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”.
This darling denizen of the deep is a Helicocranchia, aka a piglet squid. Scientists on the Ocean Exploration Trust's E/V Nautilus caught footage of the rarely seen creature at a depth of 4,544 feet near Palmyra Atoll in the Northern Pacific Ocean. The commenters' delightful descriptions really make the clip.
(MNN via Kottke) Read the rest
Raising baby corals is a labor-intensive process that requires gathering the babies at the moment the corals spawn in the wild. Scientists compete with fish that feast on the babies, netting the gametes and planulae, then caring for them in a lab until they can be planted on the ocean floor. Read the rest
This broadclub cuttlefish like to prowl the Indonesian reefs for crabs, which it then hypnotizes with its remarkable skin before grabbing and eating. Read the rest
Shape of Life is a classic series produced by Sea Studios Foundation. Here, they show how sponges feed by placing harmless dye around the outside of a sponge. Read the rest
Sea slugs, aka nudibranchs, are weird and wonderful psychedelic sea creatures. Earth Touch caught a frisky couple kissing beneath the waves. Read the rest
Over the weekend, Jeff Warren and his family spotted this mysterious sea monster washed up on the shore of the Wolf Island National Wildlife Refuge near Darien, Georgia. It is either:
• Altamaha-ha (aka Alty), a cryptid, said to live near the mouth of the Altamaha river, that reportedly looks very similar to what's in the photo
• A frilled shark, according to a marine science educator at the Tybee Island Marine Science Center
• A basking shark, in the opinion of a Savannah State University marine scientist
• Or a hoax, according to scientists at Georgia Southern University.
Either way, the story ends well.
“My son, who is twelve, thinks it is the child of the legendary Altamaha-ha and has now decided he wants to be a marine biologist,” Warren said.
(Savannah Morning News) Read the rest
Baby whales aren't very good at making various calls, but a new study shows that even adults continue to improve their calling techniques. Read the rest
EV Nautilus shared a spectacular unplanned find during a recent live filming of a sampling expedition: a pink and purple Halitrephes maasi jelly that looks like a firework. Read the rest
In the crystal blue waters of the Greek island of Zakynthos hundreds of loggerhead turtles use isolated rocks to scrape barnacles off their shells and generally spruce up. Biologists collected video evidence of the behavior in a recently published study. Read the rest
Cystisoma is an amphipod, a creature with two kinds of legs, and they are almost entirely translucent. One major exception is their pale orange retinas, which each take up about half of its head. Read the rest
True's beaked whales spend much of their time deep underwater, so much of what we know about the mysterious species comes from stranded corpses. That's why a live sighting of a pod including underwater footage is so remarkable. Read the rest
What happens when a whale dies? It sinks to the ocean floor, creating a whale fall, which becomes a fantastical garden of biodiversity. EVNautilus stumbled on a naturally-occurring whale fall during a live feed, an exceedingly rare find. Read the rest
"Sardine Run" by G. Lecoeur edged out a competitive field of remarkable images to take National Geographic's 2016 title. Read the rest
E/V Nautilus explores the ocean, sharing highlights of their video captures, like this adorable googly-eyed stubby squid seen off the coast of California. Read the rest