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Two months aboard an Antarctic ice breaker, condensed to 5 minutes

Here's an incredibly cool video showing the prow of a massive ice breaking ship as it plows through Antarctica's Ross Sea. The footage is sped up, to pack two months of travel into five minutes. But, unlike a lot of time-lapse videos, this one also has a really informative audio track, in which marine scientist Cassandra Brooks waxes poetic about the many different kinds of ice and explains why she and her team were out there, breaking through the stuff, to begin with.

Bonus: At the end, you get to see the absolute adorableness that is penguins on high-speed fast forward.

Via Deep Sea News

Strange, wonderful, deep-sea creatures ... with googly eyes

Please enjoy this very serious, scientific Tumblr that posts exactly what it promises — pictures of the strange and fantastic creatures that live deep in the ocean ... with googly eyes photoshopped onto their bodies.

The specimen above is an animal known as the pigbutt worm. Yes, seriously. With the googly eyes in place, you can't quite get a full understanding of how weird looking this animal is, so please be sure to check out the "before" photo, as well.

The site is maintained by a deep sea ecologist (he's anonymous, but I've verified that this is true). So you can trust the information provided here. For instance, when readers ask how the heck a pigbutt worm counts as a worm:

The pigbutt worm, Chaetopterus pugaporcinus, is a very weird looking worm, for sure. All Annelid worms are segmented, and the pigbutt is no exception. If you look at an ordinary earthworm, you can see those segments, but in Chaetopterus pugaporcinus, the middle segments are super inflated compared to the rest of its body. The rear segments are visible in the area that looks like the anus on a mammal’s buttocks (although others have noted that this section of the pigbutt worm looks more like a disembodied vulva than a floating buttock).

What does ambergris look like?

Ambergris is often referred to as "whale vomit", but that's not really correct. A more accurate analogy would be to say that ambergris is like the whale equivalent of a hairball. It's produced in the whale digestive tract, possibly to protect intestines from the sharp, pointy beaks of squid — you'll often find squid beaks embedded in the stuff. Most of it gets pooped out. But the big chunks of ambergris have to exit the other direction. In the human world, these lumps — which have the consistency of soft rock or thickly packed potting soil — are famous because we use them to make things like perfume. The ambergris washes up on beaches, people collect it, and sell it to make cosmetics.

Anyway, that's what usually happens. Recently, a dead sperm whale washed up on a beach in Holland and the conservationists who dissected it found a huge quantity of ambergris in the animal's intestines.

That news made me realize that I'd never actually seen a picture of ambergris before, so I went hunting around to see what the stuff looked like. That's a photo of a lump of ambergris, above. But it's not really indicative of what ambergris looks like all the time. In fact, as far as I can tell, the stuff comes in a wide variety of shapes and colors — ranging from stuff that looks like small brown pebbles to yellow-green globs covered in bubbly nodules. The diversity is worth perusing. This website, for a company that buys and sells ambergris, has several nice photos. And Google image search turned up a plethora of pics that really capture how different one lump of ambergris can be from another.

Investigating the Gulf Coast dolphin murders

Along the Gulf Coast, people are killing (and sometime gruesomely mutilating) dolphins in record numbers. At National Geographic, Rena Silverman goes in-depth on the killings, which investigators now believe are the work of multiple people who are not connected to one another. Xeni wrote about it last year, when that was apparently less clear. Is it less or more disturbing that this isn't likely to be an isolated dolphin serial killer?

Project: Recycle old scientific equipment into new tools for public engagement

When ocean scientist Andrew Thaler found an old, outdated water level gauge, he found a way to give it new life — turning it into a tool to measure public interest in sea level rise. Instead of tracking water, the Sea Leveler tracks how much people are talking about water on Twitter.

Ocean scientists say 19-year-old's "realistic" plan to clean up the ocean isn't actually realistic

Earlier this week, Jason told you about a TEDx talk in which 19-year-old Boyan Slat presents a plan to remove plastic from the world's oceans. Lots of people are excited about this, which is reasonable. Particulate plastic in the ocean is a big problem that has, thus far, evaded any reasonable clean-up plans. There's just so much of it, it's so tiny, and the ocean is, you know, kind of huge. If a kid can come up with a plan that works, it would be fantastic. Unfortunately, the ocean scientists at Deep Sea News say Slat's system isn't as simple and practical as he thinks it is. Among the many problems: Slat's plan would catch (and kill) as many vitally important plankton as pieces of plastic, and it calls for mooring plastic-collecting ships in the open ocean where the water is 2000 meters deeper than the deepest mooring ever recorded. Here's a mantra to remember: TED Talks — interesting if true.

A global society of squid

It's a small squid world, after all. A recent study shows that giant squid from all around the globe have remarkably low levels of genetic diversity — essentially, writes Tina Hesman Saey, they're all more closely related than scientists previously thought. Giant squid, as it turns out, are a single species, traveling, living, and breeding all around the planet.

Here are two lobsters having sex

From the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Facebook page, here are two lobsters doing it — apparently in the missionary position.

But looks can be misleading. What's actually going on here is external fertilization — that is to say, procreation without any of the potentially awkward penetration. Male lobsters produce spermatophores, packets of sperm, which they attach to the female's sternum. That's what you see happening here, according to the Sanctuary. Later, the female will use that sperm to fertilize her eggs.

Thanks to David Shiffman and Carin Bondar!

Sucking up to shrimp

Say you're a marine biologist and you want to study the little bitty creatures of the sea — shrimps and worms and things like that. How do you go about capturing them?

Why, with an underwater vacuum, of course.

At the PNAS First Look blog, David Harris writes that this "SCUBA-tank powered vacuum, called an “airlift,” inhales shrimp, sand fleas, marine worms, and 'things that would swim away if they had the chance.'"

An appreciation of the Sawfish, one of Earth's most threatened fish

"The earliest sawfishes likely arose in the shallow Tethys Sea, that ocean surrounded by the ancient continents of Godwanda and Laurasia, during the Cretaceous period at least 60 million years ago," writes Dr. M. at Deep Sea News.

These "sole survivors of an ancient bloodline" now number only seven species which roam the muddy bottoms of coastal areas, bays and estuaries. 

All sawfishes can move easily between fresh and saltwater and often venture deep upstream into rivers. The sawfish lifestyle puts this both their size and saw near humans.  All seven species are considered critically endangered by the IUCN.  As much as we have impacted them, sawfish have also greatly influenced our culture.

And now, they're one of the most threatened species on our planet. Thanks, humans!

More: Exaltation to Extinction for Sawfishes [Deep Sea News]

Sci-fi scenes that use real ocean life as props

Jason Isley is an underwater photographer, which means that the strange and wonderful creatures you and I go ga-ga over are really just part of a workaday routine for him. This is a fact which has gotten him into fights on the Internet ...

I made a comment online recently that I was growing tired of nudibranches and was immediately bombarded with abuse and comments from ‘nudi-lovers’. Allow me to clarify: It’s not that I actually dislike the little flamboyant slugs, but once you have shot a few thousand images of nudies and other common macro life, I was running out of ways to maintain my passion for photographing them. I’ve shot them from countless angles and under a variety of lighting configurations. I know there are now lots of different techniques and gadgets to spice things up, like snoots, external macro diopters, and bugeye lenses, but for me, I really wanted to do something entirely different.

The result: A clever, cheeky series of photos that pair real underwater life forms with little miniature figurines from the hobby store and the toy store.

The shark that only wants a single bite

The cookiecutter shark is one of those animals that kind of makes you believe nature just likes to mess with us. Instead of killing the things it eats, a cookiecutter shark just takes a bite — leaving a neat, tidy hemispherical divot. As marine biologist Yannis Papastamatiou told reporter Douglas Main, it would be more accurate to call the cookiecutter an "ice cream scoop shark". Despite only being about 20 inches long, the cookiecutter shark will try its luck on a wide variety of prey, including animals much larger than itself. It's been known to bite great white sharks, for instance. And there is one report of a cookiecutter biting a human, although that risk is probably not something you should bother losing sleep over.

In which a sea cucumber is overcome by lust

This is how the vast majority of sea cucumbers reproduce — by rearing up and releasing a stream of gametes (that is, sperm or eggs, depending) into the water.

WARNING: This video may be considered not safe for work. Especially if you work for or with sea cucumbers.

Release the kraken!

What do you need to catch a giant squid? At The Verge, Arikia Millikan goes behind-the-scenes on the recent, successful expedition to capture the kraken on video for the first time.

True facts about the seahorse

The absolute best part about this video: As far as I can tell, all of the facts in it are, in fact, true.

The seahorse: Naturally hilarious.

Kraken video to be released

Still from video of giant squid, courtesy NHK/NEP/Discovery Channel.

Discovery Channel and Japan's NHK teamed up to capture video of one of the most elusive and fascinating deep ocean creatures: the giant squid. The joint press release announcing the air date of this long-coveted footage contains the sort of prose I wish we were also seeing in this week's round of CES announcements:

With razor-toothed suckers and eyes the size of dinner plates, tales of the creature have been around since ancient times. The Norse legend of the sea monster the Kraken and the Scylla from Greek mythology might have derived from the giant squid. This massive predator has always been shrouded in secrecy, and every attempt to capture a live giant squid on camera in its natural habitat, considered by many to be the Holy Grail of natural history filmmaking, has failed. Until now.

Read the rest

Of coral and common sense: Why it's important to test our theories

Pseudopterosins are a family of naturally occurring chemicals with the power to reduce inflammation, skin irritation, and pain. In other words, they make a great additive in skin cream. If you want skin that less red, pseudopterosins can help. Want a lotion that soothes your face after a particularly vigorous round of exfoliation? Call on pseudopterosins.

Pseudopterosins come from a coral called Pseudopterogorgia elisabethae. That's it in the photo above. For years, researchers and pharmaceutical companies thought they were sustainably harvesting P. elisabethae because, instead of simply gathering any of the coral they could find, they merely pruned it — leaving plenty of the creature to grow back.

But, it turns out that this is a really good example of a frustrating problem — what seems sustainable is not always actually sustainable. Doing the right thing, environmentally speaking, isn't as intuitive as we'd like it to be. (Also, pruning an animal isn't like pruning a plant.) At Deep Sea News, Dr. M explains:

After prunings in 2002 and 2005 and before the annual spawning, Christopher Page and Howard Lasker examined 24 pruned corals and 20 unpruned corals. What the researchers found is that although colonies appeared healthy pruned corals produced less eggs. ... Why would pruned corals produce less eggs and sperm? When organisms are injured more energy is diverted away from reproduction and toward repair. Interestingly, this pruning may actually also creating artificial selection. If workers are targeting larger and fuller corals to prune, then smaller less thick corals will be reproducing more and eventually become more dominant.

This is why science is important. Because, frequently, "common sense" isn't really all that sensical.

Read the full story

The Christmas Whale: A depressing reminder of the importance of love

While you were eating Thanksgiving turkey, surrounded by loving family and friends, one whale was all alone, swimming through the Pacific Ocean with no one to talk to and no one to care.

Since 1989, researchers have been tracking this specific whale based on its distinct vocalizations. Baleen whales — a category of cetaceans without teeth, separate from their toothy dolphin/beluga/orca relations — are famous for producing eerie, underwater songs and scientists think those sounds are probably an extremely important aspect of participation in whale society. Baleen whales lack keen eyesight and sense of smell underwater, so sounds are probably how they recognize one another, help each other navigate, and even find mates. But these vocalizations happen in very specific frequency range — between 10 and 31 hertz, depending on the species. The Christmas Whale, on the other hand, speaks at 52 hertz. Imagine brining a piccolo to a tuba party. That is analogous to the awkward position that the 52-hertz whale is in.

Scientists usually pick up the call of the 52-hertz whale sometime between August and December, as it makes its way through a Cold War-era network of underwater microphones in the North Pacific. Although this whale has apparently survived for many years and seems to have grown and matured during that time (based on its voice deepening slightly), it also appears to exist outside of whale social systems. It travels alone. Nobody answers its high-pitched pleas for love. Every so often, non-scientist humans remember that it exists and write sad stories about it. But nobody is sure why it sings out of range of its fellow whales.

It strikes me as the kind of horribly sad thing that should get made into a maudlin children's picture book. The central message: Appreciate the love you have and give love in return. This holiday season, remember the plight of the loneliest whale. Give thanks for the presence of the people who love you. Show affection to others.

Listen to NOAA recordings of the 52-hertz whale (these have been sped up 10x)

The Loneliest Mix is a fan-site where you can download 52-hertz whale audio and video clips.

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute's page on the 52-hertz whale

Research paper explaining how scientists capture whale sounds in the north Pacific.

Picture taken the day after Thanksgiving at the Milwaukee Public Museum. I don't think they meant to tie into the legend of The Christmas Whale. But hey, it works.

I am grateful for friends like Grady, who alert me to stories like this.

A group of squid is called a ...

For the record, squid come in shoals. Not quite as good as a squad. But still nicely alliterative.

Via Craig McClain

Sean and the Sea Lion: a pinniped story in photographs

Boing Boing reader John K. Goodman shares a series of photographs with us that tell a magical story about a sea lion and his son, Sean. Every time John and his son visit the Long Beach aquarium, she loves to play with Sean’s dad’s keys. Wonderful photos resulted.

Read the rest

Salt water vs. infrastructure


Photo: Michael Tapp

Salt water is still winning. Unfortunately.

Remember back during the Fukushima crisis, when you heard a lot of talk about why the people trying to save the plant didn't want to use sea water to cool the reactors? There were a number of reasons for that (check out this interview Scientific American's Larry Greeenemeier did with a nuclear engineer), but one factor was the fact that salt water corrodes the heck out of metal. Pump it into a metal reactor unit and that unit won't be usable again.

Now, the corrosive power of salt water is in the news again — and this time it's ripping through New York City's underground network of subways and utility infrastructure. I like the short piece that Gizmodo's Patrick DiJusto put together, explaining why salt water in your subway is even worse than plain, old regular water:

When two different types of metal (or metal with two different components) are placed in water, they become a battery: the metal that is more reactive corrodes first, losing electrons and forming positive ions, which then go into water, while the less reactive metal becomes a cathode, absorbing those ions. This process happens much more vigorously when the water is electrically conductive, and salt water contains enough sodium and chloride ions to be 40 times more conductive than fresh water. (The chloride ion also easily penetrates the surface films of most metals, speeding corrosion even further.) Other dissolved metals in sea water, like magnesium or potassium, can cause spots of concentrated local corrosion.

Read the full piece at Gizmodo

Via Tom Levenson

Image: Hurricane Sandy Subway Shutdown New York, a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial (2.0) image from 59949757@N06's photostream

What happened to the HMS Bounty? After Hurricane Sandy sinks tall ship, many questions remain

The HMS Bounty, a 180-foot sailboat, is shown submerged in the Atlantic Ocean during Hurricane Sandy approximately 90 miles southeast of Hatteras, N.C., Monday, Oct. 29, 2012. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Tim Kuklewski.

This Washington Post article by Ian Shapira is the most comprehensive account I've seen of what happened to HMS Bounty, a replica of the 18th century tall ship which starred in the 1962 Marlon Brando "Mutiny on the Bounty" film, and various Pirates of the Caribbean movies. No definitive word on exactly what caused the accident, but many theories.

Of the 16-person crew, the Coast Guard rescued 14. They recovered the body of Claudene Christian, 42, and are still searching for Robin Walbridge, 63, the ship's captain.

In the LA Times today, a remembrance of Ms. Christian.

Even other sea captains are mystified.

Above, a Coast Guard photo of the foundering HMS Bounty.

(thanks, Andrew Thaler)

Scientific American goes inside the rogue geo-engineering story

Recently, news broke that a scientist had unilaterally launched a geo-engineering experiment — dumping iron sulfate and iron oxide into the Pacific Ocean. There were two goals to the project: First, grow a massive plankton bloom which would store atmospheric carbon the same way that trees take in and store atmospheric carbon; second, use that plankton as a food source to restore salmon populations in the northern Pacific. If it sounds like those two goals are kind of fundamentally contradictory — if the salmon eat the plankton, then the stored carbon is going to end up back in the atmosphere, not indefinitely stored — well, you're right.

But the project showed that it's relatively easy for a small group of people to experiment on Earth's ecosystem without any oversight or approval from the global community at large. That's why the story made headlines. And it's why Scientific American's David Biello did a two-part feature on the experiment, writing about the background and interviewing Russ George, the scientist who launched the project.

George's ideas do have a basis in science. In essence, he's trying to replicate the effects of a volcanic eruption, which are associated with plankton blooms. George believes that the blooms are caused by large depositions of the nutrient iron. And, although other scientists think his goal of feeding salmon would defeat his goal of storing carbon, George thinks their findings are wrong. And he thinks this study will prove it. As a bonus, he's also hoping that the effect on salmon will reinvigorate the economy of a nearby Haida fishing village.

As for the legality of the project, here's what George told Scientific American:

This is Canada so it's British law, not American law. In British law, if you want to do something and you're not sure whether it's legal or not, you commission officers of the court to do an analysis and produce an official document, a legal opinion as to whether it breaks the law or not. This was done. The opinion was that with comparative studies and international laws we were absolutely in the clear. The claim that this is illegal is the design of the people who want to burn the books. This is the life of the village that they're trying to kill.

Read David Biello's interview with Russ George

Read David Biello's story about the geo-engineering experiment

Wow, ocean

TIL: The Great Barrier Reef is nearly the size of Montana. (Via Marilyn Terrell)

Glaucus atlanticus: For once, the Internet is not lying to you

This is actually a real life animal.

I know. I didn't believe it either. When it turned up in my Facebook feed, via my Aunt Beth, I assumed that this had to be a hoax photo. Had to be. I mean, just look at it. This animal looks like it should appear in pretty photos forwarded to you by your aunt that later turn out to be the result of a photoshopping contest on Something Awful, right?

But then it was on Wikipedia, too. And I thought, "Okay, it's still the Internet. Somebody is clearly just getting really elaborate in their trolling."

And I suppose that's true. If by "somebody", what I mean to say is "natural selection".

This is the Glaucus atlanticus. It is a type of nudibranch—shell-less mollusks known for their extravagant shapes and colors. It is venomous. And I am now almost completely convinced that it's not a joke.

Read the rest

At sea for science

The Joides Resolution is a large boat—more than 450 feet long and almost 70 feet wide. That’s small compared to a lot of cruise ships, but big enough to house and feed and provide work space for 126 people. It’s a floating city, with a movie theater, helipad, hospital, cafeteria, laboratories, and a giant drilling rig. But even a big boat can start to feel small when you have nowhere else to go, and no land in sight, for two whole months.

Read the rest

Dolphins befriend an underwater camera

So a bunch of guys go fishing, and they take a long an underwater camera, encased in a mobile, waterproof housing. Basically, their camera can move around underwater, like a little RC car.

Then this happens ...

I have a sneaky suspicion that this video might be an advertisement for camera equipment. But whatever. It's beautiful. You win this time, viral marketers.

Watch the movie on Vimeo

Via Robert Krulwich and Ed Yong.

Real history from a pretend pirate

Meet Richard Nolan: quartermaster of the Whydah, captain of the Anne, former coworker of Blackbeard—in general, pirate. He is also—at least through Labor Day—my friend Butch Roy.

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Giant scale worm

Scale worms are usually small, and there are many different species that fall under the common name. At least one, Arctonoe vittata, famously enjoys a complex relationship with starfish. The worm lives in the starfish's sucker feet. There's a possibility that this commensal arrangement—neither animal really gets any special benefit from having the other around, but they aren't hurt by it either. On the other hand, a 1979 research paper found that A vittata and its starfish host will seek each other out—mutually—through mazes. The starfish will even choose to move toward the worm over its favorite food. And it's still not really clear why that is.

So these are interesting worms. In fact, they can look damn-near cute—almost like little roly-poly pill bugs. But those are the small ones. This guy is different.

Read the rest

The wonder of small things

From a public perspective, biology in the oceans, like biology on the land, tends to favor the charismatic megafauna. Stop by your local aquarium and you’ll find masses huddled around the seal pool or the shark tank.

Read the rest