Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Monster of the Deep

The National Geographic News is reporting today that a Magnapinna squid was photographed by a Shell Oil underwater, remote controlled submersible on November 11. The sub was filming in what is called Perdido, one of the world's deepest oil and gas drilling sites located 200 miles off Houston, Texas, in the Gulf of Mexico. This creature is rarely seen. Take a look at this monster, will you? It makes me shudder.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Whale Shark poo, the mother load

Scientists have filmed a video of a whale shark with its "pants down" defecating, an act rarely seen. First take a look at the whale shark, one of my favorite fish in the sea.

Then get ready to impose upon a shark's privacy, and watch this video:

You can also read the BBC article, Ocean motion caught on camera. This all explains just why this bit of poo is the mother load when it comes to information.

To scientists and other fish enthusiasts, the feeling is kind of like seeing your toddler use the potty chair for the first time. An event for celebration!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Calypso is being resurrected from the dead

Remember Jacques-Yves Cousteau's ship, Calypso? Well, she's not actually dead yet, but in fact, is on her way for a comeback as restoration has begun to transform her into a permanent museum of Cousteau's important contributions to ocean research.

From Wikipedia, here are important facts about Captain Cousteau and the Calypso:

Jacques-Yves Cousteau (June 11, 1910 – June 25, 1997) was a French naval officer, explorer, ecologist, filmmaker, scientist, photographer, author and researcher who studied the sea and all forms of life in water. He co-developed the aqua-lung, pioneered marine conservation and was a member of the Académie française. He was commonly known as Jacques Cousteau or Captain Cousteau.

The Calypso is the ship that he outfitted as a special research vessel, state-of-the-art for its time. Together with his crew, Cousteau produced more than 120 television documentaries about the sea.

The Calypso was:
•equipped as a mobile laboratory for field research and was originally a wooden-hulled minesweeper built for the British Royal Navy by the Ballard Marine Railway Company of Seattle, Washington, USA.
•made from Oregon pine.
•became a ferry between Malta and the island of Gozo after World War II.
•purchased in 1950 by the Irish millionaire and former MP Thomas Loel Guinness.
•leased to Cousteau by Guinness for a symbolic one franc a year.
•accidentally rammed by a barge and sunk in the port of Singapore on January 8, 1996.
•later towed to Marseilles, France, where she lay untouched for two years.
•towed to the basin of the Maritime Museum of La Rochelle in 1998, where she was intended to be an exhibit, but family disagreements caused a long series of legal delays on the start of any restoration work.
•transferred to Concarneau on October 11, 2007, where she will be restored at the Piriou Shipyard and transformed into a permanent exhibit.

Here's a tribute to Calypso set to John Denver's 1975 song, "Calypso," which he wrote about the world famous vessel:

More historical information:

Translation of the video description: "Thanks to the association of the Friends of the maritime Museum, two former collaborators of the commander Cousteau came with the La Rochelle to find the team of mativi.fr to speak about Simone Cousteau, the first woman of the man to the red bonnet, which passed most of her life on Calypso. In front of the wreck of the old Jocelyne minesweeper which stagnates in water rochelaises since 1998 de Pass and Jean-Marie France takes you on board in their memories. Report Florent Loiseau, Raphaël Blachère and Jennifer To summon."

Watch a tour of the ship in her present state of disrepair:

Translation of the video's description: "Under the eye of the camera of mativi.fr, Calypso left the port of the La Rochelle where it had stagnated for 9 years, Concarneau direction to be restored there. The event took place on October 11 at 4 o'clock in the morning, one great moment of emotion. The day before, a hundred people had met around the wreck to wish him good voyage. Report Raphaël Blachère and Frederic Fleureau."

See the video clip below of the start of her journey from La Rochelle. Although the video is quite dark, it marks the historic event of her first trip from port in many a year. The old girl can still float!

Keep track of the restoration of the Calypso at the Cousteau Society.

Rescuing Our Coral Reefs

An informative article appeared today on the BBC News site in regard to degrading coral reefs. The article, "Recipe for rescuing our reefs," was written by Dr Rod Salm who is director of The Nature Conservancy's Tropical Marine Conservation Program in the Asia-Pacific region.

You may reach their website here: The Nature Conservancy, which features a beautiful slide show presentation on their homepage entitled, "The Hidden Life of Coral." This organization works to protect our ocean's coral and operates more than 100 marine conservation projects globally.

Friday, August 29, 2008

It's all in that DNA

Prepare to be uplifted by Stuart Mitchell in his translation of a humpback whale's DNA into music. Here are the comments he has written along with this video on YouTube:

"The Mitochondrial (Ancestral) DNA sequence of a Humpback Whale translated into music by Stuart Mitchell. The melody is eternal in all species and has been passed on maternally for millions of years without a great deal of variation. This is the actual biological song of the Humpback.

"All royalties made from this work are re-distributed into Greenpeace for the conservation of this wonderful mammal."

To get a copy, visit:

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Jellyfish Jam

I've been reading in the news recently about a proliferation of jellyfish in the Mediterranean. Seems more and more people are suffering the painful stings of jellyfish which can also be fatal. Various hotels are protecting swimming pool-sized sections of water near their beaches with nets to keep the jellyfish away from swimmers.

Some swimmers are investing in special full-body suits which have been found to protect them from the stings.

Here again, however, mankind is reaping what they have sown. The natural predators of jellyfish have been depleted in numbers, allowing the jellyfish population to rise. We've gotten ourselves into another environmental jam. A jellyfish jam. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the solution to these kind of problems. Upset the natural balance and you must pay the piper.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Talk by Robert Ballard

Watch this informative Ted talk by Robert Ballard, ocean explorer:

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Yes, Virginia, there is a Giant Squid

Eight-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon wrote the editor of the New York Sun in 1897 and asked whether Santa Claus was real. The answer to her query entitled "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" written by Francis Pharcellus Church became a classic. But if Virginia were alive today, might she be wondering if other legendary stories are real? We know now that the answer to one such story might be entitled "Yes, Virginia, there is a Giant Squid."

On September 28, 2005, the announcement came that Japanese zoologists had snapped the first pictures of a giant squid. It measured 26 ft. long. This was accomplished by Tsunemi Kubodera of the National Science Museum in Tokyo and Kyoichi Mori of the Ogasawara Whale Watching Association. Congratulations to this team! See the pictures they took here.

These strange creatures lurk in the ocean depths and have fueled mankind's speculation for the past 2,000 years. Only a few juveniles have washed ashore. Tiny babies have been captured and kept alive for a short time. Early sailors knew them as sea monsters. The Giant Squid is otherwise known as the genus, Architeuthis, the name being given to it by Jappetus Steenstrup in 1857. It means "ruling" or "chief" squid. Very little else is known about the massive creature beyond its name. No one knows anything about its mating habits or whether it lives a solitary life.

Scientists who specialize in the study of cephalopods, which include the Giant Squid, are called Teuthologists; and as they develop new equipment and techniques, new squid species are being discovered. Presently, ten species of large squid are numbered among the 200 different squid and octopus species. But as far as anyone knows, none of these large species come close in size to the Giant Squid. Just how big are they?

Based on pieces of Giant Squid carcasses found in sperm whale stomachs, they might grow to 100 ft. The largest reported so far was nearly 60 ft. counting the length of the tentacles. This squid has a beak-like mouth encased in muscle that is strong enough to cut through a steel cable. It has five pairs of arms with one pair that is thinner and longer than the others. These two remind me of cowboy lassos. They are like long ropes each having a flattened end covered on one side with suckers. With these, the Giant Squid grabs and pulls its prey to its mouth. The other tentacles, which compare in size to large Anaconda snakes, are lined with 200-300 suckers in two rows. Each sucker has a sharpened ring around it like "teeth." The Giant Squid propels itself by siphoning water through a funnel-like structure from the front of its body to the back. Its average weight is estimated to be up to 660 lbs., and it has the largest eye in the animal kingdom of up to 18" in diameter. Giant Squid are carnivorous and one of the fish it is known to hunt is the Hoki fish, which grow to 2-3 feet long.

Where would one go to find a Giant Squid? They could be found anywhere in any ocean. Scientists do know that they live below 3,300 ft. or 1,000 meters because large squid have been brought up in the nets of deep-sea trawlers. Beaks and pieces of Giant Squid are often found in sperm whale stomachs, so perhaps off the coast of New Zealand would be a good place to look since the sperm whale hunts there. New Zealand waters may be a breeding ground for the Giant Squid as well.

In 1861, the French steamer Electon traveled off the coast of the Canary Islands when the crew spotted what looked like a sea monster with arms and a tail. Full out war was declared on the monster with cannons and muskets fired, then harpoons thrown. They managed to get a rope on its tail, but the flesh of the creature could not withstand the pressure of the rope which cut through it. They took the tail back to the French Consul at Tenerife and a report eventually found its way to the French Academy of Sciences where one member declared this was against the laws of nature.

Perhaps the most spectacular of ferocious battles in the sea are between the contenders of Giant Squid vs. whales. Four-inch sucker marks have been observed scaring the hide of whales from these encounters. In 1965, a Soviet whaler happened upon a squid and 40-ton whale battle which ended in a draw. Both creatures died, the whale from the tentacles' strangle-hold around its throat and the squid from being cut in half by the whale.

In the 1930's, a Royal Norwegian Naval tanker, the Brunswick, was attacked three times by a Giant Squid. Like a dog chasing a car, the squid pulled alongside of the ship, matching its speed. Suddenly, giant tentacles grabbed the ship's hull, encircling it, but unable to get a good grip on the steel surface, they would slide off. The squid eventually fell into the ship's propellers and died.

One of the most disturbing reports about Giant Squid comes from an unconfirmed story that happened during WWII. A British Admiralty trawler was anchored off the Maldive Islands in the Indian Ocean. A member of the crew by the name of A. G. Starkey was on deck alone when he saw something in the water lying alongside the ship. A huge unblinking eye gradually surfaced and focused upon him. He realized it was a large squid. Walking the length of the ship, Starkey calculated from tail to tip of tentacles, the squid was over 175 ft. long. Perhaps this kind of encounter is what started the ancient legend of sea monsters pulling a ship down.

One other unconfirmed report from WWII says that survivors of a sunken ship were attacked by a Giant Squid that ate one of the sailors. However, human/Giant Squid encounters are probably extremely rare as scientist think warm water at the surface of the sea is fatal for the Giant Squid. Their blood does not carry oxygen well at the higher temperatures and they suffocate. These are deep-sea creatures unable to survive at surface pressures.

Among those who are searching for the Giant Squid are New Zealand's National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research. They are attempting to capture a baby Giant Squid and raise it until it reaches about 10 ft. long including tentacles. Others are the scientists at the United States' National Museum of Natural History who are assisted by the National Marine Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The National Museum contains 100,000 specimens of squid from around the world.

3/31/08 UPDATE: A giant squid has been preserved using the plastination technique and has gone on display in Paris at the Museum of Natural History. Read the news article here.

In Search of Giant Squid
The Giant Squid
Squid Blog by Tony Blow and Jen Pottinger
In Search of the Red Demon
Giant Squid at Wikipedia

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Ghost Ships Blowin' in the Wind

Recently, I flipped through an encyclopedia of the bizarre and came upon a curious entry about a ship called the "Dundee Star" which ran aground off Midway Island. In four years time, the abandoned ship drifted completely around the earth and came to rest in 1891 back at Midway Island, the very spot where she started her lonely journey. Now, that's really bizarre, I thought. How many ghost ships might there be just blowin' in the wind?

The term "ghost ship" has several meanings actually. Decommissioned, rusted and decayed naval vessels that are scheduled to be dismantled and scrapped are called ghost ships. Abandoned ships found drifting at sea bereft of their crews with no known explanation are also ghost ships. It is the phantom ship that appears in the mist and disappears just as suddenly that is the darling of the ghost ship tales.

Just how might the concept of the phantom ship have gotten started? It isn't hard to come up with a theory. One of the most remote and isolated places on earth is the sea. Your ticket to survival rests solely upon a ship. Once away from land, you are at the mercy of wind, wave and the temperament of the captain and crew. In days of old, many a seaman found himself attached to a rope looped beneath a vessel and then dragged from stern to bow under the ship, while crusty barnacles on the hull ripped his flesh. This punishment was called keelhauling.

Out of these rough and dangerous seafaring circumstances arose some pretty intense superstitions. Seamen kept watch for sea monsters which would surely gobble the ship. Figureheads on the bow were there to ward off evil sea serpents but could also represent the spirit of the ship. They believed that a woman exposing her breasts could calm a storm so this is why many ship's figureheads were of naked women.

Tattoos became popular because sailors believed a tatto was lucky. A crucifix tattoo marked them for a Christian burial if they were lost at sea and later found. A rooster and pig tattooed on a sailor's knees were supposed to keep him from ever going hungry. (He carried his own bacon and eggs.) No wonder then that superstitions about ghost ships might easily have fit into the belief system of the time. Some thought that the appearance of a ghost ship foretold the coming of a storm.

Most certainly, ghost ships are linked to shipwrecks and disasters. They usually are seen at the sight where a ship was lost. Perhaps superstitions about ghost ships may have also been fueled by finding abandoned ships and the eery feeling upon boarding them.

Think how you might have felt if you were part of the crew of the British sailing ship, Johnson, which sighted a sailing boat off Punta Arenas, Chile. As they approached, the crew observed that the ship's masts and sails were covered with a green moss-like growth. No one could be seen on board. Upon investigation of the decaying vessel, they found 20 skeletons in various parts of the ship. This was the Marlborough Glasgow which had left Littleton, New Zealand, in 1890 and had not been seen until that day in 1913.

Examples of locations where phantom ships have been seen include:

* Off the coast of Abergele, Wales, UK, where the ship was believed to be Prince Madoc's Gwennon Gorn that sailed from there.
* The Great Lakes which have scores of stories about ghost ships. Two well-known ships said to return as phantom ships there are the Griffon and the Edmund Fitzgerald.
* Off the Cape of Good Hope, Africa, where the legendary Flying Dutchman appears and is believed to be an omen of disaster.

Of course, phantom ship sightings are impossible to verify. One theory as to what might cause a ghost ship sighting is that they are mirages of other vessels further out to sea. An optical illusion can also occur by the refraction of light just above the horizon making it appear as though a ship sails through the sky.

The fascination of the ghost ship is not likely to disappear soon at least from that which is entertaining to us. For example, the movie, "Goonies," is about a lost ship found by a group of children who have to solve a puzzle to get the treasure. The ghost ship sails off into the horizon at the end. Another recent movie appropriately entitled "Ghost Ship," tells the tale of a salvage crew trying to tow a lifeless passenger ship back to port and the troubles they experience.

These days the likelihood of completely losing track of a ship at sea has been reduced by the use of sophisticated tracking equipment. Yet no telling when or where we might have a return visit by the decaying relic of one of those bygone vessels, or catch a glimpse of the eery silhouette of a ship in full sail just blowin' in the wind.

Mooney, Julie, and the Editors of Ripley's Believe It or Not! (2002) Encyclopedia of the Bizarre. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers
Ghost Ships

Monday, March 17, 2008

Frightful Hauntings of Ghost Nets,discarded fishing nets by the hundreds litter the sea

Silent killers are lurking in our waters. Whether small or large (some as big as a football field), they kill fish and other marine life by the thousands. These serial killers of the sea are called "Ghost Nets," floating walls of deliberately discarded or lost-at-sea fishing nets which kill again and again for years before they rot or fall apart.

Eventually, the nets fill indiscriminately with scores of marine life and are weighed down, sinking to the bottom where they remain while the dead rot away or are eaten by scavengers. Then these gaping "jaws" of death float back up again to refill themselves, repeating this process indefinitely. Nylon nets are particularly long-lived.

Unfortunately for victims caught in the nets, death comes slowly, either by drowning, shock or exhaustion. If some manage to get free, they may die later from their wounds.

I wonder how long something similar to this type of carnage would be allowed to continue if it were happening on land? Would not public outcry become great if herds of land animals were trapped in roving nets and left to die, as we watch them on the news, struggling to get free? But ghost nets are hidden from view beneath the waters and most of us are not even aware of the problem. Yet it is cruelty to animals, killing for no reason and affecting fish stocks in some areas on a large scale.

Fortunately, however, this issue is coming to the attention of groups who are trying to track and eliminate the ghost nets. But more must be done to get at the cause of the problem which are the fishermen themselves. For those not responsible for taking care of their nets, fines must be stiff and punishment, severe.

Dolphin Therapy, merely recreational effects or a surprisingly simple health benefit?

Without a doubt, Dolphins have a strange effect upon us. Just catching a fleeting glimpse of one in the wild, stirs excitement. Seeing one close up is pure joy, and these days, a lot more people are taking a closer look at what a dolphin encounter might do for us.

For several decades, dolphin therapy has been gaining momentum with centers utilizing captive dolphins springing up around the world. Dr. Betsy A. Smith of the Florida International University in Miami, Florida, is recognized as one of the pioneers in this field. She and others around the world, such as in Russia for example, have been studying dolphin therapy applications for the past 30 years.

As might be expected, opinions about dolphin therapy range from New Age theories that dolphins are angels or extraterrestrials sent to enlighten humans to skeptics who think people just enjoy the animals and gain from that aspect alone.

How does dolphin therapy work? It's simply people getting into the water with the animals, interacting and allowing them to work their "magic." Scientists still don't fully understand what that magic is, but research is underway which focuses upon the dolphins' sonic waves—their echolocation device. This echolocation is incredibly precise. One theory is that as they bounce these waves off the people they are near, neurological disorders or handicaps are affected. The sonic waves may massage the cells in the body, facilitating healing in those areas. Changes in brain waves and blood chemistry have been noted in humans who have swum with dolphins.

A broad range of illnesses and handicaps are treated by dolphin therapy. The following list is from the Dolphin Therapy website:

* Autism
* Downs-Syndrome
* Depression (except endogenous depression)
* Neurotic Disorders
* Brain trauma : if no cramp syndrome present
* Brain paralysis : if no cramp syndrome present
* Paediatric Cerebral paralysis
* Paediatric Neuroses (Phobia, Enuresis, Asthenia)
* Post comatose condition
* Ecological non-adaptations
* Massive psychological and complex trauma
* Cephalgie (primary headache)
* Chronic Tiredness syndrome
* Retarded speech development
* Retarded mental development and other illnesses that can be treated with therapy up to an age of 50 years.

Confining dolphins for the purpose of using them in dolphin therapy centers, however, is not a good thing from the dolphin's standpoint. There are ethical concerns for the animals’ well-being, as well as safety concerns about swimming with wild dolphins because they are indeed wild animals. One group that seeks to solve this problem and eliminate the need for captive dolphins in treatment centers is called AquaThought Foundation. They are developing a virtual reality interaction which simulates swimming with dolphins.

Perhaps one day, science will crack those dolphin secrets and devise even greater ways of utilizing them in the healing process.

History of Marine Biology

The topic of Marine Biology covers a wealth of information, so where do we begin? As the song goes, "let's start at the very beginning. It's a very good place to start."

In ancient times, the study of the seas and the creatures in them were performed by fishermen who needed to know such things to survive. This information passed from father to son or daughter with no written records.

The first mariners who ventured beyond view of land by necessity knew the sea through hands-on experience in ways that we rely on technology to guide us today. Among those first pioneers were the Phoenicians, who were master seafarers and traders in the first millennium BC.

Early Greek philosophers were the first to record biological observations of marine organisms. The Father of Natural History, Aristotle (384 BC-322 BC), was the first to begin studying marine subjects, and he made a number of contributions to both oceanography and marine biology.

Edward Forbes (1815-1854) is considered to be the founder of the science of oceanography and marine biology. He was a British naturalist. Other early contributors to these sciences were actually amateur naturalists who were professionals in other fields. Probably the most famous of the professional naturalists who contributed to marine biology is Charles Darwin (1809-1882). He was a naturalist on the H.M.S. Beagle expeditions (1831-1836).

According to the University of Bologna's website, it was probably the first university in the western world. The university was founded in 1158. Later, in the 16th century, studies of "natural magic" or experimental science were added to the curriculum. They cite a man named Ulisse Aldrovandi as a representative figure of the period who collected and classified animals, fossils and marvels of nature. This is the earliest record I have found of formal study at the university level which would have included foundational areas in Marine Biology.

The Scripps Institution for Biological Research is one of the oldest centers of marine science research, graduate training and public service in the world. It began in 1903 as the "George H. Scripps Memorial Marine Biological Laboratory."

Even as these first things were established so long ago, the field of Marine Biology will continue to score firsts as new discoveries and new territories are studied. It is estimated that only about 5% of the area covered by water on our planet has been explored. Who knows what strange creatures will appear or what plant life will be harvested from the depths and thrill scientists as they place them under scrutiny? As conservation becomes more and more important to the survival of earth, the science of Marine Biology will evolve by necessity to solve the problems of our day the same as it did for those first fishermen of antiquity.


There's just something about the sea, isn't it? Many people are miles from the shore, yet still have a love for it. My goal is to connect with armchair seafarers the world over through interesting information and ways to get involved right where they are.

My goal is to write entertaining and educational articles about the sea, not scholarly texts. That's just not my style. I will be learning along with you and enjoying this hobby of writing. There's no greater high for me.

Thank you for stopping by! More to come soon.