Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Jurassic Squid Ink Same as Modern Squid Ink

From Discovery News: Jurassic Squid Ink Same as Modern Squid Ink

nk from 160-million-year-old giant squid is essentially identical to today's squid ink.

The discovery suggests that the ink and the ink-screen escape mechanism of squid have not evolved much (if at all) since the Jurassic Period. The finding, published in the latest Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, might just prove that if it isn't broken, nature isn't going to fix it.

Researchers came to the determination after studying ink sacs from two giant squid fossils found two years ago in England. The primary component of squid ink is melanin, a substance that gives skin, hair and certain other things color. It's why squid ink is so dark in color. (On a side note, some studies show that squid ink has some anti-tumor properties.)

Since melanin hasn't changed much over the years, this research indicates that melanin could be preserved intact in the fossils of a range of organisms. Recent research has revealed, for example, the color of certain dinosaurs and other long-gone animals.

"Though the other organic components of the squid we studied are long gone, we've discovered through a variety of research methods that the melanin has remained in a condition that could be studied in exquisite detail," co-author John Simon said in a press release. He's a chemistry professor and the executive vice president and provost at the University of Virginia.

One of the ink sacs studied is the only intact prehistoric ink sac ever discovered.

Simon and his colleagues used a combination of direct, high-resolution chemical techniques to determine that the melanin had been preserved. The researchers also compared the chemical composition of the ancient squid ink remains to that of modern squid ink from Sepia officinalis, a squid common to the Mediterranean, North and Baltic seas.

"It's close enough that I would argue that the pigmentation in this class of animals has not evolved in 160 million years," Simon said. "The whole machinery apparently has been locked in time and passed down through succeeding generations of squid. It's a very optimized system for this animal and has been optimized for a long time."

Usually animal tissue, made up mostly of protein, degrades quickly. All that's then left of prehistoric animals is their skeletal remains -- or so we used to think. The preservation of melanin proves that some organic matter can survive.

"Out of all of the organic pigments in living systems, melanin has the highest odds of being found in the fossil record," Simon said.

Look for more such studies to come.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Massive Peru Dolphin Die-off Not Linked To Seismic Surveys

From Red Orbit.com: Massive Peru Dolphin Die-off Not Linked To Seismic Surveys
A study by an environmental group that suggested explosions from oil exploration were to blame for the deaths of nearly 900 dolphins off Peru’s coast has been refuted by the government on Wednesday, which said the dolphins died of natural causes.

At least 877 dolphins have died since the start of the year. According to Fisheries Minister Gladys Triveno, Peru’s Maritime Institute (IMARPE) found the massive die-off was not the result of lack of food, hunting, poison, contamination, and infection or virus. It also said there was no conclusive evidence that linked seismic offshore exploration by oil companies to the dolphin deaths.

“We have reached the conclusion that the deaths were from natural causes. It’s not the first time that this has happened” Triveno said, citing similar cases of dolphin deaths in New Zealand and Australia.

Environmental groups are unconvinced with the government’s finding and continue to believe oil exploration in the area was the cause of the massive die-off. The Scientific Organization for the Conservation of Aquatic Animals (ORCA) said it had tested 30 of the dead dolphins and found they had broken ears and damaged organs, consistent with them suffering from decompression sickness, due to noise and pressure waves caused by explosions.

“We found cells that had injuries due to bubbles that are associated with decompression sickness,” Carlos Yaipén-Llanos, director of ORCA, told Reuters.

The government and independent scientists said it is impossible to prove the dolphins died of decompression sickness. And Houston-based BPZ Resources said the dolphin deaths were occurring even before they started their seismic surveys on February 8. Another company, Savia Peru, said it was not working in the area during the time of deaths.

Both oil companies said seismic surveying is used widely around the world and has never been linked to massive die-offs before.

IMARPE left open the possibility that unusually warm surface waters and high levels of algae could have played a role in the dolphins’ demise, calling for further analysis to determine if any red and brown plankton species were toxic, Triveno noted.

The warm surface waters are also being blamed for massive die-offs of pelicans in the area. The abnormally warmer surface temperatures drove anchovies lower down in the cooler depths where pelicans are unable to dive deep enough to reach them. As a result, about 5,000 pelicans starved to death.

While there is no link between the pelican and dolphin deaths, experts said Peru’s northern coast is often affected by temperature oscillations between the warmer equatorial waters and the frigid Humboldt current that runs north from Chile.

The region is also in a transition phase from the La Nina to El Nino weather phenomena that occur in the southeastern Pacific, according to Bill Patzert, an oceanographer at Jet Propulsion Laboratories in California.

The warm surface waters often bring foreign plankton to coastal areas, said Patzert. “When you see a massive die-off of bird species and marine mammals, often it’s some kind of weird toxic bloom,” he told Reuters reporter Caroline Stauffer.

Triveno said there would be a separate report into the pelican deaths.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Back to our regularly scheduled blogging

Visiting relative  has left, traveling has done, and I'm ready to devote myself to this blog again.

So thanks for  your patience!

Monday, May 21, 2012

I crave your indulgence

My mother's sister is visiting for three days.

My mom's deaf as a post, my dad can't be bothered to get out of his chair, so I will be doing the entertaining - the chauffeuring and the talking and the communicating - for the next three days.

So I'll be posting back here Thursday.

Thanks for your patience.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Jellyfish key to Pacific leatherback turtle survival

From MSBC: Jellyfish key to Pacific leatherback turtle survival
When it comes to leatherback turtles, the world's largest species of sea turtle, there's a conundrum: The species itself is critically endangered, but at least one leatherback population is stable — on the rise, even — while others plummet.

Now, researchers may have discovered why some of these turtles are doing better than others. Studying two leatherback turtle populations, one that is declining and one that seems to be increasing, the researchers say the answer might be simple: food.

"We saw very big differences in their traveling speeds from their nesting beaches to their foraging grounds," said Helen Bailey, an ecologist at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science who led the study. "We take that to mean one population is stopping to forage on a nice dense patch of prey, while the other group keeps moving because it's constantly in search of food."

These differences in swimming and eating habits may hold important clues for helping leatherback turtles around the world recover and thrive, Bailey told OurAmazingPlanet.

Atlantic leatherback turtles seem to be doing OK, but the Pacific population could be extinct in the near future, Bailey said.

Leatherback turtles everywhere are often victims of bycatch, the unintentional netting and killing of turtles while fishing for other animals, but leatherbacks in the Pacific Ocean face another problem. Climate patterns like the El Niño-Southern Oscillation cause huge variations in temperature and productivity in the Pacific Ocean, making it hard for some animals to find reliable food supplies. These challenges, combined with leatherbacks' advanced breeding age (around 15 years for females), mean that the Pacific leatherback turtle population has taken a serious hit over the last two decades.

To figure out the difference between these two groups, Bailey looked at how the turtles swim. Using data from leatherbacks that had been tagged and tracked by satellite, she found that Atlantic leatherbacks have two modes of travel: fast (12-28 miles per day, or 20-45 kilometers per day) and slow (less than 9 miles per day, or 15 km per day). Pacific leatherbacks, on the other hand, have only one: a cruising speed of about 13 miles per day (21 km per day).

Atlantic leatherbacks seem to run from one smorgasbord to another, stopping at a dense patch of jellyfish (their main food source) to eat until it's gone. Pacific leatherbacks never find dense patches of jellyfish, so they swim at the same rather fast speed the whole time, Bailey said.

"They're constantly searching for food," Bailey said. "If you have to keep moving, you're not gaining quite as much energy because even if you manage to eat along the way, you're still expending some energy by traveling."

In other words, the main difference between the two populations is that Atlantic turtles can dine in and chow down, while Pacific leatherbacks have to settle for the drive-through window and eating on the run.

Bailey's findings, detailed in the May issue of the journal PLoS ONE, point to new leatherback turtle conservation strategies.

"It's really highlighted very strongly the importance of protecting adult leatherbacks," Bailey said in an interview.

Because leatherback turtles have long life spans (about 30 years), they've adapted to survive jellyfish shortages by waiting to build nests and lay eggs after they've found a stable food supply. So far, most efforts have focused on protecting leatherbacks' nesting beaches. That's still important, Bailey said, but it may be even more important to protect adult turtles that are old enough to reproduce.

"They really have not adapted in any way to being harvested," Bailey said. "So when adults are killed by, for example, getting caught in fishing nets, then that does have a huge impact on the population and its ability to increase."

S. China Sea Dispute Blamed Partly on Depleted Fish Stocks

From Voice of America: S. China Sea Dispute Blamed Partly on Depleted Fish Stocks
BANGKOK - China and the Philippines have announced temporary bans on fishing in areas of the South China Sea they both claim as sovereign territory. The bans may help cool tempers after ships from the two sides faced off in April. But, political analysts say a more permanent solution is needed to address a cycle of conflict partly caused by depleting fish stocks.

China every year imposes a ban on fishing for several weeks in a northern part of the South China Sea.

Beijing says the restriction, used for more than a decade, allows fish stocks to replenish.

While the Philippines and Vietnam complain it is just another way for China to assert its claims on maritime territories that they also dispute.

Ian Storey is with the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. He says while Beijing's annual ban on fishing may seem like a good idea for fish stocks he agrees it may have an ulterior motive.

"Well, I think the primary reason for this fishing ban is for China to be able to demonstrate its claimed sovereign rights in the South China Sea," said Storey.

Storey says if the dispute was taken to the international court of justice Beijing could cite the ban as an example of exercising effective and continuing jurisdiction in support of its territorial claim.

Kim Bergmann is editor of the Asia-Pacific Defense Reporter and Defense Review Asia. He says the unilateral ban had put China and the Philippines on a path of confrontation.

"But, now that Manila has also come up with its own ban I think that that's a way of making sure, or at least, assisting a process of negotiation, and it's likely, in my opinion, to reduce tensions at least in the short term rather than heighten them," Bergmann noted.

Filipino and Chinese ships faced off last month over Chinese fishing in the disputed Scarborough Shoal, known as Huangyan Island in China.

The tensions led to protests from both sides to respect their sovereign territory.

China claims most of the South China Sea, putting it in conflict with competing claims by Brunei, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

One of the central drivers of the South China Sea dispute is competition over mineral and fishing-rich areas.

Bergmann says geologists believe the South China Sea contains enormous reserves of oil and natural gas, much of it in disputed areas. "Cumulatively, the South China Sea probably has about 80 percent of the oil reserves of Saudi Arabia," Bergmann added. "So, we're talking many billions of barrels of oil and many trillions of cubic feet of natural gas." The ongoing tensions have prevented comprehensive surveys of oil and gas deposits. But when it comes to fishing the South China Sea is known to be rich. The region provides about ten percent of the world's catch, but growing demand means fish stocks are more quickly depleted. Storey says competition for fish has led to conflict at sea. "Certainly, fishing vessels are operating further out and for longer periods because fish stocks are being depleted," Storey explained. "What needs to happen is there needs to be an agreement among various countries in Southeast Asia and China to try and preserve these fish stocks. But, because of the territorial dispute that hasn't happened." China's halt to fishing will go through August 1 while the Philippines did not indicate a time period for its ban.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Whales and coal on collision course

From the Gladstone Observer: Whales and coal on collision course
WHALES and the coal industry are on a collision course according to Greenpeace.

Conservationists claim a study in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series raises serious concerns over the likely impact of the coal and gas rush on humpback whales.

A specific area of concern is the breeding and calving grounds offshore from Mackay.

Speaking to the Daily Mercury yesterday, Greenpeace campaigner John Hepburn said the humpback population was increasing by about 10% "and coal ship movements escalating annually".

He said it was only a matter of time before more whales were hit.

"This study reveals that humpback whales are literally on a collision course with the coal industry," Mr Hepburn said.

"We are talking about building a coal superhighway right through primary breeding grounds."

The study identified an area off the coast of Mackay as a likely breeding and calving ground, and an area off the coast of Gladstone as an important migration route.

Greenpeace claims industry plans will result in more than 10,000 ships slicing through the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area every year - equivalent of more than one coal ship every hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke is planning the implementation of a comprehensive strategic assessment of the impacts of development on the Great Barrier Reef.

But Greenpeace claims Mr Burke has failed to rule out the approval of major new coastal developments during the assessment period.

Projects that could be approved include the world's biggest coal port at Abbot Pt.

"What's the point of doing the study if you are going approve everything in the study?" Mr Hepburn asked.

He said he feared for the vast numbers of humpback whales off Mackay during the calving months of July and August.

Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke said environmental approvals have to be based on the best possible science.

"Issues affecting whales are considered in all federal environmental assessments in the Great Barrier Reef and I've already made clear that shipping movements are front of mind," he said.

A departmental spokeswoman said the Australian and Queensland governments were working together to undertake a comprehensive strategic assessment of the entire Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

Paul Watson: Sea Shepherd's leader in jail pending extradition hearing to Costa Rica

From Calgary Herald: Paul Watson: Sea Shepherd's leader in jail pending extradition hearing to Costa Rica
FRANKFURT, Germany — The Canadian founder of an environmental activist group that has clashed with whalers is being held in Germany after appearing in court Monday over a decade-old confrontation with a fishing boat near Guatemala.

Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society must remain in custody while German authorities weigh a request to have him extradited to Costa Rica, his lawyer said after the hearing.

It's unclear how long the process will take, Oliver Wallasch said.

"My client is shocked," he told reporters.

Watson alluded to the proceedings on Twitter, saying he "might have to stay one more night until we clear this up..."

The ship captain is wanted in Costa Rica for allegedly endangering a fishing boat in 2002. He was arrested Saturday at Frankfurt Airport on an international arrest warrant issued by Costa Rica, a spokesman for the local prosecutors' office said.

"He is alleged to have used a ship to intimidate another vessel and put its crew at risk in 2002," said the spokesman, Guenter Wittig.

Watson is currently in temporary custody and a judge will decide later whether to formally place him in detention pending extradition, Wittig said.

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade said Ottawa "stands ready to provide consular services to a Canadian citizen who has been detained in Frankfurt, Germany."

"Consular officials are in contact with local authorities to gather additional information," Ian Trites said in an email Monday.

Sea Shepherd said Watson was filming a documentary at the time of the alleged incident.

It took place in Guatemalan waters, when the U.S.-based group said it encountered an illegal shark finning operation run by a Costa Rican ship, the Varadero.

Sea Shepherd said in a statement Sunday that it told the Varadero's crew to stop and head to port to be prosecuted. The crew accused Sea Shepherd of trying to kill them.

The group was formed in 1977 and has had a controversial history.

It sends vessels to confront the Japanese fleet each year, trying to block them from firing harpoons at whales.

Its tactics have drawn praise from supporters and vehement attacks from critics.

According to Sea Shepherd, Watson is being assisted in jail by European Parliament vice-president Daniel Cohn-Bendit and European deputy Jose Bove.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Shark monitoring scheme fails to tag great whites

From ABC.net.au: Shark monitoring scheme fails to tag great whites
A two month-long program to capture and track sharks has wrapped up in south-west Western Australia, despite failing to tag a single great white.

The shark monitoring project is part of a two-year State Government program aimed at understanding the movements of the elusive great white.

It was introduced just weeks after a shark attack in the south-west where Peter Kurmann, 33, was killed by a shark while diving near Busselton.

The Department of Fisheries' Mike Burgess says no great whites were tagged because they could not be found.

"White sharks are an apex predator, so the natural abundance in the environment is already very low," he said.

"We believe that the sharks are pretty transient along our coastline, so we have to rely on a bit of luck, as well as trying to locate some areas that might prove more useful or successful than others."

The department says it was still a useful exercise, as officers were able to practise capturing and tagging other species of sharks.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Book REview: An ocean of troubles

From the Economist: An ocean of troubles
The Ocean of Life: The Fate of Man and the Sea. By Callum Roberts. Viking; 390 pages; $30. Allen Lane; £25. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk

IN 1998 a rise in sea temperatures caused by El Niño, a periodic eastward surge of warm Pacific water, caused a mass bleaching of the world’s coral reefs, the permanent or temporary home of perhaps a quarter of all marine species. Up to 90% of the Indian Ocean’s technicoloured reefs turned to skeletal wastes, largely devoid of life. Had this happened to rainforests—coral’s terrestrial equivalent—a sea-change in attitudes to the environment could have been expected. But because this change occurred in the sea, the calamity drew remarkably little comment.

Traditional attitudes towards the sea, as something immutable and distant to humanity, are hugely out of date. The temperature change that harmed the corals was not caused by human activity; yet it was a foretaste of what man is now doing to the sea. The effects of overfishing, agricultural pollution and anthropogenic climate change, acting in concert, are devastating marine ecosystems. Though corals are returning to many reefs, there is a fair chance that in just a few decades they will all be destroyed, as ocean temperatures rise owing to global warming. The industrial pollution that is cooking the climate could also cause another problem: carbon dioxide, absorbed by the sea from the atmosphere, turns to carbonic acid, which is a threat to coral, mussels, oysters and any creature with a shell of calcium carbonate.

The enormity of the sea’s troubles, and their implications for mankind, are mind-boggling. Yet it is equally remarkable how little this is recognised by policymakers—let alone the general public. Killer sharks are a more appealing subject than algal blooms; though they are much less deadly. There is also a dearth of good and comprehensive books on a subject that can seem too complicated and depressing for any single tome. Callum Roberts, a conservation biologist, has now provided one.

He starts with a bold claim: that anthropogenic stresses are changing the oceans faster than at almost any time in the planet’s history. That may be putting it too strongly. Yet there is no quibbling with the evidence of marine horrors that Mr Roberts presents.

Take overfishing. The industrialisation of fishing fleets has massively increased man’s capability to scoop protein from the deep. An estimated area equivalent to half the world’s continental shelves is trawled every year, including by vast factory ships able to put to sea for weeks on end. Yet what they are scraping is the bottom of the barrel: most commercial species have been reduced by over 75% and some, like whitetip sharks and common skate, by 99%. For all the marvellous improvements in technology, British fishermen, mostly using sail-power, caught more than twice as much cod, haddock and plaice in the 1880s as they do today. By one estimate, for every hour of fishing, with electronic sonar fish finders and industrial winches, dredges and nets, they catch 6% of what their forebears caught 120 year ago.

Overfishing is eradicating the primary protein source of one in five people, many of them poor. It also weakens marine ecosystems, making them even more vulnerable to big changes coming downstream.

For example, there is the matter of chemical pollution, mostly from agricultural run-off. This has created over 400 dead-zones, where algal tides turn the sea anoxic for all or part of the year. One of the biggest, at the mouth of the Mississippi Delta in the Gulf of Mexico, covers 20,000 square km (7,700 square miles) of ocean. An annual event, mainly caused by the run-off of agricultural fertilisers from 40% of America’s lower 48 states, it makes the one-off Deepwater Horizon oil-spill look modest by comparison.

Global warming is another problem. Hitherto, the sea has been a buffer against it: because the heat capacity of water is several times that of air, the oceans have sucked up most of the additional heat, sparing the continents further warming. Yet this is now starting to change—faster than almost anyone had dared imagine.

One effect of the warming ocean, for example, is to increase the density difference between the surface and the chilly deep, which in turn decreases mixing of them. That means less oxygen is making it down to the depths, reducing the liveability of the oceans. Off America’s west coast, the upper limit of low-oxygen water is thought to have risen by 100 metres. Where strong winds bring this water nearer to the surface, there are mass die-offs of marine life. Such events will proliferate as the climate warms.

This is a poor lookout for already put-upon fish. “Fish under temperature and oxygen stress will reach smaller sizes, live less long and will have to devote a bigger fraction of their energy to survival at the cost of growth and reproduction,” writes Mr Roberts. And that is before he gets to the effects of ocean acidification, which could be very bad indeed. Without dramatic action to reverse these processes, he predicts a catastrophe comparable to the mass extinctions of the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, when carbon-dioxide levels, temperature and ocean acidity all rocketed. He writes: “Not for 55m years has there been oceanic disruption of comparable severity to the calamity that lies just a hundred years ahead.” That would be hard to prove; it would be better not to try.

So what is to be done? Mr Roberts provides a hundred pages of answers, occupying roughly a third of the book. They range from the obvious—curbing carbon emissions—to technical fixes, like genetic improvements to aquaculture stocks. None is impossible; and Mr Roberts, almost incredibly, describes himself as an optimist. He writes, “We can change. We can turn around our impacts on the biosphere.” We had better do so.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

At what price progress? $14 million -- to raise a Civil War ship

From Los Angeles Times: At what price progress? $14 million -- to raise a Civil War ship
ATLANTA -- In certain quarters of the American South, it's common to hear complaints that the remnants of the old Confederacy are an impediment to progress.

In the old port town of Savannah, Ga., the remnants are iron-clad, and lying at the bottom of the Savannah River.

The Associated Press reports that an iron-sided Civil War shipwreck, the CSS Georgia, is getting in the way of a major plan to deepen Savannah's port, a $653-million project that will help Georgia capitalize on the huge cargo ships that will pass through an upgraded Panama Canal in the next couple of years.

The ship, the CSS Georgia, was sunk in 1864 by Confederate forces to keep it from being captured by Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, whose Yankee forces captured Savannah in December 1864.

The AP's Russ Bynum reports that the Army Corps of Engineers will head up a plan to raise the Georgia, at a cost of $14 million to taxpayers. Personal effects from the era may still be on board. So could live explosives that run the risk of blowing up.

Proponents of the deepening project say it will benefit Georgia's economy. Environmentalists fear the dredging will harm freshwater wetlands and threaten the city's drinking water supply.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Tanzania: Treasure Shattered With Dynamite

From All Africa (an opinion piece): Tanzania: Treasure Shattered With Dynamite
The effects of dynamite fishing are not always obvious. The sea, before and after the life has been shattered out of it by dynamiting, sort of looks the same -the waves are still amazing, the water still changes color with the sky and that happens within the overall sameness of its shape. Most of us spend little time under the water so we do not see the rubble.

It is hard to quantify the costs of dynamite fishing. Longitudinally we can notice at the fish market, that the big fish and lobsters that used to be there are no longer; you can notice how expensive even smaller ones have become.

Do we notice that the local fishermen are suffering before we just let them fade away as they become poorer and poorer and their sons become thieves for lack of work?

As I tried to think of a way to quantify the damage, to compare what the life was like before the dynamiting, and now... I thought to July 1989 when I made two trips to Mbudya Island.

The dynamite fishing had already begun. Already the rubble was rolling, around this small island off the coast near Kunduchi but also the life and beauty were so exquisite, it was as if it would always be there.

The law that is in place now came in 1994 - the Marine Parks and Reserves Act that prohibits collecting from places like Mbudya. In Section 10: Other Regulations, it states 22.-(1) No person within a marine park or reserve shall, except in accordance with terms and conditions specified in the regulations or them provisions of this Act- (b) gather, collect or, remove any fish, animal, aquatic flora, or vegetation, whether live or dead, or any sand, minerals, or aquatic substrate. That includes shells and coral.

I wish I had understood, but I was not aware that I should not take shells. Now I find it obvious that shells need to be allowed to stay on the beach. Even when Mollusca are dead, their beautiful skeletons serve important ecological functions. They serve as homes for hermit crabs for example and become substrate for corals and other creatures, and then sand. But 23 years ago, unaware, while walking along the beach I randomly picked up shells. There were so many. I did not feel greedy.

I wasn't concentrating on the task. Many types of shells were so common I did not bother to save one. Those were beautiful amazing days, and I made notes of what I saw in my journal.

In 1989 I noted (but did not collect the shells of: oysters, scorpion shells, many pairs of sunrise Tellins of several different colors, abalone, Pen shells, many cowry species, mussels, mitre shells, several cone species, bubble shells, dog whelks, tulip shells, conches, violet snails, periwinkles, wentle traps, turret and top shells, Venus shells, surf clams, cockles, coral snails, ark shells, cuttlefish bones and others.

I saw alive (and did not take): chitons, Keyhole Limpets, top shells, oysters, cones, nerites, and pheasant shells. The examples I picked up and put in my pocket were a non-scientific sample; perhaps we could say it was an aesthetic sampling, reaching out for whatever caught my eye. I brought the shells home, as many people do. After some time admiring them I put them in a clear plastic candy box.

They were a treasure of beautiful colors and gorgeous rounded shapes. I put the treasure box onto a back shelf. I never collected shells after that. Yesterday I thought of that box for the first time in years. I had to search for it, in different storage areas, but I found it. The box was dirty but inside, the shells are still glistening.

I took the box to a colleagues's house. She spends a lot of time by the sea; she's a sailor, and a kayaker; at dawn she is usually walking on the beach. And she likes looking for shells. She has been studying shells here for 2.5 years, and been many times to Mbudya.

We compared: the shells I had collected casually over two days visiting Mbudya in July 1989, with the shells my colleague had documented in the same area between September 2009 - April 2012. I will tell you about it next week, but here is a hint: in the amount of time it took to collect a treasure chest from Mbudya in 1989, my colleague in 2012 would expect, to find "one good shell and the rest will be pieces".

Experts call for basking shark awareness

From BBC Nature: Experts call for basking shark awareness

Marine experts are calling on the public to report sightings of basking sharks in UK waters this summer.

The sharks are drawn to warm, plankton-rich surface waters off the west coast of Great Britain and Ireland.

These huge sharks are harmless, but experts are also asking people to "keep a respectful distance and enjoy the spectacle".

Basking sharks are protected under European and UK law, so it is illegal to disturb or harass them.

* Sharks range in length from the 13m whale shark to the 20cm dwarf lanternshark
* Basking sharks are the second largest fish in the sea; they have a jaw one metre wide and can filter plankton from 1,500 cubic litres of sea water every hour
* A great white shark can smell a seal colony from two miles away
* The hammerhead sharks' distinctively shaped head is thought to enhance both its vision and its sensitivity to electrical signals
* Watch the immense power and agility of a breaching great white shark

"They're here for most of the summer," said Dr David Gibson, managing director of the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth. "We're asking people to let us know whenever they see one of these fantastic animals.

Basking sharks are the ocean's second biggest fish, measuring up to seven metres in length.

A large adult male can have a dorsal fin up to 1.5m high, which protrudes from the water when the fish are feeding at the surface.

"We'd also like people to take photographs if they can," said Dr Gibson.

"These animals live for between 30 and 40 years, so [with photos] we might be able to identify individuals that are returning to UK waters."

Researchers at the aquarium also use photographs to spot any signs of damage to sharks' fins that could indicate where the fish might be "coming into conflict" with fisheries.

The sharks visit British and Irish shores as the warming sea surface creates "a healthy soup of nutrient-rich seawater around our coastline". Miniature plants that bloom in the sun-warmed water attract tiny marine animals, or zooplankton. This, in turn, attracts the basking sharks.

It is difficult to predict exactly when and where these plankton banquets will occur, but experts say that hot-spots for shark sightings are the south-west of England, the Isle of Man, south and west Ireland and the Firth of Clyde on the west coast of Scotland.

To allow people to observe the sharks without disturbing them, the Shark Trust has published a code of conduct to be followed in any basking shark encounter.

There are separate checklists for swimmers, boat-users and kayakers, but the key points to note are:

* Keep your distance: keep at least four metres between you and the shark so as not to startle it. If you are swimming with other people, stay in a group, but don't invite others over to take a look.
* If you're in a boat, turn off your engine (boat propellers are a major cause of serious injury to basking sharks feeding near the surface)
* If you have a camera handy, take lots of photos of the dorsal fin and any distinguishable features on the shark, as this may help the researchers identify the individual
* Move away gently and quietly and report your sighting to the Shark Trust

A basking shark feeds by filtering 1,000 tonnes of seawater filled with microscopic plankton every hour.

Ali Hood, director of conservation at the Shark Trust, told BBC Nature: "Basking shark are not aggressive, but a fish of that size (mature basking sharks can weigh well over four tonnes) could cause serious injury.

"Basking sharks are extremely strong and surprisingly able to breach clear of the water.

"If people get too close and the shark makes a rapid movement, it could cause harm to both the shark and the person.

"The code of conduct is there to allow people to comply with the law and enjoy seeing these magnificent animals."

But Dr Gibson says he hopes people will take pleasure in witnessing the ocean's second largest fish and says the data gathered from reported sightings is invaluable for marine conservation work.

"Understanding when they first appear and when they leave shows us year on year trends of the plankton blooms.

"This has already given us evidence that habitats are shifting in response to climate change, and that basking sharks are moving north."

People can report basking shark sightings to the Shark Trust via its website: http://www.sharktrust.org/sd/.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Wakayama town eyes creating giant whale pool at cove

From Daily YomiuriOnline: Wakayama town eyes creating giant whale pool at cove
TAIJI, Wakayama (Jiji Press)--The town of Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, plans to make part of its cove a huge pool where people can swim and kayak among small whales and dolphins.

The town, known for its annual dolphin hunt, aims to officially launch the project within five years after negotiating with the prefectural government, which manages the bay, and pearl farmers operating there. "We've never heard of such an attempt elsewhere," an official at the Fisheries Agency said. The plan, compiled by a local panel of residents, calls for creating a pool with an area of roughly 28 hectares by putting up a net on the entrance of Moriura Bay in northwestern Taiji.

Black whales and bottlenose dolphins caught near the town are to be released into the pool, which would be developed as a natural park that also includes beaches and mudflats. The town government will consider whether it is possible to raise large whales as well. The town also intends to use the park for therapy and ecological research. It hopes to make the area a center for whale research by inviting research institutions from outside as well.

The plan is part of efforts to make the whole town a natural museum that will allow people to learn about whales, including the culture and history of whale hunting.