The Blog Aquatic » wildlife http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 14 Aug 2014 17:21:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 One of the Biggest Arctic Migrations You’ve Never Heard of http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/05/12/one-of-natures-wonders-spring-migration-in-the-arctic/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/05/12/one-of-natures-wonders-spring-migration-in-the-arctic/#comments Mon, 12 May 2014 16:29:11 +0000 Carmen Yeung http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8265

Photo Credit: NOAA National Marine Mammal Laboratory

Ocean Conservancy will be publishing a blog series exploring the wonder of the Bering Strait and highlighting threats and solutions to this region.

The Bering Strait—located between Alaska’s Seward Peninsula and Russia’s Chukotka Peninsula—is the only marine gateway connecting the Arctic Ocean and Pacific Ocean. At its narrowest point, the strait is just 55 miles wide. Big Diomede Island (Russia) and Little Diomede Island (U.S.) are located near the middle of the Bering Strait, and are separated by a strip of water less than three miles wide. Despite its cold, remote location, the Bering Strait is a key biological hotspot, a region that contains a significant number of species – some of which are found nowhere else on Earth. This strait is both a bottleneck and a pathway for marine life.

In the middle of the Bering Strait, Big Diomede Island is located to the west and Little Diomede Island is to the east.

Each spring, millions of seabirds and hundreds of thousands of marine mammals traverse the narrow strait as they migrate to the Arctic Ocean. Sea ice—frozen seawater that floats on the ocean surface—plays a major role in this seasonal migration. In the spring, migratory birds and marine mammals gather in the Bering Sea and follow the retreating ice edge north through the Bering Strait and into the Chukchi Sea and the Arctic Ocean. The ice edge is highly productive, and the sea ice itself provides important habitat for microorganisms, birds and marine mammals. The Bering and Chukchi Seas are one of the most productive ocean ecosystems in the world.

Photo Credit: NASA, May 2000

Photo Credit: NASA, August 2000

Four species of ice-dependent seals—bearded, ribbon, ringed and spotted—use the sea ice for resting and as a platform from which to feed on prey like fish, shrimp and crabs. Polar bears and Pacific walruses hunt and feed on or from the sea ice. Open areas of the ice—called leads or polynyas—attract dozens of bird species, including the short-tailed albatross, spectacled eider and Steller’s eider. These and other bird species use the Bering Strait’s rich waters for foraging and as a pathway to the summer habitat in the Arctic.

Photo Credit: NOAA Fisheries

Under the chilly spring water, nearly 10,500 bowhead whales follow leads in the sea ice as they move north through the narrow passage of the Bering. These rotund black whales use their enormous heads to break through thick sea ice. Their common name originates from their bow-shaped skulls, which are over 16.5 feet long and about 35 percent of their total adult body length. In addition to bowhead whales, beluga and gray whales travel through the Being Strait on their way north to raise their young or feed.

With huge pulses of birds and marine mammals passing through this gateway from the Pacific to the Arctic each year, spring migration in the Bering Strait is truly one of nature’s wonders. There is no question that this narrow and biologically rich stretch of water is critically important, not only to Arctic species like walruses, bowheads and spectacled eiders, but also to wider-ranging species like gray whales and migratory seabirds.

The yearly migrations of marine mammals are essential to people living in Bering Strait communities and beyond. People living in the region’s communities rely on the continued productivity of the region’s marine ecosystem to support their subsistence way of life and cultural traditions as well as to meet other economic and community needs.

Of course, fish, birds, marine mammals, and subsistence hunters do not have a monopoly on the Bering Strait. As the retreat of summer sea ice in the Arctic Ocean has accelerated, the region is attracting more attention from industry. There is growing interest in shipping, oil and gas exploration, tourism and other commercial activities that contribute to increasing levels of vessel traffic through the Bering Strait. Increased traffic in this fragile ocean space could result in more pollution, ship strikes on marine mammals, as well as chronic and catastrophic oil spills among other potential impacts to the marine environment. The Bering Strait region is particularly vulnerable because it is home to such high concentrations of wildlife. We’ll explore these issues—and potential solutions—in future blog posts.

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Gulf of Maine Cleanups Show Ocean Trash Is Global Problem With Local Impacts, Solutions http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/08/28/gulf-of-maine-cleanups-show-ocean-trash-is-global-problem-with-local-impacts-solutions/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/08/28/gulf-of-maine-cleanups-show-ocean-trash-is-global-problem-with-local-impacts-solutions/#comments Wed, 28 Aug 2013 21:50:18 +0000 Allison Schutes http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=6565 Scientist aboard American Promise empties a net full of marine debris

Photo: Allison Schutes / Ocean Conservancy

200 miles, 7 beaches, 4 islands and over 7,500 pieces of trash: These numbers can be used to describe my time with Rozalia Project in the Gulf of Maine. But they don’t tell the whole story. Instead “inspiring” seems to capture most of my emotions.

Incredible scenery and wildlife served as the backdrop for the long days we spent collecting and removing trash while living aboard American Promise. Not only were we surrounded by a large pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins as we sailed south from Hurricane Island, but we also had a finback whale come within 5 meters of the boat at sunset. We saw the spouts of another whale in the moonlight reflecting off the ocean, and we observed harbor porpoises and seals, a pair of bald eagles and even an ocean sunfish, or Mola mola, in Gosport Harbor.

Our crew of 10—eight people and two dogs—were united with one goal: to remove as much trash from the shoreline and ocean surface as possible while recording data about each and every item we removed. Sailing from Bar Harbor to Kittery, Maine, we conducted seven shoreline cleanups on four different islands, and aboard American Promise, we performed three Neuston net tows and multiple dip-net sessions—all resulting in the collection of a lot of trash.

Despite traveling to several remote islands off Maine’s rocky coast, we found many of the same items that top our list during the International Coastal Cleanup every year. Items like food wrappers, plastic beverage bottles, foam cups and plates, and bottle caps were prevalent on almost every cleanup conducted while sailing through the Gulf of Maine.

These results are not incredibly surprising because we know that trash travels. Whether carried by the wind, current or human hands, everyday trash is able to make its way to even the most remote of places. For example, I pulled a food wrapper, a cigarette butt and a strap for sunglasses out of the water while sailing 50 miles off the coast of Portland, Maine.

Yet during this journey, single use plastic items were not our biggest finds. Fishing gear, including rope, monofilament line, fishing buoys, pots and traps, and lobster claw bands topped our list of items collected through the entire journey. We even found lobster bands, bleach and beverage bottles with French labels and markings, indicating these items may have started their journey in Canada.

All of these data are further indicative that ocean trash is a global problem with local impacts and local solutions. We all have a role to play in combating ocean trash, and joining us for the 28th International Coastal Cleanup is a great place to start.

Want to get started before the Cleanup? Take the pledge to help turn the tide on ocean trash.

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VIDEO: My GYRE Expedition to Alaska’s Remote Coastline http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/07/22/an-expedition-to-alaska/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/07/22/an-expedition-to-alaska/#comments Mon, 22 Jul 2013 19:39:16 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=6349
This video is the final update from Ocean Conservancy Conservation Biologist and Marine Debris Specialist Nicholas Mallos about his GYRE Expedition in Alaska. Read his first update here, his second here and his third here.

I recently returned from an expedition to survey ocean trash on some of the most remote coastlines in all of Alaska. Rarely do you get the opportunity to be so close to the very animals you are working to protect.

In this video that I shot during the trip, I explain what I saw on my journey, from marine debris that would dwarf a human to breaching humpbacks, fin whales, mothers and their calves. Yes, we have blemished these landscapes, but the incredible wildlife that still thrive there is all the more the reason to continue our work to keep trash out of our waterways and our ocean.

Watch the video and join the fight for a healthy ocean.

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The Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem: There’s a Map for That http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/06/24/the-gulf-of-mexico-ecosystem-theres-a-map-for-that/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/06/24/the-gulf-of-mexico-ecosystem-theres-a-map-for-that/#comments Mon, 24 Jun 2013 12:53:35 +0000 Matt Love http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=6148 Blue crab map from Gulf AtlasDo you know the Gulf of Mexico? Do you really know the wildlife that lives in its waters or how we use its resources—for better or worse—to support our economy?

I thought I had a grasp on this before beginning a multi-year project that mapped important things in the Gulf. Now that the project is finished, I know there’s even more to see than I knew about! Ocean Conservancy’s new tool, “The Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem: A Coastal and Marine Atlas,” can help you get a better view of the Gulf too.

The Gulf is a complex ecosystem full of an amazing diversity of wildlife and an abundance of resources. We need to know what lives in it and where it can all be found so we can protect, conserve and restore this beautiful natural treasure.

Gulf Atlas coverThe atlas is a unique collection of 54 maps and related descriptions that illustrate and describe where you will find many invertebrates, fish, birds and marine mammals in the Gulf. Among many other species, you can learn more about sperm whales, whale sharks, blue crabs (see map above) and black skimmers.

You can look at the physical characteristics, habitats and environmental stressors in the Gulf. Sea surface currents, bottom sediments, hurricane track density and all of the known locations of coral are shown in the atlas.

You will also be able to see how people use the Gulf for recreational fishing, shrimp trawling and major oil and gas development. The areas set aside for coastal and marine protection have been included as well.

Not only is this atlas a great resource for everyone to learn about the Gulf ecosystem, but it can also serve as an important decision-making tool for resource managers who are charged with balancing the ever-increasing demands on the ocean with conserving a vibrant and resilient ecosystem.

These maps and their related descriptions are also important tools to use as we plan for the unprecedented restoration programs that are beginning to develop in the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. These restoration programs are an amazing opportunity to help improve the health of the Gulf.

It is important that the critical resources illustrated in the atlas are taken into account in order to develop the most effective and comprehensive Gulf-wide restoration projects.

Check out the atlas now!

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GYRE Expedition Provides Opportunity for Marine Debris Research, Wildlife Sightings http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/06/11/gyre-expedition-provides-opportunity-for-marine-debris-research-wildlife-sightings/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/06/11/gyre-expedition-provides-opportunity-for-marine-debris-research-wildlife-sightings/#comments Tue, 11 Jun 2013 15:09:10 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=6023
Nick Mallos and Norseman

Getting ready to board the Norseman


Most people visit the small town of Seward, Alaska, to take a half-day glacier and wildlife cruise through Kenai Fjords National Park. I arrived in Seward to board the R/V Norseman to depart for Expedition GYRE.

Organized by the Alaska Sea Life Center and the Anchorage Museum, our 14-member team comprised of scientists, artists and filmmakers has a shared vision: We want to establish a new dialogue on marine debris from the nexus of science, art and education and devise strategies for disseminating information to broad audiences, globally.

The scale and magnitude of Alaska’s marine debris problem is unlike any other I’ve experienced. The state’s 45,000-mile coastline has myriad coves and pocket beaches that capture massive quantities of debris, underscoring the fact that even the most isolated areas of our planet are not immune to the problems of ocean trash.

This expedition affords me the opportunity to obtain quantitative and qualitative data on the most persistent forms of debris plaguing the Alaskan wilderness and compare it to data I’ve collected at other beaches around the world.

From Port Seward, we motored for almost 12 hours out of Resurrection Bay and along the Kenai Peninsula, which gave us exquisite views of the Bear and Aialik glaciers. Calm waters allowed us to conduct prime wildlife spotting from the bow of the Norseman.

My first Alaskan marine mammal sighting was a small group of Dall’s porpoise (Phocoenoides dalli). Their sleek black and white torpedo-shaped bodies swiftly darted from the starboard side of the Norseman and kept pace riding our bow for almost 20 minutes.

Although I’ve witnessed this phenomenon countless times, watching these majestic animals glide effortlessly along the water’s surface just inches from the boat is resplendent. As quickly as they appeared, they were gone—and for good reason: The porpoise were replaced by another black-and-white predator, the killer whale (Orcinus orca). The male’s iconic, 6-foot-tall dorsal fin cut through the waves alongside a female as they charged Norseman’s bow. Unfortunately the majestic pair peeled off and out of sight, but the brief encounter had me yearning for more.

Our wildlife encounters continued along the entire Kenai Peninsula and included sea otters, bald eagles, black-legged kittiwakes, guillemots and my first ever spotting of a horned puffin. The day’s sightings concluded with a pair of humpbacks (Megaptera noveangliae) that leisurely crossed our wake just outside Morning Cove.

The Norseman motored into Tonsina Bay just after Alaska’s midnight-setting sun. Darkness here is relative, and a twilight remains throughout the few hours of nighttime, essentially creating 24 hours of daylight. At 1 a.m., I finally called it a day and settled into my bunk. The sun, along with the team, will rise early to deploy for Gore Point.

Expedition GYRE is off to a magnificent start.

Sea otter Early light at Morning Cove, Alaska. Northern fulmar seconds before splash-down off Afognak Island. Horned Puffin Humpback flukes Humpback mother and calf spouting in Shelikof Strait. Sunset Nick sampling water Nick Mallos Seward point of departure Sunset Moose Pass Whale Skull Nick Mallos and Norseman ]]>
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Check Out Ocean Conservancy’s New Logo http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/02/11/check-out-ocean-conservancys-new-logo/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/02/11/check-out-ocean-conservancys-new-logo/#comments Mon, 11 Feb 2013 22:57:34 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=4563 Ocean Conservancy redesigned logoI’m excited to unveil Ocean Conservancy’s new and improved logo identity. This vibrant redesign includes adding new key species that help us better connect to the ocean and wildlife we protect.

As the multimedia designer, I make sure that the new logo stays true to our mission and pushes us forward as a leading voice in ocean conservation.

At first glance, you may not notice many changes, but there are a few key modifications:

  • We reduced the size of the wave graphic in the logo to make room for additional species, such as a school of fish.
  • We decreased the number of colors represented in the logo.
  • We updated the font style.
  • We added an albatross to make the connection between land and sea.

Why make these changes? Director of Conservation Science Stan Senner explains, “At Ocean Conservancy, we take pride in approaching our work with an eye to the whole ecosystem, so it’s important to us that our logo reflects that.”

The albatross, for example, is an important and highly recognizable member of the ocean ecosystem, and including it in the logo reminds us that not all of the animals depending on the ocean live beneath the surface.

Similarly, the school of fish we added is a great reminder that our ocean is nature’s farmers market. More than 2.6 billion people rely on the ocean as a primary source of protein. And healthy food from our ocean means a healthy planet.

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California Underwater Parks Day is January 19th http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/01/17/california-underwater-parks-day-is-january-19th/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/01/17/california-underwater-parks-day-is-january-19th/#comments Thu, 17 Jan 2013 16:00:50 +0000 Paul Hobi http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=4218

Credit: NOAA

The first month of the year is perhaps the best time to experience California’s ocean at its finest – which is why the 5th Annual Underwater Parks Day on Saturday, January 19th is a great reason to hit the coast and enjoy one of over 100 new underwater parks, which protect entire ecosystems at iconic coastal areas such as La Jolla, Point Reyes, and Point Lobos. To find an event near you, we’ve included a full schedule of events by region linked below.

It’s already been a busy month for California’s new underwater parks. Grey whales are traveling south along the coast to lagoons in Baja, California where they will give birth to calves. Some preemies and their mothers are already showing up off the coast of Los Angeles and San Diego, delighting whale watchers.

Further north, in Piedras Blancas and Año Nuevo State Park’s marine protected areas, male elephant seals are engaging in their spectacular, violent mating rituals, while females are giving birth to a new generation of pups. Friends of the Elephant Seal and Año Nuevo State Park docents offer guided tours of the action to visitors, who should use extreme caution and approach seals only with the assistance of a guide. Can’t make it to the beach to see the action? Check out a slideshow of mothers and their new pups at Año Nuevo.

Stewards of the state’s underwater parks have planned activities and celebrations throughout the California coast at state beaches, aquaria, and nature centers, which are perfect for kids and adults to enjoy a day surrounded by sea life and learn more about the benefits of protecting California’s prime ocean habitats. Before you head out, don’t forget to check out our tips for watching wildlife to make sure everyone (including the animals!) stay safe.


Southern California Events
(San Diego to Santa Barbara)
Central California Events (Morro Bay to Santa Cruz)
Northern California Events (San Francisco to Arcata).

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