Spring has sprung, the grass has riz

Jackie

By Jackie Lindsey, Vertebrate Ecology Lab

We are just breaths away from the first day of spring, and the wildlife of Moss Landing, CA is in a flurry. High above the the heads of kayakers and sea otters in Elkhorn Slough, birds have started constructing their condos in the tall eucalyptus trees that line the shore of this estuary. Egrets, cormorants, and herons are gathering supplies and strength to begin chick rearing.  In just a few weeks these silent efforts will be rewarded with the arrival of fluffy chicks, clamoring for their next meal. These particular condos have reached surprisingly high densities in past years, nearing 200 nests!

Great Egret (Ardea alba) nest with three chicks at the in the Mo

Great Egret (Ardea alba) nest with three chicks at the in the Morro Bay Heron Rookery. 21 May 2009. Photo by Michael “Mike” L. Baird

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Tales from the Field: Research at Catalina Island Part II

230855_10150295628783835_1400708_nBy Stephen Pang, Ichthyology Lab

If you read my previous blog post, you may remember that I spent my summer out on Santa Catalina Island at the Wrigley Marine Science Center (WMSC), a research facility owned and operated by the University of Southern California (USC). While there, I began my thesis research examining the effect of male limitation on the reproductive output of blackeye gobies, a temperate sex-changing fish. While we were able to successfully set up the project, we were unable to collect any useable data.

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A blackeye goby (Rhinogobiops nicholsii). My study species for this project. Source: Ron’s Critter of the Day.

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Climate Change, Upwelling, and Our Deep Sea Canyon

By Catherine Drake, Invertebrate Zoology Lab

One of the many great aspects about doing marine research in Monterey Bay is that there are many institutions in the area, all of which are interested in uncovering the unknown about our Pacific Ocean. Many Moss Landing Marine Labs graduate students often continue their careers at these institutions. In fact, right down the street from our lab is Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI for short), and many former graduate students now work there. Much of the research performed at MBARI involves taking ROVs into our canyon and exploring what lies beneath the water we see from MLML’s windows.

For the last 25+ years, scientists at MBARI have been monitoring a site deemed “Station M” within the Monterey Canyon that is 126 miles offshore and 2.5 miles below the surface. For 20 of those 25 years, the ecosystem has been relatively stable and sponges were the dominant invertebrates in the area.

Then, between 2011 and 2014, scientists noticed that sea cucumbers immigrated into Station M and out-competed the sponges. One interesting fact about these squishy deep sea echinoderms is that, in addition to inching along like caterpillars, they can actually also swim around! They rely on sinking and decaying detritus for food, and increased decaying plant life around Station M is what allowed the sea cucumbers to take over.

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Two deep sea peniagone sea cucumbers scouring the seafloor for food in 2013. (Photo by: MBARI)

But why was there a sudden increase in food, and where did it come from? These were among the questions asked by MBARI scientists, and they believe the decaying plant life may have been pushed into the system through upwelling. Seasonal winds cause upwelling, which brings cold, nutrient rich waters to the surface. Scientists believe that climate change is causing an increase in these winds, which in turn, is increasing the frequency of upwelling.

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Schematic of the upwelling process. (Photo by: Seos Project)

Christine Huffard, a scientist on the project said, “What we do on the surface waters does affect the deep sea. We are not just changing our immediate everyday surroundings, we are changing the greatest depths of the ocean.” So, as we humans heat up the Earth, that changes how the ocean works, which then affects even the deepest part of our canyon. For its inhabitants, that means more food for sea cucumbers, and for us, it means food for thought of our actions on land!

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Fisheries Course Navigates Students Through the Rocky Seas of Management

By June Shrestha, Ichthyology Lab.

Understanding how people use the ocean and its resources is not straightforward. Some fish for a job. Some fish for fun. Some don’t fish at all and use the waters for recreation, tourism, or science. How can we manage the ocean when so many different groups (stakeholders) have different needs and wants?

Last semester, students explored these issues in the Fisheries Biology and Resource Management seminar course taught by Dr. Scott Hamilton (Ichthyology) and Dr. Rick Starr (Fisheries and Conservation Biology). We learned that many fisheries around the world are overexploited, such as the decline of Nassau Grouper in the Bahamas, Common Thresher sharks around the world, and the Brown Sea Cucumber in the Galápagos Islands.

Exploited and Recovering Fisheries

Overexploited fisheries include the Nassau Grouper, Common Thresher Shark, and Sea Cucumber. The Orange Roughy fishery in Australia is thought to be in recovery. Photo sources, clockwise from top left: 1, 2, 3, 4

However, not all is “doom and gloom” – success stories in fisheries management do exist.

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Seeking new species of Ghost Shark

White Sharks, Manta Rays and Tiger Sharks are easily identifiable to most, but there are more than 1,200 species of sharks, skates, rays and chimaeras, collectively called Chondrichthyans, known to science.

For my Master’s thesis I study a unique group of fish known as ghost sharks, chimaeras or ratfish. They are related to sharks and rays because of their cartilage skeleton, but look quite different. They have large pectoral fins, rabbit-like teeth and a long tapering body (check out an amazing video here). We know very little about these deep-sea creatures, in some cases something as simple as their name.

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The Spotted Ratfish is a species of Ghost Shark found in California.

There are 49 species of Ghost Shark, however several additional species are known to exist, but have yet to be officially named. Under Dr. Dave Ebert, director of the Pacific Shark Research Center (PSRC), graduate students at MLML have named five new species of Ghost Shark since 2006. In fact the PSRC has described 25 new species of Chondrichthyans since its inception in efforts to help the ‘Lost Sharks’ of our oceans.  The most recent edition, the Ninja Lanternshark was officially published last month and received quite the media buzz!

DSC_6505Last year fellow graduate student Paul Clerkin and I traveled to South Africa to search for new Ghost Shark species. For more than 15 years local researchers speculated two new species existed in the region, but no one had taken the time to look for them. It may seem counterintuitive, but a museum is a great place to find unknown species. If researcher or fisherman encounters an unidentified chimaera, it’s often placed in the museum collection and forgotten.

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The South African Museum houses hundreds upon thousands of fish in their collection.

We arrived at the South African Museum in Cape Town to gather morphometrics, a series of 96 measurements per animals that we use to describe and differentiate species. Together we measured 90 specimens for a total of nearly 9,000 unique measurements. Finding and measuring specimens isn’t as glorious as it sounds, the specimens are preserved in alcohol and stored in large tubs; one never knows what you might find. It’s a smelly job, but stay tuned over the next few months for several new species of Ghost Shark!

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Fog Blog: Smoke on the Water

By: Alex Olson and Holly Chiswell, Chemical Oceanography Lab

Able Seaman Pat Breshears of Oregon State University’s R/V Oceanus shuttles Holly Chiswell and Alex Olson out into the haze to collect sea surface microlayer samples offshore of Northern California.

Able Seaman Pat Breshears of Oregon State University’s R/V Oceanus shuttles Holly Chiswell and Alex Olson out into the haze to collect sea surface microlayer samples offshore of Northern California.

The Chemical Oceanography and MPSL labs set out on their latest cruise this past summer in hopes of bolstering and expanding their search to answer the question:  how is monomethylmercury (MMHg) transported into coastal marine fog? For those who missed our first post, a quick review:

MMHg is a neurotoxic form of mercury (Hg) recently discovered in marine advective fog along the central Californian Coast at trace levels, yet still 100 times higher than that of rain. Naturally, monomethylmercury is the byproduct of cellular metabolism in certain anaerobic bacteria; created (or methylated) from available elemental Hg. Oxygen minimum zones in the ocean also show increased levels of MMHg, suggesting its production occurs within microenvironments in these zones. In other words, it’s possible that bacteria that make their living in the anoxic depths of the ocean may be pumping out MMHg from any available elemental Hg in seawater. Elemental Hg (the kind found in old thermometers) is widespread and found globally in trace amounts. Volcanoes and other geologic venting were the main contributors of elemental and reactive forms of Hg to the atmosphere before the Industrial Revolution. Since then, global atmospheric levels of Hg have more than quadrupled. Anthropogenic sources of Hg are responsible for most Hg poisonings worldwide. One event, involving MMHg in waste discharge from a chemical plant, led to thousands of deaths in the small Japanese fishing town of Minamata. This event in the 1950’s, led to elevating global awareness of MMHg pollution. “Minamata’s Disease” is now a term used to describe the symptoms associated with the degradation of the body’s nervous system as a result of high MMHg toxicity. In case you are wondering, these symptoms include:

  • Tremors
  • Changes in vision
  • Deafness
  • Muscle coordination
  • Loss of sensation
  • Memory loss
  • Personality changes (nervous, irritable, shy)

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Twenty and One Arabian Nights

A big part of what makes studying marine science great is being able to travel around the world and see how different ecological systems operate.  Although MLML’s location in the heart of Monterey Bay makes it ideal for studying the marine environments of California, as a student studying coral reefs, I relish the opportunity to travel abroad and see different reefs around the world.  This past summer, I attended a three week summer workshop at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), located along the coast of the Red Sea in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  In these three weeks, I was able to learn about the research being done in the university’s Red Sea Research Center, as well as spending some time exploring the coral reefs of the Red Sea and learning about the culture of Saudi Arabia.

20150804_210608The Breakwater Beacon is an iconic landmark of the campus.  It looks great lit up at night!

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