Archive for June, 2006

welcome to moss landing

A warm welcome to summer tourists, from the Moss Landing chamber of cormorants.

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baby turtleWho can resist baby northern diamondback turtles? These are about 1 day old. Modeled by MBARI intern/Berkeley grad student Stephanie Bush (rocking the sock-flipflops combo).

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ventana in the sunMy first trip out on an MBARI boat, the R/V Point Lobos, happened last week. We left Moss Landing at 7 a.m. amid pigeon guillemots and sea otters. Barely 3 miles off shore we were bobbing in calm seas 300 m above a humpback whale skeleton that Bob Vrijenhoek, Shannon Johnson, and other MBARI scientists have been watching for a year or so now.

Turns out there’s a wacky kind of tubeworm that lives off the bones. It’s called Osedax, a weird little pink frilly creatures that waves in the current like the topknot on a Fraggle. Turns out its closest relatives are deep down at hydrothermal vents, living in 400-degree water totally dependent on chemosynthetic bacteria. How they got here we’re not sure.

Three hundred meters is small change for an undersea canyon that drops to more than 3,000 m within a dozen miles of shore – but it’s still a bit far to send a human down to. That darn repressurization, you know. So down goes the ROV Ventana (that’s the robotic praying mantis thing you see at the top of this post). ROV stands for remotely operated vehicle, a submarine that two full grown men steer from under a battery of monitors belowdecks on the Lobos. A little bit like Jason.Ventana rack-out

Just to reassure you that it’s not all backbreaking labor, here we are on the way back to shore. Two interns (Shawn Meredyk and Sarah Rizk, plus the aforementioned Shannon Johnson) relax before the somewhat malevolent gaze of Ventana.

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From Ferrell’s Donuts on Mission Ave., Santa Cruz. They’re open late, much to their dismay.

donut sign

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manipur bush-quailTwo years ago, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker swooped out of the mists of extinction. It landed briefly on the trunk of a bald cypress in Arkansas and then, with a few beats of its white-trailing-edge wings, bounded back into oblivion.

It looks like another bird half a world away is trying the same trick. The Manipur Bush-Quail, unseen and presumed lost for 80 years, has been spotted by an eminent Indian ornithologist. Cornell University is facing criticism over its blurry video evidence and subsequent inability to re-rediscover the Ivorybill, but so far there has been no such skepticism for the bush-quail’s discoverer. Anwaruddin Choudhury’s single sighting report seems enough for now. The BBC has details.

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ctd at sunsetAfter last year's record red tide in New England, the research ships were out early this spring. I got to go along on a sampling trip in early April. We took Woods Hole's R/V Tioga and spent the day in Massachusetts Bay hauling water on board and sampling it for tiny Alexandrium cells.

Red tides (more appropriately called harmful algal blooms because they're not always red) happen when some particular phytoplankton (including Alexandrium) multiply into great numbers. Each cell produces a very tiny amount of toxin as a byproduct of its daily routine. The output is so little that they're not harmful as long as they stay in the water; the trouble starts when filter feeders like clams and oysters concentrate the cells into even greater numbers. Eventually, you eat a clam, you get paralytic shellfish poisoning, and you suffocate. Yikes.

Fortunately for all you chowderheads, newly developed models indicate we probably won't have nearly so bad a red tide season this year. On our sampling trip in early April there were very few Alexandrium in evidence. This picture is the tops of the Niskin bottles we used to sample water. We snap those lids shut at precise depths to capture a discrete sample of water. Then someone with a strong stomach, like Bruce Keafer, hunches over a microscope belowdecks and picks through the algae soup looking for Alexandrium. The rest of us look at the sun going down behind Cape Ann.

low tide harbor And, okay, here's one more. Just before quitting New England for the shores of Monterey Bay, I got a classic low-tide harbor shot. This one is at dawn in Rockport, Mass. File under "quaint."

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Pelicans are the world's greatest surfers. I know plenty of votes go to dolphins and seals, but pelicans style their cushion of air into something more majestic than a wet mammal – even a very graceful one – can muster.

Reasons why pelicans are better surfers than people:

1. No matter how casual your stance, you can't match that Formula 1 wingspan.

2. They look good on glassy days; they look good when it's blown out.

3. They look even better when they're sharing waves.

4. No paddle-outs. Just wheel into the wind and drop in on another one.

5. That goofy smile is living proof that belly rides are cool all by themselves.

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