I like fog more and more with every passing year. Comforting, moody, cool, quiet, private.

This image, courtesy Wikimedia Commons, is of fog droplets jumping around at just below freezing temperatures.

Here's a high-speed image of the same fog, shot fast enough to slow the "particles" down and stop them in space. Like air champagne.

This beautiful true-color image posted by the Earth Observatory is of sea fog off Scandinavia in March 2003.

This one is too, from a day earlier.

In really cold weather, usually below −35°C/−30 °F, ice fog might form. Sometimes ice fogs triggers light pillars, as seen in this photograph. What looks like a lens flare on the camera is actually a pillar caused by the reflection of sunlight from ice crystals that happen to have nearly horizontal, parallel, flat surfaces. Therefore it really is a lens flare, only the lens is our atmosphere. 

The photograph was shot somewhere in the Arctic, courtesy NOAA.

Some fogs make white rainbows, known as fogbows. Tecnically, a fogbow is just like a rainbow only made of  very small water drops less than 0.05 millimeter in diameter. Sailors call them sea dogs.

The droplets of a fogbow are so small, according to APOD (whence this photograph hails):

"that the quantum mechanical wavelength of light becomes important and smears out colors that would be created by larger rainbow water drops acting like small prisms reflecting sunlight with the best angle to divert sunlight to the observer."

Writing like that is exactly the reason I have a job.

Photo from here.

In Scotland and northern England sea fog is also known as haar or fret. Old Saxon words. 

Most haar condenses around the nuclei of salt particles, which are the by-product of salt spray, which is the by-product of wind and waves.

Photo from here.

In a recent discovery, researchers from Scotland's Dunstaffnage Marine Laboratory found that haar also condenses around the iodine particles released by kelp. The kelp emit iodine when stressed by sunlight and evaporation. Thus they help make weather they like better.

Here's the abstract of the paper:

Brown algae of the Laminariales (kelps) are the strongest accumulators of iodine among living organisms. They represent a major pump in the global biogeochemical cycle of iodine and, in particular, the major source of iodocarbons in the coastal atmosphere. Nevertheless, the chemical state and biological significance of accumulated iodine have remained unknown to this date. Using x-ray absorption spectroscopy, we show that the accumulated form is iodide, which readily scavenges a variety of reactive oxygen species (ROS). We propose here that its biological role is that of an inorganic antioxidant, the first to be described in a living system. Upon oxidative stress, iodide is effluxed. On the thallus surface and in the apoplast, iodide detoxifies both aqueous oxidants and ozone, the latter resulting in the release of high levels of molecular iodine and the consequent formation of hygroscopic iodine oxides leading to particles, which are precursors to cloud condensation nuclei. In a complementary set of experiments using a heterologous system, iodide was found to effectively scavenge ROS in human blood cells.

Photo from here.

And since sea urchins stress and control kelp (by eating them), and since sea otters control sea urchin populations (by eating them), then urchins and otters are important players in the fogweb too—at least in the Pacific.

Photo from here.

The paper:

  • Frithjof C. K├╝pper, et al. Iodide accumulation provides kelp with an inorganic antioxidant impacting atmospheric chemistry. PNAS.

12 September 2010


My brothers Tim and John and me, with our father sailing behind us, somewhere on Cape Cod a long time ago. Photographed by our mother, Patience.

There were bees about. From the start I thought   
The day was apt to hurt. There is a high   
Hill of sand behind the sea and the kids   
Were dropping from the top of it like schools   
Of fish over falls, cracking skulls on skulls.   
I knew the holiday was hot. I saw   
The August sun teeming in the bodies   
Logged along the beach and felt the yearning   
In the brightly covered parts turning each   
To each. For lunch I bit the olive meat:   
A yellow jacket stung me on the tongue.   
I knelt to spoon and suck the healing sea ...
A little girl was digging up canals
With her toes, her arm hanging in a cast   
As white as the belly of a dead fish
Whose dead eye looked at her with me, as she   
Opened her grotesque system to the sea ...
I walked away; now quietly I heard   
A child moaning from a low mound of sand,   
Abandoned by his friend. The child was tricked,   
Trapped upon his knees in a shallow pit.   
(The older ones will say you can get out.)   
I dug him up. His legs would not unbend.   
I lifted him and held him in my arms   
As he wept. Oh I was gnarled as a witch   
Or warlock by his naked weight, was slowed   
In the sand to a thief’s gait. When his strength   
Flowed, he ran, and I rested by the sea ...
A girl was there. I saw her drop her hair,   
Let it fall from the doffed cap to her breasts   
Tanned and swollen over wine red woolen.   
A boy, his body blackened by the sun,   
Rose out of the sand stripping down his limbs   
With graceful hands. He took his gear and walked   
Toward the girl in the brown hair and wine
And then past me; he brushed her with the soft,   
Brilliant monster he lugged into the sea ...   
By this tide I raised a small cairn of stone
Light and smooth and clean, and cast the shadow   
Of a stick in a perfect line along
The sand. My own shadow followed then, until   
I felt the cold swirling at the groin.

11 September 2010


My friend in Hawaii, Syd Kraul, who's something of a magician and definitely a pioneer when it comes to raising baby fish, pointed me to his photographs of baby flying fish. In regards to the photo above, he wrote:

Flying fish about a week old and already growing wings, but not flying yet. 

 About this photo, Syd wrote:

One of my favorite baby fish. They could fly at 2 weeks old, but they flew into the tank sides and stuck there.

10 September 2010


(Photo from here.)

I'm not sure I know of anything more enjoyable than cruising a warm ocean, feet dangling off the bow of a sailboat, peering down as flying fish power along underwater and then erupt into the air to glide, digging their tails into the surface and kicking off when they need another few seconds of flight before diving back underwater.

(Photo from here.)

Flying fish are masters of the elusive. And not just masters of eluding predatory fish. After searching for images for this post, I realized how few and far between are the quality photographs of flying fish.

Even legendary BBC film crews, lavished with time, money, and equipment, brought back only ho-hum footage of flying fish for the recent LIFE series. (I tried to embed the LIFE clip but couldn't.) It was a good clip, of course, it's goodness magnified, as always, by Attenborough's wheezily wondrous narration and a lyrical score. 

But having spent an awful lot of time watching flying fish in the wild, I can say it's not nearly as good as the real thing. And that's not always the case. Many times documentary footage of wild animals is better than you ever experience with your eyes, since cameras are essentially bionic extensions of our eyes, able to zoom close or record in slow-motion or decipher great detail in low light. 

Sailfish Drama from Howard Hall on Vimeo.

A good example of the power of cameras can be seen in this gorgeous video shot by my old friends Howard and Michele Hall of sailfish herding what might be flying fish, though maybe not, since they don't seem to fly. Still, it's mesmerizing. Particularly the eye-opening shots from underwater of frigatebirds feeding at the surface.

Elusive or not, I did find this small image of a fossil flying fish. Seems poignant to me, somehow, a fish flying through time. 

But the poignance was lost on whomever posted the image on this website:

The ‘flying’ fish Exocoetoides minor, fossilized in Lebanese Cretaceous rock. This rock is alleged by evolutionists to be around 100 million years old. The fossils indicate that flying fish have always been flying fish.

Of course, flying fish have always been flying fish. Before that they were, in all likelihood, regular flightless fish.

Or were they?

There does not seem to have been a whole lot of scientific study of flying fish. So I was interested to see this new paper today, Aerodynamic characteristics of flying fish in gliding flight, in the Journal of Experimental Biology. Here's the abstract:

The flying fish (family Exocoetidae) is an exceptional marine flying vertebrate, utilizing the advantages of moving in two different media, i.e. swimming in water and flying in air. Despite some physical limitations by moving in both water and air, the flying fish has evolved to have good aerodynamic designs (such as the hypertrophied fins and cylindrical body with a ventrally flattened surface) for proficient gliding flight. Hence, the morphological and behavioral adaptations of flying fish to aerial locomotion have attracted great interest from various fields including biology and aerodynamics. Several aspects of the flight of flying fish have been determined or conjectured from previous field observations and measurements of morphometric parameters. However, the detailed measurement of wing performance associated with its morphometry for identifying the characteristics of flight in flying fish has not been performed yet. Therefore, in the present study, we directly measure the aerodynamic forces and moment on darkedged-wing flying fish (Cypselurus hiraii) models and correlated them with morphological characteristics of wing (fin). The model configurations considered are: (1) both the pectoral and pelvic fins spread out, (2) only the pectoral fins spread with the pelvic fins folded, and (3) both fins folded. The role of the pelvic fins was found to increase the lift force and lift-to-drag ratio, which is confirmed by the jet-like flow structure existing between the pectoral and pelvic fins. With both the pectoral and pelvic fins spread, the longitudinal static stability is also more enhanced than that with the pelvic fins folded. For cases 1 and 2, the lift-to-drag ratio was maximum at attack angles of around 0 deg, where the attack angle is the angle between the longitudinal body axis and the flying direction. The lift coefficient is largest at attack angles around 30~35 deg, at which the flying fish is observed to emerge from the sea surface. From glide polar, we find that the gliding performance of flying fish is comparable to those of bird wings such as the hawk, petrel and wood duck. However, the induced drag by strong wing-tip vortices is one of the dominant drag components. Finally, we examine ground effect on the aerodynamic forces of the gliding flying fish and find that the flying fish achieves the reduction of drag and increase of lift-to-drag ratio by flying close to the sea surface.

In other words, flying fish glide as well as birds. Other fun flying fish facts:

  • Flying fish can remain airborne for more than 40 seconds
  • They can cover distances of up to 400 meters/1,300 feet at speeds of 70 kph/43.5 mph
  • By gliding near the surface of the sea, they glide farther

But if you dig a little deeper into this paper you come to realize that these researchers figured out the flight performance of flying fish by flying dead stuffed fish in a wind tunnel. Some were stuffed and flown with fins extended. One was stuffed and flown with fins held back against the body.

I began to feel a little like the victim of a dead parrot skit

Oh well, flying fish are elusive even to the grasp of modern science. May they be so for another 10,000 x 10,000 years.

Flying fish. 1910. Herbert James Draper. From here.

08 September 2010


edisto sea turtles from cole rise on Vimeo.

One day on the beach a group of sea turtle protectors, checking on nests, happened upon a hatching.

I'm not really sure why baby sea turtles are among the cutest of all living things. According to the authorities at Cute Overload, they express several of the important Rules of Cuteness:
  • Rule of Cuteness #2: Look helpless.
  • Rule of Cuteness #5: Fisheye lens + baby animal is always cute.
  • Rule of Cuteness #9: Piles of a cute thing jack up a cuteness rating exponentially. 
  • Rule of Cuteness #10: If you haven't grown into your feet yet, it's cute. 
  • Rule of Cuteness #17: Have tiny ears.
  • Rule of Cuteness #18: Have a teeny tiny tail.
  • Rule of Cuteness #21: Eye Capsules, as in a baby wombat.
  • Rule of Cuteness #27: "Chub", or small rolls underneath eyes.

Let's explore these premises with the following study aids:

(Photo from here.)

(Photo from here.)

(Photo of baby leatherback turtle from here.)

(Photo from here.)

Based on my Internet search for this blog post, I'd like to propose a new Rule of Cuteness pertaining specifically to baby sea turtles: 
  • If your Google search doesn't return even a single porn image, it must be cute.

04 September 2010


This video of a crab, an octopus, and the octopus' brood was shot by a Canadian crew and posted on the NeptuneCanada YouTube channel. From their blog entry:

18 May 2010: At ODP 889 (1256m [4,120 ft] below the sea surface), we happened upon an abandoned rice cooker or crock-pot and screwdriver upon which sat a large crab. The ROPOS pilot carefully opened the lid. Inside, we discovered a mother octopus with her brood of eggs! Collaborating scientist suggested adopting this creature as the Bubbly Gulch mascot. We're calling her "Kraki."

There seems to be some uncertainty as to whether the brood chamber is a rice cooker or a crock pot. I'm going to hazard a guess that the deep ocean octopus nursery is none other than this rice cooker (or a close relative), manufactured by Cuckoo Electronics Co, Ltd of South Korea.

Cuckoo is proud of its cookers. Gloriously, their business philosophy dovetails perfectly with the needs of the cephalopod home world:

CUCKOO has been expanding and creating new markets domestically and internationally by offering technically advanced and reliable products. At CUCKOO, we promise to manufacture innovative and high quality small home appliances, which offer value to our customer's lifestyle. CUCKOO has been trying to make ourselves reborn as a capable and reliable company by actively coping with changes in economy and technology and by steadily pursing goal-oriented management.

As promised, Cuckoo's technically-advanced and reliable cooker has already made an international impact in waters 8,000 km/5,000 miles from South Korea, to a point west of Vancouver Island off British Columbia. Here, at a site cryptically known as ODP 889, on a seafloor otherwise bereft of octopus homes, a house has miraculously and inexplicably dropped from out of the blue, complete with loyal watchcrab and screwdriver for repairs.

When the day comes that cephalopods rule the world, this frontier homestead will be remembered as the stuff of empire-building myth, Kraki will be the heroic progenitor... and CUCKOO will be the god who made it all possible. CUCKOO and his sidekick, the Mechanical Tentacle.

(Photo by NeptuneCanada on Flickr.)

(Photo from here.)

01 September 2010


(Photo by James Cooper, from here.)

This post first appeared at The Blue Marble today:

The world's foremost certifier of safe and sustainable fisheries has just been slapped down in a new op-ed by a top-shelf collection of scientists in the latest issue of Nature. The problem is that the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is ignoring science in favor of bureaucracy, write the authors, researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC), the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and elsewhere.

The idea behind the MSC, which was established in 1997 by the World Wildlife Fund and Unilever (one of the world's largest fish retailers), was to help consumers eat fish "guilt-free" by certifying fisheries. Today, major grocery chains—Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, and Europe's Waitrose—carry the MSC's blue check-mark label as a sign of seafood sustainability.

The council has become the world's most established fisheries certifier:
  • with 94 fisheries currently MSC-certified
  • accounting for ~7% of global catch
  • with 118 more fisheries under assessment
But the authors object to the many of the MSC's procedures and its certification of certain species. The largest certified fishery is the US trawl fishery for pollock in the eastern Bering Sea, with an annual catch of a million tons. The MSC certified this fishery in 2005 and recommended it for recertification this summer. Except that pollock suffered a 64 percent decline in spawning biomass between 2004 and 2009. With no solid evidence for recovery. How is that sustainable, the authors ask?

(Photo of Alaskan pollock from here.)

The Nature op-ed authors also voice concern for other fisheries certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council:
  • Pacific hake (Merluccius productus), certified in 2009 despite a population decline of 89 percent since a peak in the late 1980s. How is that sustainable, the authors ask?
  • Antarctic toothfish (Dissostichus mawsoni), marketed as Chilean sea bass, proposed for certification despite the fact that not even the basics are known about this species, with none of its eggs or larvae ever collected. How can that be even be considered as a candidate for certification, the authors ask?
  • Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba), recently certified by the MSC, despite research showing a long-term decline in krill populations, as well as a link between the depletion of krill and declining sea ice in an area highly sensitive to climate change. The authors state their concern strongly:
Much of the krill caught is destined not for consumer purchase but for fishmeal, to feed factory-farmed fish, pigs and chickens. We propose that any fishery undertaken for fishmeal should not be viewed as responsible or sustainable, and should not qualify for MSC certification. At present, the MSC assessment rules do not consider the end-use of a product.
(Photo of Pacific hake from here.)

The Marine Stewardship Council's failure to accurately assess the health of fisheries triggers a cascade of problems, suggest the authors:
  • It hurts the populations that aren't sustainably hunted
  • It hurts the ecosystems of unsustainably hunted species
  • It deprives the public of an opportunity to make meaningful choices
  • It damages fisheries that are well managed, especially sustainable small-scale fisheries that have to compete with the giants that buy certifications they haven't earned
The op-ed suggests MSC create more stringent standards, crack down on arguably loose interpretation of its own rules, and alter its process to avoid a potential financial incentive to certify large fisheries. Fisheries that are being heavily depleted, that are reliant on high-impact methods such as bottom trawling, as well as those that aren't destined for human consumption, should be excluded from certification, conclude the authors:
The MSC can still fulfil its promise to represent—as it claims, "the best environmental choice—if it undergoes major reform. If it does not change, there are better, more effective ways to spend £8 million [$12.3 million], such as lobbying to eliminate harmful fisheries subsidies, or creating marine protected areas. These steps would do more to help the oceans.
(Photo from here.) 

The paper:

Seafood stewardship in crisis. Jennifer Jacquet, Daniel Pauly,David Ainley, Sidney Holt, Paul Dayton, Jeremy Jackson. Nature. Volume: 467, Pages: 28–29. Date published: (02 September 2010). DOI: doi:10.1038/467028a