Monday, October 31, 2011

Dangerous bacteria spreading in warming oceans

From MSNBC: Dangerous bacteria spreading in warming oceans
BRUSSELS — Warning: The warming of the world's oceans can cause serious illness and may cost millions of euros (dollars) in health care.

That is the alarm sounded in a paper released online Tuesday on the eve of a two-day conference in Brussels.

The 200-page paper is a synthesis of the findings of more than 100 projects funded by the European Union since 1998. It was produced by Project CLAMER, a collaboration of 17 European marine institutes.

The paper says the rising temperature of ocean water is causing a proliferation of the Vibrio genus of bacteria, which can cause food poisoning, serious gastroenteritis, septicemia and cholera.

"Millions of euros in health costs may result from human consumption of contaminated seafood, ingestion of waterborne pathogens, and, to a lesser degree, though direct occupational or recreational exposure to marine disease," says the paper. "Climatic conditions are playing an increasingly important role in the transmission of these diseases."

The paper also describes a host of other effects of ocean warming, both documented and forecast, including melting ice, rising sea levels, coastal erosion, increased storm intensity and frequency, along with chemical changes in the sea itself, including acidification and deoxygenation.

"What was striking to me was the enormous pile of evidence that things are already happening," Katja Philippart, a marine scientist at the Royal Netherlands Institute of Sea Research who was involved in putting the study together, told The Associated Press. "There is so much happening already. We are just in the midst of it."

It is not only the range of changes that has scientists concerned, but the speed of them.

"The biggest surprise to me is the fact that things are changing in the ocean much more rapidly than we thought was possible," said Carlo Heip, who is director of the same institute in the Netherlands.

In just a few decades, he said, the fish population of the North Sea has changed significantly, with larger species moving toward the arctic and smaller ones taking their place.

He said the concentration of Vibrio genus of bacteria has been observed since the 1960s. "When the temperature in the North Sea began to increase at the end of the 80s, the Vibrios began to increase. One of those Vibrios is the cholera species."

In the Baltic region in 2006, far more people got gastroenteritis than usual, Heip said. But he acknowledged that is anecdotal evidence only, and the extent of the danger is unclear.

Philippart said some of the effects could even themselves contribute to global warming.

The greater acidification of the ocean might mean that algae would be able to capture less carbon dioxide, she said. "Then there will be a further increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, leading to greater warming."

Project CLAMER is holding a conference in Brussels on Wednesday and Thursday.

Floating Volcanic Rock Rafts 'Could Have Been Cradles Of Life'

From Underwater Floating Volcanic Rock Rafts 'Could Have Been Cradles Of Life'

OXFORD, United Kingdom -- Floating rafts of volcanic pumice could have played a significant role in the origins of life on Earth, scientists from Oxford University and the University of Western Australia have suggested.

The researchers, writing in the September issue of the journal Astrobiology, argue that pumice has a unique set of properties which would have made it an ideal habitat for the earliest organisms that emerged on Earth over 3.5 billion years ago.

'Not only does pumice float as rafts but it has the highest surface-area-to-volume ratio of any type of rock, is exposed to a variety of conditions, and has the remarkable ability to adsorb metals, organics and phosphates as well as hosting organic catalysts, such as zeolites,' said Professor Martin Brasier of Oxford University's Department of Earth Sciences who led the work with David Wacey of the University of Western Australia. 'Taken together these properties suggest that it could have made an ideal 'floating laboratory' for the development of the earliest micro-organisms.'

The researchers believe that pumice's unique lifecycle – in which it erupts from a volcano, then floats in rafts along the water's surface before entering the tidal zone, and then beaching for long periods close to shore – would have presented many opportunities for life to develop.

'During its lifecycle pumice is potentially exposed to, among other things, lightning associated with volcanic eruptions, oily hydrocarbons and metals produced by hydrothermal vents, and ultraviolet light from the Sun as it floats on water,' said Professor Brasier. 'All these conditions have the potential to host, or even generate, the kind of chemical processes that we think created the first living cells.'

'We know that life was thriving between the pores of beach sand grains some 3,400 million years ago,' said David Wacey of the University of Western Australia, referring to the team's recent work in Nature Geoscience. 'What we are saying here is that certain kinds of beach might have provided a cradle for life.'

The team say that their hypothesis can be tested by examining the early fossil record for evidence of pumice rafts, and conducting laboratory experiments on pumice rocks to see if they can create new catalysts and compounds when exposed to cycles of heat and ultraviolet radiation.

The article, entitled 'Pumice as a Remarkable Substrate for the Origin of Life', is published in the September issue of Astrobiology.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Ancient Mosaics Reveal Changing Fish Size

This ancient Roman mosaic from the Bardo National Museum in Tunis shows a giant grouper swollowing a fisherman. Courtesy of Trainito.

From Discovery News: Ancient Mosaics Reveal Changing Fish Size
The dusky grouper, one of the major predators in the Mediterranean sea, used to be so large in antiquity that it was portrayed as a "sea monster," a new study into ancient depictions of the endangered fish has revealed.

"Amazingly, ancient mosaic art has provided important information to reconstruct this fish's historical baseline," Paolo Guidetti of the University of Salento in Italy, told Discovery News.

Considered one of the most flavorful species among the Mediterranean fish, the dusky grouper (Epinephelus marginatus) is a large, long-lived, slow-growing, protogynous hermaphrodite fish (with sex reversal from female to male). It can be found mainly in the Mediterranean, the African west coast and the coast of Brazil.

Having faced harvesting for millennia -- grouper bones have been found in human settlements dating back more than 100,000 years -- this species has been decimated in recent decades by commercial and recreational fishing. It is now categorized as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

The recovery of endangered fish species requires a careful evaluation of some key elements, such as abundance, size structure, and spatial distribution. Such evaluation usually involves comparing unfished areas with unprotected sites.

"But most such marine protected areas are too small and 'young' (established a few decades ago, at most) to provide information on 'pristine' conditions," Guidetti and colleague Fiorenza Micheli, a professor of marine ecology at Stanford's Hopkins Marine Station, wrote in the current issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

To look farther back into the grouper's history, the researchers examined hundreds of Etruscan, Greek, and Roman paintings and mosaics depicting fishing scenes and fish.

At the end, they focused on 23 mosaics which represented groupers. In 10 of the 23 mosaics, dating from the 1st to 5th centuries, groupers were portrayed as being very large.

Indeed, the ancient Romans might have considered groupers some sort of "sea monsters" able to eat a fisherman whole, as shown in a 2nd century mosaic from the Bardo National Museum in Tunis.

The mosaics also indicated that groupers lived in shallow waters much closer to shore, and were caught by fishermen using poles or harpoons from boats at the water's surface.

"It's a technique that would surely yield no grouper catch today," said the researchers.

Although there are no known instances of dusky groupers attacking human swimmers, the art depictions are very "informative," said the researchers.

"These representations suggest that groupers were, in ancient times, so large as to be portrayed as sea monsters and that their habitat use and depth distribution have shifted in historical times," Guidetti and Micheli wrote.

Ancient Roman authors such Ovid (43 B.C. – 18 A.D.) and Pliny the Elder ((23 A.D. – 79 A.D.) reported that groupers were fished by anglers in shallow waters, where they are now rare if not completely absent.

According to their accounts, fish were so strong they could break fishing lines.

The researchers noted that grouper populations in marine reserves now show signs of returning to their historical sizes and depths, with groupers moving into shallower waters.

Achieving population abundances five to 10 times greater than those in unprotected areas of the Mediterranean, groupers in no-take reserves can reach sizes of 35-40 inches (versus 20-24 inches for groupers at fished sites).

"Ancient art provides a link between prehistorical and modern evidence and suggests that shallow near shore Mediterranean ecosystems have lost large, top predators and their corresponding ecological roles," the researchers concluded.

New Commitments From Pacific Island Leaders Significantly Bolster Future Of Pacific Oceanscape

From Underwater Times: New Commitments From Pacific Island Leaders Significantly Bolster Future Of Pacific Oceanscape
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A year after Pacific Island Leaders made an unprecedented commitment to establish the largest government-endorsed framework for a marine management initiative on the planet, Conservation International applauds the global vision shown once again by leaders here, who pledged bold new ocean conservation commitments – a new marine park and sanctuary – and named the first Pacific Oceanscape Commissioner at the close of the 42nd annual meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum in Aukland, New Zealand.

Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna dedicated the Cook Islands' newly declared marine park as their country's commitment to the Pacific Oceanscape and emphasized the need for Pacific peoples to reclaim their "mana" for the ocean.

"We have inherited our great ocean, Moana Nui o Kiva, and we must feel the "mana" - the honour – of being its stewards," said the Rt Hon Henry Puna. At more than one million square kilometers the marine park, which covers half the country's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and the entire southern island group, is the largest in the world today.

The Ulu-o-Tokelau Faipule Foua Toloa followed this announcement with Tokelau's designation of their waters as a sanctuary for marine mammals, turtles and sharks.

"Tokelau lies at the heart of the Pacific Ocean and the Oceanscape. We Tokelauans - in common with Polynesians, Micronesians and Melanesians - and in common with species such as the humpback whale or the hawksbill turtle or the great white shark - are Pacific Voyagers and the ocean is, quite simply, our home," said Ulu Toloa.

"Never has our home been more under threat. Overuse of marine resources and now climate change threatens our very existence," Ulu Toloa said. "Taking care of our islands is commonsense to all, and applying this care throughout our domain is now the imperative for the ocean's future and our future."

The Forty-Second (2011) Pacific Islands Forum Leaders' Meeting brought together heads of state from 14 independent and self-governing states in the region. Member nations include Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshal Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

The Pacific Oceanscape, which was conceptually approved by leaders in 2010 and formally launched this year, is a collaborative agreement managing 38.5 million square kilometres (nearly 24 million square miles) surrounding their collective islands, or comparatively larger than the land size of Canada, the United States and Mexico – combined. In total, the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of those nations cover approximately 10 per cent of the planet's surface.

Also among the announcements made was that Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General Tuiloma Neroni Slade is to be the first Pacific Oceanscape Commissioner. His role is to be the united voice for the Pacific Ocean and to help the region prepare for the United Nation's Rio + 20 and other international meetings.

"We have learned much in the voyage to design and establish our Phoenix Islands Protected Area and we are proud to share this and to commit this site as a foundation site for the Pacific Oceanscape," said Kiribati President Anote Tong. "We hope soon to expand our effort to join with the United States' Phoenix Islands to foster a whole-of-archipelago approach for island and ocean conservation. We call this an Ocean Arc initiative and this forms a key basis for effective collaboration for protected area management at scale."

"It gives me hope for the future of our oceans' health to see the continued commitment from the Pacific Island Leaders to the Pacific Oceanscape initiative," said Gregory Stone, Chief Ocean Scientist at Conservation International, one of the Pacific Oceanscape's founding partners. "It will help secure the well being of all people in this region in terms of food security, climate adaptation and economic security."

Background: The Pacific Oceanscape is a collaborative agreement between 15 Pacific Island nations, covering an area four times the size of continental Europe (38.5 million square kilometres), and providing a framework for the integrated management of the Pacific Ocean. The agreement covers ocean health and security; governance; sustainable resource management; increased research and knowledge investment; and facilitating the partnerships and cooperation needed to support the conservation of these vast and essential ecosystems.

For more on the goals and principles of the Pacific Oceanscape please visit:

Ancient Toothy Fish Found in Arctic—Giant Prowled Rivers

From National Geographic Daily News: Ancient Toothy Fish Found in Arctic—Giant Prowled Rivers
Fossils of a new species of carnivorous fish that prowled ancient rivers have been discovered in the Canadian Arctic, a new study says.

The 6-foot-long (1.8-meter-long) Laccognathus embryi was "the kind of fish that was waiting to lunge out to grab whatever was in front of it," said study co-author Ted Daeschler, a vertebrate zoologist at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia.

The fish's 1.5-inch-long (3.8-centimeter-long) fangs would have definitely sunk into flesh, he added.

In addition, the 375-million-year-old fish had thick, quarter-size scales; tiny eyes; a flat head; and a wide mouth—sort of like a modern-day grouper.

The fossil head "looks like a big, smiling face looking up at you," added Daeschler, who received funding for his research from the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration. (The Society owns National Geographic News.)

(See pictures of today's fish giants.)

Newfound Giant Swam With "Missing Link" Fish

Daeschler and colleagues found the new fish fossils during several excavations in a siltstone flood deposit on Ellesmere Island (see map) in Nunavut, Canada. The name L. embryi is a nod to Canadian geologist Ashton Embry, whose Arctic research helped prepare the scientists for their fieldwork.

In 2004 the same "incredibly productive" Arctic site had yielded Tiktaalik roseae, a fossil creature that lived during the same period as L. embryi and is considered to be a crucial link between fish and early limbed animals.

(See "Fossil Fish With 'Limbs' Is Missing Link, Study Says.")

Both Tiktaalik and L. embryi were lobe-finned fish, a group with rounded, limb-like fins. The group was beginning to blink out in the Devonian period, 415 to 360 million years ago—its only surviving members are the "living fossil" fish, the coelacanth, and the lungfish.

The Devonian "was a fish-eats-fish kind of world," Daeschler said. "There was a real arms race going. If you [were a smaller fish and] didn't have good armor on your body, you were very vulnerable."

The period was also "a very watershed time in the history of life on Earth, because you're seeing the dwindling—the end—of many of the more archaic groups ... including many of the lobe-finned fish," Daeschler said.

At the same time, "you're seeing the beginnings of the groups that go on to dominate the vertebrate fauna for the next 375 million years ... the upstarts if you want."

For example, ray-finned fish—the typical body plan we associate with modern fish—had begun to take over the seas.

(Also see "Goliath Tiger Fish: 'Evolution on Steroids' in Congo.")

Devonian World Still a Mystery

Though the Tiktaalik and L. embryi discoveries are valuable in and of themselves, "it's not just finding the animal—it's also placing the animal in its evolutionary crucible," Daeschler added.

For instance, finding the "cast of characters" that once occupied the Arctic site may begin to provide clues about who ate who and may help answer a big question: What environmental conditions drove fish onto land, where they eventually evolved into limbed animals, including us?

"We want to know," Daeschler said, "what that world was like."

The new predatory-fish study was published in September in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Reef safeguard sacrificed secretly for US, Singapore

From the Sydney Morning Herald: Reef safeguard sacrificed secretly for US, Singapore
THE federal government has secretly wound back a critical environmental protection for the Great Barrier Reef against shipping accidents in order to avoid a diplomatic stoush with the United States and Singapore.

Leaked US embassy cables published by WikiLeaks have revealed that the government has "weakened" the compulsory pilotage regime for large vessels, including oil tankers, chemical tankers and liquefied gas carriers, sailing through the sensitive maritime environment of the Torres Strait.

Owners and masters of vessels that fail to use a pilot to navigate the narrow and hazardous channel will not face any penalty if they do not subsequently call at an Australian port.

Advertisement: Story continues below On learning the Torres Strait pilotage regime was quietly amended 17 months ago, the chief executive of the Australian Conservation Foundation, Don Henry, said it was "absolutely essential'' that all shipping [through the strait] has pilotage.

The cables reveal that the US and Singaporean governments reacted strongly against the Howard government's October 2006 announcement of a compulsory pilotage regime in the Torres Strait designed to reduce the risk of oil and chemical spills in the northern end of the Great Barrier Reef.

Singapore's Foreign Minister, George Yeo, wrote directly to his Australian counterpart, Alexander Downer, "to complain about the decision and its negative impact on larger strategic interests".

The leaked cables show the US shared Singapore's concerns and served as Singapore's "closest ally on the Torres Strait issue". American diplomats lobbied other countries with large registered merchant fleets such as Panama and Cyprus to protest to Australia as well.

The Howard government was unmoved. In early 2008 the new Labor government under Kevin Rudd would not change its position either.

However, in July 2008, the head of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's international law branch, assistant secretary Adam McCarthy, told the US embassy in Canberra that "Australia recognises that it has not handled the Torres Strait pilotage issue particularly well" and indicated Canberra was prepared "to explore ways to address US concerns".

After detailed talks between US and Australian officials in Washington in August 2008, the department sought American agreement to a compromise formula that would allow Australia to save face while meeting US demands.

This would involve leaving the "compulsory" framework in place while in practice reverting to a voluntary scheme for many vessels by not enforcing penalties against ships that passed through the Torres Strait without a pilot, but which did not call at an Australian port. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority formalised the change on April 17, 2009.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

NASA evacuates astronauts from deep-sea training

From NASA evacuates astronauts from deep-sea training
NASA evacuated a crew of astronauts Wednesday from an underwater lab off the coast of Florida where they were training for a trip to an asteroid, due to the approach of Hurricane Rina.
"Crew decompressed overnight and will return to surface shortly. Hurricane Rina just a little too close for comfort," the US space agency said in a message on the microblogging site Twitter.

The NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) team climbed aboard support boats that were waiting at the surface and they were expected to be on dry land by 9:00 am (1300 GMT).

The crew includes Japanese astronaut Takuya Onishi, Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques, commander Shannon Walker of NASA, and Steve Squyres, an expert on planetary exploration at Cornell University in New York.

They were about midway through a 13-day mission at the Aquarius Underwater Laboratory, the only undersea lab of its kind in the world located three miles (4.5 kilometers) off the coast of Key Largo, Florida.

The practice run aimed to help astronauts figure out how they would get around on a near gravity-free asteroid, a trip President Barack Obama has said could happen by 2025.

Hurricane Rina, packing winds of 110 miles (175 kilometers) per hour, was forecast to become a major category three storm before making landfall near the sprawling resort city of Cancun on Thursday.

PETA Sues SeaWorld For Violating Orcas' Constitutional Rights; 'Slavery Is Slavery'

Animals have no constitutional rights, and this is going down a very slippery slope. What idiot judge let this lawsuit be filed?

From UnderwaterTimes: PETA Sues SeaWorld For Violating Orcas' Constitutional Rights; 'Slavery Is Slavery'
NORFOLK, Virginia -- In the first case of its kind, PETA, three marine-mammal experts, and two former orca trainers are filing a lawsuit asking a federal court to declare that five wild-caught orcas forced to perform at SeaWorld are being held as slaves in violation of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The filing—the first ever seeking to apply the 13th Amendment to nonhuman animals—names the five orcas as plaintiffs and also seeks their release to their natural habitats or seaside sanctuaries.

The suit is based on the plain text of the 13th Amendment, which prohibits the condition of slavery without reference to "person" or any particular class of victim. "Slavery is slavery, and it does not depend on the species of the slave any more than it depends on gender, race, or religion," says general counsel to PETA, Jeffrey Kerr.

The five wild-captured orca plaintiffs are Tilikum and Katina (both confined at SeaWorld Orlando) and Kasatka, Corky, and Ulises (all three confined at SeaWorld San Diego).

"All five of these orcas were violently seized from the ocean and taken from their families as babies. They are denied freedom and everything else that is natural and important to them while kept in small concrete tanks and reduced to performing stupid tricks," says PETA President Ingrid E. Newkirk. "The 13th Amendment prohibits slavery, and these orcas are, by definition, slaves."

Orcas are intelligent animals who, in the wild, work cooperatively, form complex relationships, communicate using distinct dialects, and swim up to 100 miles every day. At SeaWorld, they are forced to swim in circles in small, barren concrete tanks. Deprived of the opportunity to make conscious choices and to practice their cultural vocal, social, and foraging traditions, they are compelled to perform meaningless tricks for a reward of dead fish.

Our understanding of animals grows every day. Animals are no longer regarded as "things" to dominate, but as breathing, feeling beings with families, dialects, intellect, and emotions. Just as we look back with shame at a time when we enslaved other humans and viewed some people as property less deserving of protection and consideration, we will look back on our treatment of these animals with shame. The 13th Amendment exists to abolish slavery in all its forms—and this lawsuit is the next step.

The orcas are represented in the suit by what the law refers to as their "next friends": PETA, Ric O'Barry (a former orca and dolphin trainer and the star of the Academy Award–winning documentary The Cove), renowned marine biologist and orca expert Dr. Ingrid N. Visser, Orca Network founder Howard Garrett, and former SeaWorld trainers Samantha Berg and Carol Ray.

The groundbreaking suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California in San Diego.

Loving the Chambered Nautilus to Death

From New York Times: Loving the Chambered Nautilus to Death
It is a living fossil whose ancestors go back a half billion years — to the early days of complex life on the planet, when the land was barren and the seas were warm.

Naturalists have long marveled at its shell. The logarithmic spiral echoes the curved arms of hurricanes and distant galaxies. In Florence, the Medicis turned the pearly shells into ornate cups and pitchers adorned with gold and rubies.

Now, scientists say, humans are loving the chambered nautilus to death, throwing its very existence into danger.

“A horrendous slaughter is going on out here,” said Peter D. Ward, a biologist from the University of Washington, during a recent census of the marine creature in the Philippines. “They’re nearly wiped out.”

The culprit? Growing sales of jewelry and ornaments derived from the lustrous shell. To satisfy the worldwide demand, fishermen have been killing the nautilus by the millions, scientists fear. Now marine biologists have begun to assess the status of its populations and to consider whether it should be listed as an endangered species to curb the shell trade.

On eBay and elsewhere, small nautilus shells sell as earrings for $19.95, and as pendants for $24.95. Big ones — up to the size of plates — can be found for $56, often bisected to display the elegant chambers.

As jewelry, the opalescent material from the shell’s inner surface — marketed as a cheaper alternative to real pearl — can fetch $80 for earrings, $225 for bracelets and $489 for necklaces.

Catching the nautilus is a largely unregulated free-for-all in which fishermen from poor South Pacific countries gladly accept $1 per shell.

Scientists worry that rising demand may end up eradicating an animal that grows slowly and needs 15 years or more to reach sexual maturity — an unusually long time for a cephalopod. (Its cousins include the squid and the octopus.)

“In certain areas, it’s threatened with extermination,” said Neil H. Landman, a biologist and paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History and the co-editor of “Nautilus: The Biology and Paleobiology of a Living Fossil,” a compendium of scientific reports.

The nautilus lives on the slopes of deep coral reefs in the warm southwestern Pacific. While it is easy to catch with baited traps on long lines, the depths — as much as 2,000 feet, below the range of sunlight and scuba divers — make it hard to study.

So to find out just how endangered the nautilus is, biologists began a formal census last summer in at least six regions known to harbor the shy creatures.

Dr. Landman said the relatively few scientists who study the nautilus must overcome “a tremendous lack of knowledge” about its overall numbers and geographic range.

By contrast, modern consumers know far too much, he said: “You can see the shells polished and sold all over the place.”

The fossil record dates the ancestors of the nautilus to the late Cambrian period, 500 million years ago. Some grew to be true sea monsters, with gargantuan shells and big tentacles. Over eons, the thousands of species have dwindled to a handful.

The word “nautilus” comes from the Greek for boat. When the first shells arrived in Renaissance Europe, collectors were stunned: They saw the perfect spirals as reflecting the larger order of the universe.

Later on, Victorian homes displayed them as curios. In his famous 1858 poem “The Chambered Nautilus,” Oliver Wendell Holmes admired “the silent toil” that produced the “lustrous coil.” And in “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea,” Jules Verne created a watertight submarine of many compartments and christened it the Nautilus.

About those chambers: The creature periodically erects barriers inside its shell as it grows, leaving a series of unoccupied spaces behind. Like a submarine, the nautilus changes the amount of gas in the empty chambers to adjust its buoyancy. And it uses jet propulsion to swim.

To feed on fish and shrimp, it has as many as 90 small tentacles — and, like all cephalopods, a relatively large brain and eyes. The coiled shell can exhibit a nacreous luster or bands of bright color. The creature cannot go too deep lest its shell implode — like the hull of a submarine.

While the dwindling stocks of a beloved species can sometimes serve as a call to action — think of whales, pandas and polar bears — the threat to the chambered nautilus has gone largely unnoticed by the public. Specimens are for sale at relatively low prices and in seeming abundance. The situation is quite unlike that of rhinoceros horns or elephant tusks, which are considered contraband.

Deceptive marketing may help. The iridescent material inside nautilus shells is sometimes machined into pleasing shapes and sold as “Osmeña pearl.” (In the Philippines — home to much nautilus fishing — the Osmeña family is a political dynasty, and its name lends cachet.)

A recent Internet ad offers to sell an “Osmeña Pearl Sterling Silver Necklace” for $495, calling the dozen pearls “gorgeous, large, silver-hued, pale slate-blue.” The colorful ad says nothing about their origin.

Worse, collectors talk of obtaining rare “Nautilus pearls” that sell for thousands of dollars each. Scientists dismiss the pearls as fraudulent.

Over the decades, scientific alarms have rung periodically. Biologists have slowly compiled anecdotal reports of population declines near the Philippines, Indonesia and New Caledonia (whose official emblem features a nautilus shell).

But the alarms sounded with new intensity last year at a conference in Dijon, France. Patricia S. De Angelis of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service reported that the United States had imported 579,000 specimens from 2005 to 2008.

When Dr. Ward, of the University of Washington, heard that, “the figure shocked the hell out of me,” he recalled.

Suddenly, a species thought to be fairly plentiful became the object of serious concern.

This summer, the Fish and Wildlife Service paid for Dr. Ward and his colleagues to begin a global census off the Philippine island of Bohol, which has long figured prominently in the shell trade.

In an e-mail in August, he said the team was working with local fishermen to set 40 traps a day but was catching two creatures at most — a tenth to a hundredth the rate of a decade ago. “A horror show,” he called it, adding that he suspected that one particular kind of nautilus “is already extinct in the Philippines” or nearly so.

“A very old species is being killed off quickly out here,” he wrote.

The captive nautiluses were X-rayed and returned to the sea.

The team plans to go to Australia in December to expand the census to its Great Barrier Reef. The hope is that data from six sites will allow the scientists to estimate the world’s remaining nautilus population, and what might constitute a sustainable catch.

Scientific worry over the fate of the nautilus parallels the growing apprehension over the effects of deep-sea fishing on a variety of creatures. Last month, the United Nations General Assembly held an open debate on the subject, with the aim of developing safeguards.

Marine biologists are lobbying for protection of the nautilus under the same United Nations rules that protect the American black bear, the African gray parrot, the green iguana and thousands of other creatures. The rules, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (or Cites, pronounced SIGH-tees), allow commercial trade if it is legal and sustainable.

In an interview, Dr. De Angelis of the Fish and Wildlife Service called the nautilus census team “the best of the best” and described its goals as getting to the bottom of the population question and coming up with a credible estimate for the dimensions of the global trade.

“Ultimately,” she said, “we’re looking at whether this is sustainable.”

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Dolphins 'talk' like humans, scientists say

From Mother Nature Network: Dolphins 'talk' like humans, scientists say
Dolphins "talk" to each other, using the same process to make their high-pitched sounds as humans, according to a new analysis of results from a 1970s experiment.

The findings mean dolphins don't actually whistle as has been long thought, but instead rely on vibrations of tissues in their nasal cavities that are analogous to our vocal cords.

Scientists are only now figuring this out, "because it certainly sounds like a whistle," said study researcher Peter Madsen of the Institute of Bioscience at Aarhus University in Denmark, adding that the term was coined in a paper published in 1949 in the journal Science. "And it has stuck since."

The finding clears up a question that has long puzzled scientists: How can dolphins make their signature identifying whistles at the water's surface and during deep dives where compression causes sound waves to travel faster and would thus change the frequency of those calls. [Deep Divers: A Gallery of Daring Dolphins]

To answer that question, Madsen and his colleagues analyzed recently digitized recordings of a 12-year-old male bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) from 1977. At the time, the researchers had the dolphin breathe a mixture of helium and oxygen called heliox. (Used by humans, heliox makes one sound like Donald Duck.)

The heliox was meant to mimic conditions during a deep dive since it causes a shift up in frequency. When breathing air or heliox, the male dolphin, however, continued to make the same whistles, with the same frequency.

Rather than vocal cords, the dolphins likely use tissue vibrations in their nasal cavities to produce their "whistles," which aren't true whistles after all. The researchers suggest structures in the nasal cavity, called phonic lips, are responsible for the sound.

The dolphins aren't actually talking, though.

"It does not mean that they talk like humans, only that they communicate with sound made in the same way," Madsen told LiveScience.

"Cetean ancestors lived on land some 40 million years ago and made sounds with vocal folds in their larynx," Madsen said, referring to the group of mammals to which dolphins belong. "They lost that during the adaptations to a fully aquatic lifestyle, but evolved sound production in the nose that functions like that of vocal folds."

This vocal ability also likely gives dolphins a broader range of sounds.

"Because the frequency is changed by changing the airflow and the tension of the connective tissue lips in the nose, the dolphin can change frequency much faster than if it had to do it by changing air sac volumes," Madsen said. "That means that there is a much bigger potential for making a broader range of sounds and hence increase information transfer."

The research is detailed this week in the journal Biology Letters.

Manatees' growing dependence on power plants for survival

From Manatees' growing dependence on power plants for survival

The past two winters have been very hard on manatees," according to Ron Mezich, a Biological Scientist at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Cold waters have killed at least 400 of these endangered mammals. Some, however, have found that power plants are a source of the warm water that they need to survive.

Engineers use water to cool off power plants, and that water is then re-circulated into ponds and streams, often at high temperatures. "Typically Florida's spring systems average around 72 degrees, but Manatees aren't fooled," Mezich told PRI's Here and Now. "When the power plant offers them 80 degree discharged water they oftentimes prefer that."

This relationship has been building for decades. Mezich says, "Over the years, the power plants have learned to deal with them." He adds, "in some cases, it's an attraction for the local community to see large numbers of manatees." (Above: manatees gather at a pond. Photo courtesy of Pat Quinn.)

The manatees have learned to live with the power plants, too. Mezich says, "Power plants have probably helped manatees over the last 30-40 years by reducing losses to cold stress."

In the long term, though, that relationship could become a problem. "These power plants won't always be there," Mezich points out, "and sometimes they have mechanical difficulties and we lose them, and that is a very big concern."

"We're looking in the future for ways to wean the animals off these sites," Mezich told Here and Now. They're running microcosm experiments to see how best to move the animals away from the power plants and allow them to live on their own.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Scientists: Nearly All Deep-Sea Fisheries Are Unsustainable; 'The World's Worst Place To Catch Fish'

From Underwater Times: Scientists: Nearly All Deep-Sea Fisheries Are Unsustainable; 'The World's Worst Place To Catch Fish'

BELLEVUE, Washington -- A team of leading marine scientists from around the world is recommending an end to most commercial fishing in the deep sea, the Earth's largest ecosystem. Instead, they recommend fishing in more productive waters nearer to consumers.

In a comprehensive analysis published online this week in the journal Marine Policy, marine ecologists, fisheries biologists, economists, mathematicians and international policy experts show that, with rare exceptions, deep-sea fisheries are unsustainable. The "Sustainability of deep-sea fisheries" study, funded mainly by the Lenfest Ocean Program, comes just before the UN decides whether to continue allowing deep-sea fishing in international waters, which the UN calls "high seas."

Life is mostly sparse in the oceans' cold depths, far from the sunlight that fuels photosynthesis. Food is scarce and life processes happen at a slower pace than near the sea surface. Some deep-sea fishes live more than a century; some deep-sea corals can live more than 4,000 years. When bottom trawlers rip life from the depths, animals adapted to life in deep-sea time can't repopulate on human time scales. Powerful fishing technologies are overwhelming them.

"The deep sea is the world's worst place to catch fish" says marine ecologist Dr. Elliott Norse, the study's lead author and President of the Marine Conservation Institute in Bellevue, Washington USA. "Deep-sea fishes are especially vulnerable because they can't repopulate quickly after being overfished."

The deep sea provides less than 1% of the world's seafood. But fishing there, especially bottom trawling, causes profound, lasting damage to fishes and life on the seafloor, such as deep-sea corals, these experts say.

Since the 1970s, when coastal fisheries were overexploited, commercial fishing fleets have moved further offshore and into deeper waters. Some now fish more than a mile deep.

"Because these fish grow slowly and live a long time, they can only sustain a very low rate of fishing," says author Dr. Selina Heppell, a marine fisheries ecologist at Oregon State University. "On the high seas, it is impossible to control or even monitor the amount of fishing that is occurring. The effects on local populations can be devastating."

The authors document the collapse of many deep-sea fishes around the world, including sharks and orange roughy. Other commercially caught deep-sea fishes include grenadiers (rattails) and blue ling.

"Fifty years ago no one ate orange roughy," said author Dr. Daniel Pauly, a fisheries biologist with the University of British Columbia (UBC). "In fact, it used to be called slimehead, indicating no one ever thought we would eat it. But as we've overfished our coastal species, that changed and so did the name."

Orange roughy take 30 years to reach sexual maturity and can live 125 years. Compared with most coastal fishes, they live in slow-motion. Unfortunately for them and the deep-sea corals they live among, they can no longer hide from industrial fishing.

"Fishing for orange roughy started in New Zealand and grew rapidly through the 1980s and 1990s. However, most of the fisheries were overexploited, and catch levels have either been dramatically reduced or the fisheries closed all together," says author Dr. Malcolm Clark, a New Zealand-based fisheries biologist. "The same pattern has been repeated in Australia, Namibia, the SW Indian Ocean, Chile and Ireland. It demonstrates how vulnerable deep-sea fish species can be to overfishing and potential stock collapse."

There are very few exceptions to unsustainable deep-sea fisheries around the world. One is the Azores fishery for black scabbardfish. There the Portuguese government has banned bottom trawling, which overfished black scabbardfish elsewhere. Azores fish are caught sustainably with hook and line gear from small boats. In most deep sea-fisheries, however, trawlers fish outside of nations' 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zones, outside of effective government control.

"Deep-sea fisheries can be sustainable only where the fish population grows quickly and fisheries are small-scale and use gear that don't destroy fish habitat," said Dr. Norse. "With slow-growing fish, there's economic incentive to kill them all and reinvest the money elsewhere to get a higher return-on-investment. Killing off life in the deep sea one place after another isn't good for our oceans or economies. Boom-and-bust fisheries are more like mining than fishing," Dr. Norse said.

The lawlessness of the high seas adds to overfishing in the deep. So do nations' fisheries subsidies.

High seas trawlers receive some $162 million each year in government handouts, which amounts to 25% the value of the fleet's catch, according to Dr. Rashid Sumaila, an author and fisheries economist at UBC.

The authors of this Marine Policy paper say that the best policy would be to end economically wasteful deep-sea fisheries, redirect subsidies to help displaced fishermen and rebuild fish populations in productive waters closer to ports and markets, places far more conducive to sustainable fisheries.

"Instead of overfishing the Earth's biggest but most vulnerable ecosystem, nations should recover fish populations and fish in more productive coastal waters," says Dr. Norse. "Deep-sea fishes are in deep trouble almost everywhere we look. Governments shouldn't be wasting taxpayers' money by keeping unsustainable fisheries afloat."

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Beached 15-ton baby whale is saved and returned to its mother after gruelling EIGHT-hour rescue

From Mail Online: Beached 15-ton baby whale is saved and returned to its mother after gruelling EIGHT-hour rescue
15-ton Minke whale calf has been successfully saved by rescuers after becoming beached in a shallow dock this morning.

The 30ft mammal became beached in Immingham Docks, near Grimsby, Lincolnshire, after it became startled and lost its mother.

The distressed whale was spotted by a passing ship, which alerted authorities at 8am this morning and kick started the eight-hour rescue mission.

Over 50 emergency personnel descended on Immingham Docks, including the RSPCA, Coastguard, RNLI, fire services and British Marine Rescue, to try and free the trapped marine mammal.

Rescuers believe it was swimming with its mother when it was startled and went off course - becoming trapped in the shallow dock.

Fire services desperately dug a trench to help create a path deep enough to secure the whale’s safe passage back to sea once the next high tide came in.

Meanwhile, the baby whale’s distressed mother was frantically circling the Humber waiting for its return.

But as fears grew that the whale may have had to be put down, the eight-hour rescue attempt came to an end as the distressed creature was finally freed.
It is now heading back out into the North Sea to be reunited with his mother.
A spokesman for British Divers Marine Life Rescue: ‘We got a call at 8am this morning to say there was a Minke whale beached at Immingham Docks.

'At that moment in time it was facing towards the sea, but we successfully helped rotate it.
'Fire services began digging a trench to allow water underneath the whale and support it. The concern was that the tide would continue to drop and it would not be able to support its large weight, so we obviously needed to get it back to sea as soon as possible

'Thankfully, Minke whales can survive a bit longer than other whales. With good first aid and animal care the animal can survive for 12 hours.
'We have had our local co-ordinator there and a team of British Marine Life medics who worked very closely with the RSPCA, vets, Coastguard, fire services and Humber rescue to ensure the safe return of the whale to its mother.
'We are all just relieved the whale has been successfully reunited with his mother.'
A spokeswoman for Humber Coastguard said: 'The larger whale has not been seen for a while, so we believe that is also heading back out to sea.'

Black Reefs–When the Ship Hits the Reef

From National Geographic: Black Reefs–When the Ship Hits the Reef
The first time I dived at the remote Kingman Reef, in 2005, I thought I found paradise. In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, almost 2000 km south of Hawaii, lies a pristine coral reef, covered with colorful corals and a carpet of giant clams with unbelievable electric blues and greens. When I returned in 2007, I thought I had entered the dark land of Mordor.

The healthy corals of the windward side of Kingman Reef, permanently washed by the breaking waves, had died, and the reef shifted into a carpet of dark slime – filamentous algae and microbes. The former crystal clear waters were now murky like a swimming pool after turning off the filtration system. We called it the ‘black reef.’

What was the reason for such a shift – from pristine to degraded? We found the answer right away: the wreck of a teak-hulled fishing vessel filled with iron-rich compressors, engines and unidentifiable machinery. We will never know who the ship belonged to, and what happened to her crew. All we know is that that vessel wasn’t there two years earlier. The ship is a ghost, killing the reef around it little by little.

A scientific study published today at The ISME Journal shows that the shipwreck is releasing iron slowly into the surrounding waters, thus fertilizing the iron-poor waters of Kingman Reef and causing a population explosion of algae, and microbes. The result is the killing of one km of reef in less than three years.

Linda Wegley of San Diego State University (SDSU) and lead author of the study says that ” the black reefs show that a very small amount of some pollutant (in this case iron) can kill a large area of a pristine reef.”

The science team found similar black reefs in other coral atolls and islands in the central Pacific. “The differences between the surrounding reefs and the black reefs are truly amazing. The former are some of the most beautiful in the world, whereas the black reefs are some of the most dead and dark reefs we have ever seen” said Forest Rohwer, professor and director of the marine microbiology lab at SDSU.

To add insult to injury, a number of these ships sank on reefs that are pristine and protected by the U.S. as Marine National Monuments. In particular, the wrecks are within the 12-mile Wildlife Refuge managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The ecological value of these reefs is global and irreplaceable.

Knowing that these shipwrecks pose a significant threats to coral reefs here and in multiple regions where iron is a limiting nutrient, what’s the solution?

William Chandler, Marine Conservation Institute’s Vice President for Government Affairs, believes that “shipwrecks located in iron-poor regions of the Pacific must be removed immediately to protect the integrity and viability of coral reef ecosystems. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s failure to remove two shipwrecks in the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument is undermining the very purpose of the monument.”

Our own shipwreck expert, my fellow Explorer-in-Residence Bob Ballard, tells me that “I never thought it would have been that destructive, but now knowing what we know, it is clear iron needs to be removed from a reef environment as fast as possible.”

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Calif. lawmakers pass bill banning shark-fin trade

From CBS News: Calif. lawmakers pass bill banning shark-fin trade
(AP) SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California's Legislature sent Gov. Jerry Brown a bill seeking to ban the sale, trade or possession of shark fins on Tuesday, over the objections of two senators who called the measure racist because the fins are used in a soup considered a delicacy in some Asian cultures.

The bill has split the Asian delegation in the Legislature. It was introduced by Assemblyman Paul Fong, D-Cupertino, and was supported by Sen. Carol Liu, D-Pasadena, who said it is needed to protect endangered shark species.

Others disagreed. Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, noted that the bill would ban only part of the shark while permitting the continued consumption of shark skin or steaks.

"This bill goes out of its way to be discriminatory," Lieu said. "They single out one cultural practice."

Critics of the practice, which already is restricted in U.S. waters, estimate that fishermen kill 73 million sharks each year for their fins. They said it is particularly cruel because the wounded sharks often are returned to the ocean to die after their fins are removed.

The fins can sell for $600 a pound, and the soup can cost $80 a bowl.

Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, who carried AB376 in the Senate, said California has the highest demand for the fins outside Asia. She cited estimates that 85 percent of dried shark fin imports to the United States come through California, giving the bill an impact beyond efforts to restrict the practice in the U.S. and abroad.

"It's our market here that drives the slaughter," Kehoe said. "We are an importer and a broker worldwide."

The proposed ban has been supported by celebrities including actress Bo Derek and retired NBA center Yao Ming. The state Senate approved the bill on a 25-9 vote.

The 5000m-deep network of hi-tech sensors that will finally allow us to see beneath the sea

From Daily Mail Online: The 5000m-deep network of hi-tech sensors that will finally allow us to see beneath the sea
Researchers have completed the latest tests on a revolutionary undersea network of hi-tech sensors that could change oceanography forever - and capture new visions of events such as volcanic eruptions deep beneath the waves.

A team using special robots spent three weeks examining the nodes which have been put 5,000 metres under the water’s surface off the coast of the Pacific Northwest.

They took pictures of the cables and the sensors to make sure they were in place and that the project remains on track.

Once it is completed the Ocean Observatories Initiative's underwater array will provide the most comprehensive survey of the sea ever made.

It will enable researchers to measure changes to the ocean’s chemical, biological, physical and geological processes - all at the same time.

Such a network is a huge technological shift away from ship-based research. And once it is up and running the data will be streamed on the Internet allowing other scientists and members of the public to view it in real time.
The latest tests involved sending a 274-foot research vessel called Thomas G Thompson 5,000 metres down to study the progress of the array.

It is located about 300 miles off the coast of Oregon and when completed will have 16 sensors to study the sea bed and 17 going up to the surface.

Among the instruments will be a hydrophone to monitor wave movement, a seismometer to track tectonic plate movements, high definition cameras and even a DNA sampler.

The nodes will also have a sampler to monitor things like water acidity and will be linked to the ships on the surface via Internet ‘routers’ which broadcast the data.

Until now mankind has had to send manned submersibles to the depths in order to study them, but they can only remain there for a short period of time.

Sensors on satellites, another option, cannot go very far below the surface.

The undersea network by contrast has already filmed a volcano that erupted last spring at Axial Seamount off the coast of Oregon.

It has also taken pictures of a huge field of underwater ‘snowblowers’, which are created by lava flows and show where microbial life has been living.

The project, which has so far cost $153million, is scheduled to go live in 2014 and will produce data 24 hours a day for at least 25 years.

It is being funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation which has posted videos of the research on its Visions’ 11 website.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Orcas, not sharks, the dominant predator off Vancouver Island coast

From 660News: Orcas, not sharks, the dominant predator off Vancouver Island coast
VANCOUVER - It was the kind of feeding frenzy John Ford had never seen before.

Ford, a research scientist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, was aboard a boat north of Haida Gwaii but just south of Alaska, studying the feeding habits of a little-known group of offshore killer whales.

The mammals were hyperventilating, arching their backs and diving deep.

On the hydrophone, Ford could hear their excited songs.

Minutes passed and then a chunk of tissue -- about 250 grams in size and later proven to be part of a liver -- floated to the surface, coming to rest in a slick of oil.

More and more tissue and oil soon appeared, covering an area of ocean in a sheen hundreds of metres in size and flattening the water's ripples.

Ford and a colleague collected samples, which were later analyzed at DFO's Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo, British Columbia.

The tests confirmed Ford's long-held hypothesis: the offshore orcas weren't eating salmon or sea lions. They were chowing down on sharks, specifically sleeper sharks.

The sleeper shark is one of 14 shark species found in B.C. waters. Blackish brown or slate green in colour, the shark can grow to 4.3 metres in length.

"It was one of the top days in my 30-plus-year career studying wild killer whales," said Ford, of watching the feeding frenzy. "It was the culmination of many years of speculation, debate, you know, pondering about what it is that these animals feed on.

"It was really gratifying to see that this piece of the jig-saw puzzle finally fell into place."

The May 2008 incident was published in a recent issue of Aquatic Biology and included as an exhibit at the Cohen Commission, the inquiry examining the causes of the 2009 collapse of the Fraser River sockeye run.

The incident and the subsequent paper have provided researchers with a few more details about offshore orcas, a population almost entirely unknown to scientists.

Three groups — residents, transients and offshore orcas — make up B.C.'s killer whale population, but the last of the three was first identified off the B.C. coast only in the late 1980s.

Ford said about 300 to 500 whales make up the population, which travels from California to the Aleutian Island in Alaska.

The orcas, he added, look different than their resident and transient cousins: their fins' shapes appear to be different and their body sizes, smaller.

He said the mammals travel in groups of as many as 100.

Congregating mainly on the edge of the continental shelf, the orcas rarely and unpredictably venture into the waters between Vancouver Island and the mainland, so little is known about them and encounters are opportunistic, added Ford.

While resident killer whales feed on salmon and other fish and transient orcas focus almost exclusively on marine mammals, the diets of offshore killer whales have stumped researchers.

They began to hypothesize that the whales were targeting sharks after they observed worn-down teeth on some stranded offshore orcas, said Ford.

A photograph published in a newspaper in the early 1940s also showed worn-down teeth on the mammals.

Ford thinks orcas are targeting sharks because their livers are rich in fatty oils and energy.

"We believe that for killer whales generally that they are going after the most profitable prey, which tend to be the bigger kinds of body sizes and the highest oil content," he said.

One year after the May 2008 incident, a colleague of Ford's observed another, similar feeding frenzy in Prince William Sound, Alaska.

On that occasion, offshore killer whales fed on about seven sharks over some three hours.

Just in the past few weeks, a researcher contracted by DFO witnessed orcas eating sharks about 80 kilometres off the southwest coast of Vancouver Island.

Brian Gisborne, a retired commercial fisherman who also runs a water-taxi business, said he watched between 17 and 19 orcas attack and eat what's believed to be blue sharks.

Blue sharks are about three metres in length and are a indigo blue on their backs.

Gisborne said at least one of the sharks was nearly two metres long.

"They'd (the orcas) go on over ... swimming around through lots of sharks, and then every so often I guess they'd finally get hungry.

"Somebody would grab one and the whole family would come together and they'd tear it all up and different ones would get pieces of it. As best as I could tell that what was going on."

Gisborne said he took samples so Ford should soon be able to tell what type of sharks became dinner.

With genetic work still to be done, there's little chance research work on the offshore orcas will come to an end any time soon.

Several remote, acoustic-monitoring sites are moored below the ocean's surface off B.C.'s coast, and Ford said researchers hope to get a better understanding of where the mammals congregate.

Once they know that, he added, researchers will have a better chance of finding them and learning about their diets.

"We feel like we've still got to learn much more about their diet throughout the year.

"It's going to take a long time. And we're just hoping that we'll have more opportunities as we get to better understand where these whales tend to be.

"These are long-lived animals, so is our study," said Ford.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Potential Oil Leak Investigation Of World War II Era Tanker

From KVEC News Talk 920: Potential Oil Leak Investigation Of World War II Era Tanker
San Luis Obispo, CA -- On December 23, 1941, about two weeks after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, a Japanese submarine lurking off the Central Coast launched a torpedo sinking the S.S. Montebello. Now 70 years later the Montebello is the focus of an investigation. Officials want to know if the World War II era tanker, that was carrying roughly three million gallons of crude oil, is leaking, or could leak it’s cargo in the future.

For the next ten days, dive crews using robotic submersibles, will study the ship’s hull to determine if it poses a threat to the ecosystem off the coast of Cambria. The multi-agency investigation is being funded by the Oil Spill Response Trust Fund. It is a federal fund paid for by oil companies and currently opened up for three to five million dollars for the mission; officials say while it is expensive, it is also necessary.

Fears in Miami That Port Expansion Will Destroy Reefs

This is from Sept 3:
From the New York Times: Fears in Miami That Port Expansion Will Destroy Reefs
MIAMI — As Miami prepares to dredge its port to accommodate supersize freighters, environmentalists are making a last-ditch effort to protect threatened coral reefs and acres of sea grass that they say would be destroyed by the expansion.

The state’s Department of Environmental Protection is on the verge of granting a final permit to the Army Corps of Engineers, which will be free to conduct 600 days of blasting to widen and deepen the channel for the port of Miami, across from the southern part of Miami Beach.

“It won’t fare well for us, the bay, the coral reefs, the fish stocks and the sea grass,” said Laura Reynolds, the executive director of the Tropical Audubon Society.

“You can bring this all back to the economy,” Ms. Reynolds said. “People come here to fish, boat, sail, snorkel and dive and go to the beach.”

Florida has seen steep declines in coral in the last 25 years, and last year’s cold snap devastated the reefs closest to shore. Some of those lost 70 percent to 75 percent of their coral, said Diego Lirman, a University of Miami scientist who was part of a team that conducted a survey of the coral last year and published its findings in August.

Environmentalists also question whether the potential harm to Biscayne Bay, with its pristine waters and sea life, is too high a price for a port expansion that may not bring the economic windfall that is expected.

Shipping consultants say the port of Miami is in fierce competition with other Eastern ports — including Port Everglades, just an hour away in Fort Lauderdale — to receive the superfreighters that will sail through the Panama Canal in 2014 once it has been widened. South Florida, because of its location, is not likely to become a hub compared with cities farther north, like Savannah and Charleston, experts say.

“The prospect of Miami becoming a big hub, this is not going to happen,” said Asaf Ashar, a ports and shipping consultant. “Miami is the end of the peninsula. It’s difficult to get into it.”

But with ports around the country moving forward with dredging plans, cities do not want to be left behind. In Miami, the actual dredging is expected to begin next year.

State environmental officials said there were plans to mitigate the damage to coral, sea grass and the bay, some of which is part of a state preserve. About seven acres of coral is expected to be directly affected by the blasts, and the Army Corps of Engineers will be required to transplant much of it to a trough between two reefs.

All stony coral larger than about 4 inches will be chiseled out and moved to the trough. All soft coral greater than about 10 inches will also be transplanted. Elkhorn and staghorn coral, which are categorized as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, may be sent to a coral nursery, according to the plan.

At the same time, nearly eight acres of sea grass will be damaged during the expansion. To make up for that, the corps will seed 25 acres in a large underwater hole a bit farther north.

The state also temporarily increased the threshold of just how milky the water can get in the area of the dredging — another concern for environmentalists — but officials said the silt and sediment plume would largely be contained, in part by underwater curtains.

“The damage is the minimum amount necessary to do the project,” said Mark Thomasson, the director for the water resource management division at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which issues the permits. “That’s the directive we were given to do this project.”

Once abundant and diverse, the coral in Florida and the Caribbean has gradually declined. Last winter, as ocean temperatures dipped into the 60s, some coral species on near-shore reefs were killed off altogether.

“One-hundred-year-old corals were wiped out within a week,” said Mr. Lirman of the University of Miami. “These were the jewels of the Florida reef tract.”

One particular kind of coral, the elkhorn, which helps build and stabilize reefs, has been almost wiped out over the last 25 years because of storms, disease and warming ocean temperatures, which end up bleaching coral.

A new study by two biologists found that bacteria from human fecal waste had played a major role in choking elkhorn coral. For years, human waste from the Florida Keys seeped, or in some cases poured, into the ocean via septic tanks and pipes. The sewage system is now being upgraded.

“There were a couple of acres of this coral, and now there is enough to cover your desk,” said Ken Nedimyer, president of the nonprofit Coral Restoration Foundation in the Florida Keys, which grows and restores coral through an underwater nursery.

In the last five years, scientists and environmentalists have worked to bolster and rebuild reefs in the area. The University of Miami operates one of a network of four nurseries that are growing elkhorn and other kinds of coral to transplant to reefs along South Florida’s coast. The university also runs a coral reef research facility that investigates what makes coral sick and what makes it healthy.

“We can turn a chunk into a hundred chunks in a year or two,” Mr. Nedimyer said of elkhorn coral.

Last month, Biscayne National Park managers proposed ambitious plans to further protect the area’s marine life by creating a 16-square-mile reserve that would put large tracts of reef off limits to lobster hunters and fishing enthusiasts. The plan would call for new no-motor zones for boats and areas where speed must be reduced.

For environmentalists, the concern with the corps’ mitigation plans is that some coral will be missed, that the transplanted coral and sea grass may not survive and that muddied waters from the dredging and hundreds of blasts will do long-term damage to the bay.

“You will have tremendous stress to the reef system for a project that may not even have any economic justification,” said Blanca Mesa, a volunteer for the Sierra Club Miami. “Biscayne Bay is actually a crystal-clear bay. It’s that way because we have acres and acres of sea grass beds filtering silt and sand out. It’s part of the beauty. It’s a shallow tropical lagoon that was never contemplated as a deep-dredge port.”

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Death in dolphins: do they understand they are mortal?

From New Scientist: Death in dolphins: do they understand they are mortal?
REPORTS of dolphins interacting with dead members of their pod are raising questions about whether cetaceans understand the concept of death. Bottlenose dolphins in western Greece have been seen reacting to death differently depending on whether a pod member has died suddenly or after a longer period of illness, New Scientist has learned.

Interpreting animal behaviour after the death of a companion is fraught with difficulty. Death is rarely observed in the wild, and it is easy to erroneously attribute human emotions to animals. Nevertheless, several species of intelligent, social animals, such as gorillas, chimps and elephants can display particular behaviours when an animal dies - behaviours which some have interpreted as akin to mourning. Taken together with a growing number of reports of cetaceans interacting with dead animals and the discovery that they have specialised neurons linked to empathy and intuition, the Greek study suggests dolphins may have a complex - and even sophisticated - reaction to death.

Joan Gonzalvo of the Tethys Research Institute based in Milan, Italy, has been observing the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) population in the Amvrakikos gulf since 2006. In July 2007, he and his team of Earthwatch Institute volunteers saw a mother interact with her dead newborn calf. She lifted the corpse above the surface, in an apparent attempt to get it to breathe. "This was repeated over and over again, sometimes frantically, during two days of observation," says Gonzalvo. "The mother never separated from her calf." The team heard her calling to it while she touched it with her snout and pectoral fins.

The newborn had a large bruise on its lower jaw, suggesting it may have been killed by another dolphin. "Infanticide has been reported in this species," says Gonzalvo. Aware of the dangers of investing animal behaviour with human emotions, he nonetheless suggests the mother may have been mourning the sudden death: "[She] seemed unable to accept the death."

Release from suffering?
One year later, Gonzalvo came across a pod surrounding a 2 to 3-month-old dolphin that was having difficulty swimming. It bore bleach marks, possibly from exposure to pesticide or heavy-metal pollution. "The group appeared stressed, swimming erratically," he says. "Adults were trying to help the dying animal stay afloat, but it kept sinking." It died about an hour later.

From his previous observation, Gonzalvo expected the mother to stay with the corpse. Instead, it was allowed to sink and the group immediately left the area. "My hypothesis is that the sick animal was kept company and given support, and when it died the group had done their job. In this case they had already assumed death would eventually come - they were prepared." Gonzalvo accepts that his interpretation is speculative and based on limited data. He is gathering examples from other researchers before publishing his observations.

Ingrid Visser of the Orca Research Trust in Tutukaka, New Zealand, has seen bottlenose dolphins and orcas carrying dead infants in what she too interprets as grief. She acknowledges that the activity may simply be misdirected behaviour, and that the animals do not know that the calf is dead. "But we do know that cetaceans have von Economo neurons, which have been associated with grief in humans." As a result, she speculates that the behaviours are a form of grief.

Death rites
Visser has seen similar things at pilot whale strandings. "When one died the others would stop when passing by, as if to acknowledge or confirm that it was dead. If we tried to get them to move past without stopping, they would fight to go back to the dead animal. I do not know if they understand death but they do certainly appear to grieve - based on their behaviours."

Karen McComb of the University of Sussex, UK, who has studied how elephants act when they find elephant bones, says Gonzalvo's observations bring to mind other intelligent, social mammals, but it is impossible to know what is going on in an animal's mind.

"It is fascinating but out of our reach as scientists," she says, adding that any inferences are necessarily speculative. "It's great to accumulate examples though - as more are gathered a clearer picture emerges."

Could sunken treasure be a fix for Washington budget woes?

From Could sunken treasure be a fix for Washington budget woes?
You might have heard about this earlier in the week. American treasure hunting company Odyssey Marine Exploration recently found two British ships full of silver that were sunk by the Germans.

The company was hired by the British government, and it turns out the Brits are actively trying to find a bunch of treasure ships they lost at sea as a way to boost their budgets.

Is that an answer to Washington's budget problems?

The silver haul from those two ships alone could be over $200 million. While no ships were torpedoed off the Washington Coast, hundreds of them have gone down in bad weather over the last 200 years. A lot of them near the Columbia River on the Southwest Coast, and an even bigger number of them off the Northwest tip of state.

"The boats would miss the Tatoosh Lighthouse, and they would keep sailing north," says local dive expert Scott Boyd. "They would pile up on the rocks on southwest Vancouver Island. There are hundreds and hundreds of wrecks up there."

Boyd, who is with NW Wreck Dives has been diving wrecks around Puget Sound and the world for about ten years.

He's written the book on where to go and what to see, whether it's on the bottom of Lake Washington or in Elliott Bay or in Puget Sound.

Boyd said there is one gold ship out there that has had hunters searching the Northwest coast for years.

The Pacific went down in 1875. It was a gold rush ship heading from British Columbian to San Francisco. There were several hundred people on board. Only one survived.

"As is typical with treasure hunting," Boyd said. "The size of the treasure grows with the age." Some estimates put the haul at $40 million, though the only confirmed gold on board was $80,000 in the safe.

Most of the wrecks off the Washington Coast were full of lumber and furs. So the chances of cashing in here, Boyd said, are slim.

"You start talking around the world, and there are some very famous ships that have gone down with large cargoes of gold that have never been discovered. They're there but not up here."

And even if there were, he said, the chances of finding one and making money on the find aren't very good.

"My understanding of most treasure hunting ventures is that they never actually make any money. I know the search for the Pacific, several companies have spent millions and millions of dollars, and I'm not sure there's millions of dollars to be gained."

I checked with the governor's office, the office of financial management,and department of revenue, and none of them said the state has looked at treasure hunting as a novel way to fix the budget.

Silver Treasure, Worth $18 Million, Found in North Atlantic

From the Mew York Times: Silver Treasure, Worth $18 Million, Found in North Atlantic
Sea explorers announced Monday the discovery of a new sunken treasure that they plan to retrieve from the bottom of the North Atlantic.

Off Ireland in 1917, a German torpedo sank the British steamship Mantola, sending the vessel and its cargo of an estimated 20 tons of silver to the seabed more than a mile down. At today’s prices, the metal would be worth about $18 million.

Odyssey Marine Exploration, based in Tampa, Fla., said it had visually confirmed the identity of the Mantola with a tethered robot last month during an expedition and had been contracted by the British Department for Transport (a successor to the Ministry of War Transport) to retrieve the lost riches.

In recent years, strapped governments have started looking to lost cargoes as a way to raise money. They do so because the latest generation of robots, lights, cameras and claws can withstand the deep sea’s crushing pressures and have opened up a new world of shipwreck recovery.

“A lot of new and interesting opportunities are presenting themselves,” said Greg Stemm, the chief executive of Odyssey. The new finding, he added, is the company’s second discovery of a deep-ocean wreck for the British government this year.

In such arrangements, private companies put their own money at risk in costly expeditions and split any profits. In this case, Odyssey is to get 80 percent of the silver’s value and the British government 20 percent. It plans to attempt the recovery in the spring, along with that of its previous find.

Last month, Odyssey announced its discovery of the British steamship Gairsoppa off Ireland and estimated its cargo at up to 240 tons of silver — a trove worth more than $200 million. The Gairsoppa was torpedoed in 1941.

Both ships had been owned by the British Indian Steam Navigation Company, and both were found by Odyssey during expeditions in the past few months. Odyssey said that the Mantola’s sinking in 1917 had prompted the British government to pay out an insurance claim on about 600,000 troy ounces of silver, or more than 20 tons.

Mr. Stemm said the Mantola’s silver should make “a great target for testing some new technology” of deep-sea retrieval.

The Mantola was less than a year old when, on Feb. 4, 1917, she steamed out of London on her last voyage, bound for Calcutta. According to Odyssey, the ship carried 18 passengers, 165 crew members and diverse cargo. The captain was David James Chivas, the great-nephew of the Chivas Brothers, known for their Chivas Regal brand of Scotch whiskey.

Four days out of port, a German submarine fired a torpedo, and the ship sank with minimal loss of life.

In an expedition last month, Odyssey lowered a tethered robot that positively identified the wreck. The evidence included the ship’s dimensions, its layout and a display of painted letters on the stern that fit the words “Mantola” and “Glasgow,” the ship’s home port.

Photographs show the hulk covered in rivulets of rust known as rusticles, which look like brownish icicles. One picture shows a large sea creature poised near the ship’s railing.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

On travel til Wednesday

I'm visiting elderly relatives in Box Elder, SD who do not have internet.

Will try to sneak out now and again to an internet cafe to post, but more than likely will not be posting until Wedneday.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Chile Says No To Salmon Farming Off Tierra Del Fuego; 'the Right Step In Protecting Invaluable Coastal Resources'

From Underwater Times: Chile Says No To Salmon Farming Off Tierra Del Fuego; 'the Right Step In Protecting Invaluable Coastal Resources'
NEW YORK, New York -- The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) commended local Chilean officials for keeping salmon farms from the fragile coastal waters of Tierra del Fuego Province due to environmental concerns. The officials also reduced salmon farming in nearby Antarctica and Magellanes Provinces along the Patagonian coast.

WCS has been working on marine conservation and coastal zone planning in Tierra del Fuego since 2009 and continues to provide technical and scientific information to government officials. The area is rich in spectacular concentrations of wildlife – from albatross and penguin colonies to marine mammal breeding areas.

Chile is the world's second largest producer of farmed salmon. Salmon farms have exploded over the last two decades in central Chile and can cause pollution from waste, introduce diseases, displace native fish, and impact artisanal fisheries.

"Chile has taken the right step in protecting invaluable coastal resources off Tierra del Fuego and nearby areas," said Dr. Bárbara Saavedra, Director of WCS's Chilean Program. "These regions are home to rich concentrations of wildlife whose needs are only beginning to be understood. Marine biodiversity is a key for the development of local economies, such as ecotourism and artisanal fisheries."

WCS conservationists conducting an expedition with local partners in Admiralty Sound in Tierra del Fuego last year encountered albatrosses, sei whales, elephant seals, rockhopper and king penguins, and the only known breeding colony of leopard seals outside of Antarctica.

Nearby areas remain at risk from salmon farming in Ultima Esperanza Province. WCS is working with partner organizations to assess alternative salmon farming techniques and to understand the socio-economic impact of salmon farming to the region's burgeoning ecotourism industry. In addition WCS and its partners are developing tools to improve protection of the Patagonian coast and identify future protected areas.

Since 2004, WCS has owned and managed Karukinka Natural Park, the largest protected area of the main island of Tierra del Fuego, an area totaling 728,960 acres and 50 km (31 miles) of coastline in Admiralty Sound. Karukinka protects the world's southernmost stands of old growth forests as well as unique grasslands, rivers, and wetlands containing extraordinary wildlife.

Karukinka has been transformed into a flagship for conservation in Patagonia, addressing national conservation issues including invasive species management, peatland protection, and now marine conservation. WCS works in partnership with several public and private agencies and is supported by an advisory board made up of local scientific and business sector representatives who provide recommendations on the park's development.

The Wildlife Conservation Society saves wildlife and wild places worldwide. We do so through science, global conservation, education and the management of the world's largest system of urban wildlife parks, led by the flagship Bronx Zoo. Together these activities change attitudes toward nature and help people imagine wildlife and humans living in harmony. WCS is committed to this mission because it is essential to the integrity of life on Earth. Visit:

New Shark Species Found in Food Market

The new shark species, Squalus formosus, on display in a Taiwanese fish market.

From National Geographic Daily News: New Shark Species Found in Food Market
John Roach
for National Geographic News
It's unlikely anyone's ever complained, "Waiter, there's a new species in my soup." But the situation isn't as rare as you might think.

A monkey, a lizard, and an "extinct" bird have all been discovered en route to the dinner plate, and now a new shark species joins their ranks, scientists report.

Fish taxonomists found the previously unknown shark at a market in Taiwan—no big surprise, according to study co-author William White.

"Most fish markets in the region will regularly contain sharks," White, of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Hobart, Australia, said via email.

In fact, he and a colleague had headed to the Tashi Fish Market specifically to "collect some material and to see whether there were noticeable differences in the [shark] catches from previous decades," he said.

"Amongst a number of other species, we collected a number of Squalus species—one of which was this new high-fin species."

The new species, Squalus formosus, is a three-foot-long (one-meter-long) short-nosed dogfish. It's distinguished from other dogfish species in the Squalus genus by a particularly upright first fin on its back, a strong spine, and a very short, rounded head, White said.

New species likely unnoticed by eaters
S. formosus ("Formosa" being a former name for Taiwan), likely wound up in the fish market in the same way most deep-ocean sharks do—as bycatch, accidentally ensnared during hunts for other fish.

In fish markets, "it is unlikely people would know the difference"—tastewise or otherwise—between the new species and other sharks, said White, emphasizing that he hasn't eaten the new species and doesn't know how it's prepared.

"Similar species in Indonesia are salted and dried for human consumption and fins used as filler in the shark-fin soup trade," he said. "But that doesn't necessarily reflect what they do with the sharks in Taiwan."

From One Species, Many
The new species is currently known only from waters around Taiwan and Japan and is unlikely to be found much farther afield, White said, since Squalus species tend to have narrow ranges.

Many species once thought to be wide-ranging have been shown to actually be multiple, but similar, species with smaller ranges, he said.

One benefit of scientifically classifying all these closely related, narrow-ranging species is that scientists will be able to better assess just how healthy their populations are—or aren't.

Because deepwater sharks don't reproduce rapidly, they have a harder time bouncing back from overfishing, White said. "So personally, I have a preference not to eat these animals."

Oyster gardeners aim to revive ailing Chesapeake Bay

From Mother Nature Network: Oyster gardeners aim to revive ailing Chesapeake Bay
NORFOLK, Va. - After 10 years of cultivating oysters in the waters off his backyard dock, Kendall Osborne has developed something of a salt thumb.

He began gardening oysters as a way of bonding with his two daughters and, like hundreds of other Virginians, to help bring the ailing Chesapeake Bay back to life and rid it of dead zones where no sea creatures can survive.

"It's fun to see them grow," said Osborne, whose Norfolk, Virginia, home sits on the shore of the Lafayette River. "When we get them they're very small, about half the size of your pinky fingernail. A year later, they're 2, 3 and occasionally even 4 inches long."

Scientists estimate Chesapeake Bay's oyster population has plummeted to less than 5 percent of levels before European settlement, and oyster gardeners hope their effort to replenish the mollusks will help improve the environment in the bay.

Oysters form large reefs that provide a habitat for marine plants and animals. They feed by filtering microscopic plants from the water, improving water quality, and as adults can filter up to 50 gallons (190 liters) of water a day in optimum conditions.

"If you look at the time of first contact, when the original oyster population had been in place for hundreds of thousands of years, they were able to filter the entire Chesapeake Bay, which is a huge volume of water, in about three or four days," said Tanner Council, a coordinator for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which runs an oyster gardening program in Virginia.

"Now it takes the better part of a year."

Volunteer gardeners, of which there are an estimated 300 in Virginia, plant their baby oysters in the late summer and early fall. A year later the gardeners voyage out to sanctuary reefs where the mollusks are deposited.
Council's foundation, which works to better the nation's largest estuary through community involvement and education, also runs a program in Maryland. Other organizations such as the Tidewater Oyster Gardeners Association operate similar programs.

Group effort
Federal and state governments have spent more than $5 billion trying to clean up the bay, which has a watershed of more than 64,000 square miles (166,000 sq km) and is home to commercial quantities of fish and crabs, as well as oysters.

Pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus flow into the bay from treated sewage, fertilizer and animal manure, leading to unnatural algae blooms and using up oxygen needed by other inhabitants.

As a result, the bay and its tidal waters are stricken by dead zones where sea creatures cannot survive.

In May 2009, President Barack Obama issued an executive order to restore the bay after it continued to fail the "fishable and swimmable" goals of the Clean Water Act.

In response, the Environmental Protection Agency last year published maximum daily pollution guidelines with accountability measures for the six bay states and the District of Columbia.

Those governments are developing Watershed Implementation Plans, which aim to install by 2025 control measures to fully restore the bay and its tidal rivers.

Various other government arms are working toward a solution, including the Department of Agriculture, which in mid-August pledged $848,424 toward reducing the use of manure — a major phosphorus generator — as fertilizer.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation says volunteer oyster gardening efforts are a key part of the solution.

"There's tipping points at which populations can crash," Council said. "When all the dots connect you can have a bloom in the oyster population, which is the kind of thing that we're really looking for."

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Rare catch of a tiny sailfish is made off Cabo San Lucas

Way back in the 1970s, I used to watch a TV show called The Love Boat. They were always talking about docking in Cabo San Lucas...
Cabo San Lucas (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈkaβo san ˈlukas], Cape Saint Luke), commonly called Cabo, is a city at the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula, in the municipality of Los Cabos in the Mexican state of Baja California Sur. As of the 2010 census, the population was 68,463 people[1]. It is the third-largest city in Baja California Sur after La Paz and San José del Cabo (although it is only slightly less populous than San José del Cabo), it has experienced very rapid growth and development, often with adverse environmental impact.

Cabo is known for its sandy beaches, world-class scuba diving locations, balnearios, the distinctive sea arch El Arco de Cabo San Lucas, and abundant marine life. The Los Cabos Corridor has become a heavily trafficked holiday destination with numerous resorts and timeshares along the coast between San Lucas and San José del Cabo.

From Tehethomasoutdoors: Rare catch of a tiny sailfish is made off Cabo San Lucas

A good fish story always seems to involve a monstrous catch or marathon battle, but perhaps more impressive is the catch of a truly tiny member of a big-game species.

Behold the sailfish in the accompanying photo. It was reeled in last Saturday off Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, a Baja California angler's paradise known for its much larger billfish. It's impressive because of its rarity: People simply do not catch baby billfish.

Chris Fuller, who was aboard the Petrolero, was fishing for tuna in the Sea of Cortez and using a live sardine and 40-pound-test line. After the ravenous little sailfish grabbed the five-inch bait, it performed the typical sailfish acrobatics for a very brief period before being pulled aboard, photographed and released. (Fuller is pitured above, holding his catch.)

Its weight was estimated at about three pounds and scientists, after inspecting the photo, guessed its age at about 4 months.

Tracy Ehrenberg, general manager of Pisces Sportfishing, which has been operating off Cabo San Lucas for more than 30 years, supplied the image for this story. She had heard of only one other tiny sailfish being caught, the other a slightly larger specimen in 2009.

The 2009 catch was not released. Measuring 42.1 inches and weighing nearly 3.7 pounds, it was recorded as the smallest sailfish to have been caught aboard a sportfishing boat out of the popular resort destination. Its age was determined to be 5 months.

Of the more recent specimen, Ehrengerg said, "I have never seen a billfish so small."

For the sake of comparison, the International Game Fish Assn. lists the all-tackle world record Pacific sailfish as a 221-pound specimen caught off Ecuador in 1947.

Scientists say both catches are important because they prove that the region off Cabo San Lucas -- at Baja California's tip, where the Pacific meets the Sea of Cortez -- is a nursery area for sailfish.

Fuller was using a circle hook, designed to catch in the corner of a fish's mouth to allow for safer releases. Said Ehrenberg on the Pisces blog: "After a brief five minutes on the line and posing for the paparazzi, the tiny sailfish was successfully released."

Perhaps in a few years it can be recaptured at a much larger size, and become one of those other types of fish stories.

-- Image showing Chris Fuller (left), deckhand Ruben Orantes and Capt. Rob Lawford posing with juvenile sailfish is courtesy of Pisces Sportfishing.