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Fri Jul 06, 2007

Pink dolphin spotted north of Gulf of Mexico

Although a rare sight, albino marine mammals, specifically whales and dolphins, have been recorded numerous times in history.

The most recent report of what appears to be a pink bottlenose dolphin with red eyes, swimming in an estuary north of the Gulf of Mexico in Calcasieu Lake in southwestern Louisiana, is yet another albino marine mammal sighting. Smaller than its companions, it is thought to be a calf, sticking close to its mother.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a bowhead whale, recently killed in Alaskan waters that had a bomb lance fragment, dated 1879,  embedded in its body. In that article, I referred to various notable whales inscribed in many log books of 17th century whalers. One in particular was Mocha Dick, the famous whale Herman Melville created in his literary masterpiece, Moby Dick, a gigantic white whale. But what I did not include in my column is the fact that reports and documentation of white whales are not unheard of. These unusual creatures are rare but not unique.

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Posted by: Ryan Henry on Jul 06, 07 | 1:08 pm | Profile

Fri Jun 29, 2007

Critter a horse of a different color

Let’s examine one of the most unique phenomena in the undersea or terrestrial world, the seahorse.

This creature is absolutely nothing like a horse. They don’t snort, stomp, rear, accept riders or posses a hairy tail to swish away flies and other pesky insects.

Seahorses alone belong to the genus Hippocampus, from the Greek words for horse (hippos) and sea monster (campus). They look like a combination of several different animals, but they are actually fish that have a head that looks much like a horse, a prehensile tail like monkeys and the males posses a pouch similar to a kangaroo.

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Posted by: Ryan Henry on Jun 29, 07 | 5:20 pm | Profile

Fri Jun 22, 2007

Recent find reveals much about whales’ will to survive

In May off the coast of Barrow, Alaska, a bowhead whale was killed that had a bomb lance fragment lodged between its neck and shoulder.

The device was patented in 1879. When shot sometime in the latter 1800s, the small explosive cylinder was meant to kill the animal but instead only injured it. (During the 19th century, a mass slaughter of whales to provide high quality oil for lamps killed nearly 3,000 bowhead whales by some 220 whaling ships). 

Discovering a 19th century bomb lance in a bowhead whale suggests that this animal was somewhere between 115 and 130 years old.

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Posted by: Ryan Henry on Jun 22, 07 | 5:42 pm | Profile

Sat Jun 16, 2007

Whale sharks ‘often present’ offshore of SPI

I was checking out world news on the Web this week when I read about the recent transfer of two whale sharks from Taiwan to the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta.  These will be the last whale sharks to be exported from Taiwan, following a Taiwanese government ban on the capture of these animals, effective in 2008.

The largest fish in the world, the whale shark is a mysterious creature.  Although a highly migratory fish, scientists still do not know how far they migrate, their life expectancy, mating habits or even how many exist in the wild.  Scientists do know that their numbers have been drastically declining in some areas of the world due to hunting for consumption. It is reported that whale shark meat is similar to the flavor and consistency of tofu.  (Personally, I can’t believe anyone would kill any animal to acquire a flavor resembling tofu, but I guess it takes all kinds).

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Posted by: Ryan Henry on Jun 16, 07 | 10:46 am | Profile

Sat Jun 09, 2007

Beach find originates from squid

Twice each day, the ocean rises up the shore, and as it retreats it deposits all manner of debris along the high-tide mark, also known as the wrack or strandline. Shells, seaweed, driftwood, feathers and sea beans are common along this stranded ribbon that can stretch for miles.

One item that can be found among the jumbled mass of sea treasures is the beautiful little ram’s horn shell.

This white spiral-shaped shell is actually the internal structure of a small, deepwater squid known as spirula, a relative of the octopus and cuttlefish and more distantly to the nautilus.

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Posted by: Ryan Henry on Jun 09, 07 | 8:04 am | Profile

Sat Jun 02, 2007

Whale sightings stir love for nature

Many years ago, and far, far away, I fell in love with whales.

Growing up in the Rio Grande Valley, I spent a lot of time here on South Padre Island. Seeing dolphins was a common occurrence, but I first encountered large whales living in the wild in the beauty of the Pacific Ocean.

It was my first whale-watching excursion, and I had no idea what to expect. The primary whale species we were seeking was the California gray whale. Heading south out of San Diego, our destination was San Ignacio Lagoon, one of only three breeding and calving lagoons in the world for these whales.

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Posted by: Ryan Henry on Jun 02, 07 | 9:45 am | Profile

Sat May 26, 2007

Scientists: Dead whales feed strange underwater beings

A number of years ago I became fascinated with deepwater hydrothermal vents, or geysers on the seafloor.

These vent sites, commonly found at depths of 7,000 feet or more, where most deep sea life is very sparse, actually teem with a fascinating array of unique creatures that are found nowhere else in the oceans of the world: giant tubeworms and clams and even eyeless shrimp. Because of the extreme distances between hydrothermal vents, scientists were puzzled about how these life forms were able to get from one active vent to another. 

Eventually, it was discovered that the carcasses of whales, known as whale “falls,” represent a huge contribution to many deepwater creatures—as food. The carcass of a whale can provide immense organic material, especially rich in oil and fat, which literally hundreds of different creatures and microorganism communities live on. Whale falls scattered on the ocean floor act as home to some marine life and as a kind of “stepping stone” for others.

While examining a whale fall in 2004, scientists discovered a new genus of tubeworms, osedax, which translates to “bone devourer.” The tubeworm lives, feeds, and apparently reproduces on whale falls.

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Posted by: Ryan Henry on May 26, 07 | 7:58 am | Profile

Sat May 19, 2007

Family finds peculiar driftwood

Unique pieces of driftwood continue to be interesting additions to Beachcomber’s Museum on South Padre Island. Some make great walking sticks, decorative yard art, centerpieces and some even look like various creatures—what we call “faces in nature.”

Recently, the Braatens from McAllen brought numerous, unusual pieces of driftwood found on the Island between Beach Access #6 and the Mansfield Ship Channel.

All of the pieces, varying in size and type of wood, have gnawed groves along much of their length and most have been stripped of bark. The pieces show obvious signs of having been fashioned by beavers.

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Posted by: Ryan Henry on May 19, 07 | 7:41 am | Profile

Sat May 12, 2007

‘Encyclopedia of life’ in works to catalog plant species

At this moment, there are approximately 1.8 million known plant and animal species on Earth. To date, however, it is estimated that humans have catalogued only 10 percent of the world’s species.

Back in the 1990s, researchers began creating Web pages for individual species. Unfortunately, no centralized database was established. But all that is about to change.

Through a collaboration of Chicago’s Field Museum, Harvard University, the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Mass., the Smithsonian Institution, the Biodiversity Heritage Library and the Missouri Botanical Garden, a massive new “Encyclopedia of Life” is being assembled. It will be an Internet catalog of every known species in the world. Within the next five years, detailed information on about half of the 1.8 million known species will be available online, with the remaining to be completed within a decade.

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Posted by: Ryan Henry on May 12, 07 | 8:24 am | Profile

Sat May 05, 2007

Whale’s death could provide needed data

I arrived at the University of Texas—Pan American Coastal Studies Lab on South Padre Island at 8:45 a.m. Sunday and heard an unmistakable whoosh sound coming from the largest tank where two men were carefully supporting a 9-foot marine mammal known as a melon-headed whale.

In very poor condition, the whale had stranded itself on South Padre Island last weekend, several miles north of Beach Access No. 6. I received a call from Scarlet Colley who was seeking volunteers to help.

It is common in whale strandings for these animals to “list” to one side when they’re still alive. This prevents the whale from being able to keep its blowhole upright and out of the water for breathing, and this whale was large and listing to the right side so it required two people in the tank to help support him. (Generally, when people enter the tank it is for two hours.)

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Posted by: Ryan Henry on May 05, 07 | 4:43 pm | Profile

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