The Blog Aquatic » ocean life News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Tue, 12 Aug 2014 18:48:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Underwater Astonishments…and Why We Must Preserve Them Wed, 05 Jun 2013 15:56:51 +0000 Andreas Merkl

This video of oceanographer David Gallo‘s TEDTalk ‘Underwater Astonishments‘ highlights some of the most amazing ways creatures have adapted to life in the ocean.  It is being featured as part of TEDWeekends –- a curated series that introduces a powerful “idea worth spreading” and is a collaboration of TED and The Huffington Post.  This week’s TEDTalk is accompanied by an original blog post from David Gallo, along with new op-eds, thoughts and responses from the HuffPost community, myself included.

After watching the video, please read my companion opinion piece, “Preserving Our Underwater World” where I discuss why we cannot take the ocean’s resilience for granted, especially as we are saddled with an utterly uncertain climate future that is changing the ocean’s physical and biological characteristics right before our eyes.

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Dreaming of Swimming with Sharks? Start with “the Domino” Fri, 17 Aug 2012 19:35:46 +0000 Catherine Fox

High on my bucket list: a swim with sharks. And if I’m going to be up-close-and-personal, my first pick is to be introduced to the world’s biggest fish, the whale shark.

Nicknamed “dominoes,” these guys may grow to more than 65 feet over their long lives. To give you some perspective, recall the feeling you get standing next to the bulk of a school bus, typically less than 40 feet long. Now imagine being in the water with a whale shark. I’m thinking the wow factor is huge, especially after viewing this video.

The IUCN lists these gentle giants as “vulnerable.” Long sought after for their fins, (finnning has caused many shark populations to plummet), the good news is that whale sharks are now a growing draw for tourists. And there’s quite an emphasis on responsible practices when it comes to tours that offer swimming with whale sharks.

Hopefully, increasing awareness and appreciation of both their role in the sea and their ecotourism value for many coastal communities will give a new meaning to the term “domino effect,” and these beauties will thrive long into the future rather than facing a cascading population decline from finning and other threats in their ocean home.

I have to admit that I’m attracted by the fact that they’re slow-moving in a dreamy sort of way. And that they live in beautiful warm waters like Mexico’s Sea of Cortez. Besides, who can resist meeting a critter with polka dots? I think I’ll be moving this item up on my bucket list.

Video found on Sensory Ecology.

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5 Questions with Cartoonist Jim Toomey Wed, 15 Aug 2012 15:51:35 +0000 Catherine Fox

Jim Toomey says he works alone, but muses Sherman the shark and Fillmore the sea turtle beg to differ. Photo courtesy of Jim Toomey.

Jim Toomey, who says two of his favorite things to watch on television as a kid were “Peanuts” and Jacques Cousteau programs, offers up inspiring messages about ocean conservation along with plenty of quirky humor in the comic strip “Sherman’s Lagoon.”

Sherman, a great white shark, shares undersea adventures with his pals including camping in a kelp forest and surprising encounters with ocean trash.  Countering the traditional fear factor around sharks, Sherman is “Homer Simpson with fins,” says Toomey. We called the cartoonist to find out more.

1. When did your idea for an ocean-themed cartoon begin?

I started drawing caricatures of teachers back in 2nd or 3rd grade. I switched from teachers to sea critters after a family trip to the Bahamas when I was 12. My dad was a former navy pilot, and we had a family Cessna instead of a family station wagon.

When we flew to the Bahamas, it was the first time I’d seen the ocean from the air. I saw sharks and manta rays. And that’s when I realized the ocean has so much texture and detail. My fascination with the ocean began on that trip.

2. What’s the best thing about being a cartoonist?

I always explain to people that it’s not as sexy as you might imagine. Think about the nuts and bolts:  you’re alone in a room filling in a blank piece of paper. Trying to guess at what will make someone laugh is difficult. But it’s a very unstructured job, so you can get into other things. I care about issues like overfishing and marine debris, and as a member of the ocean conservation community I lend a lot of time and effort to helping educate people.  Of course, the opportunity to make a shark talk is a lot of fun!

3. Why did you choose a great white shark as your main character?

I was obsessed with sharks the way many kids are with dinosaurs; they captured my imagination. Sharks today are the same as they were 300 million years ago. They provoke terror and mystique. Great whites are probably the most charismatic of more than 300 species.

For a long time, I thought I was the only person excited about sharks. Then “Jaws” came along and everyone was into them. But when I saw the movie when I was 15 or 16, I was the only one in the theater rooting for the shark.

I’d been drawing this character forever in the margins of my books; when I decided to create the comic, I just had to give him a name.

4. How does humor help convey deadly serious topics like shark finning (the practice of removing a shark’s fins and throwing the body back in the ocean)?

Nowadays people are overwhelmed with information. It’s not like it used to be, when Jacques Cousteau was on television a couple of times a year. So the challenge is how to take a message to the public that’s got a little substance, but that has enough sweetness in the coating to get people to swallow the pill.

Humor—and entertainment in general—makes a good coating. Comics have a political origin, so it’s okay to be a little bit topical and political.

5. Can you tell us about Sherman’s finning experience?

Shark finning is wasteful and cruel, and needs to end.  Sherman is the perfect vehicle for that message. He is sitting in a Chinese restaurant when he gets a fortune about being scooped up by a trawler. His fortune comes true: He’s caught, finned, dumped into the ocean and dies. So he goes to heaven and meets St. Peter at the Pearly Gates, who says, “We have way too many sharks, we’re sending you back.” (An estimated 70 million sharks are killed yearly.)

Sherman doesn’t have his fins, but his fish friend Ernest is an internet whiz and notices that shark fins are sold on the web. He clicks the “BUY NOW” button and orders some. The fins arrive by courier, and they sew them back on. All’s well in the end—for Sherman, at least.

Learn more while watching Jim Toomey draw awesome ocean characters in this video from

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5 Questions with Marine Scientist Ellen Prager on Sex, Drugs and Sea Slime Thu, 05 Jul 2012 13:18:59 +0000 Catherine Fox

A male jawfish with a mouthful of eggs. Photo by Steven Kovacs.

Ellen Prager, formerly chief scientist for the world’s only underwater ocean research station in Key Largo, Florida, knows a lot about the ocean and the species that call it home. But even she learned some surprising new facts while writing her latest book, “Sex, Drugs, and Sea Slime: The Oceans’ Oddest Creatures and Why They Matter.

We talked to Prager about this provocative new book and the surprises she found during her research.

1. How did you land on the title for your book?

Originally I was going to focus on wacky creatures as a hook—and why they matter to society. In talking to colleagues and digging into academic journals, however, three very enticing and consistent themes emerged. First, slime: Many animals in the ocean use mucous in some form, maybe for defense or as a net to catch food or to travel faster. Second, sex: Many strange behaviors have evolved over millions of years so organisms can reproduce successfully in the ocean.

And finally, I didn’t realize the breadth and diversity of marine life used in the search for new drugs or as models for biomedical research until I did the research for the book. So I revised the title.

2. From the cuttlefish and orgies of 40,000 participants to the self-martyrdom of the male blanket octopus in the name of love, which creature from the book is your nominee for most surprising sex partner in the sea?

It’s hard to choose just one! Take the anglerfish, where the males are much smaller than females. The whole mission of a male’s life seems to be to search out and find a female for an everlasting kiss. Basically, he bites onto her body, fuses to her and becomes a sperm-producing parasite.

3. With all of your expertise, did anything surprise you in the course of your

Dr. Ellen Prager gives readers an intriguing look below the surface in her newest book.


Lots! Like the fact that there is so much we just don’t know. We are still discovering many creatures for the first time—and even for those we’ve previously identified, there is still much to learn. For instance, scientist Roger Hanlon has long been working on cephalopods and camouflage. He and his colleagues discovered that octopuses and squid are colorblind, so how exactly do they have this incredible ability to change color to match their surroundings? He suspects they have color sensors in their skin, but has yet to figure it out. There are many fascinating stories like that.

4.  You explain so many benefits we gain from ocean life; which are foremost in your mind these days?

I would say two, and the first is food. Several billion people across the world rely on the ocean for a major source of the protein in their diet. And we have more and more people on Earth. The ocean is not going to be able to sustain the demand. I worry about overfishing and also the human health crisis that could occur if we continue to overfish our oceans.

Secondly, most people don’t know that the ocean is the frontier for the discovery of new pharmaceuticals that fight all sorts of diseases. And ocean life helps us understand human physiology. I was really struck when researching the book that almost every ocean environment has some creature being looked at for biomedical or biotech benefits.

5.  Is there one particular threat to the denizens of the deep that you wish more people knew about?

I can’t say there’s a ”worst”; for me, there’s a “top five.” Number one is climate change. The issue of accelerated seawater-warming and ocean acidification together is a double whammy. The others are pollution, overfishing, habitat loss and invasive species. For the big picture, we need to work on climate change. Locally, I think marine debris, pollution and overfishing are really important.

6. Would you share three ways we can help protect the sea’s oddest creatures—and all the others?

  • Be a voice for the ocean. That means contact your political representatives at the local, state or national level and tell them to do more to protect the ocean.
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