Thursday, August 30, 2012

Posts resume Saturday morning

Doing some stuff to get ready for Labor Day weekend, but will be back on track Saturday morning after all that preparation work is done.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Underwater Microrobots Will Rescue Damaged Coral Reefs

From Ubergizmo:  Underwater Microrobots Will Rescue Damaged Coral Reefs

Coral reefs are a critically important part of the sea ecosystem. However, excessive fishing in areas such as the west of Scotland has caused massive damage to these reefs, which are home to many diverse variety of fishes. Trawlers passing the site also tend to damage these structure and so far, there had been no way to effectively repair such damage.
Now the researchers at Heriot-Watt University are working on such microrobots which can go underwater and help the damaged coral reefs. These robots will accomplish this by finding the debris of the damaged reefs and piece it together, so as to allow these reefs to start regrowing.
The region where the researchers intend to deploy these robots is the sea belt to the west of Scotland. Reefs in the region have been damaged rather critically because of a number of factors. The damaged reefs can naturally grow back but that takes tens of years.
External help in assisting the damaged reefs to regrow can really bolster the rate at which they grow back.
That is precisely what the swarm microrobots being developed at HW University are aimed at. These tiny machines are programmed to ‘identify’ the coral reefs amid all other underwater objects and then embark on the work of finding coral fragments which have separated from the reefs. The robots then piece these together and cement them back to the reef.
In the past, scuba divers have tried to accomplish more or less the same task but they had little success given the limitations of human body under water. These divers couldn’t stay underwater for too long neither can they dive beyond a depth of 200 meters.
Therefore, the researchers working on the project are very optimistic about the ‘swarm’ robots and believe that they are a fairly viable solution to this problem. Dr. Lea-Anne Henry of the School of Life Sciences is leading the project. He says, “Swarms of robots would be instantaneously deployed after a hurricane or in a deep area known to be impacted by trawling, and rebuild the reef in days to weeks, instead of years to centuries.”


Monday, August 27, 2012

Australia: Research boat to keep watch on reef turtles

From ABC News:  Research boat to keep watch on reef turtles 

 A research boat will be launched on the Great Barrier Reef this afternoon to help monitor turtle populations.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is donating the boat to the Indigenous Gudjuda reference group as part of its Turtle Rescue Mission program.

WWF's Dermot O'Gorman says the Indigenous rangers will catch, tag and release turtles between Townsville and the Whitsundays.

"Measured, weighed and checked for their health before being tagged and released back in to the water to be referenced in future tagging programs, so [it] helps to provide better science and helps Indigenous communities to better manage their resources as well," he said.

Mr O'Gorman says it is important traditional owners are involved in the tagging program.
"Being able to provide good science on turtle and dugong populations and I think we're very proud to be able to have traditional owners and Indigenous rangers being able to come up with solutions on how to protect these very important species," he said.


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Dolphin risk could stop super trawler

From Brisbane Times:  Dolphin risk could stop super trawler

Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke has warned he could use his powers to ban a controversial super-trawler if it poses a big enough risk to dolphins and other marine life.
Responsibility for the FV Margiris rests with Fisheries Minister Joe Ludwig but Mr Burke says he could override a decision if scientific advice points to a major environmental impact.
Mr Burke is concerned about the 142-metre factory ship's by-catch, particularly dolphins, sea lions and sea birds such as albatrosses.
"As with anything that hits what are called matters of national environmental significance ... there are powers of intervention that rest with the environment minister," he told ABC radio.
Mr Burke said after meeting the ship's operators, Seafish Tasmania, on Tuesday he was still "some distance" from having enough information to make a call on whether his powers under the Environment Act would come into play.
"They have methods in place to try and minimise getting any by-catch," he said.
"But whether those methods go far enough to meet the satisfaction of the areas that I'm charged with protecting is something that I'm getting answers on."
Mr Burke said that could result in anything from "a clean bill of health" for the ship to "some very serious barriers".
Seafish director Gerry Geen said 12 months of research using underwater video cameras had resulted in safer nets.
"We had cameras inside the net to study the behaviour of marine mammals so we could design an exclusion device that would safely guide them to an exit from the net," he said.
Mr Burke said he accepted the science behind Seafish's quota of 18,000 tonnes of small pelagic fish but needed to know more because a super-trawler had not been used to catch it before.
His comments came as the Greens took the debate to the Senate and state parliaments in Tasmania and Western Australia.
In the Tasmanian lower house, the Greens secured support from their power-sharing partners Labor and from the opposition Liberals in opposing the Margiris operating in the state's waters.
West Australian Greens appealed to the state's fisheries minister Norman Moore, who expressed his concern in parliament.
"I think he should be making a very strong protest to the Commonwealth authorities and appeal against (the trawler) getting an Australian licence to fish here," Greens leader Giz Watson said.
Elsewhere, environmental group Greenpeace said the trawler's Dutch owners Parlevliet and Van der Plas had been subsidised by the European Union to the tune of $46 million since 1994 and another $33.5 million indirectly since 2006.
Seafish's Mr Geen said critics should realise the export of small pelagic fish not wanted by Australian consumers to Africa would help feed populations in the developing world.
"It is not a rich man's food," he said.
"It is high in protein, something sorely needed in Africa."
Mr Moore said he would be writing to Mr Burke "seeking his assurances the trawler will not adversely affect our fisheries".


Friday, August 24, 2012

The Fatal Shore, Awash in Plastic

From International Herald Tribune:  The Fatal Shore, Awash in Plastic

HONG KONG — A recent typhoon off Hong Kong washed half a dozen shipping containers overboard, and it wasn’t long before the cargo — 150 tons of tiny plastic beads — began washing up on the beaches. Local fish farmers also started finding the plastic in the stomachs of their fish.
Panic is perhaps too strong a word to describe the public reaction, but hundreds of worried volunteers turned out to scoop up the pellets using shovels, dustpans and dumpling steamers. Sinopec, the Chinese oil conglomerate that owned the containers, pledged $1.2 million toward the cleanup.
It was about this time, 4,200 miles away, that the photographer and conceptual artist Chris Jordan was wrapping up his seventh trip to Midway Atoll, a small island group smack dab in the middle of the Pacific. He was completing the filming for his documentary about the millions of seabirds who nest at Midway and the threat they face from oceangoing plastic junk.

“Each time we go out there we’ve gone deeper into the horror,” Mr. Jordan told Rendezvous from his home in Seattle.
The horror resides mostly in the stomachs of young seabirds, primarily Laysan and black-footed albatrosses. The parents feed their young chicks by regurgitating food into their mouths, food they’ve gathered at sea that includes nurdles, bottle caps, pieces of fish nets, toothbrushes, cigarette lighters.
“That’s our stuff there,” Mr. Jordan said. “Our stuff we use every day.”
Endangered green turtles and Hawaiian monk seals on Midway gobble the stuff, too, thinking it’s food.
Even though Midway is 2,000 miles from any substantial piece of land, the plastic finds its way there. The mature albatrosses scoop up the plastic bits off the water, drawn to the colorful pieces thinking they’re actual food or tiny fish. They then unwittingly deliver the regurgitated food mass, called a bolus, into the throats of their chicks.
“Ingestion of debris may cause a blockage in the digestive tract, perforate the gut, result in a loss of nutrition (due to displacement of food), or cause a false feeling of being ‘full,’ ” said a fact sheet from the Marine Debris Program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The wider problem of marine debris, especially plastic, is an increasing concern to many ocean scientists. My colleague Bettina Wassener has written extensively about the daunting issue and some of the initial efforts at remediation. Colleagues at the Green and Dot Earth blogs also have reported on oceanic pollution.
“Marine litter currently poses a growing threat to the marine and coastal environment,” said a report from the United Nations Environment Program. “Most marine litter consists of material that degrades slowly, if at all, so a continuous input of large quantities of these items results in a gradual build-up in the marine and coastal environment.”
Midway Atoll is U.S. territory — it was the scene of an important American naval victory over Japan in World War II — and the islands are home to a wildlife refuge administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (They certainly got the name right: Midway sits squarely in the middle of the North Pacific, 3,200 miles from both Seoul and Seattle.) A few dozen biologists, volunteers and support staff are the only inhabitants of the islands, not counting the 3 million seabirds.
It was 2008 when Mr. Jordan, eager for a new challenge, had a great idea for an art project: He had heard about a monstrous, swirling garbage patch in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, an ungodly vortex of oceangoing junk held together by the tides. “A floating island twice the size of Texas” is how it was described to him. He would venture out to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and take arresting, lost-horizon photographs of the thing. He’d do well by doing good.
Trouble was, the patch wasn’t there. There were no shopping carts, innertubes, oil drums or plastic crud bobbing photogenically on the surface. All that stuff was certainly there, but it was submerged, hidden up and down the water column, sometimes thousands of feet deep.
“Completely invisible,” he said. “There’s no way you can take a photograph of it.”
Nevertheless, still drawn to the issue of ocean pollution and what he saw as a runaway consumerism that helped create it, Mr. Jordan hit on the idea of taking still photographs of dead albatrosses, their carcasses decaying to soft grays and delicate browns with the deadly plastic in their innards remaining colorful. The corpses become arresting and disturbing images that are also perversely beautiful.
A podcast of an interview with Mr. Jordan about his Midway work by the New York Review of Books is here.
On his Web site, which includes images from the whole range of his art, Mr. Jordan offers a statement about his work on Midway:
For me, kneeling over their carcasses is like looking into a macabre mirror. These birds reflect back an appallingly emblematic result of the collective trance of our consumerism and runaway industrial growth. Like the albatross, we first-world humans find ourselves lacking the ability to discern anymore what is nourishing from what is toxic to our lives and our spirits. Choked to death on our waste, the mythical albatross calls upon us to recognize that our greatest challenge lies not out there, but in here.
Mr. Jordan, who says he frets over crossing the line between conceptual art and finger-wagging activism, says he does not touch any of the birds or manipulate the pictures. When a plastic toy soldier washed up on the beach a few feet from a dead bird he was photographing, he said he fought off the urge to move it into the frame.
He has given talks and exhibited his Midway pictures all over the world. After showing his early pictures at a girls’ school in Brisbane, Australia, the teacher broke down crying in front of her students.
“When I see this I don’t feel inspired, I feel panic,” she told him. “How do we get to hope from here?”
“That question,” Mr. Jordan told me, “still rings in me like a temple bell.”


Monday, August 20, 2012

Boaters, paddlers enjoy amazingly close humpback whale encounter

From Grind  Boaters, paddlers enjoy amazingly close humpback whale encounter

Bill Bouton, a retired biology instructor, was having little success photographing birds along the California coast Saturday, but fortunately a small pod of humpback whales arrived to save the day. Bouton's incredible images, captured off San Luis Obispo, show the mammals lunge-feeding a mere stone's throw from shore--and much closer to boaters, kayakers and paddlers (including a woman in a dress; see first image) who seemingly could not resist getting dangerously close to the powerful leviathans.

The proximity of the whales to the coast is somewhat rare and these events can create a very dangerous situation, which viewers might ascertain by Bouton's images, captured from the road with a 700-milimeter lens and posted on his Flickr page.

Federal guidelines specify that people should stay 100 yards from whales, whenever possible, to prevent harassment of the mammals, which is illegal and punishable by fines up to $50,000.
Humpback whales, which feed on shrimp-like krill but also schooling fish such as anchovies and sardines, can measure to about 50 feet and weigh up to 40 tons. When they're lunge-feeding they're focused on little else, and people who venture too close are at risk of becoming seriously injured, or worse.

"It's just very dangerous because you never know where or when one of the whales is going to pop up," said Alisa Schulman-Janiger, an American Cetacean Society researcher. "A person on a paddleboard makes very little noise. To the whale that might just seem like a piece of flotsam."
Bouton, when asked in his Flickr page comments section whether he jumped into the water between shots, replied: "I was sitting in my car, parked along the shoulder of the road overlooking the beach. Got to use my tripod, thank goodness."

When a person named Mike commented that he wished he would have known about the presence of the whales, Bouton stated: "I just stumbled into it, Mike. (After a disappointing day of bird photography.)

In other words, the day turned out to be anything but a disappointment.


Friday, August 17, 2012

Stickleback fish show initiative, personality and leadership

From Planet Stickleback fish show initiative, personality and leadership


Researchers have shed light on the distinct, complex personalities displayed by stickleback fish.
Three-spined sticklebackThree-spined stickleback.
These personality traits include qualities such as leadership and initiative, as well as the tendency to follow others. The results reveal a rather sophisticated social awareness in fish that was only previously hinted at.
Fish spend a lot of time in groups in order to decrease the risk of predation, but remaining part of a cohesive group is hard, as individuals often want different things. The emergence of leaders and followers settles these conflicts.

'It is a puzzling process as it means that some individuals win, while others lose out,' says Dr Shin Nakayama, from the University of Cambridge and first author of the research published in PLoS ONE.
'It is a matter of compromising all the time. This is a common problem for all animals living in groups, and indeed it's an issue that we face in everyday life, from coordinating with co-workers to deciding which restaurant to go to while on a night out with friends.'

Previous research has shown that, like humans, fish show clear personality differences in terms of their desire to take risks; some fish are 'shy' and some are 'bold'. These differences influence an individual's desire to take the lead in a group.

However this latest study aimed to understand how the outcomes of actions of fish affected their desire to lead. For example if an individual tried to initiate a foraging trip but was not followed by its partner, did it try again or give up? And if it was followed, did that success affect its tendency to attempt to lead the group in the future?

The researchers found that fish frequently switched between being leaders or followers, and that the extent to which they chose to be leaders depended on how successful they were at recruiting followers.

However, personality did play a part as shy individuals, who were less prone to lead, became easily discouraged if they were not followed, whether bold individuals were not so sensitive and kept on trying.
'Our results point to the complex process by which leaders and followers emerge in groups,' says Dr Andrea Manica, a second author of the paper.

'Most previous work, including our own, had concentrated on finding characteristics that predict which individuals are mostly likely to become leaders. In reality, in many animals, leadership switches on a regular basis, and thus the badge of leader can be passed around and it depends on one's actions. Effectively, the fish seem to follow the adage "Lead, and they will follow" which has been coined by some social scientists who work on team management in humans,' Manica says.

'There are many more fascinating questions to ask about the behaviour of sticklebacks. One of the most interesting, in my view, is to what extend a leader's ability to find food for the group affects its standing within a group. If a shy fish, which normally prefers to follow, was given the ability to always find food, would it be raised to the status of leader by other group members and overcome its inherent aversion to being in front?' he adds.

Shinnosuke Nakayama, Jennifer L. Harcourt, Rufus A. Johnstone, Andrea Manica, Initiative, Personality and Leadership in Pairs of Foraging Fish, PLoS ONE Volume 7 Issue 5, Published May 2012, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0036606


Thursday, August 16, 2012

This Oblivious Shark Hunter Wants to Kill All the Sharks

From  This Oblivious Shark Hunter Wants to Kill All the Sharks

"I wanna go out there and catch maybe the last one," said Mark "the Shark" Quartiano on How Jaws Changed the World, which Discovery premiered last night as part of its Shark Week lineup. By "last one" he means "the last shark." As in, "I would gladly have my hands be the ones responsible for finally collapsing our ecosystem."
He could be trolling. Quartiano is a somewhat notorious figure already; he's been accused of being an attention whore by people who actually know a thing or two about shark populations and care about how endangerment works. His crazy eyes make everything he says really convincing, though.
How Jaws Changed the World focused on the impact Steven Spielberg's 1975 landmark blockbuster had on actual sharks. It's well-known that the film's demonization of great whites took a chunk not only out of their population but the population of sharks in general (Peter Benchley, who wrote the book from which the film was adapted, spent the rest of his life repenting and attempting to convince people to stop killing sharks). But on the bright side, Jaws also ignited interest in marine biology, which means that there are now more people around to fret at the impending food-chain collapse.
The flagrancy of people like Quartiano, who runs a charter shark-fishing business in Miami, isn't to be scoffed at. He was profiled in Juliet Eilperin's excellent social survey of humans' relationship with sharks, Demon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks, wherein he lamented his current typical daylong wait to catch a shark ("20 years ago, forget it. 10 minutes.") while skirting responsibility, despite having claimed to Eilperin that he's killed 100,000 of them. He seems oblivious to logic.
You can read an excerpt of the Quartiano section of Demon Fish via The Week. Here's the most offensive part:
It is harder work now pleasing his customers than it was in the past, and he blames commercial fishermen who set long-lines. These fishing lines with baited hooks frequently end up snaring sharks, which then drown...
"Those long-liners do more damage in a night than we do in a year," he says. And Quartiano simply does not believe that species such as bigeye thresher sharks are endangered, because he still hauls them in on his rod and reel. "I've caught more than anyone else on the planet. There's no way they're endangered."
Data collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service tell a different story: Federal officials estimate that recreational landings of large coastal sharks outpaced commercial catches for 15 out of 21 years between 1981 and 2001, with U.S. recreational anglers catching 12 million sharks, skates, and rays in 2004 alone. At this point, NOAA estimates that recreational anglers in the U.S. catch roughly 200,000 sharks a year. Apparently, all those bachelor and bachelorette parties add up.
You can see in the clip above that Quartiano feigns ignorance on his total haul — since speaking with Eilperin, he has reduced the number to, "10, 20, 30 thousand? Some people say more, but I don't know how they come up with that figure." He also told Eilperin that he thinks sharks "are cool" and hopes "they'll be here after we're gone." In How Jaws Changed the World, he says that he'll gladly pull the last one out of the water. He's evolving in all kinds of ways.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Marine biologist calls for protocols to deal with dead seals

From SeaCoastLine:  Marine biologist calls for protocols to deal with dead seals

A marine biologist and member of Hampton's Conservation Commission said the same environmental conditions that occurred last year when 162 dead seals washed ashore on Seacoast beaches exist today and it will likely happen again.

A recent study revealed the seals perished as a result of a new strain of avian flu capable of being transmitted from birds to mammals, possibly humans.

Ellen Goethel will go before the Hampton Board of Selectmen on Monday, Aug. 13, because she wants to see protocols put in place to protect the public in case there is a reoccurrence. "It may never happen again, but my gut feeling is that it's going to," Goethel said.

The report, titled "Emergence of Fatal Avian Influenza in New England Harbor Seals," was released last week by a team of experts tasked with determining why the seals turned up dead from southern Maine to northern Massachusetts last fall. In the report, researchers identify the cause of death as an influenza A virus subtype, "H3N8," a new strain of avian flu that can jump from birds to marine mammals.

While there have been no known human cases to date, researchers urged caution, given the history of bird flu and its ability to evolve into forms that can infect people.

Goethel said the findings are a big concern.

"It's dangerous," she said. "We are a coastal community and we need to be on top of it. As a marine biologist, common sense tells you there is possibility of human infection whenever there is infection in a mammal. It's a human health risk and we have to decide how we are going to deal with it."

A big part of that, she said, is coming up with a protocol on the local level for removing the carcasses.
"In the past, they just left the carcass on the beach to float away," Goethel said. "But if they're possibly carrying something that can contaminate another animal, we have to dispose of them and figure out how we are going to do it."

Under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, it's illegal and punishable to pick up, handle or interact with free-swimming, dead or beached marine protected species.

Last year, due to the number of seal deaths, Goethel helped the town of Hampton receive permission from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to remove the dead seals. Goethel said she wants to make sure that permission is in place again because she said dead seals should not be left on a beach for days at a time.

"We also need to protect our town workers, if they're the ones that will be disposing of the carcasses," Goethel said.

She said the town can do other things on the local level to protect the public, including banning dogs on beaches when there are dead seals on shore.

Goethel said she wants the town to be proactive rather than wait for recommendations from the federal government or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which may take some time to get out.

Goethel said the conditions that existed last year are very similar, including the high birth rate of seal pups and unusually warm water. All that needs to occur, she said, is a hurricane or a nor'easter.

This year's Atlantic hurricane season may see a busy second half, according to an updated hurricane season outlook issued Thursday by NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Service. The updated outlook still indicates a 50 percent chance of a near-normal season, but increases the chance of an above-normal season to 35 percent.

In May, NOAA predicted nine to 15 storms during hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. It now expects 12 to 17 named storms and five to eight hurricanes, with two or three likely to be major hurricanes with winds stronger than 111 mph.

Goethel said Hurricane Irene last year caused major inland flooding, which resulted in a huge amount of polluted freshwater coming down the Merrimack and Piscataqua rivers and into the ocean.

She said a nor'easter followed shortly after, causing a storm surge. "Already there is an over-population where the seals are competing for space and food," Goethel said. "The polluted water will cause more stress, making the seals more susceptible to diseases."

The recent research study regarding the seal deaths was made possible by scientists at the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, NOAA, New England Aquarium, U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center, SeaWorld and EcoHealth Alliance.

The study was performed after seals with severe pneumonia and skin lesions suddenly appeared widespread along the coast in 2011. Most were infants less than 6 months old, and 162 dead or moribund seals were recovered over three months.

Last year's mass die-off is still being investigated by NOAA, which also had experts contribute to the recent report.

Materials from The Associated Press were included in this report.

Monica Allen, of NOAA Communications and External Affairs, called the release of the report an "important" step in the process and NOAA officials will continue to monitor the situation for any signs of another "unusual die-off."


Monday, August 13, 2012

KS: 65-pound catfish among dead fish in mall aquarium

I don't mind fish and mammals living in aquariums, but they've got to take better care of them than this!

From CJOnline: 65-pound catfish among dead fish in mall aquarium

SALINA — A 65-pound catfish named Willie the Rivercat and several other fish in a 15,000-gallon aquarium at a Salina mall died because of a high chloride level in the water.

Central Mall spokeswoman Maggie Phelps declined to tell The Salina Journal how many fish died and said she didn’t know how the chloride level got so high.

Phelps says the mall was working with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen again.

She says the mall also will be getting new fish for the aquarium, including potentially another big catfish the public can help name.

Lights to the aquarium have been turned off and only seven fish and some turtles remained in the tank, which reopened in May after renovations.



Sunday, August 12, 2012

60 is the new 40

On August 10, 2012, the Cheyenne chapter of the AARP hosted a seminar called Gray Matters - which was free and provided a free lunch - unfortunately fish and cheesecake, blech - from 4 to 6 was a reception for all travelers who had come in for the AARP National Spelling Bee to be held on the 11th.

I attended that and it was a lot of fun. The emcee introduced a few folks, we talked about words, there was a "mock" spelling bee (which only consisted of about 20 people getting up and being questioned on one word...) and so on. And there were finger foods there - Chinese food to be precise. Don't know where they got it from or if they cooked it on site (Little America is a hotel and resort where people come to play golf among other things) but it was delish.

The spelling bee started at the ungodly hour of 8:30 am (Well...8:30 is not so ungodly but I had to get up at the ungodly hour of 6:30 to get there in time for registration, etc.) It started with 4 rounds of 25 words each - which was a Written Test.

The first 25 words were extremely easy. They asked words like "Greetings" and "Navel" and "Mince." I suppose a few might have been considered difficult... "Animus" and "Lacuna."

The second 25 words were equally easy, but I did miss MUGWUMP.

I assume they did this just to help everyone settle the nerves and get new people used to what was going on. People had trouble hearing some of the words (hey, they were all over 50 and most over 60) and the Pronouncer  would come down and tell them the word face to face and have them say it back, etc. Indeed, the Pronouncer did an excellent job.

Third round was where they started asking the difficult words.

I missed:

The fourth round was the real killer. I only got 12 out of 25 right. I missed:


I then stayed for the Oral rounds and was joined by one of my friends from my Scrabble Club. (I think an audience could have assembled for the Written rounds, too. There were chairs there and family were in them...but I think most people only wanted to come see the Oral rounds where you actually saw the speller's faces as opposed to their backs, etc.)

Two of the people I met last night at the reception made it to the Orals. One of them it was his first trip to the Bee and he was successful his first time out. Made it through about 10 rounds. (In the Orals, you miss two words and you're out.) Another one was an elderly woman from Minnesota who also got through about 10 rounds before being knocked out.

There were three sisters and a brother who had come as a sort of family reunion. The eldest sister made it to the Oral rounds but was bounced after only two rounds. This was too bad and it was because she was a bit unlucky - she got two 6-syllable words in a row while some of the others were getting much easier ones (but still, not ones I could have spelled). But she was disqualified along with several other people in the same round, so hopefully she didn't feel too bad.

The words in the Oral Rounds were extremely difficult. Several times more difficult than the toughest words in the final round of the Written.

But, had I studied for a year, I think I could have handled them.

And it is my intention to study for a year and  get into the Orals next year.

So, why is the title of this blog entry 60 is thenew 40?

Because it is.

People are living longer. You don't want to outlive your money and more importantly you don't want to outlive your sense of enjoyment of life. And learning new things every day is enjoyment and keeps the mind active.

The AARP Spelling Bee is held every year, and it gives you an excellent reason to travel to Cheyenne and see The Cowboy State. You'll meet lots of interesting people.

You do have to study.

I studied very desultorily for about a month...combine all the time I studied and it was about 10 hours. Not nearly enough, but then, I'm a good speller so the Written Rounds were relatively easy - except for that killer last round.

Why learn words that you'll never, ever say in real life?Well, because they're interesting. And the concepts of what you'll learn, you can apply in other areas. So it's a win win.

So start planning to live a long, healthy, active, intellectual life, and do it now, however old you might be!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Bizarre rock 'ice shelf' found in Pacific

From Yahoo News:  Bizarre rock 'ice shelf' found in Pacific

A huge cluster of floating volcanic rocks covering almost 26,000 square kilometres (10,000 square miles) has been found drifting in the Pacific, the New Zealand navy said Friday.

The strange phenomenon, which witnesses said resembled a polar ice shelf, was made up of lightweight pumice expelled from an underwater volcano, the navy said.

An air force plane spotted the rocks on Thursday about 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) offshore from New Zealand and warned a navy warship that it was heading towards them.

Lieutenant Tim Oscar said that while he knew his ship the HMNZS Canterbury was in no danger from the pumice, which is solidified lava filled with air bubbles, it was still "the weirdest thing I've seen in 18 years at sea".

"As far ahead as I could observe was a raft of pumice moving up and down with the swell," he said.
"The rock looked to be sitting two foot (half a metre) above the surface of the waves and lit up a brilliant while colour in the spotlight. It looked exactly like the edge of an ice shelf."

Scientists aboard the ship said the pumice probably came from an underwater volcano called Monowai, which has been active recently.

They said the phenomenon was unrelated to increased volcanic activity in New Zealand this week, including an eruption at Mount Tongariro that sent an ash cloud 20,000 feet into the atmosphere.


Robot divers to report on Lake Superior's depths

From Minnesota Public Radio : Robot divers to report on Lake Superior's depths

DULUTH, Minn. — With its frigid, often ice-choked water and legendary storms, Lake Superior can be a dangerous place for scientists to conduct research.

"In Lake Superior, the season where it's nice to go out there is relatively short," University of Minnesota Duluth physics professor Jay Austin said. But he said "there's science year round out there."
Aiming to tap the wealth of information deep inside Lake Superior, Austin and other researchers are preparing to send two mechanical divers in the big, cold lake for a long time. They plan to test one of the divers Wednesday.

Funded by a $485,000 National Science Foundation grant, the new devices, called "Autonomous Moored Platforms," will travel up and down the depths on cables anchored to the lake bottom. They'll collect readings on water temperature, currents and a long list of other data points.

In the long run they could actually save researchers money. A single day on a research vessel costs roughly $7,000.

Austin, lead investigator on the new project at the school's Large Lakes Observatory said the technology will offer a view of Lake Superior science has never had before.

"We're very interested in being able to have something where it's collecting a wide variety of data over the course of the year," he said.

That's where the platforms come in. The devices are big cylindrical tubes, about seven feet tall and contain instruments that measure nitrates, light intensity, dissolved oxygen, and a slew of other properties.
The cylinders, called profilers, are made by WET Labs of Philomath, Ore. They sit on a platform moored to the bottom of the lake.

At the click of a mouse button, they'll travel up a cable towards the lake's surface, taking measurements along the way. When they pop to the surface they'll transmit the data back to the lab.

Austin said the profilers will help eliminate a phenomenon known as "fair weather bias," because they can operate below the water in any season.

"What this is doing is it's giving us a really continuous presence in the lake," he said.

By using the profilers, researchers will be able to gather data under the ice in the depth of winter for the first time, said Erik Brown, acting-director of the Large Lakes Observatory at UMD.

"Making under-ice measurements is complicated and dangerous, and it's just never been done," Brown said. "Typically, people have just assumed during the winter, it's cold and nasty and dark and nothing happens. That may not be the case. We don't know what we don't know."

Brown said the devices also will help monitor the effects of a changing climate. He cites the recent record flooding that dumped tons of sediment into Lake Superior and raised the water level by several inches.
"When we were writing the proposal, if we would have said, 'we're going to look at big flood events,' people would have said you're crazy," he said. "But it turns out this instrumentation is really well-suited for looking at the effects of events like the Duluth flooding."

Biologist Liz Minor, another researcher on the project, said the system will also provide a much clearer view of long-term trends.

"With sensors moving up and down in the water at programmed times, we can get a nice long continuous record of what's going on, which to us is very exciting," she said.

For the past several years the Large Lakes Observatory has been tracking unprecedented changes in Lake Superior.

Total ice cover on the lake has shrunk. Water temperatures are the highest they've been in a century. But Austin stresses that the profilers aren't meant to measure the influence of climate change on Lake Superior.
"We purchased them because there are a lot of basic things about the ecosystem of the lake that were trying to understand, and we're trying to establish a more robust presence in the lake," he said.

Austin said the primary goal is to know more about the lake and its processes. But he said eventually that could inform practical applications such as expanding the Lake Superior fishery.


Thursday, August 9, 2012

US cutter in Pacific pursues fish piracy case

From  US cutter in Pacific pursues fish piracy case

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A Honolulu-based Coast Guard cutter is off the coast of Japan, pursuing prosecution of an unregistered fishing vessel suspected of catching 40 tons of fish with an illegal high seas driftnet.

Admiral Robert J. Papp, Jr., the Coast Guard commandant, on Monday announced that the 378-foot cutter Rush had been assigned to Alaska waters but had followed the fishing vessel across the Pacific to enforce commercial fishing law.

‘‘I would call this fishing piracy that is going on,’’ Papp said during a hearing in Kodiak by the U.S. Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee.

‘‘They put eight miles of net out there and collect everything that flows through it,’’ he said, possibly picking up migratory stocks destined for Alaska waters.

Crew members from the Rush have boarded the vessel, Papp said. The Coast Guard is working with other departments on the case.

‘‘We have something called the Maritime Operational Threat Response organization, which works across State and Justice and other departments — and we've come to a national objective of seizing this, what amounts to, we found out now, is a stateless vessel,’’ he said.

The vessel carried Chinese citizens who were manning the vessel, Papp said, and may be passed to China for prosecution.

‘‘As a fallback, we can bring it back to the United States for prosecution as well,’’ he said.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., chaired the subcommittee hearing.

‘‘I hope we’re filing charges — not just against the men operating the ship, but the buyers of these fish, and tracking it down to the networks that are funding these kinds of illegal operations,’’ Landrieu said.
David Mosely, a Coast Guard spokesman in Anchorage, would not say when or where the pursuit of the other vessel began, citing agency policy to not comment on ongoing investigations.

Paul Niemeier, who works in the International Fisheries Affairs Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said Tuesday high seas driftnets have been banned internationally since 1992. In the early 1990s, hundreds of vessels were setting them, he said. Each net was an average of 30 to 60 miles long.

‘‘Driftnets don’t differentiate, don’t select very well what they catch,’’ he said by phone from Silver Spring, Md. ‘‘Anything that swims into them has a pretty good possibility of getting tangled up. So they were catching marine mammals and seabirds and sharks — anything under the sun, including the target species, which back in those days was either tuna or salmon, depending on the mesh size.’’
If a fish can get its head through the mesh, it will get caught behind the gill flaps, Niemeier said. Bigger species hit the net, twist and turn, and get tangled up.

‘‘That’s the way a lot of the sharks and marine mammals and seabirds used to get caught, just twisting around in the net.’’

The problem has dramatically declined. Just five or six years ago, he said, there were more than 100 sightings of suspected illegal fishing boats. Last year, there were two sightings. The Coast Guard seized one vessel and the other escaped.

‘‘It’s still a concern, but at least the numbers are a lot less than they used to be, and it seems like they’re using smaller nets,’’ he said. That may be because they’re easier to pick up and run with, too. You don’t just pick up a 30-mile net very easily.’’end of story marker


First white shark attack in Massachusetts in 76 years confirmed

From MVTimes:  First white shark attack in Massachusetts in 76 years confirmed

The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) confirmed on Tuesday that the shark that bit a Colorado man swimming off a Cape Cod beach on July 30 was a white shark. It marks the first confirmed white shark attack in Massachusetts in 76 years.

"Working with George Burgess, the curator of the International Shark Attack File, officials from the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries have determined that the injuries sustained by Chris Myers off Ballston Beach, Truro on July 30 can be attributed to a great white shark," said Reginald Zimmerman, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. "This conclusion was reached after examination of the injuries and testimony from Myers."

Over the last several years white shark sightings have increased off the coast of Massachusetts. DMF researchers have been monitoring and tagging white sharks since 2009.

Greg Skomal, a DMF biologist and former Island resident, has been at the forefront of a tagging effort.
In summer 2010, a team lead by Mr. Skomal tagged six white sharks off the coast of Monomoy Island near Chatham on Cape Cod.

Five sharks were tagged with Pop-up Satellite Archival Transmitting (PSAT) tags programmed to transmit data during the winter months.

Of the five PSAT tags, one tag did not report, two tags jettisoned prematurely (one off of Monomoy in September 2010, one off Hatteras, N.C., in October 2010).

One of the tagged sharks made its way to the Gulf of Mexico in January 2011, and the other shark was tracked to an area 200 miles off the coast of Georgia in April 2011

The tag that popped up off the coast of Georgia was affixed to an 18-foot mature female. Tag data indicated the shark dove to depths as great as 2,700 feet every day — in sharp contrast to the behavior of other tagged sharks.

Until very recently, white sharks were not easy to find in North Atlantic waters. For the most part, scientists relied on dissections of fish caught by fishermen to learn about the creatures' biology, but they knew little about its movements.

One of the most remarkable examples of the presence of white sharks in state waters occurred on Sept. 21, 2004 when a 14-foot white shark became trapped in an estuary on Naushon Island. The shark captured worldwide attention for almost two weeks, until DMF officials successfully freed the shark from the estuary.

State officials said this week that beachgoers should use common sense and be aware of their surroundings. "DMF advises swimmers to avoid swimming at dawn or dusk, stay close to the shore, avoid areas where seals congregate and adhere to local beach closings and swimming advisories."

The last confirmed attack occurred on July 25, 1936, at Hollywood beach in Mattapoisett when a white shark attacked Joseph Troy Jr., 16, as he swam with a friend a short distance from a pier. He died soon after he was pulled from the water with massive leg injuries.

White sharks are thought to grow to lengths in excess of 22 feet, but the largest reliably measured was 21 feet. Females mature between 14 to 17 feet and males between 12 to 14 feet. The maximum accurately recorded weight is close to three tons. Their estimated lifespan can be over 30 years.


Monday, August 6, 2012

To Get To The Heart Of The Great White Shark, Go Through Its Stomach

From  To Get To The Heart Of The Great White Shark, Go Through Its Stomach

For the first time since a fatal encounter in 1936, human blood has been drawn by a great white shark in Massachusetts waters. Fortunately, this week’s victim is being treated for non-life-threatening injuries, having suffered severe lacerations to his legs. While shark bites are extremely rare, it probably won’t take another 76 years for the next unprovoked attack locally.
Why? They’re baaaa…ack.
The Return Of The Great White
Great white sharks are not common. They’re predators at the business end of the food chain. By nature, they number far fewer than the populations of prey that support them. State officials have tagged just six in Massachusetts waters this summer. Three tagged last summer have returned. State shark biologist Greg Skomal thinks there might be one or two untagged whites hanging around. That’s fewer than a dozen overall in Massachusetts waters this summer.
But that’s a dozen more than used to skirt the beaches of Chatham and Truro and Orleans. The sharks are back, because the seals are back.
A grey seal in Chatham Harbor on Cape Cod (ZaNiaC/Flickr)
A grey seal in Chatham Harbor on Cape Cod (ZaNiaC/Flickr)
Seals Came First
“When you hear a 95-year-old on the dock in Chatham say he’s never seen this many seals before in his life, he’s telling the truth,” Skomal said. Grey seals were nearly wiped out by 1900. They were competition for valuable fishing stocks. Massachusetts offered bounties on seals until 1962.
But in 1972, a new federal law prevented harming and harassing seals. Over the last 40 years, the grey seal population in Massachusetts has rebounded. They now number in the thousands here.
And following the growing abundance of prey are the predators.
We’re Gonna Need A Bigger Acoustic Array
While fishermen complain that the seals are catching their fish, the bigger economic interest is in beach communities, where fear of the sharks on the seals’ tails could take a bite out of tourism dollars.
So Massachusetts has deployed an acoustic array of underwater receivers that pick up the signals of sharks tagged with sound pingers called transponders. But each receiver only detects tagged sharks swimming within a few hundred yards. At $1,400 each, the devices are expensive.
They’re also costly to maintain, especially those farther from shore. Some wash away each year. So the state has deployed acoustic receivers where sharks are sighted more often: on the lower half of the eastern edge of the Cape, from Orleans to Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge.
“The problem is,” Skomal said, “… we have no receivers between Orleans and Truro.”
Truro, close to the northern edge of the Cape, is where this week’s attack happened. Skomal thinks the shark mistook the swimmer for a seal.
Sharks: A Tough Study
Truro and other coastal towns want to be able to know when sharks are in the area. They also want to be able to say when sharks are not around.
But based on the patchy acoustic array, and the handful of sharks in the area, it’s difficult for marine biologists to suss out behavioral patterns that could help communities know the probability a shark is in the area.
“When I talk about studying a sample size of nine [tagged sharks], other scientists just laugh at me,” Skomal said.
Grey seals bask off of Cape Cod on Aug. 19, 2011. (Mike's Birds/Flickr)
Grey Seals bask off of Cape Cod on August 19, 2011. (Flickr/Mike’s Birds)
Statistical Seal Of Approval
Yet there is a population that sharks key in on that offers a much larger sample size: the grey seal. Their colonies along the Massachusetts coast are easier to watch and track. But there hasn’t been systematic observation to lay the groundwork for better shark risk assessment.
“We don’t really know much about the seal behavior and the movement patterns and dynamics,” Skomal said. “They move around quite a bit. It’s something we need to learn more about.”
Hungry sharks are after the seals. Knowing more about what drives seal behavior and movement patterns may offer a better way to assess risk to swimmers.
To get to know what’s in the heart of the great white shark, state biologists will try to go through its stomach.


Study: Surprise As Coral Reef Thriving In Sediment-Laden Waters; 'Calls For A Rethink'

From Underwater Times: Study: Surprise As Coral Reef Thriving In Sediment-Laden Waters; 'Calls For A Rethink' 

EXETER, Devon -- A new study has established that Middle Reef – part of Australia's iconic Great Barrier Reef – has grown more rapidly than many other reefs in areas with lower levels of sediment stress.
Led by the University of Exeter, the study by an international team of scientists is published today (1 August 2012) in the journal Geology.
Middle Reef is located just 4 km off the mainland coast near Townsville, Australia, on the inner Great Barrier Reef shelf. Unlike the clear waters in which most reefs grow, Middle Reef grows in water that is persistently 'muddy'. The sediment comes from waves churning up the muddy sea floor and from seasonal river flood plumes. The Queensland coast has changed significantly since European settlement, with natural vegetation cleared for agricultural use increasing sediment runoff. High levels of sediment result in poor water quality, which is believed to have a detrimental effect on marine biodiversity.
The research team collected cores through the structure of Middle Reef to analyse how it had grown. They used radiocarbon dating to map out the precise growth rate of the reef. Results show that the reef started to grow only about 700 years ago but that it has subsequently grown rapidly towards sea level at rates averaging nearly 1 cm per year. These rates are significantly higher than those measured on most clear water reefs on the Great Barrier Reef and elsewhere. Most intriguingly, the periods of most rapid growth – averaging 1.3 cm a year – occurred when the accumulation rates of land-derived sediment within the reef structure were also at their peak. They discovered that, while the reef faced high sediment levels after the European settlers arrived in the 1800s, these same conditions were also part of the long-term environmental regime under which the reef grew.
Although there is evidence that other reefs have suffered degradation from high levels of sediment, these findings suggest that in some cases reefs can adapt to these conditions and thrive. For Middle Reef, rapid rates of vertical reef growth have, paradoxically, probably been aided by the high sedimentation rates. The team believe this is because the accumulating sediment rapidly covers the coral skeletons after their death, preventing their destruction by fish, urchins and other biological eroders, thus promoting coral framework preservation and rapid reef growth.
Professor Chris Perry of Geography at the University of Exeter said: "Our research challenges the long-held assumption that high sedimentation rates are necessarily bad news in terms of coral reef growth. It is exciting to discover that Middle Reef has in fact thrived in these unpromising conditions. It is, however, important to remain cautious when considering what this means for other reefs. Middle Reef includes corals adapted to deal with high sedimentation and low light conditions. Other reefs where corals and various other reef organisms are less well adapted may not do so well if sediment inputs increased.
"Our research calls for a rethink on some of the classic models of reef growth. At a time when these delicate and unique ecosystems are under threat from climate change and ocean acidification, a view endorsed in a recent consensus statement from many of the World's coral reef scientists, it is more important than ever that we understand how, when and where reefs can grow and thrive."
This study was conducted by a team from the University of Exeter (UK), James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland (Australia), and the NERC Radiocarbon Laboratory, Scotland (UK). It was funded by the Leverhulme Trust and Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Austrlia: Rottweilers of the sea' worse than rabid dogs

From HawkesBayToday :  Rottweilers of the sea' worse than rabid dogs

They look cute and cuddly, and have big shiny dark eyes which can melt a heart.

They also have bacteria-stacked razor sharp teeth which will have a finger or two off in a split second.

"They are the rottweilers of the sea," was how Department of Conservation area compliance officer Tom Barr described the group of juvenile seals which made landfall in the Napier Inner Harbour yesterday morning.

"Oh, they look lovely, but they are wild animals and will have a go at you ... they are not nice things ... worse than a rabid pitbull," he said as he dangled a glove near the face of what appeared to be a sedate pup. Its snarl and baring of teeth as it prepared to lunge at the glove provided the reality.

Four seals arrived in the harbour and took to sunning themselves on rocks, although one, weakened by battling the easterly storms at sea, died soon after getting ashore. They attracted the attention of teenager Cory Pakai who was on his way to work about 8am.

"There were a couple over by Perfume Point yesterday. I've seen a few of them now," he said.

After spotting the dead seal he called the police, who in turn contacted DoC. Mr Barr said the seal was malnourished and may have had an illness. There was no evidence of foul play.

"It's just part of nature. It happens," he said, adding that people who intervened to try and assist what they believed were sick or injured seals, or who fed them, were unsettling that balance of nature.

"Don't feed them because they'll just keep coming back. They should be out there feeding," he said, pointing to the open sea. "It has become a real issue because they can domesticate quite quickly."

Mr Barr said with that came the increased danger they posed to people who believed they could be approached.

"By all means stand back, look at them, take a photo but under no circumstances go near them - just let them be."

He said in recent weeks he had been horrified to some across two incidents where people had got too close

On one occasion he arrived just as a teenager was putting his hand out to pat a seal which came ashore at Ahuriri.

The second occasion a woman was showing her toddler daughter a basking seal ... from less than a metre away. Mr Barr said the seals were "designed' to grab at fish so their teeth were strong and sharp. If they did not tear a couple of fingers off they would leave the victim hospitalised through the germs they carried.

He said DoC's stance was a simple one. "Seals need rest, not rescuing. Leave them alone and let nature run its course," Mr Barr said.

The department only needed to be called if they were spotted on a seafront road or section - "we've come across them sheltering in sheds" - or had clear injuries.

DoC were preparing to erect warning signs at coastal spots where seals were known to come ashore, and where people gathered. Temporary signs would also be put in place while the latest arrivals stayed at the inner harbour. "We don't know how long they'll stay but we just ask they not be approached and definitely not be fed.


Albino humpback Migaloo makes a return

From The Australian: 
a rare migaloo whale
Migaloo (Aboriginal for white fella), the only known albino humpback whale in the world. Picture: Mark McCormack Source: Supplied
Albino humpback Migaloo makes a return

AN extremely rare albino humpback whale has made a welcome return to the waters off far north Queensland. 
The whale, dubbed Migaloo by locals, and his calf are the only two known albino humpbacks in the world.
They were spotted off the tourist haven of Port Douglas, north of Cairns, yesterday.

Tourism Port Douglas CEO Doug Ryan says Migaloo has a big fan base.

"We use the word a lot but he's become an icon,'' Mr Ryan told ABC Radio.

"He's certainly a favourite with everyone and even though not everyone gets to see him it signifies a time of year.''

Mr Ryan said generally whale sightings near the town were becoming increasingly common.

"Last year we had a mother and calf just off the entrance to Port Douglas,'' he said.