Final days at sea

#3 in a series of guest blog posts by Seattle Aquarium Marine Science Interpreter Lindsay Holladay:

It was the final hour of my last watch aboard E/V Nautilus. Our remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) were ascending from the expedition’s fifteenth and deepest dive. I looked around the control van at the other seven members of the 8–12 watch and asked them to share their highlights from our past 21 days at sea. Our navigator and data manager described seeing sharks, octopuses or deep sea fish. The scientists remembered discovering that first unexpected methane seep bubbling out of the ocean floor. Our ROV pilot and engineer recalled how we overcame challenging moments collecting samples or repairing the vehicles.

Then viewers from around the world began typing in their favorite moments too: the shipwreck, collecting core samples, watching Pacific sunsets, experiencing the tubeworm habitat from their classroom, watching our ROV Argus pilot become an experienced Hercules pilot. Once again I was struck by the magnitude of our ocean explorations and how many people around the world had been touched.

I’m taking away many wonderful memories and experiences from my time as science communicator aboard E/V Nautilus. I learned so much about the technical aspects of life at sea and just how diverse the deep Pacific Ocean ecosystems are off our wild Northwest coast. I discovered how many different career paths there are in ocean exploration and marine science. And while it’s difficult to narrow it down, here are a few of my highlights from our exploration voyage along the Cascadia Margin:

Ultimately, we explored many methane seeps, but the Astoria Canyon seep stands out as a special moment. I wish everyone could have seen the excitement in our scientists’ eyes as they realized we were seeing exposed hydrate layers (frozen methane) for the first time in an unexpected location. In this video, you can relive the experience and hear our team’s elation from the control van.

Deep sea corals have been marked as a species of interest by NOAA because of their unique requirements and their ability to harbor many other organisms. By piecing together old trawling information, we were able to land almost directly on a dense bamboo coral habitat. In addition to the colorful and fragile corals, we saw crabs, nudibranchs, anemones, basket stars, urchins and octopuses. In this video or this photo album, you can see many of those creatures living and feeding on the corals.

I had heard of coral reefs before this trip. But I’d never heard of, much less seen, a sponge reef. Part of our exploration to this area in Gray’s Canyon was to confirm these rare glass sponges were indeed growing on top of older sponges in a reef formation. It was stunning to see the myriad colors and shapes and exciting to know this is the first of these habitats to ever be documented off of Washington. For more views of this underwater treasure, view the Ocean Exploration Trust’s photo album.

My favorite invertebrate is the octopus and we had no shortage of sightings of the cool cephalopod. Here is a beautiful montage of the octopus species that we saw along the Cascadia Margin.

Thanks for following along on this adventure! My time aboard E/V Nautilus has come to a close but the exploration of our ocean is only just beginning. Join the Corps of Exploration all summer and ask your questions as other teams research unexplored areas of the eastern Pacific Ocean on nautiluslive.org.

About Lindsay:
Lindsay Holladay is a marine science interpreter at Seattle Aquarium and a 2016 Science Communication Fellow with the Ocean Exploration Trust. She is currently spending three weeks aboard the E/V Nautilus, exploring methane seeps and deep-sea ecosystems along the Cascadia Margin.

 

 

Posted in Seattle Aquarium | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Seattle Aquarium staff lend a helping hand in marine mammal rehabilitation: Part 4

Julie & Mariko

Seattle Aquarium bird and mammal team members Julie Carpenter and Mariko Bushcamp recently traveled to The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California to assist in the care and rehabilitation of sick and injured marine mammals. The Marine Mammal Center is a nonprofit research hospital and educational center dedicated to global conservation of marine mammals through their rescue and rehabilitation work, as well as educational outreach and scientific research efforts.

Julie and Mariko were able to assist in important rehabilitation efforts, learn more about the West Coast marine mammal stranding network, and bring back a wealth of knowledge to the staff and visitors of the Seattle Aquarium. Through this collaborative relationship, we hope to continue to educate people about the critical work being conducted at The Marine Mammal Center and the many environmental issues affecting marine mammals.

Learn about Julie and Mariko’s experience in this five-part blog series.

Part 1: An opportunity to assist at The Marine Mammal Center
Part 2: Northern elephant seals
Part 3: California sea lions, northern fur seals and Guadalupe fur seals
Part 4: Pacific harbor seals

Most harbor seal pups admitted to The Marine Mammal Center arrive shortly after they are born; many have become orphaned due to human disturbance. Although an adult female can flee to the water to avoid contact with beachgoers and their dogs, their young pups are too small and weak and usually remain on the beach. This separation significantly decreases the pup’s chances for survival.

Share the Shore

The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) protects marine mammals in the United States by prohibiting humans from getting within the length of a football field’s distance from any marine mammal. You can help harbor seals by spreading the message to keep your distance. Click here to print your own NOAA “Share the Shore” sign to post at a beach near you.

Harbor seal pup

Harbor seal pup. The tag allows researchers to tell individual animals apart, and will fall off during the pup’s annual molt when it sheds its fur.
Photo © The Marine Mammal Center

Because many of the The Marine Mammal Center’s harbor seal pups are found as newborns, they haven’t developed the strong immune system they would gain from drinking their mother’s milk. For this reason, they’re kept in a separate quarantine area in an effort to protect them from diseases the other patients may harbor. Less restraint is necessary for these little guys and tube feeding must be done gently. Harbor seals have amazing innate instincts and some pups progressed from assisted feeding of whole fish to tracking fish and eating fish thrown into the pool in a single day!

Posted in Conservation, Marine Animals, Seattle Aquarium | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Know your beach-this week from the beach

#3 in a series of guest blog posts by Seattle Aquarium beach naturalists Bobby Arispe and Jen Strongin.

Moon Snail, Lincoln Park Beach

Moon Snail, Lincoln Park Beach

We celebrated the summer solstice with some pretty special low-tide guests at Lincoln Park last week. This moon snail gave us quite the celebratory show, with its grand foot extended and in full view. Moon snails use their giant foot to get around and to help themselves burrow into the sand to hide from predators.

To the delight of a number of schoolchildren (we had about 180 visit us that day!) and all of us naturalists, we also got to spend some quality time with an octopus. It eventually hitched a ride on a moon snail egg collar as the incoming tide brought it back out to sea!

Crab #1

Many of the school kids were picking up crabs and showing me all the “dead” crabs they found. We played a little game of “beach detective” and used our senses to determine if these crabs were really dead. A gentle touch to see if they moved; if not, we picked them up and felt how heavy they were. Then, we gave them a good smell. If the crab didn’t smell really stinky, we tried opening the carapace. If it opened easily and looked like the crab below, we knew we had “crab clothes” or, more technically, a molt! This crab had just grown a little bigger and left its old exoskeleton behind.

Crab #2

Lincoln Park and Constellation Beach are my home bases as a beach naturalist, but this week I headed up north to visit the beach at Carkeek Park. I love Carkeek with its amazing beds of eelgrass (important habitat for young salmon and many invertebrates) and the famous “whispering rock” at the north end.

Whispering Rock

Whispering Rock at the North end of Carkeek Beach

Every nook and cranny of the whispering rock is covered with life—from tiny barnacles to huge sea stars. If you visit and Beach Captain Daoud is there, he will show you around. He knows this rock like the back of his hand! If you’re lucky, he might show you where the amazing and strange-looking tunicates hide out.

Daoud

Daoud, illuminating one of the many crevices filled with animals at Whispering Rock. Carkeek Beach.

Shiny Orange Tunicate

Shiny Orange Tunicate at Whispering Rock. This strange looking animal is more closely related to us than any other invertebrate on our beaches!

Some Carkeek beachgoers were convinced that this mass of orange sea cucumbers at the whispering rock was a giant octopus! You can see why—their bright orange, tube-feet-studded, elongated bodies piled one on top of the other looks just like a tangle of octopus arms.

Sea Cucumbers

Sea Cucumbers at Whispering Rock, Carkeek Beach

We will be on your local beaches July 2–6 to help you celebrate the 4th of July holiday weekend with some low-tide exploring. Come on out and visit us!

Sea star

Beach Etiquette Tip of the Week- Touch gently with one wet finger

Other photos from the beach:

 

About Jen:

Jen writes:

“I ventured westward from Albany, NY and fell madly in love with our city from the moment I arrived. It was 21 years ago this August when Seattle first charmed me with its lush, forested parks, beautiful beaches, and water and mountain views (when the skies are clear enough) all around.

I spent the first half of my 21 years here immersed in Seattle’s wonderful coffee culture. My husband and I owned and operated Victrola Coffee on Capitol Hill until 2008. We sold our business that year to spend more time with our newborn son and I have been a stay-at-home, homeschooling mama and budding photographer and naturalist ever since! It started with me taking my young son to the beach, gazing into tide pools and wanting to know more about what we were looking at. Soon, I was going to the beach by myself, every low tide I could, and following the Seattle Aquarium beach naturalists around asking questions. :)

I signed up to be an interpretive volunteer at the Seattle Aquarium in 2013, became a beach naturalist volunteer in 2014, and this will be my first year as an official member of the Seattle Aquarium staff as a beach captain. My favorite place to be is on the beach, with my camera, sharing my love and knowledge of our intertidal dwellers with the hope that I will inspire others to love and protect the Salish Sea and the ocean beyond.”

Posted in Seattle Aquarium | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Seattle Aquarium staff lend a helping hand in marine mammal rehabilitation: Part 3

Julie & Mariko

Seattle Aquarium bird and mammal team members Julie Carpenter and Mariko Bushcamp recently traveled to The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California to assist in the care and rehabilitation of sick and injured marine mammals. The Marine Mammal Center is a nonprofit research hospital and educational center dedicated to global conservation of marine mammals through their rescue and rehabilitation work, as well as educational outreach and scientific research efforts.

Julie and Mariko were able to assist in important rehabilitation efforts, learn more about the West Coast marine mammal stranding network, and bring back a wealth of knowledge to the staff and visitors of the Seattle Aquarium. Through this collaborative relationship, we hope to continue to educate people about the critical work being conducted at The Marine Mammal Center and the many environmental issues affecting marine mammals.

Learn about Julie and Mariko’s experience in this five-part blog series.

Part 1: An opportunity to assist at The Marine Mammal Center
Part 2: Northern elephant seals
Part 3: California sea lions, northern fur seals and Guadalupe fur seals

The U.S. population of California sea lions is currently estimated to be around 300,000 animals, all on the Pacific coast. According to wildlife biologists, the species is now at “carrying capacity”—near the highest level the environment can sustain. California sea lions are the most common marine mammal patient at The Marine Mammal Center. Although the population of Guadalupe fur seals is increasing, the species is still listed as depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Northern fur seal wild populations are decreasing by four to six percent each year and they are also listed as depleted under the MMPA.

 

The daily care and medical needs of sea lion and fur seal pups are similar to that of elephant seal pups, but a more gentle yet quick approach is needed to accommodate their small size agility, and natural aggressiveness. Animals requiring tube feedings receive thinner tubes and staff providing restraint must be conscious of the animals’ large and delicate flippers. Animals are usually placed into kennels for weigh-ins due to their ability to rotate their rear flippers underneath them, which allows them to run quickly.

Photo ©The Marine Mammal Center

Many of these animals suffer from malnourishment due to their inability to find the fish stocks that were once plentiful. Research shows that overfishing and warming ocean waters associated with an El Niño could be major contributors to the declines in local fish populations. Entanglement in marine debris is another major cause of marine mammal strandings. According to a multiple-year study published in 2014 in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, it is estimated nearly 270,000 tons of plastic is floating in the world’s ocean and that plastic is broken up into more than five trillion pieces.

Posted in Conservation, Marine Animals, Seattle Aquarium | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Seattle Aquarium staff lend a helping hand in marine mammal rehabilitation: Part 2

Julie & Mariko

Seattle Aquarium bird and mammal team members Julie Carpenter and Mariko Bushcamp recently traveled to The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California to assist in the care and rehabilitation of sick and injured marine mammals. The Marine Mammal Center is a nonprofit research hospital and educational center dedicated to global conservation of marine mammals through their rescue and rehabilitation work, as well as educational outreach and scientific research efforts.

Julie and Mariko were able to assist in important rehabilitation efforts, learn more about the West Coast marine mammal stranding network, and bring back a wealth of knowledge to the staff and visitors of the Seattle Aquarium. Through this collaborative relationship, we hope to continue to educate people about the critical work being conducted at The Marine Mammal Center and the many environmental issues affecting marine mammals.

Learn about Julie and Mariko’s experience in this five-part blog series.

Part 1: An opportunity to assist at The Marine Mammal Center
Part 2: Northern elephant seals

Elephant seals pups are the second most common patient at The Marine Mammal Center (California sea lions are the most common, more on that later) and are admitted primarily from February through June. These pups are usually washed away from their rookery (breeding grounds) during storms or have not successfully learned how to forage resulting in malnourishment.

Julie and Mariko tube feed an elephant seal

Julie and Mariko tube feed an elephant seal
Photo © The Marine Mammal Center

Care of these animals includes daily cleaning, feeding, medical checkups and regular weighing. All care follows specific guidelines to ensure animal and human safety. Protocols must be followed to avoid the animals becoming too acclimated to humans. Talking is only permitted when necessary and at low volumes. Large boards are placed between the animals and humans in an effort to keep the animals from acclimating to people walking near them. Elephant seal pups that do not know how to hunt for food or swallow whole fish are initially fed using a tube. Tube feeding is not as difficult as it sounds since marine mammals are designed to swallow large fish whole. A small feeding tube is passed down the animal’s throat and into its stomach relatively easily, then one person gently restrains the animal while the other person places the tube into the correct position so a mixture of blended fish, fish oil, vitamins and medications can be poured through the tube. Other animals are kept away with boards to ensure safety. Tube feeding is done two to four times a day depending on the animal’s specific needs.

Elephant seal weighing

Mariko waiting her turn to wheel her elephant seal onto the scale for weighing
Photo © The Marine Mammal Center

Weighing the elephant seals was definitely one of the “cuter” jobs. Elephant seals, like our local harbor seals, can only crawl on land using their small front flippers, so they are briefly lifted into a wheelbarrow and wheeled onto a platform scale. Elephant seal pups usually weigh about 70 pounds at birth; they more than triple their body weight to 220–250 pounds during the approximately four weeks they nurse to receive milk from their moms. Maternal care usually ends at that point, and the moms abandon their pups on the beach.

The Center’s elephant seal patients are often admitted weighing less than 100 pounds. When pups appear more food-motivated they begin “fish school,” where fish is offered in a variety of ways to elicit their hunting instincts. All feeding data and observations are carefully recorded for analysis.

Posted in Conservation, Marine Animals, Seattle Aquarium | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment