Ocean Currents » ocean life http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Wed, 29 Jul 2015 17:42:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Best to Be Aware, Rather than Beware, of Sharks http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/06/best-to-be-aware-rather-than-beware-of-sharks/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/06/best-to-be-aware-rather-than-beware-of-sharks/#comments Mon, 06 Jul 2015 12:00:10 +0000 Adena Leibman http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10360

As the summer season kicks into full gear, beachgoers across the country are packing their sunscreen and heading to the coast. And though millions of people each year enjoy the ocean without consequence, a couple of unfortunate shark attacks have made the news recently.

Experts are analyzing temperature, current patterns and other ocean conditions to determine what, if any, unique combination of factors could have spurred this above average number of bites. Most likely though, it is merely a consequence of more people being in the water. As populations along the coast grow and more people spend time in the ocean, the probability of interactions between sharks and people increases.

However, it is important to keep these events in perspective. The actual likelihood of being bit by a shark is extremely low. There are a number of probability comparisons to pull from, but one of my favorites is that your likelihood of being bitten by another person in New York City is about 100 times greater than finding yourself on the wrong end of a shark.

There are over 400 species of sharks—ranging in size from the world’s largest fish to a shark that can fit in your hand—that show an amazing array of diversity. Aside from the more well-known species like white sharks and hammerheads, there are also the slow moving filter-feeders known as basking sharks, spinner sharks that are known to leap out of the water, and even the oddly enchanting goblin shark. Some are even downright adorable.

Nearly all of them are at real danger at the hands of humans. Each year, millions of sharks are killed in fisheries, either as targeted species or accidental bycatch. Further, there is still a tragic demand for shark fins in some countries. Finning is a brutal practice that often involves removing the fins from the shark while it is still alive, and then returning the mortally injured animal back into the ocean to drown or bleed to death. Though we are seeing growing support for eliminating the practice of finning, there is still a long way to go. In the meantime, a quarter of sharks and rays (close relatives of sharks) are threatened with extinction.

Sharks predate dinosaurs and have been swimming the seas for nearly 450 million years. Yet, now they are facing some of the greatest challenges to their survival. Being well-informed on what fish products you purchase, supporting campaigns to ban shark finning in your state, and helping educate people about the wonder of sharks are great ways to start getting involved in shark conservation.

But in case you still have some hesitation about entering the water, we’ve collected some simple pointers below that can help ensure you have a safe and fun summer:

1)     Stay in good company: Avoid swimming alone and try to stay near a lifeguard stand, if possible. Sharks tend to target solitary prey and in case you get into trouble, it’s always good to have someone nearby who can help.

2)     Avoid hot spots: Stay clear of piers, stormwater and effluent outflows, sandbar ledges and other sharp drop-offs, and places where people are actively fishing. Avoiding these areas that generally attract bait fish and subsequently sharks will help keep you clear of possible negative interactions.

3)     Play it cool: Sharks have evolved to be fine-tuned hunters who are very sensitive to visual, olfactory, and other sensory cues. For a shark, erratic movements, changing color patterns and blood point to what it interprets as injured—and thus easy—prey. Avoid frantic splashing (by you or your pet) and shiny or reflective jewelry and clothing. Do not enter the water if you are bleeding.

4)     Remain aware of your surroundings: Maintain a safe distance to shore and swim during daylight hours, avoiding sunrise and sunset. Stay alert for shark sightings and other safety warnings.

5)     Be respectful: Of course, if you spot a shark do not harass it. It is important to remember that sharks are powerful animals that deserve our respect. Understand that you are the one evading their territory. So please take care of our ocean and sharks, and have a great beach season!

For more information on sharks, please join us for our science series this week as part of our “Shark Week” coverage.

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The Ocean, At a Crossroads http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/03/the-ocean-at-a-crossroads/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/03/the-ocean-at-a-crossroads/#comments Fri, 03 Jul 2015 18:30:11 +0000 Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10373 fish and corals in the Florida Keys

Photo: NOAA

This post is a collaboration between Sarah Cooley, Ph.D. (Ocean Conservancy), Ryan Kelly, Ph.D., J.D. (U. Washington) and C. Mark Eakin, Ph.D. (NOAA)

Readers of this blog know that ocean acidification is here, today. They also know that states on both coasts and the federal government are working to halt its progress and manage its impacts. But the ocean is heedless of borders. A healthy ocean future will require global action. That is why we have our eyes on December’s Paris climate conference (COP21). Decisions made there will determine whether our children will inherit a changed-but-recognizable ocean that still provides humanity with goods and services, or a damaged ocean lacking many resources we want. There is still time for us to reduce emissions and slow the warming and acidification of our ocean, but we have to act now. That is one of the conclusions we reach in a paper out today in Science.

World leaders at that Paris Climate meeting aim to “reach, for the first time, a legally binding agreement that will enable us to combat climate change effectively.” Our international science team was convened to ensure they have the latest and greatest research on the health of ocean ecosystems, and clear information about the ocean futures different CO2 emissions scenarios will produce. Our work will augment the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s reports.

We found that under a “business-as-usual” CO2 emission pathway, warming and acidification will have high to very high negative impacts on nearly every aspect of marine life we looked at, including seagrasses, warm-water corals, swimming snails, bivalve shellfish, krill, and finfish. Essentially, allowing CO2 emissions to continue to rise is very bad for large portions of ocean life.

Essentially, allowing CO2 emissions to continue to rise is very bad for large portions of ocean life.

That’s the story if the world doesn’t curb CO2 emissions. If we do make rapid CO2 emissions cuts, the risks of impacts to the marine organisms we considered are mostly moderate. There will be major damage to bivalves and warm water corals but the damage to other ocean ecosystems will be manageable. The ocean will be different from that of our ancestors, but coastal protection and key fisheries will likely remain intact. Therefore, it is essential to the oceans that we limit CO2 emissions in ways that keep the earth under 2°C of warming.

We also found that there are four main actions that humanity can take: reducing CO2, the cause of ocean warming and acidification; protecting ecosystems by building resilience; adapting human societies; and repairing damage that has already happened. Not surprisingly, the sooner we reduce CO2, the more options we have to protect, adapt, and repair. The longer we wait to reduce CO2 emissions, the more expensive and difficult it will be to guard our oceans from disruptive change… and the less likely these actions are to work.


Sarah Cooley is Science Outreach Manager at Ocean Conservancy. Follow her at @co2ley.

Ryan Kelly is an Assistant Professor at the University of Washington’s School of Marine and Environmental Affairs.

C. Mark Eakin serves as coordinator of NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch using satellites to track coral bleaching around the world. Follow him at: @MarkEakinCRW and Mark Eakin on Facebook.

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Remembering Dr. Eugenie Clark, the “Shark Lady” http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/02/27/remembering-dr-eugenie-clark-the-shark-lady/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/02/27/remembering-dr-eugenie-clark-the-shark-lady/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 16:08:11 +0000 Adena Leibman http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9952

The ocean lost an amazing ally this week. Dr. Eugenie Clark passed away at the age of 92 in Sarasota, Florida. She received her Ph.D. from New York University and embarked on a 50+ year career in the name of the ocean. She worked in a variety of prestigious research institutions, including the American Museum of Natural History and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. She founded the Cape Haze Marine Laboratory (now the Mote Marine Laboratory) in Sarasota, which conducts research on sharks and a number of other marine species and issues.

It’s difficult for me to properly express how much Dr. Eugenie Clark meant to me. Since I was two or three, I knew I wanted to work for the oceans. My family was incredibly supportive, taking me to numerous aquariums and trips to the beach, letting me decorate my room with shark posters, jaws, and sharks in jars, humoring me when I asked for a membership to the Center for Marine Conservation (now Ocean Conservancy) as a birthday present, and leading me towards scientists and pioneers in the field as my role models. Of those great science and political icons that I latched onto, Dr. Eugenie Clark was at the top of my list.

“Shark Lady,” a biography about her life and work, was the first chapter book I ever read. I taped and repeatedly watched her TV appearances. During elementary school, I wrote to tell her about my latest shark-themed science fair project and saltwater career plans. After spending a number of years buried in my graduate work and law school textbooks, my sister managed to have Dr. Clark sign two of her books for me in congratulations for completing my juris doctor in 2013. They remain among my most prized possessions.

It’s easy to understand how Dr. Clark could be such a driving force for a budding ocean scientist and advocate such as myself. She was immune to societal boundaries, building a prolific scientific career in a traditionally male-dominated field on her own terms. Dr. Clark was proof that you really could have it all; she balanced her seemingly insatiable drive for knowledge with a family and a career that took her around the world (sometimes on the back of whale sharks).

She was a powerful voice in changing the public’s perception of sharks. Long before GPS tracking was making great whites (the first of which by OCEARCH was nicknamed ‘Genie’ in Dr. Clark’s honor) and other notorious “man eater” species more accessible to the public, Dr. Clark was a strong advocate in educating people about the wonder of sharks, and we’re starting to see a real sea change in how people view and appreciate sharks. Global support is increasing for bans on shark finning, some sharks and rays finally received protections under CITES, and shark sanctuaries have been established off the coasts of Honduras, the Bahamas, and French Polynesia.

Sharks still face threats from overfishing, finning, entanglement with fishing gear (bycatch), and climate change. Thankfully, I’m certain that I’m not the only ocean advocate that Dr. Clark inspired. There are generations of scientists and policy-makers who are working for sharks and the oceans thanks to her work. Dr. Clark’s legacy will continue in the good work of others and in every shark saved thanks to her influence. She will be greatly missed.

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Local Boston Theater Raises Funds and Awareness for Ocean Conservancy http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/02/26/local-boston-theater-raises-funds-and-awareness-for-ocean-conservancy/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/02/26/local-boston-theater-raises-funds-and-awareness-for-ocean-conservancy/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 17:03:39 +0000 Brett Nolan http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9940

Photo: Debbie Morey

The Poets’ Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has put on nearly 50 performances of its show Albatross, based on “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Ocean Conservancy supports efforts to protect all marine life, including sea birds like the albatross, so a partnership with The Poets’ Theater seemed natural. We even have an albatross in our logo!

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a poem that tells the tale of a lost sailor and his crew who are helped out of the Antarctic by an albatross. Despite the aid, the mariner kills the giant bird. The mariner then loses his entire crew, suffers great storms, and even faces manifestations of death as punishment for his crime against nature. The mariner is cursed to forever tell his tale as warning to others. Albatross follows the immortal mariner’s travels 300 years later in the year 2015.

Benjamin Evett, the one-man show’s star and cowriter, wanted this epic story about the sea to support Ocean Conservancy’s efforts. Online and at the end of every performance, he asks audience members to donate to the Poets’ Theatre and to Ocean Conservancy. Despite Boston being blanketed by several feet of snow, they’ve managed to find an audience and raise both awareness and funds for Ocean Conservancy.

To Benjamin, this is a timeless story that has as very powerful message about how people treat the natural world. “It’s a play about thoughtless actions. The mariner’s punished as an example of how important it is to be mindful of all living things.”

The Poets’ Theater seems to be as immortal as the mariner himself. It was first established in 1950 to give poets a stage to share their craft. A fire forced its doors shut a dozen years later. Nearly 25 years after that, the theater was resurrected in 1986 and continued until 2004. Albatross ushered in a new era for the theater last September.

Albatross’ life may prove to be just as long. Benjamin hopes to take the show on the road and perform in various other cities.

If you’d like to see Albatross before it soars away from The Poets’ Theater on March 1, click here for tickets!

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Underwater Astonishments…and Why We Must Preserve Them http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/06/05/underwater-astonishments-and-why-we-must-preserve-them/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/06/05/underwater-astonishments-and-why-we-must-preserve-them/#comments Wed, 05 Jun 2013 15:56:51 +0000 Andreas Merkl http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=5971

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” http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/08/17/dreaming-of-swimming-with-sharks-start-with-the-domino/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/08/17/dreaming-of-swimming-with-sharks-start-with-the-domino/#comments Fri, 17 Aug 2012 19:35:46 +0000 Catherine Fox http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=2309

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 http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/08/15/5-questions-with-cartoonist-jim-toomey/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/08/15/5-questions-with-cartoonist-jim-toomey/#comments Wed, 15 Aug 2012 15:51:35 +0000 Catherine Fox http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=2160

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 TED.com.

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