Recently in Marine Life Category

Mystery of the basking shark

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By MICHAEL VINEY

ANOTHER LIFE: Arriving once, in innocence and at the wrong or right time (depending on one's sensibilities) at the cliffs above Achill's Keem Bay, I found myself watching the execution of a large basking shark trapped in nets in the water below. As a lance was thrust from the crowding currachs, the scene had little in common with bold battles in wild seas re-enacted for Flaherty's famous "documentary" Man of Aran. Blood trailed briefly through the limpid water as the beast was towed ashore for the great oily liver that made, perhaps, one third of its weight.

Forty years on from the peak of the Achill enterprise that killed 12,342 of the world's second largest fish, Irish marine researchers have had an amazing summer. In forays off Inishowen in Co Donegal and around the Blasket Islands off Kerry, they caught up with no fewer than 101 of the sharks swimming at the surface and reached out from their rib with extendable painter's poles to plant colour- coded tags in the dorsal fins.

Even a decade ago, remarkably little was known about the comings and goings of Cetorhinus maximus.What had been sorted out was its maximum size (rarely more than 10 metres) and phenomenal, open- mouthed throughput of ocean (nearly 1,500 cubic metres every hour) to gulp the pink-centred zooplankton, Calanus, that fills its stomach with something like tomato ketchup.

The big mystery was where the animals went in winter.....

read more here

Michael Viney welcomes observations at Thallabawn, Carrowniskey PO, Westport, Co Mayo. E-mail : viney@anu.ie Include a postal address

Originally published by MICHAEL VINEY.

(c) 2009 Irish Times.





Rising Ocean Acidity Erodes Fisheries

The Arctic's increased vulnerability to climate change is not limited to higher temperatures and melting permafrost.

New research from the University of Alaska Fairbanks suggests Arctic oceans are particularly susceptible to acidification, with potentially dire consequences to Alaska's rich crab and salmon fisheries.

"Everything is acting in unison on the environment - it's not just the ice loss or the warming or the acidification," said UAF chemical oceanographer Jeremy Mathis. "The Arctic is taking a multilateral hit."

Mathis' newest data from the Gulf of Alaska shows acidity levels far higher than expected are already having an impact. In several sites the increasing acidity has changed ocean chemistry so significantly that organisms are unable to pull crucial minerals out of the water to build shells, he said.

Ocean acidification, often called the sister problem to climate change, refers to the rising acidity of the world's seas as seawater absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

New research from the University of Alaska Fairbanks suggests Arctic oceans are already seeing the effects of acidification, with potentially dire consequences to crab and salmon fisheries



By some accounts the oceans have absorbed 30 percent of the carbon dioxide humans have pumped into the atmosphere since the dawn of the industrial age, buffering the atmosphere from the harm posed by that greenhouse gas.

But that storage comes with a price. The ocean's pH has dropped nearly 30 percent over the past 250 years to levels not seen in the last 800,000 years; if emissions continue unchecked, the oceans could be more acidic than anything experienced in the past 12 million years. Scientists increasingly consider this change in ocean chemistry to be as consequential and potentially catastrophic for the globe as any temperature rise associated with climate disruption.

"When people talk about ocean acidification, it's a whole suite of changes in the chemical system," said Joanie Kleypas, an oceanographer with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. "There's all sorts of stuff going on, and it's hard to piece it all together."

But one of the most noticeable impacts is hampered shell formation: As ocean pH drops (and acidity rises), organisms such as corals, oysters, clams and crabs have trouble pulling minerals necessary for their shells out of the seawater.

It's too soon to say whether an acidifying Arctic means curtains for Alaska's lucrative king crab fishery, Mathis said.

The impact is already being felt by a tiny creature at the base of the food web supporting the state's legendary salmon runs - the pteropod, or swimming sea snail. Accounting for up to half the diet of pink salmon, pteropods have trouble building shells - and hence surviving - at the Gulf of Alaska's current acidity, Mathis has found.

Mathis, talking with commercial salmon fishermen in Alaska's Kenai Peninsula, said many have reported that fish this year weighed 20 percent less than those from past runs. The change could be significant for all Americans: Alaska in 2007 accounted 62 percent of the United States' commercial seafood catch, according to the Marine Conservation Alliance.

"The increasing acidification of Alaska waters could have a destructive effect on all of our commercial fisheries," Mathis said. "This is a problem that we have to think about in terms of the next decade instead of the next century."

But others are more cautious about stating that Arctic ecosystems are any more at risk by acidification than tropical ones.

Cold water holds more gas than warmer water - the reason why a refrigerated can of cola fizzes less aggressively when opened than a warm one. While this means frigid waters off Alaska's coasts can absorb more carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, it also means the waters were naturally more acidic and that species in those waters are adapted to lower pH levels.

"It won't necessarily have a more severe impact," said Oceana marine scientist Ellycia Harrould-Kolieb. "It's having an earlier impact."

Mystery of the missing salmon

sockeye_w600.jpgMILLIONS OF SOCKEYE SALMON have mysteriously failed to turn up in a Canadian river as part of their annual spawning, leaving experts baffled and the local fishing industry in despair.

The Canadian government projected that between six and 10 million sockeye salmon would return to the Fraser river this month.

But the official count for the annual 'summer run' -- by far the largest of four salmon migrations that see millions of fish return to Canada's lakes and rivers from the Pacific each year from June to late August -- is now just 600,000.

Where the others went remains a mystery.

Local fishermen, described the situation as "shocking," a "catastrophe" and a "crisis," while public broadcaster CBC said 2009 could end up being the worst year ever for the industry.

A record number of salmon smolts were born in the Fraser in 2005 and migrated to the ocean. Nature dictates that most of them should have returned by now to spawn.

"It's a bit of a mystery," Stan Proboszcz, an expert fish biologist from the Watershed Watch Salmon Society.

"Honestly, we don't know what happens to them when they go out into the ocean," he said. "There's a myriad of factors that could explain what's going on." It is "quite shocking," he added.

Officials and ecologists speculated the salmon which are extremely temperature sensitive   could have been affected by warmer ocean temperatures, fewer food sources, or juvenile salmon may have contracted sea lice or other infections from some 30 fish farms in the Strait of Georgia as they migrated out to sea.

Proboszcz, however, suggested that fishing industry officials may have miscalculated their complex forecasts or that the fish could just be late arriving -- although he conceded the latter theory was highly unlikely.

Wild salmon are under threat in many rivers of the north Pacific and north Atlantic because of overfishing at sea.

Environmental groups in Canada, Norway and Scotland have been fierce critics of salmon farms because of fears over sea lice -- naturally occurring parasites of wild salmon that latch onto the fishes' skin in the open ocean.

Salmon farms are a haven for these parasites, which adult salmon can survive but which small, thin-skinned juveniles are vulnerable to, especially when heading from the river to the sea.

Department of Fisheries and Oceans spokeswoman Lara Sloan said the main Fraser river fishery had not opened due to the drop in numbers and that another local fishery had scaled back this season's catch to just five percent of the norm. No recreational fishing has been allowed.

Sloan would not be drawn on the reason behind the lack of fish.

"There are a lot of variations in the ocean," she said. "They're all interconnected, so it's impossible to point to one reason for this happening.

"So far, they're not coming back in the numbers we expected, but we will continue to look for them."

Other species, pink salmon and chum salmon, are due to arrive around the end of August through October. So far there is no indication they have been affected.

Chinook salmon are also returning to spawn in the region, but they have been a "conservation concern" for several years, and their numbers remain low.

Padraic's nostalgic trip to Inisheer


Meet Padraic | Q&A

  • Question: So, you were a Lobster fisherman in your youth, what was that like?

    Answer: I was a lobster fisherman for about two years when I was about sixteen. We'd go out in a currach, which is a traditional rowing boat. We'd drop the pots, of various different types, in the hope to find a lobster, or ten, when we'd return the next day. Back then everyone lived off the sea... and back then the lobsters were more plentiful. I have wonderful memories of those days. We all have a great connection here with the sea.

  • Question: The sailboats we see in the video, these are unique to this part of Ireland, right?

    Answer: That's the Galway hooker; you'll find them all along the coast from Galway city to Connemara. All those boats you see are built by hand here in Connemara. They were mainly used for transporting goods from village to village or to the city.

  • Question: Tell me more about the Worm's Hole; I'm fascinated by this...

    Answer: Isn't it amazing; I mean where you would find it! Divers have come here from America, France, Australia and they drop into the worms' hole and not one has touched the bottom. It's a mystery. That's nature for you.

  • Question: What is the most ideal time of year to visit the Connemara coastline?

    Answer: The middle of July, when the sky is clear and blue, and the sea, the same. There's no place on earth as nice. It's heaven. But, if you get clear day in winter, it's just as amazing.

  • Question: You grew up here; all this open landscape is your backyard...

    Answer: I did, and you can walk for miles through these fields and nobody will bother you. If you have the stamina, there's a boreen nearby in Rossaveal that leads to a Martello tower - a round tower with cannon on the roof - just by the edge of the sea. The tower has been there since the 1850's, it must be the only one along the west coast. It has a well inside it. Most of these towers are museums in other countries; here you'd hardly know it existed. It's not advertised. This whole area is not commercialized.

  • Question: I'm very interested in the coral sand beach...

    Answer: It's in Carraroe...one of only two coral beaches in Ireland. The other one is supposed to be in Kerry, but nobody's ever seen it, so I wonder... but this is a pure coral beach and it's absolutely just beautiful. I must do more research on coral beaches in Ireland; there's not been any research on this that I'm aware of...

Cliff diver jumps into Serpent's Lair (Poll na Peist)

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A world champion diver has successfully completed a death-defying stunt at one of Ireland's most remote spots - The Serpent's Lair or Poll na Peist on Inis Mor on the Aran Islands.

Colombian Orlando Duque travelled to Inis Mór on the Aran Islands last weekend to jump 26m (78ft) into the Serpent's Lair or Poll na Peist - a blowhole carved out by Atlantic swells.

The 34-year-old made the dive as he prepares for competition in France next month.

"The Serpent's Lair is one of those places that you only hear stories about," Duque said.

"Finding the place and being able to dive there was one of the highlights of my career. Hopefully in the future we can bring a cliff diving competition to Ireland."

The Serpent's lair is a near-perfect rectangular hole, chiselled out of rock at the bottom of cliffs on Inis Mor. In ancient mythology it was home to a Sea Serpent and the sound of screeching stormy winds is said to be the monster making its presence felt.

Nine-time world champion Duque has dived from as high as 34m, with the cliff-top jump filmed for the "9Dives" feature.

"There's a gigantic difference between 26 and 34 meters. The pool looks as small as a pinhead, and the water is as hard as concrete. The slightest error and ... No, it's better not even to think about it," Duque said.

Cliff diving involves athletes leaping into water from heights of 23m to 28m for men and 18m to 23m for women.

Divers have about three seconds to co-ordinate their forms and movements before they hit the surface of the water at around 100km/h with a flat landing, known as a pancake, compared with landing on concrete from 13m.

Duque travelled to Ireland as part of his training for the Red Bull Cliff Diving Series on May 8 in La Rochelle, France.

Whales without Borders

Winslow House - Marshfield, MA
Whales and dolphins don't recognise borders and some 25 percent of the world's whales and dolphins are under critical threat.
A 2008 IUCN (World Conservation Union) re-categorization of the status of whale and dolphin species globally places many on the IUCN Red List. And for many others, a question mark still hangs over their heads.
Since so many followers of Aran-Isles.Com are based in America (more than 50%) we draw attention to an entertaining and art-filled evening on behalf of our cetacean friends.
 
A Whale Affair, is the Whale and Dolphin Society North America the  WDCS' first annual fundraiser and it begins at 7pm at the Isaac Winslow House in Marshfield Massachussetts and highlights the importance of whales and dolphins in our lives and imaginations while connecting people of on both sides of the Atlantic to whales and the environment.

Mark Simmonds, Director of Science for WDCS said: "We expect that many of the ocean's great whales, including the humpback whale, will be affected by the changes in the seas caused by climate change, and particularly those found in polar regions. In fact, most of the world's great whales feed in polar regions where climate-driven changes are now happening swiftly."

"The IUCN has taken the affects of climate change into consideration in the case of the polar bear, and the same now needs to be done with the humpback whale and other whale species."


Climate change can affect the distributions of whales, with the potential for a cascade of effects such as exposure to new diseases, competition with other species and changes in prey populations. As local conditions change, populations of krill, which Antarctic great whales depend on for food, may decline.

The Cape Cod Mermaid and WATD radio are making A Whale Affair a whale of a good time. A tax-deductible donation of $35 will include a catered evening with Harpoon beer, entertainment, whale and ocean themed art, and a chance to bid on truly unique experiences during a silent auction. All the art will be whale, dolphin, or ocean themed, so come be inspired while raising money for crucial WDCS programs that help protect whales and the oceans. In addition to selling art by professional artists, we will also be  exhibiting and auctioning whale art by world renown scientists and conservationists.  Also up for auction are trips, such as a weekend retreat to Key West, or an unique day researching whales with WDCS staff.

We have also planned a musical evening with sea shanties sung by the Rum Soaked Crooks, sea stores by renown folklorist Dillon Bustin and a live broadcast by WATD radio station. To see more of A Whale Affair visit http://awhaleaffair.org/, where you can also purchase tickets.

WDCS is an international non-profit working to protect cetaceans and their ocean habitat locally and around the world. Our North American office, located in Plymouth, MA. To learn more about WDCS, visit http://www.wdcs-na.org/