Monday, May 31, 2010
It’s a fascinating idea; I wonder if you could apply a deliberate Levy walk pattern if you were looking for your sunglasses, trying to find Waldo, or trying to find an empty patch of beach to put your towel on. People might look at you a bit funny, but who’d have the last laugh?
Sims, D., Southall, E., Humphries, N., Hays, G., Bradshaw, C., Pitchford, J., James, A., Ahmed, M., Brierley, A., Hindell, M., Morritt, D., Musyl, M., Righton, D., Shepard, E., Wearmouth, V., Wilson, R., Witt, M., & Metcalfe, J. (2008). Scaling laws of marine predator search behaviour Nature, 451 (7182), 1098-1102 DOI: 10.1038/nature06518
Sunday, May 30, 2010
I've got one day at work today and then off to Mexico for field research with Mexican government colleagues this week (more about that later), but not for long, because teaching duties in NY on Friday and Saturday call. While I am in NY, I'll be giving a public lecture about whale sharks at Stony Brook Southampton on the 4th at 1930hrs. Its part of the SoMAS Spring lecture series; I'd love to see you there!
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
They don't muck around at this meeting. Registration is from 5-8 on Monday, then talks from 8-11. Thankfully first night is mostly short talks and you can bring beers into the lecture hall - that's my kinda conference!
This morning has been all immunology. That's not normally my bag, but talented speakers can make the most arcane topics engaging. Steve Kaattari spoke about how antibodies can me made more or less specific through sulfide cross-linking, without changing their actual amino acid sequence. Erin Bromage also gave a great talk about how the immune systems of fish are concentrated in the kidney, and how the immune system can lose its memory of previous antigens in the face of new challenges. The upshot of all the talks is that fish immune systems are different from mammals and in many ways more complex, which may be unexpected given our usual biased view of "mammals do it BEST".
More to come...
Sunday, May 23, 2010
This year's conference is especially important because its the 35th anniversary!
So, I'll be in WV this week and will try to blog some about the talks as they happen. This will mean writing from the Droid, so forgive me if things come across a little stilted. Its an a amazing device, but its no substitute for a real computer. It also means I might not do any blogging on peer reviewed research this week. I'd like to think I'll be studious and go back to my room for that stuff, but there's more to be gained by picking someone elses brain. Perhaps I'll post some interviews instead.
Friday, May 21, 2010
Well, I feel the same bite about Saba in the Netherlands Antilles. Every time I look at a photo of that little volcanic speck and imagine the hair-raising landing at the airport, followed by the equally follicle-lifting drive through a myriad switchbacks clinging to the side of that impossibly steep volcanic plug, I can barely resist the urge to just walk out the door, head for Hartsfield-Jackson and jump on a plane. I have assiduously suppressed these feelings for years in favour of pedestrian realism, but now PLoS One has published a series of papers about the diversity of critters on the bank reef adjacent to Saba. How am I supposed to resist that? Thanks a lot PLoS...
Somebody help a travel junkie out; either convince me to go, or talk me down! Ever been there? Whats it like?
Thursday, May 20, 2010
0.87% = Amount we can see by diving from the surface (about 100ft) over the average depth
0.28% = Amount we can see by diving over the deepest part (Challenger Deep, Marianas Trench off the Philippines)
2.9 = Number of times deeper the deepest part is, compared to the average.
5,400 = Number of mammal species in the world
25,000 = Number of fish species in the world
Millions? = Number of marine invertebrates species in the world (no-one really knows)
2.3 Million = The number of US citizens directly dependent on ocean industries (source: NOAA)
$117 Billion = Value of ocean products and services to the US economy (yr 2000, source: NOAA)
50% = US population living in coastal zones
48% = The proportion of all human-produced CO2 absorbed by the oceans in the Industrial era (NatGeo)
0.1 = The pH drop in the surface oceans since 1900
0.35 = Expected pH drop by 2100 (source)
18 = The number of times more heat absorbed by the oceans than the atmosphere since 1950 (source - TAMU). Global warming is an ocean process far more than an atmospheric one.
3.5 Million = Estimated tons of plastic pollution circling in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and growing.
30 = Number of times thicker the atmosphere is (out to the “edge of space” about 60 miles) than the average ocean. That would be the atmosphere that astronauts describe as a “thin veneer” on the planet…
0.06% = Thickness of the average ocean, compared to the radius of the earth. I think we can argue that the water is the veneer, not the air
$4.48 Billion = NOAA’s 2010 budget, including the National Ocean Service, Weather Service and Fisheries Services. (source NOAA)
$18.7 Billion = NASA’s 2010 budget, i.e. 4 times the size of the agency that looks after our own planet (source NASA)
$664 Billion = Department of Defense base budget 2010, not counting special allocations (source DoD)
0.6% = The amount you would need to cut Defense in order to double the NOAA budget
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Its a fun paper, you can read it here:
Gintof C, Konow N, Ross CF, and Sanford CP (2010). Rhythmic chewing with oral jaws in teleost fishes: a comparison with amniotes. The Journal of experimental biology, 213 (Pt 11), 1868-75 PMID: 20472774
Monday, May 17, 2010
Oh, and if you thought this post was going another direction, here you go:
Sam Waterston was in 1976's Sweet Revenge with Norman Matlock who was in 1984's Ghostbusters with Sigourney Weaver.
There you go Kevin Bacon, you're not so special after all, anyone can do it...
Of course, you can’t include everything in a single paper and I would expect the authors to respond to my point by saying that the experiments I describe were beyond the scope of their project. But I think it could have been a better paper if they acknowledged that there’s another possibility that cannot be excluded, based on work that’s yet to be done.
Rasher, D., & Hay, M. (2010). Chemically rich seaweeds poison corals when not controlled by herbivores Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0912095107
Sunday, May 16, 2010
Saturday, May 15, 2010
Putting aside the remarkable little larvae, maybe we shouldn't be surprised. Anyone who has ever put their head underwater on a reef, especially a Pacific reef, can tell you they are noisy places. I always thought it sounded like frying bacon - a sizzling crackle of clicks, pops, scrapes and cracks, courtesy of snapping shrimps, parrotfish and a myriad other beasts. The first time I heard that sound I remember being startled, and then amazed. Serene underwater scenes? Serene, my butt!
This pic of Glaucus from Wikimedia Commons.
Friday, May 14, 2010
There are 4 whale sharks in the collection at Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta and I have been lucky enough to work with these amazing animals since 2006. Part of that work has involved veterinary examinations, which has allowed us, for the first time, to look at aspects of the internal biology of whale sharks. The first part of that work is now in print: a paper I co-authored with the aquarium's principal clinical vet, Dr. Tonya Clauss, and a colleague from National Aquarium in Baltimore, Jill Arnold (Jill is an expert in medical techniques, especially blood work), which is in the latest issue of Aquatic Biology. Our paper is a discovery-based one (i.e. not testing a specific hypothesis) about the nature of the blood of whale sharks, both the cells and the chemistry of the blood serum. Its open access, so you can get it at the journal web page here
In it, we show that whale sharks have blood that is fundamentally similar to that of some other sharks, specifically the bottom dwelling ones like nurse sharks and wobbegongs, but pretty different from the toothy predatory sharks like great whites. They have very large red cells, actually white cells too, but this is something they share with the bottom dwellers, so it appears to be a feature of the group rather than a function of the size of the whale shark as such. Whale sharks are the only pelagic members of that group, the order Orectolobiformes. Why such large cells, then? Our study didn't answer that question, but my best guess is that they have relatively low metabolism compared to the carcharhinids, which may need the high relative surface area of smaller red cells to improve the movement of oxygen in and out of cells. This is the first of several hypotheses that we can only begin to pose because of these first discovery-based efforts.
I can't tell you how excited I am that we can begin to share what we've been learning at the Aquarium. The chance to work with whale sharks is a real gift for a fish nerd like me, and the opportunity afforded by having access to them in the more controlled environment of an aquarium makes it possible to do safely and effectively research that has been prohibitively difficult with free-ranging whale sharks up to this point. Of course, the ultimate goal is to extend that work to compliment the field research, and I look forward to telling you more about that in future posts.
Brunnschweiler, J., Baensch, H., Pierce, S., & Sims, D. (2009). Deep-diving behaviour of a whale shark during long-distance movement in the western Indian Ocean. Journal of Fish Biology, 74 (3), 706-714 DOI: 10.1111/j.1095-8649.2008.02155.x
Castro, A., et al. (2007). Population genetic structure of Earth's largest fish, the whale shark ( )
Molecular Ecology, 16 (24), 5183-5192 DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-294X.2007.03597.x
Dove, A., Arnold, J., & Clauss, T. (2010). Blood cells and serum chemistry in the world’s largest fish: the whale shark Rhincodon typus Aquatic Biology, 9 (2), 177-183 DOI: 10.3354/ab00252
Monday, May 10, 2010
Morato, T., Hoyle, S., Allain, V., & Nicol, S. (2010). Seamounts are hotspots of pelagic biodiversity in the open ocean Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0910290107
Sunday, May 9, 2010
Other than their B-grade horror movie nature (The Blob – aiieeeeee!) and the formation process above, I confess not knowing much about tar balls, so I went to the literature to see what’s out there. The answer: not much. A Web of Science search for “(tar ball) or tarball” 1945-2010 gets you precisely 26 hits. Now that is interesting! I would have thought that there would be far more, given the attention that is focused on oil spills when they happen. Much of the research has focused on chemical fingerprinting to identify where a given tar ball originated. In other words, the presence and absence of certain chemicals in a tar ball can tell you what sort of oil the ball formed from, and pretty accurately too. This has allowed some other studies that have shown that you have to be careful about blaming all the tar balls on a beach on one spill; there’s often a pretty good background level of tar balls from previous spills and even natural sources of oily substances. This is especially so for really small tar balls in the mm size range.
So what’s the long-term prognosis on tar balls in the environment? It doesn’t look like that question has been thoroughly answered yet. Clearly they persist long after many more obvious signs of oil are gone. Its tempting to think that they may be largely inert, especially those that form a good crust on the outside that reduces stickiness and prevents chemical interactions with the outside. But really, it seems like there’s a lot more work that needs to be done to understand these curious byproducts of oil spill accidents.
Friday, May 7, 2010
Thursday, May 6, 2010
Some might argue that this stuff is visual pollution of a reef that should just be appreciated for the biological wonder that it is, but I couldn’t disagree more. Especially when the reef begins to claim the sculptures as its own, in time incorporating their forms into its structure and adding its own patina of life, like a painter stepping back from the canvas and daubing the final blobs of color here and there. By then, we and the reef will be one and the same, and that idea really resonates with me. Installation begins in June. I can’t wait to see it when I am down in Mexico this summer.
What do you think – art or pollution?
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
I'm on the docket to host CotB in December. In the meantime, you can visit its perpetual home here, and marvel at the munificent magnanimity of its creators, Jason Robertshaw and Mark Powell.
Crepidostomum cooperi - a digenean (fluke) parasite of fish
Nasitrema globicephalae - a digenean parasite of the sinuses of whales
Cyamus ovalis - isopod parasites often called "whale lice"
Maritrema novaezealandensis - an important model digenean from New Zealand mudflat animals
Polypodium hydriforme - a weird parasitic jellyfish relative that lives on sturgeon eggs, and:
Dolops sp., - a type of Branchiuran (related to crustaceans) parasitic on piranha
Monday, May 3, 2010
A. Chaetodon plebeius - blue-spot butterfly
B - Chaetodon ornatissimus - ornate butterfly
C - Chaetodon meyeri - Meyer's butterfly
D - Chaetodon lunula - Raccoon butterfly
E - Chaetodon austriacus - Blacktail butterfly
F - Parachaetodon ocellatus - Kite or six-spined butterfly
Now get on over to Round 13 and help Julie figure out what it is...
Sunday, May 2, 2010
A recent proposal to limit whaling has been rejected by Japan and Australia, for opposite reasons. Japan, which takes almost a thousand whales a year, mostly Minke, objects to the 400 annual quota, which steps down after 5 years to 200 for another 5 years. Australia, which has a long history of opposing whaling, says the proposal doesn't go far enough; they're basically looking for a zero tolerance whaling policy.
Honestly, much as I hate the idea of even a single whale dying in the name of the imaginary research that Japan uses to defend commercial whaling, I think the Aussies might be being a little hard nosed in this case. Lets say the proposal is rejected, then the Japanese continue to take a thousand whales a year - how is that better? The art of negotiation is compromise, and in my view its always better to accept steps in the right direction, even if you don't get everything you want. Its like selling a car: you advertise for 10 grand, hope for 9, expect 8 and accept 7. If you hold out for 10, you're going to be disappointed most of the time. Obstinacy doesn't help the cause.
In his vision for whaling, Peter Garret (Australia's environment minister) states that the right solution is to restructure the International Whaling Commission. That may be so, but in the 2 years that it might take to do that, you could have saved 1,200 whales if you accept the current proposal first, and then go after the recalcitrant nations through a restructured IWC with more teeth.
There's a key line in the Great Beyond post linked above, from IWC chair Cristian Maquieira: “I don't think anybody will be happy with the numbers." I often recognise that as the sign of a successful negotitation: a good outcome is not when everyone is happy, but when everyone is equally unhappy.
Concern is that the leak rate could get ten times worse; if the wellhead goes then the job of fixing it also gets an order of magnitude harder. The story sounds as though this is a distinct possibility. I don't know enough to judge, but it certainly sounds like bad ju-ju.