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.
Continue reading Return from the Cayman Abyss: cruise post-mortem and some thoughts on media coverage
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.
Continue reading The Endangered Species Act and Marine Animals: To List or Not To List?
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.
Continue reading Guest post: Why a California great white shark scientist opposes CA Endangered Species Act protections
Andrew is currently at sea exploring the world’s deepest hydrothermal vents aboard the RRS James Cook. You can follow along with the adventure at the cruise blog–Into the Cayman Abyss–and on twitter using the hashtag #DeepestVents. Below is a cross post of his first entry Confessions of a Benthic Mercenary – It’s all about connectivity.
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.
Continue reading Update from the Cayman Abyss
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
Continue reading 50 Shades of Grey Reef Shark: A Valentine’s Day Special Report on Shark Sex (With Pictures! And Video!)
It’s not every day that catching up on scientific literature causes you to almost do a spit-take on your laptop screen. This happened to me recently due to the weird and wild world of aquaculture. Aquaculture is the practice of growing aquatic animals such as fish and shellfish for the purpose of food, and has been held up as both a savior and destroyer of the marine ecosystem. To get an idea of what this generally looks like (at least here in the U.S.), Amy has a whole series of posts on aquaculture operations in North Carolina.
As with land-based farming, aquaculturists are motivated to find ways to increase the food value of their stock. The methods used are varied, from high-protein feed mixes to genetic manipulation. Recently, farmed salmon genetically-modified to grow larger and faster than their wild conspecifics have been approved for human consumption by the FDA, though not without debate. This man-made subspecies was created by modifying the already-existing DNA of the fish, but what if it turned out that simply injecting DNA from a different species could improve the growth and protein output of farmed fish? And what if that foreign DNA came from sharks?
Continue reading Shark DNA Used to Buff Up Aquacultured Fish
Hi everyone. I’m Chuck and I used to blog primarily over at Ya Like Dags?, where my main focus was on interactions between apex predators (sharks mostly, but I also occasionally dabbled in other large fish and sea mammals) and those other top marine predators, humans. This was not in the “shark attack” sense, but in the context of fisheries management. Writing about this subject and living it as part of my research have given me valuable perspective on marine science and conservation that I really didn’t have as a freshly-minted Bachelor of Science.
Unfortunately I see more extreme versions of my old perspective show up in countless blog comments, posts, and tweets by perfectly well-meaning people whose only issue is that they’ve fallen for a simplistic, “us vs. them” attitude towards conservation. Consumptive uses of the ocean, such as fishing, are inherently evil and must be opposed. This no-compromise approach sounds cool and may bring in the TV ratings, but is it truly helpful?
Continue reading Inaugural Post: Fishermen Are Not Evil
The least-impacted places in the ocean are mainly in the deep sea, but as fishing technology has improved, even seamounts, sponge gardens and deep-sea coral beds are no longer out of reach of our appetites for seafood. Bottom trawling, which involves dragging a heavy weighted net along the seabed, is so destructive to benthic habitats that it has been compared to clear-cutting a forest. Bottom gillnetting catches almost anything that swims into them (and isn’t smaller than the mesh size), resulting in enormous levels of bycatch.
A (simplified) schematic of a bottom trawl. This one (on the NOAA vessel Henry Bigelow) is used for scientific sampling, not fishing, but it’s the same principle on a smaller scale. Image via Wikimedia Commons
The deep-sea fishing fleet of the European Union is one of the largest in the world, which is why it was so heartening to see the European Commission call for a phase-out of trawls and bottom gillnets recently. The Marine Conservation Institute, a longtime leader in marine protected areas, has obtained over 100 signatures (including mine) from marine scientists supporting a phase-out of bottom trawls and bottom gillnets by the EU fishing fleet. If you are a scientist who supports this measure, please consider adding your signature. This can be done by e-mailing [email protected] and including your name, institutional affiliation, degree, title, and full mailing address. Please note that MCI is primarily interested in signatures from the scientific community, and that simply posting a comment on this blog post is not equivalent to signing the petition.However, feel free to post a comment letting us know that you contacted MCI!
The full text of the petition can be seen after the jump:
Continue reading More than 100 marine scientists call for protecting the deep sea from trawling. Will you join us?