Jellyfish sleep, shark-sucking bots, mole crab parasites, and more! Monday Morning Salvage: September 25, 2017

Fog Horn (A Call to Action)

  • The fight for our Marine National Monuments isn’t over. We now know of the contents of Zincke’s monument review memo, and it is not good. The DOI wants to see commercial fishing return to the Pacific Remote Islands and Rose Atoll Marine National Monuments. Longline fishing in these regions has historically been conducted by foreign fishing fleets which have been documented using slave labor. Many ecologists believe that maintaining these protected zones serve as a refuge that boost populations of many important commercial fish and improve the overall health of the fishery. Any change to monuments created under the Antiquities Act must be approved by congress. You’ve got a lot of reason to call you representatives this week, so why not add “I opposed the reintroduction of ecologically and economically destructive commercial fishing to the Pacific Remote Islands and Rose Atoll Marine National Monument.” to your script?

Flotsam (what we’re obsessed with right now)

Palmyra Atoll. Erik Oberg/Island Conservation/Flickr

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The incredible biodiversity of Aquaman’s variant cover

Aquaman #31 variant cover. Art by Mike Allred.

Aquaman #31 variant cover. Art by Mike Allred.

Aquaman. Wow. Artist Mike Allred has seriously outdone himself with this incredible variant cover to Aquaman #31, featuring a 75th anniversary tribute to Batman as well as an incredible pastel array of deep-sea creatures. What truly amazing about this cover is that each one of these animals is a real living denizen of the deep right here, on Earth Prime. Sure, the scale might be a little off, and it’s unlikely that a scale worm could swallow a Bat-thyscaph, but the salient details are uncanny. Join me on a tour of the 18 wonderful animals featured on this sure-to-be epic installment of Aquaman’s ocean-spanning adventures. Today we’re looking at the first three, including one of my all time favorite marine organisms. Read More

Collecting organisms to save their species

 ProsantaDr.Prosanta Chakrabarty is an Assistant Professor at Louisiana State University and an ichthyologist and evolutionary biologist. He is also Curator of Fishes at LSU’s Museum of Natural Science. You can learn more about him from his website www.prosanta.net and follow him on Twitter @LSU_FISH.

A recent piece in Science (Minteer et al. 2014) titled “Avoiding (Re)extinction” advocated avoiding collecting specimens for the sake of confirming the existence of a species. In lieu of killing and collecting the animal the authors suggest using “high-resolution photography, audio recording, and nonlethal sampling.” As a natural history curator of fishes I found this to be a pretty bad idea.

My PhD students (Bill Ludt and Caleb McMahan) in Costa Rica collecting specimens for their thesis projects. These guys better not just come back with pictures.

My PhD students (Bill Ludt and Caleb McMahan) in Costa Rica collecting specimens for their thesis projects. These guys better not just come back with pictures.

I don’t like killing animals, I was a strict vegetarian for 10 years (now I just eat sustainable seafood – hey, I live in Louisiana). I certainly wouldn’t want to endanger a species by over collecting it. I know of no scientific collectors who kill rare animals just so he or she can say they have it in their collections. We collect for a few simple reasons: because specimens are not available otherwise via loan, or additional specimens are needed for a comparative study, or because we need vouchers as evidence of the existence of the taxon.

I’ve collected rare species in the past, particularly some of the cavefishes I work on. For one of these species, Typhleotris mararybe, we collected the only two specimens we or anyone ever saw. We were in a very remote part of Madagascar and we were only allowed to collect two specimens from any given locality. I knew these individuals were part of a species new to science as soon as I looked at them. Did removing two samples place this species at risk of extinction? Guessing the population was much larger than what we found just at the surface, I would suppose not. What were we to do? Not collect them and just take pictures? We wouldn’t have been able to do the necessary comparative descriptive analysis to actually prove their novelty required by the ICZN (International Commission of Zoological Nomenclature). We collected these specimens so that we could formally describe this new and fantastic new species so that the world can be aware of their existence and so that measures can be put in place to conserve them and study them further.

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#TaxonomyFail: Salps, Jellyfish, and the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant

I’m a bit late to the party, but last week, several news outlets reported that the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant was taken offline by “jellyfish-like creatures” that clogged several cooling intakes. While most sources were careful to point out that these were “jellyfish-like” organisms, some secondary sources truncated the description and announced that “Nuclear Power Plant Knocked Offline By Tiny Jellyfish, The Invasion Has Begun”. Unfortunately, these organisms are salps, not jellyfish, and you’d be more correct to describe them as human-like rather than jellyfish-like.

Salps, photo by Lars Plougmann

Salps, photo by Lars Plougmann

Salps are free-swimming pelagic tunicates, one of the most basal members of the chordate phylum. While they superficially resemble jellies to the untrained eye, they are far more derived, possessing three tissue layers (compared to the jelly’s two), a primitive, larval notochord, a perforated pharynx, and the rudimentary beginnings of a centralized nervous system. They form large, clonal colonies that are able to take advantage of plankton blooms by rapidly producing more clones to capitalize on an unpredicatable food source. Although I don’t have first hand reports, this is likely what happened in Diablo Canyon, as warm water discharges from nuclear power plants can trigger massive plankton blooms. Far from a “jellyfish invasion”, this was probably the natural response of a predator to increased food availability.

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