You know the good stuff is going to keep rolling in from my research cruise to Mid-Cayman Spreading Center. At the end of JC82, we had the opportunity to join a bolt-on cruise to explore the seabed around Montserrat. During a biological survey of the surrounding abyssal plain, we twice stumbled on a giant deep-sea isopods hanging out on the sea floor, doing their isopod thing. This was my first opportunity to observe a giant deep-sea isopod (Bathynomus giganteus*) alive and in the wild. My previous experiences have been limited to well preserved specimens.
Giant isopod behavior is not something that falls within my expertise. Like Craig McClain at Deep Sea News, I’m fascinated by the evolution of their large body size and how a relatively abundant population of such giants can be supported in the food limited deep benthos. But giant isopods are not common in my study area and what little I know of their behavior comes from the very few videos available, mostly of them scavenging on baited camera traps. So I was pretty surprised when the ROV Isis came across this delightful giant maintaining its burrow.
This isn’t the first time Bathynomus burrowing has been observed; the behavior is actually fairly well documented (at least, well-documented for deep-sea species). But as fascinating as watching a 20+ centimeter-long roly-poly digging it’s hole 800 meters deep on the seafloor near one of the most active volcanoes in the Caribbean is, what we found next was even more amazing:
As 16th Conference of the Parties of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES COP16, pronounced sight-eze) comes to a close, I’d like to reflect on something that made this meeting unlike almost any other wildlife conservation and management meeting in history. Yes, history was made as delegates voted to list commercially exploited shark species for the first time, and history was made when manta rays became the first shark or ray species to be listed under CITES the first time they were proposed, and that’s all fantastic news. However, what I believe made CITES COP16 a game-changer for wildlife conservation and management was the large-scale inclusion of online outreach by both attendees and organizers. For the first time ever, interested members of the public from all over the world could follow along (and to some degree, participate) in real time.
Right now, delegates from 178 countries are meeting in Bangkok, Thailand to discuss a variety of conservation proposals. At the 16th CITES Conference of the Parties, among many other worthy topics, delegates will be debating a record-number of shark and ray proposals. These include iconic species like hammerhead sharks (3 species) and manta rays (2 species), as well as oceanic whitetip sharks, porbeagle sharks, and three species of freshwater stingray.
In addition to a record-number of shark and ray proposals, this year’s Conference of the Parties also has a record-number of attendees live-tweeting the meeting.Those of you who follow me on twitter know that I’ve been re-tweeting lots of information about CITES and these shark conservation proposals. In case you want to get the information directly from the source, I’ve prepared a guide to following along with the meeting on twitter.
1) Follow #CITES . Though this hashtag isn’t exclusively focused on sharks (and isn’t exclusively in English), there’s a lot of good information being shared.
2) Follow #Cites4Sharks . Also use this hashtag if you’re sharing any relevant links or information.
3) Follow the 13 accounts I’ve highlighted below (and let me know in the comments if you have suggestions for any accounts I should add to the list):
A new study* has estimated that the total number of sharks killed by fisheries each year is between 63 and 273 million, with a average of approximately 100 million.In an interview, lead author Dr. Boris Worm explains the importance of this estimate:
“This is by far the most comprehensive estimate of shark mortality yet,” he said, ”because we consider all sources of mortality, from direct fishing, finning, and discard mortality. the estimate was derived by crunching numbers from almost 100 publications on the catches and mortality of sharks.”
Of all the numbers this team crunched, the most important thing to consider is whether the exploitation rate is greater than the rebound rate. In other words, is this level of exploitation more than the populations can recover from? Though many estimates and approximations went into calculating these figures, it seems quite clear that sharks are being harvested at an unsustainable rate.
At 7 AM EST on Monday, February 25, the ROV Isis rose from the depths of the Cayman Abyss, bringing to a close the 82nd cruise of the RRS James Cook. During JC82, we explored two recently discovered hydrothermal vents fields in the Cayman Trough: Von Damm, named for the late marine geochemist Karen Von Damm, and Beebe, named for the 20th century explorer William Beebe. By any measure, JC82 was a massive success. The samples and videos we’ll bring back will provide ecologists, geologists, and chemists with new insights into fundamental ocean systems for years. The images alone, some beautiful, some heart-breaking, have already inspired.
Eyeless shrimp, dancing anemones, and a garden of filamentous bacteria. I’m a pretty good writer, and I can’t even begin to describe how beautiful this is. Photo Credit: NERC
Since I last updated the blog on our adventures exploring the Cayman Trough, we’ve had a steady stream media coverage, most of which has been excellent, some of which has been… strange. It’s been fascinating watching the articles come out, seeing what different media outlets consider the story, and, most important to me, getting a chance to share our adventure with a wide audience. Now that the #DeepestVents cruise is officially over (and we’re in transit to yet another, equally exciting bolt on cruise to investigate submerged lava flows off the island of Montserrat), I thought it would be a good opportunity to reflect on the cruise, the story, and how the media shaped it.
Endangered species seem to be coming up around here more often than usual, mostly due to the potential state-level listing of great white sharks in California. This move has been resisted from some surprising corners, including researchers who are generally pro-shark conservation. The reasons why scientists might want to oppose an Endangered Species listing are laid out by Dr. Chris Lowe in an earlier post on this very blog, so I won’t reiterate all of them here. Surprisingly, I have yet to see any comments accusing Dr. Lowe of being a shill for the drift gillnet fishery.
There seems to a be a real sense among some conservation-minded folks that Endangered Species listing is something of a “holy grail” for species protection and recovery, and some petitioners would have you believe that anything less is unacceptable (and probably the result of corruption). However, the Endangered Species Act has a very specific process by which species receive protection, and a defined set of limitations. A lot of well-meaning people seem to have limited knowledge of this process and limitations. To do my little part to help fix this, this post will be a short primer on the Act and will show how a marine species has recently navigated the entire process for listing. With any luck, maybe this will result in one or two fewer misguided online petitions.
Dr. Chris Lowe is a Professor of Marine Biology at California State University Long Beach, and is Director of the CSULB Shark Lab. He has studied California’s great white sharks for more than 10 years, and has written more than 75 peer-reviewed scientific publications. Dr. Lowe also serves on the Board of Directors for the American Elasmobranch Society, the world’s largest professional organization of shark scientists. The following guest post was also submitted as a public comment to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Comments for consideration on the petition to list white shark as threatened or endangered species:
I am a Professor of Marine Biology and the Director of the CSULB Shark Lab at California State University Long Beach and have been conducting State and Federally permitted white shark research in California since 2002. In addition, as a professional and published shark scientist who has studied a variety of shark species around the world, including white sharks in California, I would like to take this opportunity to express my personal professional opinion in regards to the petition request and the science behind it.
I don’t often cover shark attacks here at Southern Fried Science. They get plenty of news coverage on their own, they’re usually not that relevant from a science and conservation perspective, and they are outside of my expertise and interests. However, some shark attack stories, such as this one, transcend “if it bleeds, it leads” fearmongering journalism and are interesting in their own right.
I’d like to preface this story by saying that shark attacks are extremely rare to begin with (you have a 1 in 5 chance of dying from heart disease and a 1 in 3.8 million chance of being killed by a shark in the United States). If you want to further minimize your chance of being attacked by a shark, most of the few attacks that occur can be prevented by simply swimming close to shore with lots of other people nearby during the day. Even though shark attacks are rare, I still don’t want to minimize the suffering of the few attack victims and their families. With these caveats out of the way, presented below is the fascinating story of what is probably the most preventable shark attack of all time.
Modern deep-sea science is built on broad international collaborations. We share resources, expertise, and ship time. These exchanges allow scientists from around the world to benefit from a global research fleet that includes dedicated oceanographic platforms like the RRS James Cook or the RV Atlantis as well as novel vessels-of-opportunity that could include Norwegian container ships, North Carolina ferries, or Papua New Guinea tug boats. There are small differences between the operation of vessels from different nations – new acronyms, different power supplies, and an enduring disagreement regarding what constitutes a proper biscuit (ask a North Carolinian to take you to Bojangles sometime) – but the rhythm of a ship at sea is dictated, above all else, by the ocean.
The international and interconnected network of deep-sea scientists is how I now find myself, as an American, sailing aboard a British ship, in a role that could best be described as a Benthic Mercenary.
As many of our readers prepare for a romantic evening with their special someone (or a Single’s Awareness Day celebration with friends), I invite you to take a few minutes and learn how our toothy friends in the ocean do it. And by “do it”, I mean “do it”. Here are 10 things you might not have known about shark sex.
1) Sharks have external reproductive organs. A male shark has reproductive organs called “claspers” (yes, there are two of them), and females have a “cloaca”. As I regularly tell the high school students who join us for shark research trips, even if you don’t have a degree in marine biology, you’ll quickly recognize what you’re looking at.
A closeup of claspers (male reproductive organs) on a spotted Wobbegong shark. Photo credit: Richard Ling, WikiMedia Commons