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Swimming With the World’s Biggest Fish, the Whale Shark

A whale shark swims just under the ocean surface, Bay of La Paz, Gulf of California, January 2016. Photograph by David Braun.

Bay of La Paz, Gulf of California — Jumping into the Sea of Cortez to swim alongside a whale shark is like being in a National Geographic documentary. The massive fish looms out of the murk, swimming toward you with huge mouth agape. Just when you imagine you might be sucked Jonah-like down the gullet of the world’s biggest fish, the shark corrects course enough to glide by within a hand’s reach, like a great big bus easing into the traffic lane next to you.

That’s how I experienced my first (and quite likely only) encounter with this behemoth of the sea. I was with the National Geographic Committee for Research and Exploration (CRE) on a field inspection in the southern part of Mexico’s Baja California. The committee was there last week to see the places and projects it has funded in the region, receive reports from grantees, and to assess how one of the most beautiful and diverse parts of the planet is doing in the face of urban development, growing tourism, and climate change. (National Geographic Undertakes Science

Breaking Down Language Barriers

AWF monitors a tagged sperm whale in the waters off Southeast Alaska. Andy Szabo, NMFS Research Permit No. 14599

The Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic (LEX-NG) Fund aims to protect the last wild places in the ocean while facilitating conservation, research, education, and community development programs in the places we explore. This blog entry spotlights some of the exciting work our grantees are doing with support from the LEX-NG Fund.

By Madeleine Pauchet

Along the coast of Southeast Alaska, you are bombarded by the sound of chattering seagulls, the crash of waves, and the purr of the boat’s motor. Wind whips at your ears and you pull your hood up; you can’t hear anything now.

You kill the engine somewhere in the Pacific, but don’t quite stop moving; it’s difficult to be at a standstill on a boat this small. You are alone. Well, maybe. You wonder about what’s hiding beneath the surface. You take your hood down and listen. Seagulls. Waves. If you’re lucky, the loud “puff” of a whale’s blowhole.

AWF monitors a tagged sperm whale in the waters off Southeast Alaska. Andy Szabo, NMFS Research Permit No. 14599

You came prepared with an

Let the Games Begin

Blue Halo kids camp - 2014

The Waitt Institute team is made up of people who spent their childhoods playing at the beach, swimming in the calm turquoise Caribbean Sea, and learning about the amazing, diverse creatures that live beneath the surface. Each of us fell in love with the ocean at a young age, and we’ve been thrilled to be able to share that love, excitement, and wonder with the children of Barbuda over the last two summers.

Two years ago, Ayana started a kids ocean summer camp on Barbuda, as part of the Blue Halo Initiative, with the support of local teachers. It was a week of art projects, games, singing, films, and interpretive dance. Last summer, Stephanie took the reins and added snorkeling, a field trip to the mangroves, a boat trip through the Codrington lagoon, a beach cleanup, and other activities explaining how our actions on land affect the sea.

Ayana playing an ocean food web game during the 2013 summer ocean camp.

For many of the kids, Blue Halo’s summer camp is their first time snorkeling along the coast and visiting the mangroves. This critical step in ocean conservation

Toxins related to ‘red tides’ found in home aquarium

Many shore residents and beach-goers are already familiar with the health risks of “red tide,” algal blooms along coastlines that can trigger respiratory illness and other effects in people who inhale the toxins the algae release. Now in ACS’ journal Environmental Science & Technology, scientists report new evidence that similar effects can occur on a much smaller scale among home aquaria owners.

Raising brightly colored tropical fish and coral in a home aquarium is like displaying a living work of art. But unlike art, aquaria are dynamic mini-ecosystems, and some can even release harmful toxins very similar to those that algal blooms release. Some owners have reported fevers, difficulty breathing, flu-like symptoms and other health problems after using hot water to clean their aquaria. Hot water on rocks that harbor algae and other critters creates steam that can then be inhaled. But there is little scientific evidence to shore up the link between aquaria and negative health effects. Carmela Dell’Aversano and colleagues wanted to explore the potential connection.

The researchers developed a method to rapidly test aquaria for toxins. They used their procedure to sample the soft coral and synthetic seawater from a home system when a family of

Robot-subs inform protection of English deep-sea corals

A fleet of robotic submarines, based at the National Oceanography Centre (NOC), head-quartered in in Southampton, have been used to map vulnerable cold-water coral reefs in the deep ocean off southwest England. This data set is being used to inform the management of a new Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) that protects the only area of deep-sea coral habitat in English waters. This MCZ forms part of a national network that is being expanded this week as a second round of designated sites are announced by Defra.

Scientists at the NOC worked in partnership with the Defra network to collect data from The Canyons MCZ, which is over 300 km southwest of Cornwall, using an unprecedented variety of marine robotic vehicles deployed from the research ship, RRS James Cook. Collected data include 3D maps of the seafloor and high-quality video and photos, and show the location and extent of the corals. This data set is providing Defra with robust evidence that will guide decisions about how to implement management measures at the site.

Professor Russell Wynn of NOC, who led the project and is on part-secondment to Defra, said: “The vibrant cold-water coral reefs and associated fauna in The Canyons

30 percent of global fish catch is unreported, study finds

Countries drastically underreport the number of fish caught worldwide, according to a new study, and the numbers obscure a significant decline in the total catch .

The new estimate, released in Nature Communications, puts the annual global catch at roughly 109 million metric tons, about 30 per cent higher than the 77 million officially reported in 2010 by more than 200 countries and territories. This means that 32 million metric tons of fish goes unreported every year, more than the weight of the entire population of the United States.

Researchers led by the Sea Around Us, a research initiative at the University of British Columbia supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts, and Vulcan Inc., attribute the discrepancy to the fact that most countries focus their data collection efforts on industrial fishing and largely exclude difficult-to-track categories such as artisanal, subsistence, and illegal fishing, as well as discarded fish.

“The world is withdrawing from a joint bank account of fish without knowing what has been withdrawn or the remaining balance,” said UBC professor Daniel Pauly, a lead author of the study and principal investigator of the Sea Around Us. “Better estimating the amount we’re taking out can help ensure there is

Researchers measure fish abundance in a lake using a few water samples

Researchers from Université Laval and Quebec’s Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks have shown that the DNA suspended in lake water can be used to effectively estimate the abundance of fish living in it. The details of this new approach, which could revolutionize how fish stocks are managed in lakes, are presented in a recent issue of the Journal of Applied Ecology.

The team supervised by Professor Louis Bernatchez of Université Laval’s Faculty of Science and Engineering and postdoctoral researcher Anaïs Lacoursière-Roussel demonstrated this technique using lake trout populations in 12 southern Quebec lakes. The researchers had access to lake trout population estimates obtained through the traditional approach used by their colleagues at Quebec’s Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks. This method consists of estimating entire lake populations by extrapolating from the number of fish captured using nets deployed in different parts of the body of water. This method is often time and labor intensive, in addition to having a potentially negative effect on fish populations.

The DNA used by the researchers is known as environmental DNA (eDNA) and is made up of genetic material present in free state in the water. “This DNA comes from cells that have

Potential invasive species identified in S. Gulf of Mexico

In fairytales, it’s usually the damsel who is in distress. When it comes to the marine world, however, it seems it’s the damsel that can cause some distress.

Damselfish are some of the most beautiful fishes in the ocean, and that’s why they are so attractive to those who want a saltwater aquarium in their home or place of business. But there’s a bit of a concern when it comes to one damselfish species — it is starting to pop up in a part of the ocean where it doesn’t really belong.

“While you wouldn’t immediately think of the regal damsel as a dangerous fish, the fact is they are now in places where they are not native and they’re spreading, which makes them potentially an invasive species,” said Matthew Johnston, Ph.D., a marine researcher at Nova Southeastern University’s (NSU) Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography. “They may not be as impactful as say the lionfish has been, but these fish can also have a negative impact on their new habitats — it could throw the ecosystem out of natural balance.”

Johnston is part of the group of researchers working out of NSU’s Guy Harvey Research Institute. An author

Maximizing sea life’s ability to reduce atmospheric carbon may help combat climate change

New research on West Antarctic seabed life reveals that the remote region of the South Orkney Islands is a carbon sink hotspot. The findings suggest that this recently designated (and world’s first) entirely high seas marine protected area may be a powerful natural ally in combating rising CO2 as sea ice melts.

“There has been a cascade of rising atmospheric CO2 driving warming, reducing sea ice, leading to longer micro-algal blooms–which means longer meal times for animals, which are growing more,” said Dr. David Barnes, senior author of the Global Change Biology study. The recently discovered polar seabed carbon gains remove carbon from cycling and represent a key negative feedback working against climate change.

This new science, which was conducted with Darwin Initiative funding, suggests that researchers should investigate whether maximizing natural carbon capture by seabed life could help reduce global CO2.

Do animals exercise to keep fit?

From joining a gym to taking up running, getting fit is a perennially popular new year’s resolution. We lead sedentary lifestyles and have easy access to energy-rich food, so we need to do voluntary exercise in order to keep fit. But what about other animals? Does a harbour porpoise, perhaps, need to put in extra training to ensure it can out-swim the dolphins that hunt it? Do animals exercise to keep fit?

It’s a question Dr Lewis Halsey of Roehampton University ponders in a new paper published in the Journal of Animal Ecology. And the surprising answer is that we don’t know — because it is an issue that has gone almost entirely unstudied.

Animals need energy for growth and for locomotion, for attack and defence, and ultimately for reproduction. Yet animals can only obtain energy intermittently by foraging, storing some of it to use later, so the energetic ecology of an animal is fundamental to its success.

As an eco-physiologist, Halsey studies how animals expend energy, and how they adapt their behaviour and physiology to reduce their energy costs. On Sundays he goes running on Wimbledon Common.

“It made me think about my own biology and ecology. If I don’t

New experiments determine effective treatments for box jelly stings

Researchers at the University of Hawai’i — Mānoa (UHM) developed an array of highly innovative experiments to allow scientists to safely test first-aid measures used for box jellyfish stings — from folk tales, like urine, to state-of-the-art technologies developed for the military. The power of this new array approach, published this week in the journal Toxins, is in its ability to rigorously assess the effectiveness of various treatments on inhibiting tentacle firing and venom toxicity — two aspects of a sting that affect the severity of a person’s reaction.

Box jellyfish are among the deadliest creatures on Earth, and are responsible for more deaths than shark attacks annually. Despite the danger posed by these gelatinous invertebrates, scientists and medical professionals still do not agree on the best way to treat and manage jellyfish stings.

“Authoritative web articles are constantly bombarding the public with unvalidated and frankly bad advice for how to treat a jelly sting,” said Dr. Angel Yanagihara, lead author of the paper and assistant research professor at the UHM Pacific Biosciences Research Center (PBRC) and John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM). “I really worry that emergency responders and public health decision makers might rely on these

How ocean acidification and warming could affect the culturing of pearls

Pearls have adorned the necklines of women throughout history, but some evidence suggests that the gems’ future could be uncertain. Increasingly acidic seawater causes oyster shells to weaken, which doesn’t bode well for the pearls forming within. But, as scientists report in ACS’ journal Environmental Science & Technology, the mollusks might be more resilient to changing conditions than previously thought.

Pearl aquaculture is big business, particularly in Asia and Australia. But much of it takes place in oceans, which are susceptible to the increasing amounts of carbon dioxide human activity releases into the atmosphere. CO2 from the air gets absorbed by the oceans, which become more acidic as a result. Research has found that pearl oysters produce weaker shells under these conditions, and this could hurt their chances of survival. But in addition to acidity, rising water temperature could also play a role in oyster health. Rongqing Zhang, Liping Xie and colleagues wanted to see how combining acidity and water temperature would affect pearl oysters.

The researchers tested oysters for two months under varying water temperature and pH conditions, including those predicted for oceans in 2100. Their results confirmed previous work that had found boosting acidity led to weaker

Monterey Bay Aquarium plans Ocean Education Center for students

MONTEREY >> The executive director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium believes science and environmental education is in crisis mode, and says the world-famous nonprofit facility on Cannery Row has a responsibility to help solve that problem.

Julie Packard announced Tuesday that the aquarium has purchased adjoining buildings — both within walking distance of the aquarium — one of which will be transformed into a 13,000-square-foot Ocean Education and Leadership Center for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

The buildings at 585 and 625 Cannery Row were purchased for $12.4 million. The building at 625 Cannery Row will be used for the Ocean Education Center, while the purpose for the other building has yet to be determined. The purchase includes the parking lots adjacent to the buildings to provide a drop-off and pick-up area for school groups.

The aquarium has retained Mark Cavagnero Associates, an award-winning San Francisco architectural firm that focuses on cultural, education and civic projects, to transform the existing building into the new education center. The firm also specializes in creative solutions for “adaptive reuse” and is widely recognized for its sustainable building practices.

“We are thrilled with this new project and looking to raise $50 million to make it possible,” said

How do Hurricanes Form?

Hurricanes are the most awesome, violent storms on Earth. People call these storms by other names, such as typhoons or cyclones, depending on where they occur. The scientific term for all these storms is tropical cyclone. Only tropical cyclones that form over the Atlantic Ocean or eastern Pacific Ocean are called “hurricanes.”

Whatever they are called, tropical cyclones all form the same way.

Tropical cyclones are like giant engines that use warm, moist air as fuel. That is why they form only over warm ocean waters near the equator. The warm, moist air over the ocean rises upward from near the surface. Because this air moves up and away from the surface, there is less air left near the surface. Another way to say the same thing is that the warm air rises, causing an area of lower air pressure below.

 A cumulonimbus cloud. A tropical cyclone has so many of these, they form huge, circular bands.

Air from surrounding areas with higher air pressure pushes in to the low pressure area. Then that “new” air becomes warm and moist and rises, too. As the warm air continues to rise, the surrounding air swirls in to take its place. As the

An Ocean of Activities!

 Surf’s up! Education World offers lessons that offer students the opportunity to explore the largest bodies of water on Earth: oceans! Included: Activities that involve students in creating time lines and posters, learning about ocean mysteries and legends, and much more!

Summertime is the perfect time for walking the beach, riding the waves, and sailing the oceans. The lessons we’ve put together for you promise to engage students in comparing Earth’s oceans, learning about the ocean’s creatures, considering common foods and household items that contain seaweed from the ocean, and investigating common words that have origins in maritime cultures, and much more!

Before we dive in, we’d like to point out a couple of exciting online projects. These projects might be just the thing for you — if your ocean study is to be a “deep” one!

  • Experience the thrill of ocean exploration — online! Follow Voyage of the Odyssey! This unique, three-year scientific expedition is studying whales, fish, albatrosses, and other marine life to measure the health of the world’s seas. The Odyssey began its journey in March 2000, sailing from San Diego to the Galpagos Islands. Numerous other stopping points are planned, including the Solomon Islands in the western

A tidal wave of data could personalise learning

It can hardly be denied that technology is fast becoming the fabric of our lives in more ways than one. It is ubiquitous and pervasive, and by the same token, the technology is capturing numerous aspects of our lives ready to be recalled, analysed, and used.

Authors Kristen DiCerbo and John Behrens argue that this transformation from ‘digital desert to digital ocean’ has the potential to help decipher how students learn and to help them succeed. According to a study by John Hattie in which he analysed 800 studies about factors that influenced students’ achievement, the most important factor was when teachers use information about their students’ learning.1 The report sets out the ways in which the variety and abundance of data captured when students carry out their school work could provide teachers with the key to help students learn.

Impacts of the Digital Ocean on Education highlights the many possibilities and challenges that technology presents in capturing relevant data and turning it into meaningful information that teachers can use to assist their students. More research also needs to be carried out to determine how the data relates to student achievement, problem-solving ability, and other skills developed in learning. For example, is

Sharks Use Seamounts as a Compass to Navigate Through the Ocean

National Geographic Sea Bird, Gulf of California — The National Geographic Committee for Research and Exploration (CRE) got to travel into the ocean realm of one of its most celebrated shark researchers last week when it it was accompanied on a field inspection in the Gulf of California by Pete Klimley.

The recipient of 11 National Geographic grants, Klimley is known on the National Geographic Channel, PBS and YouTube as “Doctor Hammerhead” for his work with the scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini).

“We’ve come back to the place where I started studying hammerheads in the late 1970s,” Klimley told me as we leaned out on the forward deck of National Geographic Sea Bird watching the sun rise out of the placid Sea of Cortez. “I have a predilection for this place, because it is where I started. I went out to a seamount here, and in what was an area the size of a small auditorium I found a huge number of hammerhead sharks, at least 500.”

Is higher education ready for blue ocean strategies?

an updated edition of Blue Ocean Strategy was published. The authors, W Chan Kim, the co-director of the INSEAD Blue Ocean Strategy Institute, and Renée Mauborgne, the INSEAD Distinguished Fellow, have been advising companies and organisations for more than a decade on “How to create uncontested market space and make competition irrelevant”.

The authors define two types of oceans: red oceans and blue oceans. Red oceans exist today and are populated by similar companies competing for the same market. Supply, in red oceans, exceeds demand.

Blue oceans are defined by the authors as untapped markets, not currently in existence. Blue oceans create new demand. Blue oceans don’t focus on beating the competition. Rather, blue oceans make the competition irrelevant by opening up new and uncontested market space.

Higher education: red or blue ocean?

Much has been written and predicted about higher education’s demise. Indeed, some of the ‘disruptions’ in higher education would lead one to agree that in five or 10 years many colleges and universities will either not exist or will be merged with other institutions.

In a recent Chronicle of Higher Education survey of United States college presidents, two thirds believe that higher education is going in the wrong direction. The usual reasons

Saving Baja Blue Whales for Generations to Come

National Geographic Sea Bird, Gulf of California–Since life began on Earth there has not been any animal bigger than one that lives with us today: the blue whale.

To see this colossus of the ocean right in front of you, blowing a geyser of water perhaps 30 feet into the air as it comes up for breath, is humbling — not only because of the animal’s awesome power and size, but also because we came very close to wiping it from the face of the planet at the height of the whaling industry in the 19th Century.

All Scientists on Deck

The National Geographic Committee for Research and Exploration was holding its grant-making meeting in the dining room of the National Geographic Sea Bird last week when Lindblad Expeditions President Sven-Olof Lindblad, the expedition leader, interrupted proceedings to report that a blue whale was swimming ahead of the ship. The session adjourned at once and a dozen scientists rushed up to the forward deck to take a look — quite likely the first time in the 100-year history of the venerable Committee for Research and Exploration that a whale had sent members fleeing from a meeting.

On its week-long field inspection through the Gulf of California, the CRE came across only that one blue whale — but then it was a little early in the

Saving a Species and Spending Christmas with Penguins

http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/files/2016/01/SANCCOB-027-600x450.jpg

The following is a blog post by Sheri Hendricks, Animal Care Specialist at Shedd Aquarium, about her experience helping save African penguins from extinction.

A colony of endangered African penguins (Photo credit: Shedd Aquarium/Sheri Hendricks)

Most people spend Christmas with their families. I was lucky enough to spend it with penguins.

As a nationally recognized leader in rescue and rehabilitation, Shedd Aquarium has responded to animals in need for over two decades. I’m very lucky to be part of Shedd’s marine mammal team, an extraordinary group of dedicated individuals that has worked with partners across the globe to supply critical care to animals in need. One of these relationships is with Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), a leading marine-orientated non-profit organization that has treated more than 90,000 oiled, ill, injured or abandoned African penguins and other threatened seabirds since being established in 1968.

To help assist with the rehabilitation of hundreds of endangered African penguin (Spheniscus demersus), Shedd sends members of its marine mammals team to SANCCOB to care for the birds and prepare them to be re-released. When the opportunity presented itself in late November to be one