With their massive wingspans and high speed, albatrosses fly across the seas in search of food. That's why marine ornithologist Henri Weimerskirch of the French National Center for Scientific Research calls the birds the “sentinels of the sea" and is using them to survey the ocean for illegal fishing boats. Apparently, the operators of these vessels frequently turn off their automatic identification system (AIS) that broadcasts who they are and their location. From Katherine J. Wu's article in Smithsonian:
(Weimerskirch) and his colleagues have outfitted nearly 200 albatrosses with tiny GPS trackers that detect radar emissions from suspicious ships, allowing the birds to transmit the locations of fishers in the midst of illicit acts...
The range of these signals isn’t big enough to be reliably picked up by stations on shore, keeping the ships’ movements mostly discreet. Radar can be detected within a few miles of the vessel itself, however—as long as something, or someone, can get close enough...
Over the course of six months, the team’s army of albatrosses surveyed over 20 million square miles of sea. Whenever the birds came within three or so miles of a boat, their trackers logged its coordinates, then beamed them via satellite to an online database that officials could access and cross-check with AIS data. Of the 353 fishing vessels detected, a whopping 28 percent had their AIS switched off—a finding that caught Weimerskirch totally off guard.
"Ocean sentinel albatrosses locate illegal vessels and provide the first estimate of the extent of nondeclared fishing" (PNAS)
image: "Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans) in flight, East of the Tasman Peninsula, Tasmania, Australia." Read the rest
Some species of sharks have evolved to literally walk along the ocean floor (no, not on land) using their fins as feet. New research Conservation International’s Mark Erdmann and colleagues determined that walking sharks only evolved their unique capability 9 million years ago, "making them the 'youngest' sharks on our planet." Of course, a distinct species usually forms when some members of a species are physically separated from others. So how did that speciation occur in the case of the walking sharks? From an interview with Erdmann at Conservation International:
Read the rest
For most of the walking shark species, our findings support the idea that speciation occurred because the populations slowly expanded their range by walking or swimming, then some individuals eventually became isolated by environmental factors such as sea level rise or the formation of large river systems that broke up their habitats.
For the four walking shark species found at the Bird’s Head Seascape, we suspect that they actually hitched a ride — on a drifting island...
Q: Is there another mystery about walking sharks you hope to solve?
From a scientific perspective, there is still so much to learn from walking sharks. We know that the world’s species that exist today are basically the existing “genetic reservoir” (raw genetic material) we have to adapt to global changes. We also know that walking sharks are very resilient to warm water and that they have a tolerance for oxygen deprivation. Any time you have an animal or plant that can survive in these extreme conditions, there is typically something unique about their genes — a “special sauce”.
Ghost sharks, aka chimaeras, are elusive relatives of sharks and rays that live in the black depths of the ocean, as far down as 2,600 meters. The Ghost Shark was captured on video by a remotely operated vehicle deployed on a geology expedition by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in waters off Hawaii and California. The scientists who analyzed the video think that it's a pointy-nosed blue chimaera (Hydrolagus trolli) that usually calls the waters off Australia and New Zealand home. This is the first time researchers have known this species to swim in the Northern Hemisphere. From National Geographic:
Unlike those more well-known sharks, chimaeras don’t have rows of ragged teeth, but instead munch up their prey—mollusks, worms, and other bottom-dwellers—with mineralized tooth plates.
A pattern of open channels on their heads and faces, called lateral line canals, contain sensory cells that sense movement in the water and help the ghost sharks locate lunch.
And perhaps most fascinating, male chimaeras sport retractable sex organs on their foreheads.
Read the rest
Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos has exciting news out today. Apollo mission F-1 enginges have been recovered from the bottom of the sea.
"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] Read the rest
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)
Rescue video: Sandy sinks tall ship HMS Bounty replica off NC Read the rest
Scott Olsen, the 24-year-old Marine veteran seriously injured by a police projectile during a violent raid on the peaceful Occupy Oakland encampment, was released from the hospital this week. Olsen received traumatic brain injury when a police officer (still un-named, from an unknown force, maybe Oakland police but maybe not) shot him with a so-called "less-lethal" round. Veterans For Peace volunteer Adele says:
I had a chance to visit Scott this evening. He is very present, alert, and has a lot of energy. He is still struggling with speech, but is attempting conversations without having the writing instrument out. He also is doing an amazing job of staying patient with himself and didn't seem to get frustrated with himself or need to rush when trying to work out thoughts in speech. Personally, it was a huge relief to see him after last having seen him while he was sedated and in critical condition.
Read the rest here, including updates on his legal support and housing needs. There's a related Reuters item here.
(Photograph: Keith Shannon)
Scott Olsen, Iraq veteran injured in police raid of Occupy Oakland ...
Scott Olsen, Iraq veteran injured at Occupy Oakland, to undergo ...
Occupy Oakland: video shows police officer throwing "flash grenade ...
Police raid on Occupy Oakland: the morning after Read the rest