Sea Creature of the Week!

December 21st, 2011

Leatherback Turtle

Scientific name: Dermochelys coriacea

Home: This enormous marine animal has the largest range of all reptiles and can be can found in tropical, subtropical and even frigid arctic waters around the world. The leatherback spends most of its time in the open seas looking for food. It prefers to mate and nest on beaches adjacent to deeper waters and tends to avoid beaches near coral reefs.

Physical features: The leatherback is the largest of all turtles and can weigh over 2000 lbs. It also has the largest flippers out of all its turtle relatives. They extend out of its tear-shaped body and grow up to 9 feet in length. The leatherback’s other distinguishing characteristic, besides its enormous size, is its lack of bony carapace or hard shell. In lieu of the typical turtle shell our marine friend has a oily leathery osteoderms  (a layer of skin embedded with bony deposits). Its shell is grayish black while its underside tends to be of a lighter hue. The sharp point on it’s beak, the tomium , is what this marine creature uses to rip apart its food. The backwards spines in the back of its throat help it swallow its prey.

Food: The leatherback turtle spend the majority of their day hunting the only thing they like to eat, jellyfish. They eat twice their weight daily! Sadly many times the leatherback mistake plastic debris such as plastic bags and balloons for jellyfish. Even ingesting the slightest amount of plastic can obstruct their digestive tracts and be fatal.

Conservation status: Critically endangered

• One of the largest threats to the leatherback population is the fact that many people collect its eggs for food! #NotSoFunFact
• The leatherback will travel as far as 12, 000 miles to lay its eggs!
• The Leatherback turtle is one of the deepest diving living mammals. It can reachdepths of over 4,200 ft!

Sea creature of the week!

December 12th, 2011

Great Barracuda

Scientific Name: Sphyraena barracuda

Family: Sphyraenidae

Home: This aggressive marine predator can primarily be spotted at or near the surface of the ocean. The juveniles tend to hang out in mangroves, shallow sheltered inner reef areas and estuaries while the adults venture further out to the open seas. The Great Barracuda is native to subtropical and tropical waters of the Red Sea, the Indo-Pacific region extending from the eastern coast of Africa to the coast of Hawaii as well as to the Eastern and Western Atlantic regions (including the Caribbean Sea).

Characteristics: The Great Barracuda resembles a torpedo with its large pointed head and elongated body. It can reach a length of 6ft and can weigh up to 100 lbs. Its large mouth possesses strong and jagged fang-like teeth. This formidable predator has an extremely powerful jaw with the lower portion sticking out beyond the upper. The coloration of the Great Barracuda ranges from dark green to a silvery blue, often darker lines and blotches cover the sides of its body.

Food: The Great barracuda is a ravenous predator and highly skilled marine hunter. This fearsome creature feeds primarily on fish and cephalopods while occasionally gorging on shrimp.  It utilizes a lie-in-wait or ambush technique to catch its prey. The element of surprise, its relatively fast bursts of speed (up to 27 mph), powerful jaw and  razor-sharp teeth are all contributing factors to Great Barracuda’s success in its quest for food.

Fun Facts:

• Consuming Barracuda meat (even in small amounts) can result in ciguatera food poisoning, a toxin which accumulates from the fish it feeds on!

• When diving in Barracuda infested waters avoid wearing any shiny jeweler since this predator may mistake the glimmer of your watch or ring as its dinner!

• At times, a small group of these fish who are full from their previous meal will stalk a school of prey fish until they are ready for their next feeding!

Places to sea!

December 7th, 2011

Vik Beach, Iceland

The town of Vik, considered to be one of the wettest places on earth, is 110 miles away from the capital Reykjavik and the southern most city in Iceland. The village is home to less than 300 inhabitants and to one of the world’s most beautiful black basalt sand beaches. The western cliffs of the beach are home to a large puffin population!

There is no land mass between Vik and the arctic which leaves it prone to intense weather and rough seas. It should, therefore, be no surprise that the beach is littered with monuments commemorating those sailors and fishermen taken by the sea.

Vik lies directly under the Mýdalsjökull glacier which lies atop the Katla Volcano. The color of the sand was likely created by hot lava flowing into the frigid ocean, causing it to fragment into little pieces. Katla has been largely inactive since 1918. This relatively long period of inactivity has led many to believe that a volcanic eruption is likely to occur soon! If an eruption does occurs it would have the potential to melt a substantial amount of ice. This could lead to a huge flash flood and leave the exposed town defenseless against the powers of nature.

The town church which lies high atop a hill is believed to be the only structure that would survive the potentially devastating forces of nature. For this reason there are periodic drills to train the inhabitants of this small town to literally ‘run for the hills’ at the first sign of an eruption.

Sea Creature of the Week!

December 5th, 2011

Golden Cownose Ray

Scientific name: Rhinoptera steindachneri

Other names: Hawk rays, Pacific Cownose ray

Family: Rhinopteridae

Home: The Pacific Cownose ray can be seen swimming in the open shallow waters of the eastern Pacific ocean. Subtidal aquatic beds, coral or rocky reefs, estuaries, intertidal marshes and coastal (saline) lagoons are also preferred hang out spots of the Hawk ray.

Characteristics: This marine animal’s protruding high-domed head is distinctly shaped like a cownose (hence its name). It can reach about 3 feet in width and can weigh as much as 20 pounds. Its dorsal (upper) skin is a golden-brown while its ventral side (underside) is a creamy white. The razor sharp venomous stinger(s), which grow at the base of this ray ‘s black whip-like tail, can reach up to 15 inches in length.

Food: This marine creature primarily munches on benthic crustaceans and mollusks such as clams, oysters and crabs. Some scientists have come to the conclusion that their fins are sensitive to the bioelectric signals emitted by potential prey; ultimately helping them in their quest for dinner. Often they  must dig up their food by rapidly flapping their fins to displace sand and sucking sediment through the mouth and releasing it from their gills. Their jaws contain flat tooth plates which are used to grind their hard shelled prey.

Golden cownose ray migration

Fun Facts:

• Unlike most other Stingrays the Cownose ray rarely lies on the seabed and prefers to be on the go!
• The hawkray migrates in large schools (around 10,000 strong) twice a year. They head to warmer southern waters in late autumn and cooler northern waters in late spring!
• Their relatively slow rate of reproduction combined with irresponsible fishing practices, particularly bottom trawling (for shrimp), has put the Cownose population in danger! #NotSoFunFact

Sea Creature of the Week!

November 28th, 2011

Fairy Basslet

Scientific Name : Gramma loreto

Family: Grammatidae

Home: This tiny aquatic beauty can be found throughout the Caribbean. It prefers to hang out at the edge of reefs where sheltering coral grows abundantly. The coral provides caves, ledges and crevices in which our fish friend can hid from its predators.

Characteristics: This marine fairy has a small yet elongated body with delicate looking fins. It grows to be about 3 inches in length. Its coloring is by far the most distinguishing characteristic of this aquatic creature. It has a bluish purple head while the rest of it is bright yellow. Generally this little fishy looks like it is wearing warpaint with two yellow lines on its cheeks and a black line cutting through its eyes. The male grows to be slightly larger than its female counter part.

Food: The fairy basslet feeds primarily on small crustaceans such as copepods, mysid shrimp and the planktonic larvae of larger crustaceans. As a treat it will sometimes also eat the parasitic organisms living on larger fish.

Fun Facts:

• Reef destruction and the aquarium trade both pose a huge threat to fairy basslet population! #NotSoFunFact

• Courtship and mating occur amongst these marine creatures in
the wee hours of the morning!

• It is not uncommon to spot our fish friend hanging upside from the ledge of the reef!

Places to Sea!

November 23rd, 2011

Boulders Beach, South Africa

Boulders Beach aka Boulders bay is a sheltered beach located near Simon’s Town in the Western Cape province of South Africa. This area is considered to be part of the Table Mountain National Park. The presence of large 540 million year old granite boulders, from which it gets its name, is not the only distinguish characteristic of this beach. The stinky sunbathing Jackass, which have been around since 1982, have made this a popular coastal destination.

The Jackasses we are referring to here are not some loud drunken vagabonds, rather they are a colony of African penguins whose call resembles a donkey’s bray. The beach’s vulnerable black-footed penguin population has grown steadily from 2 in 1982 to over 3,000 today. This population growth has been partly attributed to the fact that their human neighbors have allowed their colony to thrive with limited interference. Furthermore, the reduction of commercial pelagic trawling in False Bay has increased the pilchards and anchovy stock, a main source of food for these marine birds.

In an effort to protect these adorable (and stinky) friends the South African government has prohibited swimming on the beach were the Jackass hang out. The adjacent Foxy Beach, however, is open to humans. It is not uncommon for visitors of the area to experience the thrill of swimming and catching waves with these amazing creatures !