An amateur photographer and former Monterey Bay Aquarium volunteer is giving the world a new view of whales. And he's hoping through his photos to make the world safer for these gentle giants.
Bryant Austin of Scotts Valley, California captures magnificent life-sized images by free diving with whales: sperm whales and humpbacks so far, with plans to add blue and fin whales, minkes and southern right whales.
Austin believes that by taking his time, the whales are more relaxed, more themselves. And that his photos can communicate that to the people who see them.
He's using a $60,000 Hasselblad camera to get the photos, and stitches multiple photos together to produce what he calls "the world's only high-resolution, life-size composite photos of whales."
That's not all.
Through his nonprofit, Marine Mammal Conservation Through the Arts, he's bringing these photos to people in whaling nations like Norway and Japan, as a way to transform consciousness so that more countries will support whale protection rather than whale hunting.
"My goal is not to antagonize or polarize people further," Austin said in his interview. "I just want to share with them knowledge, to serve as a platform, especially for people who have no previous experience or interest in whales."
(It's a far different approach from that taken by the creators of The Cove, an award-winning documentary about the annual slaughter of dolphins in a Japanese fishing village. I got a chance to see it last week, and it is very, very powerful -- a film that has great potential to galvanize public opinion in Japan and around the world to halt the killing.)
Bryant Austin's story is beautifully told, and Austin's photos are well represented on his website. Check it out.
It may be the dead of winter, but for the Aquarium’s giant octopus and cuttlefish, it feels a little like spring. Both laid eggs in January, which are plainly visible to Aquarium visitors.
The giant octopus has deposited thousands of eggs, which look like small clusters of grapes, on the exhibit glass. In nature, the octopus will be very protective of these eggs for four to seven months, occasionally using its “siphon” to blow water on the eggs and keep them free of algae and debris, according to aquarist Adam Frantz.
It’s unlikely that these particular eggs are fertile or will produce baby octopuses, however. This particular octopus has been at the Aquarium for almost a year, and it’s unlikely that she would hold onto a sperm packet for that long, or that the sperm packet would remain viable. The urge to lay eggs comes just once, and usually marks the end of the octopus’s life. It’s all part of the natural cycle for these magical and intelligent animals.
The cuttlefish, which are relatives of the octopus, were observed in courtship behavior in recent weeks, wrapping their “arms” around one another, according to aquarist Aaron Spotswood. Now pea-sized, white eggs can be seen on the bottom of the exhibit. Though baby cuttlefish have been raised in the Aquarium environment, these particular eggs are not thought to be viable. (If they were, a cuttlefish embryo would be visible through the translucent egg cases.) As with the octopus, the female cuttlefish’s egg-laying likely marks the end of her life. But for now, these chameleons of the deep are still happily flashing their colors for Aquarium visitors.
(If you're looking for still MORE information about octopuses, cuttlefish and their kin, check out our friends at Cephalopodcast, your blogging and podcast home for all things cephalopod.)
We know that some people are mourning yesterday's closure of the Aquarium's temporary exhibit, Jellies: Living Art. Butas of today, work starts on preparing the space for a brand new experience featuring everyone's favorite - seahorses -- scheduled to open Spring 2009.
Leafy sea dragons, like the one shown above, are just one of the species to be showcased in the upcoming special exhibition The Secret Lives of Seahorses. There will be a number of species never displayed before at the Aquarium, including some very curious seahorse relatives. I'd love to tell you more, but for now, it's a secret!
We received more than 200 incredible entries and had a hard time selecting just three to recognize. Our 2008 winner is Becky Kelly, for her photo, "Hawksbill in Cozumel, Mexico 2008".
Hawksbills, like most sea turtles, are critically endangered and are on the IUCN red list as a protected species. The beauty that Becky captured in her photograph documents just one reason why our world is richer for their continued existence.
Congratulations to Becky and all the other entrants. Please: keep enjoying the ocean, and taking great photos. We'll be seeking new submissions for the contest in 2009.
The March 2008 issue of the journal Ecological Applicationsis devoted entirely to the topic of "Arctic Marine Mammals and Climate Change." Narwhals are considered the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change on northern ecosystems.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Stanford University biologist Terry Root (who wasn't part of the study) said the analysis published in the journal reinforces her concern that the narwhal "is going to be one of the first to go extinct" from climate change despite a relatively healthy population today.
"There could a bazillion of them, but if the habitat or the things that they need are not going to be around, they're not going to make it," Root told AP science writer Seth Borenstein.
While polar bears can adapt somewhat to the changing Arctic climate, narwhals can't, Root said.
The journal, published by the Ecological Society of America, evaluated the status of 11 Arctic marine mammals. In addition to narwhals, other species at greatest risk include polar bears, hooded seals, bowhead whales and walruses.
There's a lot we can do -- individually and as a society -- to tackle the growing volume of carbon dioxide we're putting into the atmosphere. It's the challenge of our lifetime, and well worth the effort -- for the narwhals and ourselves.
When I was a kid, I loved playing with burning candles -- teasing a stream of molten wax from the pool below the flame, then watching as the streams flowed down the taper before they cooled and hardened.
Fourth of July was another time for sanctioned play with fire. The best were the volcanic eruptions of colored sparks from cones and Roman candles.
Nature can conjure up her own spectaculars, as in this image captured by the folks at Volcano Discovery, who lead tours to volcanic regions around the world. They record the photo as documenting lava floating on the waves on the Big Island of Hawaii.
They were interested in submarine volcanic processes, and did considerable geologic work during the three-month cruise. But they also studied marine life they found in deep water off Hawaii, including amazing animals like this tripod fish.
It's not a species new to science, as are many others seen by MBARI researchers. But it's remarkable nonetheless, because people now have the technology -- and the curiosity -- to seek out life in the remote regions of our own ocean planet.
I say remote, but deep sea animals like the tripod fish aren't immune to our activities up on the surface.
There's drama and beauty in the interplay of fire and water when lava cascades into the sea. But our own survival may be more closely bound to what we're learning about the life-forms with whom we share this fragile world.
At the Monterey Bay Aquarium, we're always looking for ways to inspire the next generation of Ocean Stewards. But often, it is they who are inspiring us! Take Ayla Besemer, age 10 of Colorado, one of our 2007 Official Explorers. Ayla has been visiting the aquarium since the age of 6 and had always had a love for the ocean, even though it wasn't in her backyard. Since becoming an ambassador last year for the aquarium and for its conservation mission, Ayla has worked tirelessly to tell everyone, especially her fellow class mates, about the issues she's been learning about and spreading the word about what we can all do to help. Here's an excerpt from her final journal entry for the year (You can read more about her year, and that of her fellow explorers on our website).
WOW! What an AMAZING year! I have had so much fun, and learned a lot too! From live radio shows, to helping with the Aquarium's albatross; from working behind the scenes prepping the sea otter's training toys, to cooking sustainable seafood with Chef Dory; from Underwater Explorers to Science Under Sail; the list of adventures goes on and on. I have had a majorly (is that really a word?) FANTASTIC year.
But more important than all the fun things I did, I also learned tons about our oceans. For instance, did you know there is a garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean mostly comprised of plastic! Guess how big it is? Some estimates put it at twice the size of Texas! That is huge! I also learned that kitty poop flushed down toilets, or carried away in storm drains, can hurt the otters off the coast of California . And, if we keep fishing at our current rate, some scientists believe our oceans will be fished out by the year 2048! That's only 40 years from now.
As the year is wrapping up, I have started working on a very special project with one of the new Official Explorers, Simon Willig. This project is called Save Our Seas. It is a PowerPoint presentation about our oceans; the danger they are in; and how kids like you can help! We are still working on it, but soon we hope kids everywhere will be presenting it to their schools and kids they know!
I want to thank everyone at the Aquarium for this INCREDIBLY fantastic year. Who knew when I set foot into the Monterey Bay Aquarium for the first time at 6 years old, it would become such a big part of my life! I learned this year that each and every person who works at the Aquarium has a deep love of the ocean. They are dedicated to sharing all they know with kids, so we can work side by side to help them protect and save our mysterious, beautiful, and magical oceans.
The waters and islands in the protected area are home to more than 120 species of coral and 520 species of fish, some new to science. The area also has some of the most important sea bird nesting sites in the Pacific, large fish populations and sea turtles, the aquarium and Conservation International say.
"The new boundary includes extensive seamount and deep-sea habitat, tuna spawning grounds and as yet unsurveyed submerged reef systems," Greg Stone, the New England Aquarium's vice-president of global marine programs, told the Reuters news agency.
If you want to see more, National Geographic has a great website devoted to the Phoenix Islands, with photos like this one, and other resources.
It's a wonderful day when any new protected area is created, especially one larger than either the Northwest Hawaiian Islands National Monument (largest in U.S. waters) or the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority in Australia.