Rare oarfish beaches in California

This video from the USA says about itself:

Rare oarfish washes ashore California beach

3 June 2015

A rarely seen oarfish is found washed ashore on one of Los Angeles’ coastal isles, Catalina Island.

From the Christian Science Monitor in the USA:

Humongous oarfish washes onto California shore

A rarely-seen, mysterious deep-sea fish washes ashore, with ovaries found to weigh an astonishing 24 pounds.

By Elizabeth Palermo, Livescience.com

June 8, 2015

A stroll on the beach turned strange for two co-workers this week when they stumbled upon a giant (and newly deceased) deep-sea creature that had made its way ashore.

The 13.5-foot-long (4 meters) carcass that washed up on the beach of Catalina Island on Monday (June 1) was that of an oarfish, a rarely seen fish that typically sticks to deep water. The creature, which is equipped with impressively long ovaries, may have washed ashore just minutes before it was spotted, according to Amy Catalano, a conservation coordinator for the nonprofit Catalina Island Conservancy and one of the people who discovered the oarfish on the beach. [See Photos of Giant Oarfish Washed Ashore]

“It was amazing, it felt like a movie prop; it looked make-believe almost,” Catalano told Reuters.

The impressively large fish was far from the first to wash up in recent years. In October 2013, an even bigger oarfish (18 feet, or 5.5 m) came ashore at Catalina Island. Just days later, a second oarfish carcass appeared on a beach just north of San Diego. And many more of these huge creatures make landfall in Baja California, Mexico, according to John Lundberg, curator of ichthyology at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University in Philadelphia.

It’s not totally clear why the fish end up on land, Lundberg told Live Science, adding that there’s much about these creatures that remains unknown.

“There’s some suspicion that [oarfish], which live in deeper water, come closer to the surface because they’re ill or because something disturbs them. And once they’re out of their deep-water habitat, they tend to expire. Or it could just be old age, as far as I know,” Lundberg said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) lists similar reasons for why an oarfish might leave its deep-sea home, stating on its website that the fish only come to the surface when they are “injured or dying.”

When these huge and mysterious creatures do wash up on the shore from time to time, scientists take advantage of the opportunity to examine the beasts — tagging them for study in the wild has proven to be difficult, according to Lundberg.

The fish that washed up this week has already made its way to California State University, Fullerton (CSUF), where Misty Paig-Tran, an assistant professor of biology, said she’d be spending some time examining the fish’s bone structure, as well as taking a closer look at the mechanics of how it feeds. Other scientists will study the oarfish’s gills and muscle tissue, Paig-Tan told Live Science in an email. Paig-Tan’s colleague, CSUF physiologist Kristy Forsgren, will be examining the fish’s ovaries, which are 7 feet (2 m) long and weigh an astounding 24 pounds (11 kilograms).

“We are currently counting the number of developing eggs within the ovary, and would like to estimate the fish’s fecundity (the reproductive potential of the fish),” Forsgren told Live Science in an email. “We will also be histologically examining the ovarian tissue to determine the reproductive status (i.e. immature, mature, reproductive) and describe ovarian developmental stages.”

Rick Feeney, collections manager for the ichthyology department at the National History Museum of Los Angeles, said that Paig-Tan is not alone in wanting to know more about the oarfish’s bone structure, which he described as “unusual.” In her email, Paig-Tan called the animal’s bones “jelly-like.” Feeney also noted the fish’s over-sized ovaries and unconventional digestive tract.

However, what interests Feeney most about oarfish isn’t what they look like on the inside, but rather how they behave in their natural habitat. That’s a subject biologists know little about, he said. But recent footage from deep-sea submersible vehicles in places like the Gulf of Mexico may provide more information about their behavior.

“We know more about how they orient themselves in the water now than we used to,” Feeney told Live Science. “When they’re out in the open ocean, they orient themselves vertically, with their fins spread out and in a stationary feeding position. And we didn’t know that until [the] deep-sea footage came in.”

But it’s partly the oarfish’s mysterious nature (combined with the fact that it’s completely harmless to people) that makes it so appealing, according to Feeney.

“It’s beautiful — almost like an alien being coming out of the deep sea,” he said.

Rare grey whale twins, video

This video from the USA says about itself:

Rare Twin Whale Calves Seen off Dana Point by Whale Watching Boat

For the first time ever a gray whale mother has been filmed with not just one but two calves from a drone! Whale watching passengers and crew with Captain Dave’s Dolphin & Whale Safari aboard the Manute’a (seen in this video) out of Dana Point, California, could not believe what they were seeing.

How rare is one mom with two calves?

“This year is our 20th year owning a whale watching business, explained Capt. Dave, “and I have never heard of anyone even seeing a gray whale with two calves, never mind filming it. I wanted to be absolutely certain that these were both calves that I was seeing by comparing the size of these three whales from above, so I put our drone up, and what I saw through the goggles made me want to give them all a big hug. One calf was in the baby position next to the Mom on the right and one in baby position, head next to pectoral flipper on the left. They all appeared normal sized and appeared to be swimming normally like one big, happy, healthy family! This was fantastic, since they still had thousands of miles to travel to their feeding grounds in the Aarctic.”

“This was truly one of the rarest and amazing sights I have ever seen!”

It is not known if these whales are twins or if one was adopted by the mother. There have been cases of dolphins adopting other dolphin calves of the same or different species into their pod. We have seen this with a lone common dolphin that we saw for several years living in a pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins. And in 2013 a pod of sperm whales adopted, at least temporarily, a bottlenose dolphin with a spinal deformity. There are no known cases of a gray whale mother taking care of a second calf.

Captain Dave explains further, “because of the long journey, (the longest migration of any mammal), and the life threatening drain it puts on the mothers reserves to feed two calves, it is extremely rare for a gray whale to adopt a calf that has lost its mother. I heard about a right whale that did this in 2012 off Africa but never a gray whale. I think it more likely, though also extremely rare, that these whales were born to the same mother. While one calf is slightly longer than the other, neither calf appears to be undernourished, like we might expect in the case of an adoption. But, unless someone gets skin samples of all three whales we will never know for sure.”

Caring for two baby whales is a huge undertaking. Gray whale mothers can lose 30% of their body weight nursing just one calf on milk that is over 50% fat. In addition to the arduous 6,000-mile journey back to the arctic waters, this mother must also keep her calves safe from predators such as orcas. 1,000 dolphins and whales are estimated to die annually from entanglement in fishing gear worldwide.

“Let me tell you, Mom has her work cut out for her! These calves are growing at rate of 50 pounds a day feeding on mother’s milk. So Mom has double trouble as she won’t have a good meal until she gets at least to Oregon or further north as there is not much for them to feed on till then,” says Capt. Dave.

“She has to protect the calves from killer whales that are estimated to kill up to 35 percent of gray whale calves. And she has to watch out for ships and fishing gear which is often near shore where these whales hide in the kelp from the killers.”

“I hope to hear about more sightings of this beautiful trio as they make their way up the coast. We know that we handed off the whales to other boats out of Newport but we hope to hear more from others. I’ll say a little prayer that they make it to the feeding grounds and Mom weans them properly.”

Gray whales give birth after about 12 to 13 months of gestation to only one calf. Newborn gray whales are about 14 to 16 feet long and weigh around 2,000 pounds. Every year gray whales make a 10,000 to 12,000-mile round trip migration from the feeding grounds in the Bering and Chukchi seas to the warm waters of Baja, California. Pregnant females give birth during the southbound migration and in the protected lagoons in Baja.

(Filmed June 1, 2015 off Dana Point, CA)

Grey whale twins

See also here.

Shiny green shark discovery

This video from the USA says about itself:

Swell Shark – Catalina Island, California

8 August 2012

Swell Sharks in Catalina Island, CA. These guys can expand their bodies to about double their regular size to prevent predators, such as seals and larger sharks, from pulling them out from rocky reefs, under ledges, and in crevices. We had the lucky chance to get a good look at them on this dive.

0:19 – Fish really close!
0:28 – Found the Swell Shark.
1:03 – Dangerously close to the Swell Shark.

From the BBC:

The shark that glows in the dark

The swell shark uses moonlight to turn itself luminous green, allowing it to blend in and stand out at the same time

Zoe Gough

Swell sharks generally keep a low profile, squeezing between rocky crevices to keep out of the way of predators.

Living up to 500m (1,640ft) beneath the waves, they are easily camouflaged in the darkness and often missed by divers.

But scientists have discovered the shark (Cephaloscyllium ventriosum) actually glows bright green thanks to fluorescent proteins inside its skin which are activated by blue light – the wavelength of visible light that is least absorbed as it travels through water.

This phenomenon, called biofluorescence, is thought to be a form of communication to other swell sharks that – unlike humans – can see the extraordinary light display.

Dr David Gruber, an associate professor of biology at City University of New York, studies the sharks off the coast of California, US.

“On land we have the whole range of colours in the [visible] spectrum, as soon as you drop beneath the sea you quickly lose the reds and the violets and it becomes a monochromatic blue environment,” he explains.

“What the swell sharks are doing is using the blue light to create other colours of light to make their world richer in colour.”

To be able to see the shark in all of its luminous glory Dr Gruber had to use cameras with yellow filters, which block out the natural blue light in the same way that shark eyes do.

The results – filmed off the coast of Santa Barbara, US, as part of a new BBC / Discovery coproduction television series – were the first time Dr Gruber had seen the sharks using biofluorescence in the wild.

He was part of the team which first discovered biofluorescence in more than 180 species of fish and suggested that the animals may be using it as camouflage and to find mates.

“It’s almost like there’s been this disco party going on underwater and it’s possibly been going on for millions of years and we’re just beginning to tune into it,” he says.

Biofluorescence had previously been reported in coral and jellyfish and through the development of fluorescent tags, which allow researchers to visually track how cells work, has led to medical advances in the study of conditions such as AIDS, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr Gruber is about to publish his latest research into a new family of fluorescent proteins taken from eels, which he hopes scientists can use to further our understanding of the human body.

Finding biofluorescence in marine animals which can see and are known to have filters in their eyes which may make the luminous colours stand out, led Dr Gruber to investigate why they might have evolved the phenomenon.

After swimming with the swell sharks in their natural habitat he noticed that they were the only things that glowed green, so he decided to find out if they could actually see that colour themselves.

“Surprisingly with sharks we know very little about their visual apparatus and what we know just comes from a few species, so we didn’t know anything about the visual apparatus of the swell shark,” he explains.

Dr Gruber had the shark’s vision analysed by experts at Cornell University and discovered that it can only see blue/green hues which he says is a perfect adaption for the environment it lives in.

Biofluorescent fish

This image shows biofluorescent fishes: A – the Swellshark, Cephaloscyllium ventriosum; B – the Yellow stingray, Urobatis jamaicensis; C – the Blue Edged Sole, Soleichthys heterorhinos; D – the Brownmargin flathead, Cociella hutchinsi; E – the Variegated lizardfish, Synodus dermatogenys; F – the Warty frogfish, Antennarius maculatus; G – the False stonefish; H – the Shortfin moray eel, Kaupichthys brachychirus; I – the Collared eel, Kaupichthys nuchalis; J – the Messmate pipefish, Corythoichthys haematopterus; K – the Warteye stargazer, Gillellus uranidea; L – goby, Eviota sp.; M – the Blackbelly Dwarfgoby, Eviota atriventris; N – the Blue tang surgeonfish, Acanthurus coeruleus, larval; O – the Two-lined monocle bream, Scolopsis bilineata.

See here.

The BBC article conntinues:

“By creating more green [through biofluorescence] in an environment where it’s just blue they’re creating much more contrast and when you see all these little bright spots and patterns it’s like flowers and butterflies.

“Why do they make patterns? It’s to attract each other, it’s to recognise each other,” Dr Gruber says.

He is now looking at whether male and female swell sharks have different fluorescent patterns or if these markings are specific to individual sharks, which will help uncover what biofluorescent signalling is used for – finding mates or identification.

“It is almost like a hidden mode of communication, like a covert form of communication just among themselves or just among animals with similar kinds of vision,” he says.

“It’s really my greater hope that by showing off this diversity of biofluorescence in the ocean and the possible intelligence in communicative patterns of these creatures, we’ll better understand the animals and will want to protect them more.”

Oil spill kills birds, mammals in California, USA

Santa Barbara oil spill victims

These are figures of wildlife affected by the Santa Barbara oil spill in the USA.