Whale Graveyard
Whale Graveyard
On a remote peninsula in Chile, over three hundred sei whales beached themselves. An expedition is setting off to recover some of the bones

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On Monday, February 6, 2017, around 1:30 a.m. CST, a sonic boom shook residents of the Midwest as a bright green fireball streaked through the night sky. The sound was that of a meteor, nearly the size of a minivan, entering our atmosphere. After its fall to Earth, radar spotted the end of its journey over Lake Michigan, approximately 10 miles off the coast of Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Teen explorers from Chicago, led by scientists from the Adler Planetarium's Far Horizons program, The Shedd Aquarium, and The Field Museum, team up to take on this Underwater ROV Meteorite Hunt. Interested explorers wanted!
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We're on a mission to unveil the secret world of feather stars, from shallow to mesophotic depths, micro-world to voracious predators that feast on them. Enjoy the adventure!
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Lurking in the mists and fog, just thirty miles from San Francisco, lie the Farallon Islands. Called the Devil's Teeth by wary mariners and the islands of the Dead by Native Americans, these jagged spires and barren rocks are a Fish and Wildlife Refuge, and nested within the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. These enigmatic islands are critical habitat for 350,000 nesting seabirds, 6 species of seals and sea lions, amazing fish including great white sharks! The Farallon Islands are also part of our California Marine Protected Area network. Lesser known are our coastal Marin Protected Areas in the Golden Gate region including Point Reyes, Duxbury Reef, Drakes Estero and several special closures. The MPA Watch program is part of the collaborative effort to monitor MPAs for human activity and habitat, and educate the public on marine protection. We are using the Trident to examine habitat and species offshore, but also nearshore in eelgrass beds in the San Francisco Bay and Drakes Estero. This program provides monitoring opportunities, education and adventure. Located so close to our coastline, the island wildlife and habitat have been impacted from overfishing, sealing and pollution historically and remain at risk from oil spills and shipping. As part of the ecosystem managed of 124 MPAs, our marine wildlife and habitat have an opportunity to recover. Solutions include event protection as part of our State network of marine protected areas and applying citizen science observations collecting data on wildlife and human behavior using app technology. With the Trident ROV we are recording observations of benthic and nektonic wildlife, and human interactions within the MPAs. Every fall Shark Stewards leads public education expeditions to the islands discussing history, natural history and ocean solutions and applies citizen science to marine conservation. Now using the Trident drones, we are collecting scientific observations for our California Marine Protected Area network that can be used by fisheries biologists and managers. Using Whale Alert and iNaturalist apps we also record whale and shark observations inside the Sanctuary.
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Vietnam has been part of one of the worlds largest ancient maritime trade routes. Now two recently discovered sites, a group of 9th to 19th-century shipwrecks and Neolithic island burials, will help tell us more about this unknown history.
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50% of the Mesoamerican Reef is located in Mexico, receiving over 15 million visitors every year. Restore Coral is paving the way towards Sustainable Tourism in order to protect the 2nd largest coral reef system of the planet.
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Volkmar Wentzel spent nearly 50 years as a staff photographer, leaving behind a myriad of stories of exploration from the mid 20th century. We will share here what we unearth about his adventurous life.
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Ngaparou, Thiès, Senegal, Dec 3 2018
The Forgotten Sirenian: Our Quest to Learn Everything about the African Manatee
Did you know there are manatees in Africa? Most people outside of the countries where African manatees live are unaware that this secretive creature, a cousin of manatees in Florida, even exists. The African manatee is one of the least understood marine mammals in the world and the least studied large mammal in Africa. They are found in freshwater and marine systems along the African Atlantic coast between Senegal and Angola, and in the interior countries of Mali, Niger, and Chad. The range of the species is larger than the United States and their habitats very widely from rivers in the desert at the edge of the Sahara, to lush Central African rainforests, to mangrove estuaries and offshore islands in the Atlantic Ocean. I’ve been studying African manatees in Central and West Africa since 2006, and I’m greatly concerned about the high levels of threats facing this species which include intense illegal hunting for manatee “bushmeat”, fisheries bycatch, isolation of populations due to dams, and habitat loss due to human development. My colleagues and I are initiating the first threat assessments for the African manatee in five West and Central African countries: Senegal, The Gambia, Nigeria, Cameroon and Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). We will quantify threats in each country and document numbers of manatees killed so that we can provide evidence to, and work with, governments, international organizations, and conventions to find practical, viable, and sustainable conservation solutions. I will also train researchers in countries where there has been little or no African manatee conservation in the past. Additionally, there is very little baseline knowledge about African manatees, so we are addressing this through focused population genetics, ecology, and health studies. Follow along with us as we seek to learn as much as we can about the mysteries of the least known manatee in the world!

Recent Observations

For over a decade Vietnam Maritime Archaeology Project, VMAP, has been involved with training Vietnamese archaeologists to become maritime archaeologists and help establish their Department of Maritime Archaeology. VMAP has initiated a variety of projects including the search for a 13th-century Mongol invasion fleet sunk by the Vietnamese to trying to find shipwrecks involved in the Maritime Silk Route trade. In 2019 two teams of self-funding volunteers will investigate sites recently found by VMAP. The first is a Neolithic site on an outer island of Ha Long Bay that may show that the people occupying this site were part of early island migration. The second is a bay in central Vietnam that has five shipwrecks from the 9th to the 19th that were carrying cargos of exquisite Chinese Ceramics.
Post # 9.Fish Farts! !Indian Pond Sampling There I was sitting alone at a boat landing on Indian Pond; a remote man-made reservoir at the headwaters of the Kennebec River just below Moosehead Lake. It was just before dark on 18 May 2008. It was so quiet I kept looking around to see if a bear or a moose was sneaking up on me. Maybe bigfoot? Then out of nowhere I heard the unmistakable sound of a fish fart! Listen to what I heard: I was amazed! If you were there, you would have heard me talking out loud trying to explain to Bigfoot how it was impossible for a fish fart to be heard in a remote lake in Maine. That’s because at the time I thought that the only fish that made fart sounds, formally known as “fast repetitive ticks” or “FRTs”, were the Pacific and Atlantic herrings (Clupea harengus and C. pallasi). Two teams of scientists, one from Canada and the other from Europe, had independently described the herring sounds just a few years before (2003). The idea that fish might use fart sounds for communication quickly caught on with the media and general public with radio and tv interviews. The scientists even won an Ig Noble award from the journal “Annals of Improbable Research” in 2004. FRT sounds start with a broadband pulse of sound like “kkkch” followed by a series of tic or tap sounds that continue for a while with each new tic farther and farther apart. Here are examples of FRTs I recorded in Maine, the second one is the one I first heard in Indian Pond. Why did I think it was such a big deal to hear a fish fart sound in Indian Pond? The problem was there were no herring anywhere near Indian Pond. In fact, there were no fish in the herring family at all in the lake. So how could I be hearing fish farts? Well I began to research the topic and found that the 2003 studies were not the first to describe this type of sound, but in fact, fish farts were among the first fish sounds to be reported in the scientific literature! As far back as 1857! They just were not called farts, but were referred to more “delicately” as air passage sounds. It turned out that fart sounds are just one of a wide range of sounds often called “air passage” or “pneumatic” sounds, and which I now term “air movement” sounds, because they involve air movement within a fish, or air passage from the anal vent, gills or mouth. Needless to say, I was very excited by this discovery and Francis Juanes and I attempted to publish the findings many times. But our papers were rejected over and over because scientists just plain did not believe the fart sounds we reported were produced by fish, or if they did, they did not care because the prevailing wisdom was that these types of sounds are just incidental to physiological processes and therefore not important enough to study or publish. What they meant by “incidental” is that just like for us, when we burp or fart, its not a form of communication, but just a physical process. Hmm, maybe that’s not entirely true for kids! Anyway, unless we could prove without doubt that the sounds were made by fish, and what the species were, we could not get our findings published. So, we set out to get the evidence we needed. Unfortunately, funding agencies were not interested in supporting our proposed research for similar reasons. At the time, there was simply not much interest in basic observational science, especially in freshwater habitats, and especially not for air movement sounds. So, did we give up? Of course not! We just went out and did it ourselves. Without funding, we had to work in our spare time and during trips of opportunity. It took ten years of hard work, but we did get our proof of air movement sounds in freshwater fishes throughout the region. We still don’t know what species produced the fart sound I heard in Indian Pond that day, but it was likely a trout or chub. In our follow-up work, we described the air movement sounds of five fishes, the alewife (present in the lower Kennebec River and other rivers, but not Indian Pond), brown trout, rainbow trout, brook trout, and the white sucker. We also described sounds that are most likely made by the Atlantic salmon. All these species occasionally produce FRT sounds, but more often produce other types of air movement sounds. Rountree, R.A., F. Juanes, and M. Bolgan. 2018. Air movement sound production by alewife, white sucker, and four salmonid fishes suggests the phenomenon is widespread among freshwater fishes. PLoS ONE 13(9): e0204247. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0204247 What are air movement sounds? Many fishes have a gas bladder in their body that functions in one or more ways depending on the species. In some fish the gas bladder is used like a lung for respiration, in others it is used for buoyancy control, and in some fishes it is used for sound production (like the cusk-eels I talked about in an earlier post). In more primitive fishes, there is a connection between the gas bladder and the digestive tract because the only way the fish has to fill or empty the gas bladder is to gulp air at the surface or release air through the anus, gills or mouth. These more primitive fishes are called “physostomous” fishes, while more advanced fishes that do not have the gut connection are called “physoclistous” fishes. Physoclistous fishes with a gas bladder can fill and deflate it by directly moving gas in and out of the blood stream through a special structure called the Reta mirabilia. Note that physostomous fishes are among the most diverse and numerous fishes on earth (for example, many of the freshwater fishes kept in aquariums are physostomous). Often when you see a fish jump, or splash at the surface, that’s when it is gulping air to fill its gas bladder. At this time, they sometimes makes sounds as the gas is moved internally or vented through the anus, mouth or gills. The first time I ever observed this behavior was just after dark on 30 April 2008 in a tributary of the Connecticut river. I saw a small fish jump and then a moment later heard it squeak. Here is a slide showing the frequency structure of the sound series (top colored section). The circled areas show the sound of the fish jumping and then its squeak. The color indicates how loud the sound is and the y-axis indicates the frequency of the sound. Chanel 1 (very top) is the underwater sound, and channel 2 is the sound from my dubbing microphone where you can also hear the sound of the jump (but not the squeaks) and the sound of my voice as I made notes. Listen to what I heard and how I reacted I later documented this type of behavior in the alewife which I first heard in a tributary of the Kennebec River in Maine. The alewife primarily makes sounds I call “coughs” as they expel air through their gills, but sometimes make a “pop” sound as an air bubble erupts from the mouth. They rarely make fart sounds but I have not yet been able to determine how (I’ve never seen air escape from the anal vent and suspect the sound is made by internal movements as Russian scientists have suggested for salmon). Listen to the alewife “cough” sound In the following video you can see several alewife (at half speed and amplified). One gulps air in a rapid burst to the surface in and then can be seen diving down from the upper right corner of the screen. If you watch closely you can see the bubbles released from the gills after each cough. A pop can be heard when it releases a large bubbles from its mouth at the end of the sequence. Watch a video of river herring, alewife, sound production Here is the sound that the white sucker makes after it gulps air at the surface. Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to capture it on video, but have observed it numerous times. Listen to the white sucker’s sounds: Finally, here is the sound made by a brown trout I recorded on Cape Cod. You will see one of the fish rise to the surface to gulp air in the upper right corner and then make sounds as it releases air from its gills. Brown trout sound production Based on our work, some of which is still to be published, we believe that air movement sounds are widespread among freshwater fishes (and probably marine fishes too). Although these types of sounds are likely incidental in many fishes, so few species have been studied that it’s premature to conclude that no fish use this type of sound for communication. In fact, there is already some circumstantial evidence that some fishes do use air movement sounds for communication. But even if not, we have shown that the sounds are unique to each species (so far studied), and therefore can be used in passive acoustic studies of those species. If you hear the alewife cough sound, for example, it pretty certain that at least one alewife is nearby. Thus, descriptions of this type of sound in fishes is very useful to scientists, resource managers, and conservationist, and is absolutely worthy of study and publication. We believe it is unfortunate that scientists have virtually ignored this behavior for so long and that we can learn a lot about fish by examining this behavior in other species.
New science communication video! While we are analyzing data from Eilat, and planning a new expedition for this year (destination to be disclosed!), we are simultaneously complementing our scientific skills, by learning more on how to perform better and more effective science communication. I recently attended an online National Geographic Video Production Course, and decided to do my final assignment about this project, of course! In the making of the video, I was challenged to introduce this expedition, and explain how we solved one problem that was inherent to the logistics of said project. I decided to explain how we solved the problem of lack of depth perception in capturing videos in the field (... but without spoiling too much :) ). This video is the product of my first dive into the world of video editing, so it is still far from a professional outcome. Nonetheless, hope you enjoy it, and if you have constructive comments please share them!

Pristine Seas

Exploring and protecting the last wild places in the ocean