Albatrosses deployed to detect illegal fish vessels out at sea

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

Newly discovered sharks that walk are the "youngest" shark species on Earth

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:

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”.

Read the rest

Delightful deepsea encounter with a wildly cute and weird piglet squid

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

Astonishing encounter with a nearly human-size jellyfish

UK TV host and wildlife biologist Lizzie Daly and her crew were diving off the southwestern coast of England as part of their Wild Ocean Week initiative when they met this magnificent and massive barrel jellyfish. Typically, barrel jellyfish aren't bigger than meter long but this one was closer to 1.5 meters. From The Guardian:

Daly and an underwater camera operator, Dan Abbott... stayed with the abnormally large, translucent bell-mushroom-shaped animal for about an hour before it swam away.

The pair said they were not surprised by the animal’s behaviour. “It has got a very mild sting and poses no threat to humans – some people don’t even feel it,” Daly said. “Many people would be immediately worried, but it is not dangerous. Its a majestic creature.”

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SO THIS JUST HAPPENED?? Diving with a giant barrel jellyfish! I could not think of a better way to celebrate the end of #WildOceanWeek. The full video of the dive is LIVE right now! I'll put the link in my stories if anybody wants to spend just two minutes watching this breathtaking moment coming face to face with a barrel jellyfish THE SAME SIZE AS ME while diving off of the coast of Falmouth ? What an unforgettable experience, I know barrel jellyfish get really big in size but I have never seen anything like it before! For anybody who is in Cornwall do come on down to Maenporth tomorrow at 12pm for a beach clean. There should be a good crowd of us rounded up now so it will be fun - and it will be followed by a small talk about the trip!

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Scientists raising baby corals plan to plant over one million by 2021

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

Watch this cuttlefish hypnotize a crab (and maybe you, too)

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

Cool demonstration of how sponges eat

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

Beautiful film on the colorful diversity of nudibranchs

Sea slugs, aka nudibranchs, are weird and wonderful psychedelic sea creatures. Earth Touch caught a frisky couple kissing beneath the waves. Read the rest

Mysterious sea monster photographed on Georgia shore

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 have to learn how to talk, too

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

Watch this undersea vehicle's close encounter with a shimmering purple jellyfish

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

Loggerhead turtles use rocks as cleaning stations

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

Watch this cool transparent deep sea creature whose eyes take up its whole head

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

First underwater video of True's beaked whales in the wild

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

Unmanned craft finds naturally-occurring whale fall

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

Here's National Geographic's 2016 Nature Photographer of the Year winner

"Sardine Run" by G. Lecoeur edged out a competitive field of remarkable images to take National Geographic's 2016 title. Read the rest

This googly eyed stubby squid might make your day

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

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