Lionfish hunt together, share food equally


This video is called Zebra Lionfish (Dendrochirus zebra).

From New Scientist:

Zoologger: The fish that kill with special-ops signals

25 June 2014 by Michael Slezak

Species: Dendrochirus zebra

Habitat: Hanging out in the Great Barrier Reef and Indonesia; waging war in Caribbean reefs

It is night-time on the reef. With its Fu Manchu moustache and weed-like fins a lionfish blends into the swaying seaweed.

Spotting a school of little fish swimming slowly through the coral, the lionfish quickly scans around for hungry accomplices. Swimming to them one-by-one it gives a quick wiggle of its tail fin and then a slow undulating wave of its pectoral fins. The accomplices respond with a simple wave of their pectoral fins. The hunt is on.

Together the gang approach the fish, which don’t seem to see the lionfish even from up close. Using their fan-like fins they herd the prey into a corner before taking it in turns to dart into the school, each time swallowing their meal whole. Their bellies full, the conspirators part ways into the tropical night.

Invisible fish

Lionfish are venemous, and have few natural predators. They are also so adept at camouflage that Oona Lönnstedt at James Cook University in Townsville, Australia, and colleagues recently showed that they seem to be invisible to their prey. In fact, when hunting alone, they convince their prey to swim into their mouths by blowing a stream of water towards them.

But it turns out that they have another trick up their sleeves: very good communication skills.

Studying lionfish both in the lab and on the Great Barrier Reef, Lönnstedt and colleagues found that the fish sometimes conducted a distinctive fin display. Whenever there was another lionfish nearby, the fish that spotted the prey used this signal and up to four other lionfish responded and joined in the hunt.

The signal was only seen prior to a group hunt, which suggests it is a method of communication – a kind of special operations signalling with their fins. “As an intentional signal, it’s very rare. It implies that there’s a complex cognitive ability in fish,” Lönnstedt says.

All fish are equal

Lönnstedt also found that group hunts were more fruitful than solo efforts. The lionfish also shared the food completely evenly. “That blew our minds,” she says. “That’s the first time that’s been proven in animals. Usually lions or hyenas will catch prey and share it hierarchically. The top animal takes the lion’s share, so to speak.”

Group foraging and hunting have been seen in all sorts of animals, from chimpanzees to bees and eels. But very little has been done into how it is triggered, says Amanda Ridley from the University in Western Australia in Perth. “We have scores of papers about cooperation, but we don’t know how they do it,” she says. “This paper has nicely encapsulated the fin display. It goes to the other and says ‘hey how about it, let’s go fish together’.”

Journal reference: Biology Letters, DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2014.0281

Correction, 26 June 2014: When this article was first published, we mistakenly described Dendrochirus zebra as an invasive species.

See also here. And here.

Good English whale news


This video from Australia says about itself:

Each year on the Great Barrier Reef an extraordinary encounter takes place between man and nature. For 6 weeks each June/July Dwarf minke whales actively search out and engage snorkelers and divers in Far North Queensland waters. Scientists don’t know why they come here or where they go afterwards but it has been suggested that they use their time in the tropics to court and mate.

This video was aired on the Channel 7 Sunday Night Program and features a 6 day minke whale research expedition with Eye to Eye Marine Encounters.

From Wildlife Extra:

Minke whales being spotted more often off north east England

North Sea erupts with marine life

August 2013. Yet, last month seven Minke whales, an impressive 10 metre long migratory species were seen off England’s north-east coast. The length of an average London bus, this whale has also been sighted in good numbers from shore and during small vessel surveys off the in recent weeks, including off the Farne Islands. A record number of Harbour Porpoises, up to 108 individuals, were also spotted.

Ferry sightings

The whales were spotted in July by MARINElife conservation researchers aboard DFDS Seaways freight ferry service from Immingham on the east coast of England to Esbjerg in Denmark. Land-based observers have also been reporting their sightings to the North East Cetacean Project (NECP). It was only a short way into the journey when researchers were treated to a pod of four Harbour Porpoises. These docile marine mammals are surprisingly numerous in this expanse of water, having been spotted on every outing by MARINElife surveyors in this area since the winter of 2012. However, as the numbers rose to a staggering 108, it was clear this was the largest number of these creatures spotted since the charity began surveying the area over a year ago.

Why has it been so good for whales and porpoises?

Dr Martin Kitching, North East Cetacean Project Coordinator at MARINElife, says “a rapid increase in sea surface temperatures and the appearance of huge shoals of Sand Eel and Mackerel (whale and porpoise food), combined with near perfect conditions for observation, have shown just how extraordinary the marine environment is. All of the sightings in recent weeks provide an excellent addition to our North Sea database, which has been critical in the ongoing debate about Marine Conservation Zones.”

Anyone can help support marine conservation by submitting their own whale, dolphin and porpoise sightings by visiting northeastcetaceans.org.uk; you can also send any images of whales and dolphins to add to the project’s photo-identification catalogue of individual animals.

Ferries make an ideal platform for those wanting to see marine wildlife and there are several passenger services across the North Sea. A number of species can also be seen from the North Sea coast and we encourage those who see a marine mammal to report it at marine-life.org.uk.

US bombs on Australian Great Barrier Reef


This video is called Great Barrier Reef – Nature’s Miracles.

From Big News Network:

US pilots drop bombs onto Australian tourist spot

Sunday 21st July, 2013

Two US fighter jets have dropped four unarmed bombs on Australia’s top tourist destination, the Great Barrier Reef.

US military officials said the bombs had been let go due to an emergency situation which had befallen both aircraft.

It is believed the pilots of the two AV-8B Harrier jets jettisoned four unarmed bombs as a result of running low on fuel.

They were unable to land with the bomb load onto their aircraft carrier, the USS Bonhomme Richard, from which they had been launched.

The bombs were to have been dropped onto a nearby bombing range as part of a training exercise which was being held in conjunction with the Australian military.

More than 28,000 US and Australian military forces have taken part in a three-week amphibious, airborne and special operations training exercise which is being observed by officials from Australia, the United States, Vietnam, Japan, Indonesia, Canada and the UK.

The Australian government recently welcomed permanent members of the US military forces.

The government announced in June that 1,150 US Marines would be deployed in rotating tours of duty in Australia.

Following its disastrous results in recent foreign wars the US has switched to softer targets, bombing the Great Barrier Reef in what the military claimed on Saturday was a training exercise mishap: here.

Central Australia’s Pine Gap spy base played an important role in the United States’ controversial drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan: here.

Australian spy base “critical” to Obama’s drone assassinations: here.

The Australian newspaper yesterday published a comment by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Sam Bateman and Anthony Bergin, urging the Labor government to rebuild a World War II-era military base on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island: here.

US Navy to reinforce Marine taskforce in Australia: here.

VIDEO: Coral spawning on Great Barrier Reef: here.

Sea snakes new discovery


This video, from the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, is called Shark Vs. Sea Snake.

From Wildlife Extra:

Identical sea snakes are 2 completely different species

Deadly sea snake has a doppelganger

November 2012. Scientists have discovered that the lethal beaked sea snake is actually two species with separate evolutions, which resulted in identical snakes. The University of Queensland’s Associate Professor Bryan Fry said the Australian and Asian beaked sea snakes were originally thought to be from the same species, however, in comparing their DNA, the research team had found these two snakes were unrelated.

Could have been a fatal mistake

“This mixup could have been medically catastrophic, since the CSL sea snake antivenom is made using the venom from the Asian snake based on the assumption that it was the same species,” Associate Professor Fry said.

“Luckily, the antivenom is not only very effective against the Australian new species but actually against all sea snakes since they all share a very stream-lined fish-specific venom.”

Convergent phenotypic evolution phenomenon

Associate Professor Fry said the finding was an example of a situation where two species evolved separately but ended up looking similar, known as the convergent phenotypic evolution phenomenon.

Associate Professor Fry said that the ‘beaked’ morphology of the species could be associated with the extremely specialised niche the snakes occupy, even though both species evolved from different ancestors and were not even close relatives. He added that the two species occupy the same specialised habitat of silt-filled shallows of tropical estuaries throughout the Asian and Australian regions.

Responsible for many deaths

These snakes are responsible for the majority of deaths and injuries to fishermen handling nets in these habitats.

New name

The Asian snake will retain the original name Enhydrina shistosa. Australian beaked sea snake has been given the scientific name [Enhydrina] zweifeli, which identifies the region in New Guinea where it is found. The new snake will be placed in a separate genus to the true Enhydrina genus in a follow up publication that will resolve the complex higher order relationships of sea snakes.

This finding was published in Molecular Phylogenetics & Evolution by Associate Professor Fry from UQ’s School of Biological Sciences and colleagues from the University of Adelaide.

This sea snake is unusual as it feeds exclusively on fish eggs: here.