Bahamas luminescent eel discovery

The green eel Kaupichthys hyoproroides that was collected in the Bahamas. Typically, researchers collect dozens if not hundreds of specimens for research, but the scientists on this study decided to collect just two. Credit: Copyright David Gruber, John Sparks and Vincent Pieribone

From Live Science:

Shy Eel Glows Bright Green, Possibly As a ‘Sexy Charm’

by Laura Geggel, Staff Writer

November 11, 2015 02:06pm ET

When scuba-diving scientists serendipitously spotted a glowing green eel in January 2011, they had no idea what caused it to light up like a brilliant neon sign.

But now, after hours spent studying the fluorescent proteins of two eels, the researchers have solved the mystery. These proteins, found throughout the eels’ muscle and skin tissues, actually originated in vertebrate brains more than 300 million years ago, a new study finds.

“It started as a brain protein and then became this fluorescent protein in muscle,” said study lead researcher David Gruber, an associate professor of biology at Baruch College in New York City. [See Photos of the Glowing Green Eels]

Once the protein made its switch from a neural to a fluorescent protein, it spread like crazy throughout the eel population. Natural selection favored it so much, it’s likely fluorescence plays a crucial role in the eel world, Gruber said.

For instance, maybe it helps them spawn the next generation, he said. One anecdotal report of such spawning describes a “big, green fluorescent mating event” with a dozens of eels getting it on under a full moon in Indonesia, Gruber said. Typically, these eels are reclusive and shy, spending most of their lives hiding in the holes and crevasses around coral reefs and sea grass beds. But maybe the moonlight stimulates their fluorescent proteins, making them more visible to potential mates, he said.

“We’re hoping to witness one of these spawning events to see what they’re doing,” Gruber told Live Science. Moreover, the fluorescence may also play a role in eel communication, predator avoidance or even prey attraction, like the anglerfish’s glowing ‘fishing rod,’ which lures in fishy meals, according to Gruber.

Eel expedition

After seeing the stunning 2011 photo, the researchers wanted to learn more about the little green eel. They found two eels (Kaupichthys hyoproroides and another species of Kaupichthys) during an expedition in the Bahamas, and brought both back to Gruber’s lab in New York City.

K. hyoproroides is small — no longer than two human fingers — about 9.8 inches (250 millimeters) long, Gruber said. It’s likely that the other eel is a new species in the Kaupichthys genus, he added, but the specimen wasn’t in good enough condition to describe it, he said.

A tissue analysis showed fluorescence throughout the eels’ muscle and skin. But a protein analysis didn’t yield any green fluorescent protein (GFP) — a protein famously identified in a hydrozoan jellyfish in 1962. Nor did it match fluorescent proteins found in other glowing sea creatures, such as some fish and sharks, Gruber said.

Instead, it bore a resemblance to a fluorescent protein found in Anguilla japonica, an eel species used in sushi whose proteins can fluoresce a weak green color when bound to bilirubin. (Bilirubin is a yellow waste product that comes from broken-down red blood cells. People with jaundice have yellowish skin and eyes because of increased levels of bilirubin in their blood.)

The protein from the Kaupichthys eels also needed bilirubin to fluoresce, but a key part of the chemical makeup of this protein was different from the sushi eel’s proteins. “It turns out that every one of these new proteins that has this key little region in it has the ability to glow, and glow very bright,” Gruber said. [Images: Fish Secretly Glow Vibrant Colors]

Intrigued, Gruber and his colleagues teamed up with Rob DeSalle, a curator with the Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. DeSalle is an expert in evolutionary biology, and determined that the eels’ fluorescent protein is a newly identified family of fluorescent proteins, Gruber said.

DeSalle also studied the evolutionary history of the Kaupichthys protein. He saw that it was closely related to a fatty acid-binding protein found in the brain of most vertebrates. This protein likely plays a role in fatty-acid uptake, transport and metabolism in the brain, and may help young neurons migrate and establish cortical layers in the brain, DeSalle told Live Science.

However, over time this genetic code for this brain protein underwent three duplication events, meaning there were more copies of the protein available for the organism to play around with, DeSalle said. The duplicated genes for these proteins could then mutate over time, eventually leading to the fluorescent, bilirubin-binding protein that glows bright green in certain eels, the researchers said.

The study researchers didn’t pinpoint when the three duplication events happened, but DeSalle estimated that the first two happened between 450 million and 300 million years ago, in the common ancestor of jawed vertebrates. The third duplication led to the creation of the newly identified fluorescent protein, DeSalle said.

There’s still much to learn about fluorescent proteins, but the discovery of fluorescence in eels and other fish suggests that they played a large role in marine vertebrate evolution, said Matthew Davis, an assistant professor of biology at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, who was not involved in the study.

“The surprising aspect of this study is that the fluorescent fatty acid-binding proteins may have impacted the evolution of this lineage of marine eels, and they also expand the suite of fluorescent probes available for experimental biology in other disciplines,” Davis told Live Science in an email.

The study was published online today (Nov. 11) in the journal PLOS ONE.

Bahamas dolphin brings back drowned cellphone to dancer

This video says about itself:

Flipping Incredible! Moment [common bottlenose] Dolphin Retrieves Mobile Phone – Helpful Dolphin Retrieves Woman’s Phone

28 September 2015

The only thing worse than dropping your phone is dropping your phone into the goddamn ocean, where it’s guaranteed to disappear forever — unless there’s a helpful dolphin around to retrieve it for you.

That’s what happened to Miami Heat cheerleader Teressa Cee when she went swimming with dolphins near Blue Lagoon Island in the Bahamas, and a helpful cetacean named Cacique lent her a flipper.

Cacique is a trained animal cared for by Dolphin Encounters, who was rewarded for his good deed with a selfie with Cee and her fellow dancers.

Cee’s video of the phone rescue has been watched more than 1.5 million times on Facebook.

See also here.

Bahamas get new national park

This video says about itself:

Birding Bahamas: Piping Plovers

11 April 2011

They close beaches for their nests in the US, but in The Bahamas Piping Plovers are just on vacation. Birding guide Ricky Johnson takes us on a search for these teeny-tiny birds. And we’re not the only ones looking for them. The Bahamas National Trust and volunteers from the National Audubon Society were counting them on our beaches this winter to find out how many were here.

The video is brought to you by Abaco Nature Tours

From BirdLife:

Protecting The Bahamas’ Future

By Martin Fowlie, Fri, 04/09/2015 – 16:38

In a remarkable demonstration of commitment to the environment, the Bahama’s Minister of the Environment and Housing, the Hon. Kenred Dorsett, has announced over 7 million acres of new protected marine areas.

“Today is a great day for conservation in The Bahamas”, said Eric Carey, Bahamas National Trust Executive Director. “The Bahamas continues to be a leader in the arena of protected area designation. Protected areas are an important to secure a sustainable future for the Bahamas.”

One of these, the new 113,920-acre Joulter Cays National Park protects a group of uninhabited islands and intertidal sand flats in the Bahamas. The Bahamas National Trust (BNT, BirdLife Partner) and The National Audubon Society (BirdLife in the USA) collaborated on the proposal for the new national park. The area will be protected from unregulated development and destructive practices while ensuring a sustainable local economy.

“This is a great victory for heroic birds that don’t know borders and the people who depend on the shores and waters of the Joulter Cays to make a living,” said Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold. “By protecting these birds’ winter homes, we create the opportunity for new ecotourism jobs. That reflects the true power of Audubon’s partnerships across the hemisphere and we commend the government of the Bahamas for its leadership in protecting migratory birds.”

The Bahamas is a coral-based archipelago of more than 700 islands and 2,500 cays sprinkled across 100,000 square miles of the Caribbean with over 340 bird species and vital pockets of marine and coastal biodiversity. The Joulter Cays National Park represents 113,920 acres of pristine habitat located approximately two miles north of the main island of Andros. The area showcases an astonishing congregation of birdlife and is a globally recognized hotspot for sports fishing.

“The Bahamas National Trust is extremely pleased that the government of the Bahamas has approved the creation of this new national park, which will provide much needed support to our thriving fly-fishing industry while also protecting the critical wintering habitat of several endangered shorebird species,” says Lawrence Glinton, president of Bahamas National Trust. “The park also has tremendous ecotourism potential and can generate significant revenue from bird based tourism. BNT and Audubon are presently developing a program that will allow local residents to take full advantage of these exciting new opportunities.”

Of the bird species documented in the Bahamas, more than 50% are migrants from the U.S. and Canada. The national park’s isolated sand flats and mangroves provide essential habitat for thousands of shorebirds representing 13 species, including the largest congregation of the endangered Piping Plover outside the U.S. The region is also important for breeding White-crowned Pigeons, wading birds and seabird populations and its mangrove forests support numerous migrating songbirds.

New hummingbird species discovery in the Bahamas

Tail shape played a major role in distinguishing the Inaguan Lyretail (right) as a separate species from the Bahama Woodstar (left). The forked, lyre-shaped tail feathers of the Inaguan Lyretail produce a different sound during male courtship display dives than the fanned tail feathers of the Bahama Woodstar. Photos by Anand Varma.

Tail shape played a major role in the recent distinguishing of the Inaguan Lyretail hummingbird (right), found only in the southern Inaguan islands of the Bahamas, as a separate species from the Bahama Woodstar (left). The forked, lyre-shaped tail feathers of the Inaguan Lyretail produce a different sound during male courtship display dives than the fanned tail feathers of the Bahama Woodstar. Photos by Anand Varma.

From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the USA today:

A New Hummingbird Species Revealed

The American Ornithologists’ Union has named a new hummingbird species, the Inaguan Woodstar. A member of the Bee Hummingbird group, it was formerly lumped with the similar-looking Bahama Woodstar. Scientists from Yale, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and the University of California, Riverside, found differences in song, behavior, physical measurements, and DNA sequences suggesting that the species have been separated genetically for half a million years. Learn more about these dazzling Caribbean hummingbirds and the backyard clues that led to a new species.

Protecting nature in the Bahamas

This video series is called Birds of The Bahamas.

From BirdLife:

Protection for key nature sites in the Bahamas

By Kirsty MacLeod, Fri, 12/06/2015 – 10:35

Five new National Parks have been established on San Salvador island in the Bahamas as part of an expansion of the Bahamas National Protected Area System – a system that the Bahamas National Trust (BirdLife Partner) manages. The new parks encompass 8,500 ha of pristine land and seascapes, including all or part of the island’s four Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs). Two of the five new parks are recognised as Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) due to the occurrence of a threatened endemic iguana species.

San Salvador island, some 400 miles south-east of Miami, is thought to be the location where Columbus first set foot in the New World, 11km wide by 21km long, it has a population of fewer than a thousand people. Despite its isolation, it is a popular destination for scuba-divers who come for the beautiful reefs and exceptional diving conditions. The island supports diverse plant communities, including mangrove swamps and seagrass beds, both important for local wildlife and fisheries.

San Salvador is well-known for its birdlife, and in particular, its abundance and high diversity of seabirds. The island hosts 14 of the 17 seabird species that breed in the Bahamas, the largest diversity of breeding seabirds in this area. It is also home to a number of globally threatened species, including the Endangered San Salvador Rock Iguana, endemic to the island and with fewer than 600 individuals remaining. An endemic (and threatened) race of the West Indian Woodpecker is found only here and on Abaco island.

Due to the island’s small size and isolation, the key habitats of San Salvador are extremely vulnerable to man-made influences. However, large areas of these habitats are now contained by the five new parks. Graham’s Harbour Iguana and Seabird National Park and the Southern Great Lake National Park are internationally recognized as IBAs and KBAs, and between them embrace an extensive mangrove system, important nesting seabird populations and populations of the San Salvador rock iguana, in addition to healthy reef systems and seagrass beds. The three other new parks also protect key habitats, including tidal creeks, and a reef system home to the Critically Endangered hawksbill turtle, and a migratory route for humpback whales. It is hoped that the designation of these five new parks will help to prevent habitat and animal disturbance, and wildlife trafficking of threatened species.

“We are especially pleased with the tremendous amount of expressed and documented community support for these parks,” said Eric Carey, Executive Director of the Bahamas National Trust. “We are thrilled to see the results of all of our joint efforts, including that of other NGOs, come to fruition through this momentous declaration by the government.”

Ancient beaked whale fossil caught by fisherman

This video says about itself:

16 January 2009

In the deep waters of the Bahamas, Wild Chronicles and Crittercam® gain a fleeting glimpse of a rare and most remarkable sea creature, the beaked whale. Incredibly, Crittercam® captures the first video of a birth among these rare whales. What you see will astound you.

Translated from Ecomare museum on Texel island in the Netherlands:

Thursday, December 25th, 2014

A nice discovery! A piece of bone that Ecomare received in October turns out to be a piece of skull from a beaked whale. The bone was petrified, and therefore probably from the early Pleistocene, about 2 million years old. Ecomare received the bone from the Vonk family. The crew of their fishing vessel, the TX1, had this year netted it in the North Sea, near the English coast.

Fishing ships with TX are from Texel. Scientists cannot say which beaked whale species exactly this was.

Bahamas sharks, new research

This video from the Bahamas is called Bimini Sharklab Naturalist Course: The Shark Dive.

From daily The Independent in Britain:

The truth about sharks: Far from being ‘killing machines’, they have personalities, best friends and an exceptional capacity for learning

A tribe of marine scientists has set up base on the tiny island of Bimini in the Bahamas to unravel the secrets of the creature most misunderstood by man. Oliver Duff dives in..

Oliver Duff

Friday 28 November 2014

I was snorkelling far offshore when the bull shark appeared. Movement in the corner of my eye, then a silhouette 30 metres away, slipping through the turquoise haze on that late afternoon. He was fat, with a bright white belly and distinctive snub nose. He studied the two-legged intruder and began to circle, slowly closing the gap: 20 metres, 15, 12…

I stuck it out for as long as I dared, then, trying to avoid panicked splashing, I kicked for the boat, not taking my eyes off him. You don’t want to mess around with a bull.

These waters off tiny Bimini, in the Bahamas, teem with sharks. A tribe of marine scientists, led by the grandfather of shark biology, Samuel ‘Doc’ Gruber, has set up base on the island, determined to unravel the secrets of the creature most misunderstood by man. The research coming out of the Bimini Biological Field Station – better known around the world as the Sharklab – is transforming our knowledge of what glides beneath the seas and oceans.

This video is called Take A Tour Of The Bimini Shark Lab In The Bahamas.

Turn off the spine-tingling music and forget everything you thought you knew about this solitary, “mindless killing machine”. Sharks have individual personalities. They socialise, choose best friends and create social networks of unusual complexity. They can be trained by humans to complete simple tasks, much more quickly than rabbits or cats, for instance, and retain the knowledge for much longer. Sharks also teach each other new tricks: how to find food, identify predators and charm mates. Like sea turtles, some travel huge distances to return to their own birthplace, again and again, to give birth themselves. Most don’t need to swim continuously to survive. And rather than being near-blind and reliant on smell, which is the general perception, they in fact have advanced sight. They feel pain. And the boldest sharks face a greater risk of dying before adulthood.

Why does any of this matter? Well, we’re killing about 100 million sharks every year, 11,000 an hour, either for the Chinese soup trade (where the de-finned shark is chucked back into the sea to sink and die on the bottom) or as bycatch.

The idea of shark-free waters may seem appealing, until you consider the havoc that would be unleashed on the rest of ocean life if that happened. Sharks, as apex predators, balance ecosystems, stopping animals in the middle of the marine food chain from proliferating and destroying life still further down. Sharks also pick off the weakest, sickest and slowest fish, helping to prevent the spread of disease and parasites, and strengthening the gene pool of prey species. That’s why scientists consider sharks to be ‘keystone’ species in marine ecosystems. Take them away and the structures collapse.

Five years ago, I was a phobic rattled by shadows in the swimming pool. Now I’m a shark nut. I have free-dived – no cage, armed with nothing more than a snorkel and an underwater camera – with about 100 big sharks (by that, I mean longer than two metres). No ‘great’ whites or oceanic whitetips among them, but tiger, yes, bull, great hammerhead, sand tiger, lemon, Caribbean reef, blacktip, grey, and perhaps the laziest, the nurse shark. (This sluggish character loiters near the bottom and sucks in small prey that happens to pass by.) I have not yet been eaten on sight, but I have been stared at with alarm and curiosity.

This video says about itself:

The Sharklab (Bimini Biological Field Station) research team catch a 283 cm tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) in 900 feet of water just off the coast of Bimini, Bahamas.

The Independent article continues:

Underwater, I’m still prone to pangs of claustrophobia from poor visibility, or agoraphobia from the vast expanse, but I’ve rationalised my fear of sharks. Only about a dozen of the 500 species have posed any danger to humans, and even then, very rarely. Calling sharks man-eaters is like judging the whole of humanity by a handful of serial killers. Every year, billions of people around the world enter shark habitats; on average, four of them die.

My infatuation began on the Barrier Reef in 2009, scuba-diving in Queensland. Your heart drums the first time you see that unmistakeable shadow emerge from the gloom. Two long grey reef sharks approached us. Time stopped as they span back and forth, inspecting the huddle of novice divers. Then, as suddenly as they had appeared, they slipped back into the unseen Pacific. I was awed by their grace, power and inquisitiveness.

Fast-forward to 2014 and I’m on South Bimini, 50 miles east of Miami, to see the Sharklab scientists in action. I spotted an advert online: anyone can visit to take part in their ‘research experience’, five days a month where outsiders can live and study at the field station. It’s a means of fundraising and spreading the urgent conservation message. (I paid my own way.)

The biologists give lectures and take us out on the boats to help with their day job: capturing, tagging and releasing sharks, then tracking their movements, in the hope of finally understanding their behaviour. You get to wear swimming trunks to the office, but have to watch your fingers.

This video is called Ayla visits a shark research lab on South Bimini and talks to the scientists about the tagging program.

Uniquely in the Bahamas, all species of sharks are protected. If you get in the clear, warm water, you will meet large sharks. So an hour after landing at the airstrip, I’m already on a small boat a mile offshore, ready to jump in.

All around us, the dorsal fins of large Caribbean reef sharks chop the surface. Looking over the side I could touch them as they glide beneath us. The main thing to remember is not to jump in right on top of one – unlikely to be enjoyable for either party.

Within seconds of plunging in, we’re face-to-snout with them. Caribbean reef sharks are the bold, boisterous puppy dogs of the Bahamas. It’s utterly thrilling, sometimes too intense for comfort as they dart by – you have to fend off the nosier ones with a raised fin. After 40 minutes, I don’t want to get back on the boat.

The island looks stunning from the air – a spit of sand in coral shallows –but life onshore is less glamorous. The scientists live in a crowded bunkhouse with little privacy and personal space, hungry bugs and stifling heat.

The lab’s executive director, Dr Tristan Guttridge, aged 32, admits: “It’s not easy to get time alone or to reflect. People here endure some tough conditions to experience life-changing moments, like free-diving with a great hammerhead.”

While free-diving with sharks cannot ever be completely ‘safe’, it is a calculated risk, taking account of species, water conditions, and the size of the diving group. I reasoned that the scientists wanted to send us home with all our fingers and toes.

The real stars of the show at Bimini are the great hammerheads, Sphyrna mokarran. These charismatic, elusive and endangered giants grow to six metres long, and for a few months a year they live in the Bahamas Shark Sanctuary. Being close to such a beast – buffeted by its wake as it rockets past your head – leaves you certain of your insignificance in the cosmos.

We floated in the shallows following three of them for an hour. They are superb hunters and glorious to watch, as they spin and dive through the water column, swinging their wide heads packed with electro-sensors over the seabed to scan for hidden stingrays or flatfish. Their attitude to us? Majestic indifference.

Dr Guttridge and his colleagues have pioneered a research project to find out why the great hammerheads visit the Bahamas, where they have come from and where they go. Great hammerheads respond badly to capture – 90 per cent caught on a line die – so they have to be individually tagged by free-diving researchers who hold their breath, kick down and spear an acoustic transmitter through the shark’s dorsal fin.

The first results are in: one female swam a staggering 750 miles from Bimini up to Virginia in four weeks, making dives as deep as 200 metres on the way. The suspicion is that great hammerheads swim from the Caribbean to the United States, where they have no federal protection and fall prey to commercial and sports fishing. To save them from extinction, biologists first need to know exactly where they go.

One of the extraordinary things about the Sharklab is its genetic database, which contains 3,500 lemon sharks, 500 tigers, 200 blacktips, 150 nurse and 50 bulls. This allows the team to discover family ties between sharks and has provided definitive evidence of mothers returning to their own birthplace to deliver their young. Recently the researchers were delighted to catch a lemon shark whose pups were first detected back in 1993, making her at least 37 years old.

Debunking the popular image of sharks as killing machines is Jean-Sebastien Finger, a 29-year-old marine biologist who swapped Paris for Bimini.

“They are not machines, they have personality,” Finger explains. He is conducting the first study into the personalities of lemon sharks – the lab mice of the sea (but feistier). By observing them for thousands of hours he’s built a “Facebook of sharks” and found that they have their own distinct personalities which are consistent over time. Some are sociable, bold, others shy, territorial, mellow, novelty-seeking, risk-averse, leaders, followers… “You can’t generalise behaviour of one individual to a species,” he cautions. The research may eventually be compared across species, including humans, to try to shed light on the evolution of personality.

Another man dedicated to challenging stereotypes is the Belgian photographer Jean-Marie Ghislain. He has chosen art over science, publishing his stunning black-and-white work (pictured on these pages) in a new book, Shark: Fear and Beauty. Ghislain was scared of water until the age of 52, when he was still working in real estate. A friend persuaded him that he could overcome this fear by swimming with sharks. Over the past five years he has spent thousands of hours diving with them, trying to capture their beauty and presence. “I realised it was a projection of a fear,” he says. “Once I faced the sharks, it was gone.”

Danger is something few of us experience. For me, though, swimming with sharks is about more than sensing your own mortality. It’s the exhilaration of finding the last real wilderness on Earth, just a few inches beneath the ocean surface.

And if all this seems too much, you will soon be able to marvel at sharks without getting your hair wet. The BBC’s Natural History Unit has been filming a startling new series, Shark, scheduled for broadcast on BBC1 next year. Four decades after Steven Spielberg’s hysterical big-screen effort, rehabilitation cannot come soon enough.

For more on Bimini Biological Field Station, visit

‘Shark: Fear and Beauty’, by Jean-Marie Ghislain (Thames & Hudson, £29.95)

Bull shark intelligence: here.