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Big furry news!

I’ve been sitting on an exciting secret for a few weeks, but the news is out. Aniak is pregnant:

Photo by Courtney Blethen Riffkin/The Seattle Times

While we’re all very excited, we’re also worried and keeping a close eye. Sea otter births have only a 50/50 chance of survival. They take place in the water and the pup is, of course, air-breathing. Aniak’s pregnancy is also a venture into the unknown because she was implanted with a birth control device. Biologists had believed she couldn’t get pregnant, but got a big surprise while monitoring her hormone levels in June.

You can read more here, and I’ll update when the pup arrives. Hope.

There is really no debate over the fact that the US consumes a lot of material and energy, and Holiday season festivities are no exception. Consider putting a conservation-minded twist on your holidays this year with the following last-minute charity gift ideas:

Oceana's polar bear adoption kit.

Adopt a reef at nature.org and protect the nurseries of countless juvenile fish. Nature.org has other adoptions available as well if your priorities run towards the terrestrial.

Adopt a penguin or polar bear and get a plushy for the child in your life. Or yourself. I won’t judge.

Give a sustainable food source. My family doesn’t know it yet, but they’ve given 10 ducks to hungry families. Of course, by now my parents have read this entry, so I’m busted.

Give to your local zoo or aquarium. You can often adopt an animal or have an inscribed brick added to a plaza – a little reminder of your investment in conservation education that you and your loved ones can see every time you visit. Also, remember to visit.

Happy Holidays!

Behind the Scenes

Baby seahorses. They love their nauplii and ziptie grass.

Having been a life science volunteer at the aquarium for six weeks now, I feel ready to reflect. At this point, I enjoy working behind the scenes more than being on the floor. Interpretation is a great experience and an opportunity to speak with a huge diversity of people, but I rarely got more than 5 minutes with any one group or individual.

Arriving at 8am to clean and prepare for the day is a wonderful feeling. I love the aquarium when it is empty; it’s all mine. I feel like my quiet time with the animals gives me a stronger connection to them. I clean house for the clown wrasses and bring them their food. Two weeks ago, I got to handle live coral as a biologist and I rearranged their furniture.

Feeding our skittish lionfish is always fun, and the slipper lobster that lives in the bottom corner of her tank is always satisfyingly enthusiastic about Sunday market squid. It makes one feel needed – always a lovely feeling.

West Seattle Oil Spill

Oil Spill sounds a bit dramatic. Most people are referring to it as ‘the sheen’, but oil in the water is oil in the water. Puget Sound wildlife have shortened life spans due to the concentration of pollution in these waters.

A construction barge working on a beach drive home sank starting yesterday morning around 7:30 and leaked diesel and motor oil into the water. Estimates are ranging from 300 to 500 gallons of diesel, and the AP reported about 30 gallons of motor oil. Apparently the company did not report the sinking vessel immediately and the coast guard discovered the situation around 9, according an early report by the Washington Dept of Ecology.

After the discovery, the company responsible has been quick to contract an environmental cleanup team and only a little has reached the shore. What has reached the shore has been on private beach along waterfront homes (such as the one being worked on). Some has reached beaches just north of the public parks as of this morning, so barriers have been set up as a precaution:

The barrier set up to protect Lowman beach. In general, the only beachfront affected has been private.

For pictures of the barge itself, the AP article in the Washington Post has a few nice shots.

And in case you’re wondering, the barges have to be used because these waterfront homes are down extremely steep hills from the road. The water is the only way to get construction equipment to the lots.

Sushi, by Hiroshige

Some people were disappointed that the Seafood Watch representative from California couldn’t make it, but I kind of liked it. Instead, we were given a presentation by the woman who works with companies in Seattle. Hearing about the program from more of a business perspective was interesting, since she has to convince businesses of importance and economic viability of ‘going green’.

As much as I love discussing science with other scientifically minded folk, the value of research is in communicating it to society at large in order to make a change for the better. This is exactly what Seafood Watch does. They provide the net results of exhaustive research in a format (card or app) that is approachable for consumers. Before this program spread, I was overwhelmed by the work involved in eating only sustainable fish. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Taking it a step further, the real value of the program comes when the pressure of the informed consumer motivates businesses to also seek out information. As our presenter told us, most businesses want to improve. They’re just overwhelmed – much like we the consumer. With guidance, many have or are currently making changes for the benefit of our oceans.

Whole Foods, for example, has removed almost all red-listed fish from their stores (and all of them in the Pacific NW) as well as all unranked fish, allowing Seafood Watch and the Marine Stewardship Council time to research the health of those species.

Building sustainability into our modern economic structure through education instead of forcing it upon people will ultimately lead us to greater success in protecting our oceans.

Happy Birthday?

Please...don't release your balloons.

Post-OIP Cruise

Let me begin by saying that spending the day on a research boat was a blast. I could definitely do that on a regular basis, and I met some fascinating people from all over the scientific spectrum. My favorite person was the virus lady, who loves to tell people that there are enough viruses in a tablespoon of ocean water that, lined up end to end, they would stretch across the milky way 100 times. I haven’t verified this, but she seemed trustworthy. :)

We got to play with some very expensive equipment at a few different stations around the Puget Sound, and getting to participate in some actual research again refreshed my love of science. The details on those stations are after the jump below for those readers who are interested.

A sunflower star (Pycnopodia helianthoides) spitting out a rock, along with part of his stomach.

At the end, two of our instructors dove to the bottom of the sound with a camera to give us a little live tour (and pull up some critters to play with). The coolest moment was when the camera was focused in on a pygmy rock crab picking barnacles off a rock and eating them. Everyone was being charmed by the little guy when a shark swam by in the background! It was a lovely little spiny dogfish.

Some of the animals were brought up and placed in tubs for us to touch, including a large sunflower star that seemed to be eating. It proceeded to vomit up a rock it had eaten the barnacles off of, which was pretty much the coolest thing that could have happened.

Want more details on the research stations?

If you recall an older post  of mine on the ‘removal’ of sea lions in the Columbia River, I was talking about how I felt this really wasn’t the right decision. Choosing one animal over another is a pretty crazy call to try to make.

Well, a NYT article today reported on the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit’s recent decision to strip officials of the right to cull these marine mammals. Their argument was too good to not share:

The court decision raised a basic question: Why is it not O.K. for sea lions, who tend to cluster at the base of the Bonneville dam waiting for dinner to be delivered, to snack on as much as 4.2 percent of the salmon in the river when it is O.K. for human fishermen to catch four times as many?

Why did officials opt to kill another species (one that only recently – and barely – recovered enough to be de-listed) instead of restricting human fishing rights? Perhaps because the sea lions can’t talk back.

Nautical Adventures in Science!

I’m looking forward to the weekend more than usual right now. On Saturday, I’m headed out on the Puget Sound with the Ocean Inquiry Project, an organization that provides students and educators with a hands-on ocean research experience.

The main mission of OIP is one of education, but part of this is learning how to conduct quality research and contribute to a useful, long-term database on the health of our local waters. I’m extremely grateful that opportunities like this exist and only wish that there were more.

What educational organizations are there in your area? Have you gone out with any groups like this or participated in citizen science? Getting your hands dirty, even once, can increase your understanding of our environment and the scientific process.

The header from the OIP website, oceaninquiry.org

I don't currently have a picture of our shark research station, so here's a technicolor moon jelly from the 'Ring of Life'.

Most people living in Seattle are unaware that large sharks live right in Elliot Bay, but they’re there living their lives. The bluntnose sixgill shark (Hexanchus griseus) is a prehistoric predator and is mostly nocturnal. ‘Modern’ sharks have only five gills because an increased availability of oxygen in the water rendered the extra gills extraneous. (There are still some sevengill sharks around though).

Live shark research takes place at the Seattle Aquarium
every other month, and this time around we were visited by an individual of about 10 feet on Thursday night. He or she only made a few passes before swimming off, but it was long enough for a rough measurement.

Adult sixgill can range from 10 to 18 feet depending upon their gender (the ladies are larger) and the environment. Based on that, I would say this was either a small male or a juvenile female.

This round was also the first to be graced by a wolf eel (Anarrhichthys ocellatus). I’m not sure why one has never happened by, but it’s exciting to see something other than the hoard of spotted ratfish (Hydrolagus colliei) who never miss a research date. Not that they aren’t great, too. :)

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