Join me in the cold, dark, life-sustaining NE Pacific Ocean to discover the great beauty, mystery and fragility hidden there.

Words by Which to Live . . . and Breathe?

The following photo, taken recently, catalyzed the following words.

How I hope they resound with you, and maybe even that they are of use to you.

Breathe, knowing others breathe too.

It has such importance, to live knowing we share air, share water, share economies, and share fates.

Decisions made by one have the potential to negatively or positively impact those standing within 2 metres, those on the other side of the planet, and/or those who are another species. Impacts rippling on from how we vote, to how we consume, to the words we put into the world. For words carry power as strong as viruses, seeding and spreading hatred, or empowering and healing with compassion and equality.

These are difficult times, but much is being unmasked and called out for what it is re. narcissism and presumed privilege, racism and misogyny, economic disparity and how it rocks the foundations of the systems we all depend on, and in disconnect from Nature and the species we share the planet with.

Power to you all who, step-by-step, word-for-word, put good into the world, working for equality, connection and health (in its full sense – physical / mental / social / environmental).

Words by which to live and . . . breathe. 💙


Photos: Mature male Steller Sea Lion exhaling at the surface.
©Jackie Hildering
August 31, 2020 NE Vancouver Island

#SharedAir
#OceanVoice

 

Breath-Taking Beauty . . . Orca Resting Lines

Of all the Orca behaviours I have been privileged to see, it is when they are in “resting lines” that I most transported into awe. It makes so clear how socially bonded the whales are and how coordinated their behaviours can be.

Northern Residents the A12s in a resting line in 2007.

Science has determined that toothed whales like Orca do not sleep but only “rest”, shutting off one half of their brains at a time (scientifically known as “unihemispheric sleep”). They have to maintain this level of brain activity since they are voluntary breathers and must therefore consciously come to the surface to inhale and exhale.

Occasionally, Orca rest alone. They then float on the surface, motionless, blowhole exposed, “logging” for only a few minutes.

Far more often the Orca rest together, uniting in these very tight groups, fin to fin. This can happen at any time of day and I have witnessed resting line behaviour for up to 8 hours.

Northern Residents the A34s (A12s daughter and offspring) resting in 2017.


Once in resting line formation, the whales are usually silent (although there are a couple of matrilines that do occasionally vocalize) and move slowly forward, undertaking a remarkably synchronous and regular dive pattern. They often take short, shallow dives for around 2 minutes and then they all take a longer dive. When they resurface, their breaths are incredibly coordinated and their dorsal fins often line up perfectly.They are of course particularly susceptible to disturbance by boats when they are resting – both due to sound and proximity. 

“We are one” the behaviour seems to display and I certainly believe that this resting is also of great social and cultural importance to Orca.

At its most simple level though, a resting line of Orca is truly  . . . breath-taking beauty.


Photos below = resting line of members of the D, C, A5 and I15 matrilines in August 2020. All photos taken with a telephoto lens. 

 

 

Fish Have Homes!

This week, I found back the same Tiger Rockfish in the same spot after eight years.

 

Yes, on top of cataloguing Humpback Whales, I catalogue Tiger Rockfish. I can’t stop myself.

There’s so much that may be learned when you can recognize animals as individuals. There is more conservation value too when people realize that even individual fish have homes.

The markings in this species of rockfish are so distinct that it is easy to recognize them as individuals IF they are not tucked away deep in a crack which is often their way. See below to compare the markings of this mature female to two other individuals for whom I also have repeat sightings at this location.  I will clearly have to hand off this cataloguing to a younger biologist since these fish are likely to outlive me. They are known to be able to live to age 116.

I was already very excited when I found back this individual after 6 years. Now I can show that this fish was documented in the exact same location after least 8 years. This shows how strong the site fidelity is and why Rockfish Conservation Areas can have such success. Please read more on Rockfish Conservation Areas, barotrauma and rockfish reproduction in my previous blog at this link.

Tiger Rockfish = Sebastes nigrocinctus to 61 cm (35 cm by 17 years of age).


Below, pages from my Tiger Rockfish ID catalogue for this site.

The fish above is “Tiger Rockfish 1”. Note how distinct the markings are and how easy it is to recognize these individuals. I will end up nicknaming these fish for distinctive features as we do with the Humpback Whales. Suggestions are very welcome but for DISTINCTIVE features  i.e. not names like “Stripy. 😉 Update: Tiger Rockfish #1 is now “Papillon” for the bowtie like marking on the right side of her head.

 



The A23s – the Story of One Whale Family

[This blog was originally published on January 15th, 2016. Republishing now as a result of having seen this family yesterday.]

A43 "Ripple" of the A23 matriline. @2015 Jackie Hildering.

A43 “Ripple” of the A23s, August 22, 2015. @Jackie Hildering.

The A23 matriline of Northern Resident Killer Whales / Orca has been seen by thousands and thousands of people.

They are one of the families that most often chase salmon in the Johnstone Strait area (NE Vancouver Island) and therefore, have been observed and photographed by so many whale watchers and have been studied by researchers since the early 1970s.

They are also featured in the documentary “Realm of the Killer Whales” for which the PBS film crew, under special permit in 1997, was able to get remarkable footage of the A23s beach-rubbing in the Robson Bight (Michael Bigg) Ecological Reserve (see this link for underwater footage of beach-rubbing – as of timestamp 48:15).

A23 Matriline Quick Facts
Members of the N. Resident population; ~302 whales (end 2018); threatened population.
– “Residents” do not stay in one area; they are inshore fish-eating Killer Whales / Orca. Prefer salmon, especially Chinook. They often share their catches. 
– They stay with mother, siblings and offspring their whole lives.
– Mating can happen when different N. Resident matrilines come together but, ultimately, males leave with their family and females leave with theirs.
– Each matriline sounds different; aiding in determining degree of relatedness and avoiding inbreeding.
– Only the N. Residents (and a few families of resident type Orca in Alaska) have the culture of rubbing on smooth, stone beaches. Click here for more.
– In BC there are also S. Resident Killer Whales (endangered); and mammal-eating and offshore fish-eating populations (both threatened).
– Only the N. Residents have the culture of rubbing on smooth, stone beaches. Click here for more.
– See this link for more on the kinds of Killer Whale populations in BC.

So many human eyes have been cast upon them, but so few of us are aware of what this family has endured. This is the story of the A23s, and what one Killer Whale family’s history reveals about us.

Knowledge about the A23 matriline goes back to at least 1969 when we did not even know that there are different populations of Killer Whales with distinct culture. We also sure didn’t have knowledge of their intelligence, long-lived family bonds, and limited numbers (all Killer Whale populations in BC are at risk).

Here’s some sample text from around 1969 that gives a sense of who we were at the time:

  • From “Killer Whale!“, the 1963 book by Joseph J. Cook and William J. Wisner:
    • . . . the fiercest, most terrifying animal in all the world  . . . capable of attacking anything that swims, no matter how large. They are afraid of nothing, not even boats or ships.”
    • “The killer whale is well designed for a career of destruction and mayhem”.
    • “How different the orca, which seems to be filled with a burning hatred. Nothing that lives or moves in the water is safe from its assaults. It’s size, power, speed, agility and disposition have made this black monster feared wherever it is known.
  • And from 1973 US Navy diving manuals:
    • Killer Whales are “extremely ferocious” 
and will “attack human beings at every opportunity”.

Extremely ferocious? Terrifying? Monster? Designed for a career of destruction and mayhem?

Please see below for my summary of what the A23s are known to have endured since 1969 (based largely on the longterm population study by DFO’s Cetacean Research Program).

A23s story of one family www.TheMarineDetective.com

Summary of the known history of the A23 matriline. Click to enlarge.

Note that at least three family members were hunted down and captured; one is still in captivity (poor Corky’s been there since December 1969!); and two or three have been hit by boats. Further, it is very likely that family members were shot at and possibly killed but that this has not been documented because the late Dr. Michael Bigg only began his revolutionary work to study Killer Whales as individuals in 1973. It is not known how A27, A29 or A63 died.

Oh Corky! The longest surviving Killer Whale in captivity.
–  On December 11th, 1969 A23 “Stripe” and her calves, A21 and A16 “Corky”, were among 12 whales captured at Pender Harbour, BC. Six were released including A23 and A21 and six were retained to be sold to aquariums – this included “Corky”, desirable as a young female who might give birth in captivity.
– In 1977, she indeed was the first to conceive and give birth in captivity. She has been pregnant 7 times but none of her calves survived beyond 46 days.
– Corky is still in captivity today in San Diego.
– Read more about Corky from OrcaLab at this link (click “Corky Campaign” and then “Corky’s Story”).

There is a firsthand account of the 1973 ferry accident, which most likely involved A21, that provides insight into the bonds between Killer Whales. It is from Killer Whales  – The Natural History & Genealogy of Orcinus orca in British Columbia & Washington State by Dr. John Ford, Graeme Ellis and Kenneth Balcomb (1997): “The following is an account of a collision between a ship and a killer whale that demonstrates the persistence of the whales in helping one of their pod mates. It is drawn from a letter written by Captain D. Manuel of the M/V Comox Queen . . . the ship was en route from Comox to Powell River on 26 December 1973:   . . . .  It was a very sad scene to see. The cow and the bull cradled the injured calf between them to prevent it from turning upside-down. Occasionally the bull would lose its position and the calf would roll over on its side. When this occurred the slashes caused by our propellor were quite visible. The bull, when this happened, would make a tight circle, submerge, and rise slowly beside the calf, righting it . . . While this was going on the other calf stayed right behind the injured one . . . It appears the young whale did live for at least fifteen days. We later received a report from a resident of Powell River, who, on 10 January 1974, observed “two whales supporting a third one, preventing it from turning over.”

In having the great privilege of often seeing Killer Whales in the wild, it is so powerful to recognize a family like the A23s and be aware of what they have endured. Granted, some tragedy was accidental, but so much was the result of our ignorance and vilification.

Click here for the new (2020) Northern Resident Catalogue.

But the story of the A23s also provides insight into how we have changed, now that knowledge has replaced fear and the fallacy of the “educational value” of Killer Whales being in captivity has been exposed as desire for commercial gain.

We’ve come a long way. As an indicator of this, on December 11th, 1969, members of the A23 matriline were being pursued and captured for captivity. Forty-six years later (January 14th, 2016), in the wilds of Johnstone Strait, the A23s (and A25s) were being studied by Jared Towers of the DFO Cetacean Research Program. Continuing the work pioneered by Dr. Bigg, he photo-documented them, took note of how the vessel-strike scars were healing (see photos below), and collected prey samples so that winter diet may be better understood.

A23s on November 9th, 2015. Photo: Jackie Hildering.

A23s on November 9th, 2015. Photo: Jackie Hildering.

The Killer Whales of British Columbia have been studied as individuals in this way longer than any other marine mammal. The knowledge gained has led to where we are now. For the most part, there is no social license/tolerance for Killer Whales being in captivity. There is federal legislation aimed at the protection of BC’s Killer Whale populations and their habitat. They are not to be disturbed as per the Marine Mammal Regulations and further measures, and there is global interest in them with evidence of this including the contribution whale watching makes to BC’s economy.

Now, the dominant perceptions are that Killer Whales are iconic; powerful symbols of all that is wild and free; and that it is remarkable, considering our complicated history with them, that there has never been a documented attack by a Killer Whale on a human in the wild. Many of us would agree that the descriptors “ferocious”, “terrifying”, “monster” and “designed for a career of destruction and mayhem” are better applied to humans than Killer Whales when we act with ignorance, greed, and disconnect from nature.

What story will the next 46 years tell – about us, about them?

I am so hopeful that we will better understand how our use of contaminants and fossil fuels impacts them, and the rest the marine ecosystem upon which human health also depends.

Thereby, there will be more positive stories for our future generations – and future generations of the A23 matriline.

 

A23 and A25 matrilines in Johnstone Strait, January 14, 2016. ©Jared Towers, DFO Cetacean Research Program.

A23 and A25 matrilines were in Johnstone Strait, January 13 and 14, 2016. Photo from August 26, 2015. From front to back: A60, A69, A109, A43, A61. Photo: Jared Towers, DFO Cetacean Research Program; taken with telephoto lens under research permit.

 

A60 vessel strike scarring

 

A95 vessel strike scars

 

 

 

Five Fish

Five fish. One Dive.

Here are just five fabulous fish faces from my dive on July 12. These are just the fish who tolerated my taking photos. I am sharing with you to add to the sense of biodiversity hidden in these waters.

Also, I really value what I feel is mirrored back from these fish . . . the “What the hell are YOU and what are you doing here?” It’s good to feel like a visitor in others’ habitat rather than than a human at the epicentre of the universe. It’s below the waves, with the fish, that I best know my place and where I best feel humility. I also feel apology, not just for the disturbance of taking photos but as an ambassador for my species.

Sometimes I think as I look at the life below the surface “I’m trying. Please know, I’m trying”.

Thank you for caring and for trying too.

[Please note that I did not realize when compiling these photos that I have a blog on every species represented here. I suggest that the most insight would be gained from reading this blog first and then accessing the further links I provide here showing video, etc.]


Fish #1
Male Kelp Greenling with a Striped Sunflower Star to his right.

 

This species seems to so often be chasing one another and they have extraordinary courtship where the males change colour. Males will guard the fertilized eggs.

Video of the courtship is in my blog “Kelp Greenling Colour and Courtship” at this link.

Photo above is another perspective on the same fish. Note that the bright orange life you see here are animals, not plants. They are Orange Hydroids. The soft coral beside the Kelp Greenling’s head is Red Soft Coral.


Fish #2
Quillback Rockfish

Quillbacks, like so many of BC’s 34 rockfish species, have been over-exploited.

Rockfish are slow to mature, and are very localized in where they live. Therefore, they are particularly vulnerable to overfishing.

As divers, we’ve seen how Rockfish Conservation Areas can make a real difference for the number, diversity and size of rockfish.

There is no egg-guarding in this species because the young develop inside the females and are born into the water i.e. they are viviparous.

Please see my previous blog “Rockfish Barotrauma” at this link on the importance of Rockfish Conservation Areas and also on how to reverse what happens to rockfish when they are brought up from depth i.e. how to easily reverse barotrauma.

Quillback Rockfish = Sebastes maliger to 61 cm.


Fish Face #3
Lingcod

Lingcod males also guard the fertilized eggs. They are extraordinary large masses that look like Styrofoam. We survey for the egg masses each year to get a sense of potential recovery since this species was overexploited. It’s believed the same males guard eggs in the same spot year upon year. This again helps understanding of how many fish have homes whereby fishing intensely in one area can lead easily to overexploitation. My blog “Fastidious, Fanged Fathers” at this link shows the egg masses with information on Ocean Wise’s Lingcod Egg Mass Survey. 

Lingcod = Ophiodon elongatus, females larger, to 1.5 m.


Fish Face #4
Buffalo Sculpin

Yes, this is a fish, not a rock with eyes.

There is so little understanding about how species like this can change their colour as they do.

It won’t surprise you that the most research is done on “commercially important” species with regards to stock management. Males also guard the fertilized eggs in this species.  See my blog “Buffalos Mating Underwater” at this link for photos showing the diversity of colour / camouflage and for photos of the eggs.

Buffalo Sculpin = Enophrys bison to 37 cm long.


Fish #5
Red Irish Lord

 

I must have disturbed this Red Irish Lord with my bubbles for him/ her to be easily visible like this. They are usually fully camouflaged.

Note the shell the Red Irish Lord is on. This is a Giant Rock Scallop whose shell has been drilled into by Boring Sponge. Astounding isn’t it to think that Giant Rock Scallops (Crassadoma gigantea to 25 cm across) start off as plankton; are free-swimming to ~2.5 cm; and then attach to the bottom with their right side and can grow to 25 cm. They may live as long as 50 years but there have been problems with human over-harvesting.

Red Irish Lord parents take turns caring for their fertilized eggs (Hemilepidotus hemilepidotus; up to 51 cm).

Please see my blog “In the Eye of the Lord – the Red Irish Lord That Is” at this link. 

Lingcod = Hemilepidotus hemilepidotus, to 51 cm long. 

And the final photo and thoughts for you dear reader:

Same Red Irish Lord as in the photo above.

 

Under the canopy, beams of light shimmering through as they would in a forest of trees, bringing energy to the algae which feed the depths. This is all at only 5m depth. This is life you could imagine when you close your eyes and think of the dark sea off our coast. This is the world where Humpbacks feed, where families of Orca follow the same lineages of Chinook Salmon generation after generation, where species exist without our knowledge let alone our respect. This is their world. This is the world to which all life on earth is connected.

Five fish. One dive. A world connected.

What on Earth is “Alternation of Generations”?

Bull Kelp forest, July 4, 2020 near Telegraph Cove.

Have you ever wondered how it can be that Bull Kelp forests largely die off in the winter but then reappear in the spring?

Have you ever wondered about the light patches in the fronds of Bull Kelp as seen in the three images below?

I hope that’s enough of a hook for you to want to know more about the remarkable reproduction of most algae / seaweeds (and ferns and mosses).

Their reproduction involves two versions of the same species. The parent generation looks nothing like their offspring but DOES look like their great-offspring’s generation i.e. there is alternation of generations.

Those light patches are spore packets in the fronds of Bull Kelp!  They drop to the bottom of the ocean, release spores which create a completely different, very tiny version of Bull Kelp (asexually) which then makes the big, long version of Bull Kelp (sexually).

Below you have my attempt at further explaining this aided by a really good graphic.

And for the super science nerds (I see you), more detail from Wernberg et al regarding reproduction in kelp forests: “Recruitment involves multiple microscopic stages (i.e. gametophytes and juvenile sporophytes). Because the sperm has to find an egg, male and female gametophytes must settle in close proximity at densities of ca. 1 square millimetre in order to secure fertilization (Reed, 1990). Gametophytes and microscopic sporophytes can persist in the kelp forest understory for weeks to months, where they serve as a ‘seedbank’ (Hoffman & Santelices, 1991). Microscopic sporophytes start growing once stimulated by high light (Reed & Foster, 1984) .  . . Recruitment into the adult population takes anywhere from a few months to 2-3 years depending on the species and local conditions (Pedersen et al, 2012, Teed, 1990). Most juvenile plants succumb to predation, stress, or self-thinning within the first year, but some individuals can remain viable for years without growing (Sjotun, Christie, & Helge Fossa, 2006) until space and light become available.” 

And you thought  your sex life was complicated! 🙂

Note that of the giant kelp species found off our coast from California to Alaska, Bull Kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana) is an annual whereby most sporophytes die off every year. Giant Kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) is perennial whereby the sporophyte does not die off at the end of the growing season.

If you have read to this point, congratulations! You are amongst the few humans who may have a good comprehension of alternation and generations. You know what is in the photo below.

Spore packet in the frond of Bull Kelp that washed up on the beach. It always makes me smile to see them while diving, knowing that they will make the forest grow anew. 

You also know how it can be that Bull Kelp forests reappear in the spring. There were never really gone. The species was there all along, but just in a different version  / generation.

With regard to growth rate, the stipe (stem-like structure) of Bull Kelp can grow up to a maximum height of 36 m. The stipe would have to grow an average of 17 cm a day to reach this length in the 210-day growing period (Druel).  If you include the growth of the fronds (the leaf-like structures), the maximum growth rate has been documented to be at least 25 cm per day (Duncan). Giant Kelp grows even faster and bigger = up to 30.5 cm at day to heights of 53.4 m.

Do know that there is concern about diminishing kelp forests due to impacts of changing ocean conditions  / climate change  / Sea Star Wasting Syndrome. Some sea star species are recovering but the Sunflower Star is not whereby there are more of their prey, including urchins which graze on kelp forests.

Sporophyte of Bull Kelp photographed yesterday. It’s the time of year when the Ocean is all the more soupy with life. It means that the more typical photos of beautiful kelp forests are difficult to obtain because the water is thick with gametes, phytoplankton, larvae and other zooplankton. Bu this is the time of year that the kelp forests are at maximum productivity – as habitat, food, oxygen producers and carbon dioxide absorbers. When it is colder, there is better visibility because there is less sunlight for phytoplankton growth and reduced cues for reproduction of marine invertebrates.


Sources: 

More good sources to understand alternation of generations:

Red and White

Some red and white for you on Canada Day.

 

May we celebrate all that is wild, good and free.

May we truly know the privilege of it all.

May we be the neighbours and stewards who are as open-eyed and open-hearted as this land is large.


Photo: Two Rose Anemones touching, different colours, same species.
Aka Fish-Eating Anemone, Urticina piscivora to 30 cm across.

A Lone Giant

[If you are coming here from Instagram, please see this link for background on Sea Star Wasting and where to report sightings.]


Endangered? I gasped when I saw this adult Sunflower Star on my last dive and hung nearby for a little while. I found myself thinking in a way that could be interpreted as prayer.

Did you realize Sunflower Stars are now so rare – these giants that should be abundant on the coast from Alaska to Mexico?

 

Endangered? Many of us who have been monitoring Sea Star Wasting Disease since 2013 certainly think so and there is a campaign in Washington State to have them recognized as such.

There has been such misunderstanding and “ocean blindness” about what has been going on. Even reputable news outlets have put into the world information about the Disease that speaks of sea stars as if they were one species and hence, if some sea stars are sighted, well then everything is fine.

It’s not fine. At least 20 species of sea star have been impacted by Sea Star Wasting Disease. Some are recovering well but . . . this the world’s largest sea star species, the Sunflower Star, Pycnopodia helianthoides, is NOT.

We sometimes see waves of juveniles, maybe resulting from more adults being at depth who are close together enough that when they broadcast spawn,  fertilization results (broadcast spawning is when males and females release their sex cells into the water on cue). But, ultimately these juveniles disappear.

Sea Star Wasting Disease (SSWD) is the largest wildlife die off in recorded history. That be truth. But because it is happening below the surface there is less engagement, funding, and knowledge.

Does it matter? Yes, it matters a lot, ecologically and with regard to what the Disease may teach us.

Sunflower Stars have a similar ecological niche to Sea Otters re. grazing on urchins and maintaining kelp forests (see video below). You know that if Sea Otters were dying en masse we would certainly be engaged, invest in research, and want knowledge.

A close-up of the same individual.

What is the cause? Specifically for Sunflower Stars, it is known that there is a virus that has been around for more than 70 years that, since 2013, is having an unprecedented impact .

Why would a virus that is not new be able to have a greater impact? Due to stressors and yes, these are believed to be related to climate change.

To those wonderfully engaged humans who have read all of this, please know this is not an additional problem that requires novel solutions. You are the last people who I wish to burden, you who care as you do. The plight of Sunflower Stars is a symptom of what is the same set of problems re. short term economies, absence of precaution, fossil fuel use, and consumerism.

Reporting sightings? I have reported the sighting of this lone, adult Sunflower Star to add to the knowledge of the impacts of SSWD. Citizen science is so important to understanding. Further information on the Disease and where to report sightings of sea stars can be in my blog at this link. 

And to you dear Sunflower Star,
May you find another of your kind for the sake of biodiversity, ecology, human learning and understanding, and so that your species will not disappear from children’s drawings of life on our coast.

May it not be that we continue on a path where Sunflower Stars slip away from our memories, or that we end up talking to children about “There used to be these giant, colourful sea stars . . .”

💙

 

Sighting was made on June 15th, near Port McNeill.

Video below re. Sea Star Wasting Disease and ecological impacts.

 

How to Love the Ocean – Daily Actions for Future Generations

Here’s a whole lot of information, and entertainment, about ocean education.

First, it’s the video of my presentation “Ocean Wonders” provided on Oceans Day 2020.


The text below is supporting material to motivate and enable Ocean Education, especially for children.

It includes:
Ocean Inspiration (why it is so important to teach about the ocean)
Action for the Ocean (detail on the many ways we can reduce impacts); and
Guidelines for Beach Walks.

For my “Find the Fish” challenges, also provided for Oceans Day, please click here. 


Now, to further get in the mood, please view my brief slideshow below (and forgive the “breathe” typo).

 

Ocean Inspiration

Why is it so important to educate and help others love the ocean?

Chances are that if you have the interest and motivation to read this, you already have that knowledge. May the following then provide you with affirmed purpose and inspiration.

The ocean is the life-sustaining force on the planet. It is where life began. The ocean’s algae produce at least 50% of the world’s oxygen, buffering carbon dioxide in the process. As water cycles around, over 90% at any time is ocean. The ocean is the largest surface on earth, whereby it has a significant impact on climate regulation. The ocean is also a source of food, energy, inspiration, transportation, and healing.

 

Human psychology so often puts a divide between land and sea. There is not enough understanding that life on land cannot survive without the ocean, no matter how far you are from her shores. As a result of this perceived divide, assaults upon the ocean include persistent organic pollutants, agricultural runoff, warming and ocean acidification, disease organisms, and plastics and further marine debris. Consequently, the ocean so often testifies to socio-environmental problems first.

This “ocean blindness” is especially true of the perception of dark oceans where the rich plankton soup means we cannot see the marine life easily. Thereby, many of us form biases to thinking there is more life in warmer waters with less plankton. This is exactly backwards. Less plankton means there is less food at the bottom of the food web. Thereby, if you can easily see through water, there is less life in it.

This bias and blindness is exacerbated because, so often, the imagery we are fed in everything from documentaries, to children’s books and movies, is of life in warmer seas. If we do not know how extraordinary our marine neighbours are, and how important the ocean is, how can we be the teachers, parents and voters we need to be?

By helping others love the ocean, you are not only helping marine life, you are helping the future of our own species as well.

Power to you.

 


Ocean Action 

First there’s a summary. Then, there’s depth.

SUMMARY
1. Learn about the ocean. Enjoy the ocean.
It is especially important to learn about species that live closest. No matter how far away the ocean is, we are connected to the life there through the cycling of water.

2. Care, knowing how important the ocean is to life on land and how amazing our marine neighbours are. We need to be especially careful because we still know so little about life in the ocean which means we could make big mistakes.

3. Use less because it helps so many. By making sure there is less garbage (includes less disposables and less consumerism) and less bad chemicals, there is less pollution in the ocean AND on land. By saving energy and helping use less oil and gas (fossil fuels), there is less change in temperature and climate. By using less water, less chemicals are added to it at the sewage treatment plant.

4. Teach and share
with others about the importance of the Ocean and how easy it is to do good things that help the ocean AND ourselves.

 

MORE DEPTH

1. No Problems Without Solutions
Yes, it is important for students to know of environmental problems. But, there is the potential of creating overwhelm, fear / paralysis, disconnect and the perception that nature and/or the ocean is sick. It is vital to ensure that solutions are provided; that those doing the teaching are modelling those solutions; and that the common denominators between socio-environmental problems are made clear i.e. most problems have the same causes whereby there are the same solutions. Examples are the connection between Sea Star Wasting Disease in Sunflower Stars and warming seas; over-harvesting being related to inequality in the world and the lack of precaution in favour of short-term economic gain; and plastic pollution being the result of consumerism, overuse of disposables, and disconnect with the environment.

 

2. Connect / Learn / Respect
No matter how far you are from the ocean, you can connect to the ocean. I emphasize again the value of prioritizing learning about the most local ocean (and species) so that the biases and blindness I referenced above are not exacerbated. For example, turtles are amazing and engaging but what is most valuable for Canadians is connecting to the Leatherback Turtles that belong off both Canada’s east and west coasts.

Understanding of the water cycle is such an effective way to connect to the ocean from any distance i.e. the ocean is on top of mountains as snow, it flows through rivers and groundwater, and it comes out of the tap. Therefore it is impacted by what we do to water even when far away from the ocean. Including sewage treatment in the water cycle is of great value.

I find it helps to reference local marine life as “neighbours” as this suggests that we live together and are connected. Beach walks, if possible, certainly aid this if conducted as a study and with respect. Please see my  guidelines for good beach walk practices below.

It is so valuable too to teach from a perspective of adaptations, allowing students to deduce why species look the way they do, live where they do, and/or behave as they do. This allows for the understanding that nature is not “random” but that organisms are connected, evolved, and have fulfilled niches to fit into the puzzle of life.

Please, do not limit learning to the species at the surface i.e. the charismatic marine megafauna like whales. To understand why there are these big animals, requires an understanding and valuing of the biodiversity and interconnectedness below the surface.

Please too do not encumber yourself with feeling you need to know a lot about marine species in order to aid love and action for the ocean. By not knowing, you give even more space for students to form connections and hypotheses about adaptations, and to own their knowledge. One of the most vital things in loving and learning about the ocean, is to emphasize how little is known about life in the ocean and, therefore, that it is essential to have the appropriate humility and precaution in how we “manage” the ocean.

 

3. Reduce
This is the single most important solution to reducing socio-environmental problems, including impacts to the ocean.

So many students believe that recycling is the best thing they can do (and our consumer paradigm of course favours this). It shows, in part, that understanding has been lost that the three “Rs” are a hierarchy. By far the most important is to REDUCE. Next is to re-use. And if reducing and reusing are not  possible, then  . . . recycle.

Reduce what?

It is very important to approach this from the perspective that reducing is not about loss, but about gain and that the following are also the solutions for so many other problems.

Reduce the use of harmful chemicals that can flow or condense into the ocean. Which chemicals are bad? The easiest with younger students it to show the skull and crossbones on the label of products like bleach. Older students have curriculum content about pesticides and other persistent organic pollutants. It is valuable of course to discuss how the human-made bad chemicals are not essential and/or that there are alternatives that are not harmful.

Reduce fossil fuel use because of the impacts on climate change. The ideal is to enable students to think in terms of carbon footprint and, thereby, to know how many ways we are empowered to reduce fossil fuel use in our every day actions and how smart and innovative we become when we care more.

Never too young to learn about animals as individuals.

Reduce waste. This goes far beyond beach clean-ups. Understanding is needed of why there is so much garbage and how easily this can be solved when we learn and care. This includes using durable and reusable things, not buying so much, being aware of how much packaging things have and, here’s the BIGGY, to understand the difference between biodegradable and non-biodegradable. If something cannot rot away there is no “away”.  It cannot be  flushed “away” or thrown “away”. Non-biodegradable chemicals enter the water and food webs. Plastics that cannot rot will entangle, or get mistakenly eaten by animals, and/or break down into smaller pieces that enter the food web.

 

4. Empower

Sharing good news stories, especially of innovative and ethical thinking and technologies that create positive change, allows students to know about human social evolution, that we learn from our mistakes, and make huge steps forward when empowered with knowledge and caring. It will help make them feel there is space in the world for their ideas and that every generation learns from the ones before. It is tricky though to ensure that hope and human ingenuity are not perceived as exit strategies.

Empowerment too means providing students with the opportunity to participate in decision-making and respectful dialogue about practices and decisions made at home and at school. It will involve discussions about ethics and how we cannot be perfect. We have to use resources and make some garbage but can make decisions that reduce impacts. It invites critical thinking. It can lead to learning about who and what we support with our money and effort is like voting, and the importance of that.

Again, power to you. 💙

Below is my presentation on Ocean Wonders.

 

 


Black Prickleback father guarding eggs. Were he to be moved by those who think he does not have enough water, the eggs would be eaten by predators.

 


Good Beach Walk Practices Include: 

No Taking and No Touching (with exceptions)

There are exceptions when you know for sure a species is hearty or truly in trouble. Hearty species like sea stars can gently be touched with one’s pinky. By using your little finger, you can’t apply much pressure and this very act instills greater understanding and respect in children for the life they are visiting and learning from. It is also the case, that what is one our hands, may not benefit other animals. I am sure there is heightened awareness of transmission of pathogens in  our current COVID world

Collecting animals does not model respect (e.g. Shore Crabs). Even taking shells does not allow for the understanding that there are animals that will use these (e.g. hermit crab species) and that, as the shell breaks down, nutrients are returning to the Ocean. There are exceptions here too where a few “treasures” (non living) can be taken for further study.

Moving animals, even with the best of intentions, can lead to unintended consequences like displacing fish fathers from the eggs they were guarding. There are fish species that are very well-adapted to surviving with little water at low tide.

Another exception is, of course, that you DO want to remove garbage that you are sure IS garbage and that has not become habitat (has life living on it).

 

Another  fabulous example of where the well-intentioned are not helping. These are not garbage. They are moonsnail egg collars. They are wondrous constructions to house and protect moonsnail embryos. There’s more information about them at the end of this blog.

Rock Rules
Only lift rocks that you do not need to pivot and that you can put back very carefully. If you pivot big rocks, animals will rush to hide at the leverage point and will be crushed when you lower the rock.

A good rule is to only lift rocks smaller than your head, and that clearly have space under them (this means there are likely to be animals there and that you can better return the rock to its position). I have found it really helps to explain to children why life under a rock lives there and not on top of a rock (i.e. teaching about habitat). Children seem to understand well that lifting a rock is like lifting the roof off a human’s house.

 

Walk Carefully
This is not only for human safety but seaweed and Eelgrass are habitat to so many animals.
Barnacles too are living animals.

 

No Squealing and No YUCK!
This is negative and can perpetuate a physical reaction of disconnect and disrespect for the natural world. It is “rejection” and judgement of another organism being “wrong” rather than understanding the perfection of adaptations and evolution. Beach walks are about visiting organisms in their habitat and the gift of being able to learn that everything is the way it is for a reason. I find it helps to let children know, when about to lift a rock, that we are disrupting animals in their home so that we can learn and that, of course, the animals are going to be startled i.e. so they anticipate the potential of things like fish flopping about.


YES to pictures, learning and contributing to knowledge. 💙

 


Below, an exception to the rule. This Gumboot Chiton was upside down and could not have righted itself. They are tough organisms and provided a wonderful opportunity for students to feel how this is a living animal that responded to their gentle touch.


More about Moonsnail Egg Collars
Yes, I really have to do a blog on moonsnails but for now:

The female moonsnail forms one layer of the egg collar by gluing together sand grains with mucus; then the fertilized eggs are laid on this layer and THEN she seals them in with another layer of sand and mucus! The female forms the collar under the sand and then forces it above the sand when done. The 1000s of eggs develop in the the sand-mucus matrix. The process of making the egg collar takes 10 to 14 hours (and reportedly starts at the beginning of a flood tide). As long as conditions are good, the egg collars found on beaches are likely to have embryos developing inside them (if they are still rubbery and moist).

When the egg collar is intact like those in the photo above, the young have NOT hatched out. The collar disintegrates when the larvae hatch. The larvae are plankton for 4 to 5 weeks and then settle to the ocean bottom to develop further.

There is contradictory information on how long it takes the eggs to hatch (one reliable source relays about 1 week while another reports up to 1.5 months).

The moonsnail species in the photo above is a Lewis’ Moonsnail whose shell can be up to 14 cm wide (referenced too as the Northern Moonsnail).


Related posts: 

Find the Fish for Oceans Day 2020 (student activity)
More of my blog items on Ocean Inspiration and the importance of the Ocean.

Rose Star – No Two Alike

One species. So many colours.

That’s beauty. That’s biology.

 

Rose Stars have such diversity in colour and pattern, that the species is also known as the “Snowflake Star”; a name suggesting that no two are alike.

Am I trying to make some sort of point as it applies much more broadly? Why, whatever would make you think that? 😉

Surely we humans rejoice in the beauty of diversity?

 

Notice that above this Rose Star, there is another local, marine ambassador for diversity of colour within a species.See the Blue-Line Chiton (Tonicella undocaerulea)?

Please see additional photos (and slideshow) below to get a further sense of the diversity, the beauty, and the perfection.

Species information:

  • Crossaster papposus to 34 cm but in British Columbia the maximum size is believed to be 17 cm.
  • They can live to at least age 20. Species is slow growing. Maximum size is reached around age 10.
  • Even the number of arms varies. Most Rose Stars have 11 arms but number ranges from 8 to 16. From personal communication with zoologist Neil McDaniel: ” I did counts of 63 images I had on file [all from British  Columbia’ and nearly 90% (87%) had 11 arms, about 10% had 10 and 3% had 12.”
  • They are SPEEDY! Zoologist Neil McDaniel clocked them at 50 cm/min. Larger individuals were documented to travel over 5 meters in 12 hours. They are speedy because they are serious predators.
  • Diet is known to include sea pens, nudibranchs, bryozoans, bivalves (e.g. clams), juvenile urchins and tunicates. Their diet is likely broader than this as they are not picky eaters. I often see them in rocky habitats covered by coralline algae species (see photo below) and believe that is, at least in part, because the prey there include Orange Social Tunicates. They are one of the few species of sea star known to feed on nudibranchs.
  • How they feed: When they feel their prey, and are hungry, they retract their sensory tube feet (tube feet at the tips of their arms), and then stretch up on their tippy toes (extending their terminal tube feet) to be higher and able to “pounce” on their prey when on the ocean bottom. Smaller prey are swallowed whole. Larger prey are held with the tube feet and, as is the case with other sea star species too, they evert their stomach OUT OF THEIR BODIES and into or over their prey.
  • Research supports that Rose Stars can sense potential prey and other sea stars by smell (distance chemoreception).
  • In the photos below you will also see the intricacy of the surface of sea stars. You will see:
    • Spines
    • Pedicellaria = amazing little structures that can nip off the tube feet of other species of sea star e.g. the predatory Morning Sun Star (Solaster dawsoni).
    • The tufts are “papulae”. They are the gills / respiratory organs of the sea star. They can retract into the surface of the sea star’s body.
  • Range: Bering Sea to Puget Sound; Arctic Ocean, North Atlantic Ocean, North Sea, western Baltic Sea.
  • Depth: Found from the shallows of the intertidal to ~1,200 m. Believed to more often be in low current areas.
  • I saw little impact on this species from Sea Star Wasting Disease around NE Vancouver Island BUT Rose Stars were hit very badly in 2014 in other areas e.g. Sechelt Inlet, British Columbia (McDaniel, pers. comm.). See photo at the end of the blog. The species seems to be rebounding, unlikely Sunflower Stars which remain devastated across their range. [Note: this information has been updated from a previous version of this blog.]

 

 

 

Rose Star and retracted Orange Zoanthids. Some are likely being snacked upon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Very typical habitat for where I find Rose Stars. I believe their prey on these coralline algae covered rocks include the small orange animals you see = Orange Social Tunicates. Notice too that there is another Blue-Line Chiton. 

The next 3 images are of the same individual.

 

Slideshow:

Sources: 

One of many Rose Star ravaged by Sea Star Wasting Disease near Sechelt, British Columbia.
Photo ©Neil McDaniel.
See Neil’s information about SSWD at this link.