Posted by: underseaencounters | March 15, 2010

I’m Back….

I’m afraid I haven’t been a very good blogger lately (okay, for the last 6 months). I’ve been spending a lot of time over at my frog blog, Frogs Are Green, created with my friend Susan Newman. But a couple of people asked me to continue this blog and I do miss my undersea friends. I’ve been ignoring them for too long.

To overcome  blog-writers’ block, I will generally write short posts with links to up-to-date news about undersea animals or will point you in the direction of new undersea books, films, TV shows that might interest you.

So without further ado…

For fans of Planet Earth, a new Discovery Channel series called LIFE premieres Sunday, March 21st, 8 p.m. e/p. The 11-part series, filmed in HD and narrated by Oprah Winfrey, covers reptiles and amphibians, mammals, fish, bird, insects, creatures of the deep, and primates.

I wasn’t able to find a video excerpt from the series of an undersea animal, but here’s a video from the reptile and amphibian episode. It’s about a toad that isn’t able to hop. So how does it escape from a hungry snake? You’ll have to watch the video to find out how natures compensates for a hop-less toad. A real leap of faith!

Posted by: underseaencounters | August 5, 2009

Gone Whale Watching

I’m unplugging from the computer for a while as my family and I are going whale watching off Cape Ann, Massachusetts, where I’m really looking forward to seeing some whales and dolphins! Yesterday, 12 to 15 humpback whales, 5 finback whales, and 75 dolphins were seen on one of the whale watching trips!

Speaking of dolphins, there’s been quite a bit of buzz about the movie The Cove, Louie Psihoyos’s documentary about the international dolphin trade. I haven’t seen it, but I think I’d like to. (I have heard, however, that it’s pretty disturbing and graphic). You can read some critics’ and viewers’ reviews here.

Enjoy the rest of the summer!

Here’s a video from a Cape Ann whale watching trip:

Posted by: underseaencounters | July 28, 2009

Undersea Movies: Jelly Dance

Jellyfish (or as some people call them jellies because they aren’t fish) truly do go with the flow. Most drift on natural currents to get around (though some do pulse swim). You won’t hear them singing “If I only had a brain” or “If I only had a heart,” because they have neither and seem to do fine without them. They have no eyes, just light-sensitive organs, nor bones either.

But before you start feeling superior, don’t forget they’ve been on Earth for a l-o-n-g time. When we humans were ape-like creatures hanging from from trees, they had already been on Earth for 649 million years.

Here’s a Lion’s Mane Jelly Dance from an exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium:

Posted by: underseaencounters | July 23, 2009

Summer at the Movies: Kelp Forests

For some reason this summer, I haven’t had that summery relaxed feeling I usually have. Maybe it’s the weather? My husband is convinced that global warming (or what is now euphemistically called “climate change”) is turning the climate of New England and the New York area into something resembling the Pacific Northwest. I love the Pacific Northwest. It’s probably my favorite place in the world. But cool rainy days all summer don’t do it for a New York/New Jersey girl like me. I need blistering hot days and a Carvel “Brown Bonnet” ice cream cone to feel as if it’s truly summertime.

So to promote summer relaxation, and to increase your appreciation of the amazing undersea world, I’m going to show undersea videos for the rest of the summer. Here’s a video about undersea kelp forests from JEAN-MICHEL COUSTEAU: OCEAN ADVENTURES, a PBS series. I’ve seen so many incredible PBS shows lately that I know I really have to become a member soon:

So sit back and enjoy the show. You don’t even have to turn off your cell phone.

For further reading:


Posted by: underseaencounters | July 21, 2009

Sharks Have Surprising Advocates on Capitol Hill

Looking over my recent posts, I have to admit I’ve been focusing on whales to the exclusion of almost all other undersea animals, except sea turtles. Partly it’s due to my “google alerts.” I had it set to give me stories about sharks, but I kept getting stories about sports teams, so I removed the alert!

I heard this shark story on the Rachel Maddow show: Sharks had some unusual advocates this past week—nine survivors of shark attacks (some missing limbs) lobbied Congress last week to tighten laws against overfishing and shark finning, a practice in which fins are sliced from a shark for its meat and the rest of the fish is left for dead. Shark fin soup is a delicacy in Asia, but is threatening shark species around the world. Finning has been banned in most international waters, but advocacy groups say the rules are poorly enforced.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature recently released a study that reports that roughly a third of all sharks—including hammerheads, the great white, and mako sharks—are in danger of extinction. This lobbying effort in Washington was organized by the Pew Environment Group.

Sharks are “charismatic megafauna,” those big exciting animals that garner a lot of attention. But sharks aren’t CUTE animals and so people don’t get emotional about them like they do about pandas, except perhaps people like my son Tim.

Yet sharks need to be protected and shouldn’t be indiscriminately slaughtered for a luxury soup. I hope the effort of these shark enthusiasts who lobbied Washington will bring attention to the wasteful and cruel practice of shark finning and the dangers of overfishing.


The other shark news that I missed was brought to my attention by my faithful blog reader and friend Deb Steinberg (thanks Deb!). A 25-foot basking shark was found dead off the coast of Long Island near Jones Beach. The shark was alive when it washed ashore, but died soon after. The cause of the shark’s death is as yet unknown.

If you’re going to the beach on Long Island, don’t have visions of JAWS! Basking sharks may be huge, but they are harmless to humans. They open their big mouths to filter out plankton and small fish. I would love to see a basking shark in the wild.

Posted by: underseaencounters | July 13, 2009

Whales Watching Us

photo of gray whale from

photo of gray whale from

A friend sent me a link to yesterday’s New York Times Magazine cover story, “Watching Whales Watch Us” by Charles Siebert, about the “Friendlies,” the gray whales in Baja Mexico that seek out and seem to enjoy interacting with people.

 I’ve read stories of what a profound experience it is to touch the gray whales and have them look you right in the eye. I’ve always wanted to go to Baja and see the gray whales and perhaps someday I will.

As Sibert writes:

I was not prepared for the profound nature of what’s going on down here. These encounters are highly unique and rare. And there’s another word for it: it’s an enigma. Intellectually, it is an enigma as to why gray whales do this, because there’s a continuity and predictability to these interactions. What we have here are highly sophisticated minds in very unique bodies, living in such a different environment, and yet these whales are approaching us with some frequency for what appears to be sociable tactile contact. And with no food involved.

He also discusses how the more we learn about whales, the more they seem like a parallel “us” swimming in the ocean depths. Yet whales are succumbing to our assaults:

Indeed, when that baby gray calf bobbed up out of the sea and held there that first morning, staring at me with his huge, slow-blinking eye, it felt to me as if he were taking one impossibly long and quizzical look in the mirror.

Sibert tells the story of a whale entangled in crab-trap lines that was rescued by divers. After the divers cut her free, the whale seemed to swim in  joyous circles around the rescuers, nudging each diver as if in thanks.

Some people will call this anthropomorphizing. But the field of animal cognition and bevahior has gone through a revolution in recent years—it’s no longer taboo to ascribe emotions to these animals.

If you have a chance this summer to go whale watching, I highly recommend it. There is nothing quite like it. Unless you go to Baja, however, you won’t be able to touch the whales or look them in the eye. But you also won’t fail to be moved by seeing these magnificent animals in the wild.

Just yesterday we changed our summer travel itinerary. We were planning to go on a road trip to the Midwest to see some Lincoln stuff because a beach trip on the East Coast seemed too expensive. But the whales are calling us. We decided to go to Cape Ann, Massachusetts, and see the humpback whales instead.

If you need some reading before your whale watch, I highly recommend Among Whales by cetacean scientist Roger Payne, which is inexplicably out of print, but is available used. I’ve read a dozen whale books, but this is my favorite.

Posted by: underseaencounters | July 1, 2009

Migaloo the White Whale

Migaloo, the only documented white humpback whale in the world, has been spotted off the coast of Australia on his annual migration. Unlike Moby Dick, Migaloo isn’t a sperm whale and doesn’t have a deranged sea captain chasing him. Instead, Migaloo is a celebrity whale with his own website and Facebook. The Australian government has enacted special laws to protect him and to keep the paparrazzi at a distance.

Migaloo, which means “white fella” in an indigenous Australian language, doesn’t have Ahab following him, but he is threatened by the possible resumption of hunting by Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean.

photo copyright Daniel Burns

photo copyright Daniel Burns

Posted by: underseaencounters | June 24, 2009

Seashells by the Seashore

Although it’s been quoted to the point of cliche, one of my favorite quotes is one from Rachel Carson (I confess to using it on another blog post as well):

 If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such gift from the fairies, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.

I’ve often wondered how I absorbed my “nature knowledge.” My mother, father, and stepfather loved the outdoors, but I wouldn’t say they were “nature lovers.” My mother enjoyed sunning herself at the beach or drinking iced tea in the backyard surrounded by pots of pink geraniums. My father loved to sail, and my stepfather loved to swim in the ocean. But they certainly weren’t card-carrying members of the Sierra Club.

But someone along the way (my older sisters?) taught me the names of shells, that you should never pick or step on a lady slipper flower because they are very rare, that you can pull off the ends of honeysuckle and drink the yummy nectar, and so on.

If you’re going to the beach this summer with children, you may want to pack this book Seashells by the Seashore by Marianne Berkes, illustrated by Robert Noreika, and be the “designated nature teacher” for a child.  I bought the book the other day from Amazon just because I loved the sunny watercolors. It introduces common shells and includes a laminated card with shell names that can be detached from the book.  I hope to share this with a child sometime when I’m at the beach (or maybe with my college-aged sons–they may not know the names of all these shells!).


Please send along your book recommendations also.

Posted by: underseaencounters | June 22, 2009

announcing FROGS ARE GREEN

I’m enjoying writing this blog so much that I created another blog called FROGS ARE GREEN with graphic designer Susan Newman.

We hope the blog will increase awareness about the worldwide amphibian crisis. One-third of amphibian species are threatened with extinction, yet most people don’t know that our froggy friends may soon vanish from the Earth.

Please hop over and take a look!

Red-eyed tree frog. Image from Wickipedia

Red-eyed tree frog. Image from Wikipedia

Posted by: underseaencounters | June 19, 2009

Trash bag leads to death of mother whale and calf

According to the Charleston Post and Courier, a mother pygmy sperm whale and her nursing calf were found dead in late-night breakers near Fort Moultrie, South Carolina, earlier this week. 

A plastic garbage bag killed them. Evidently the mother whale ingested the bag, couldn’t eat, and was in severe pain.

Marine animals often mistake plastic in the water for food. Critically endangered leatherback turtles, for example, eat mainly jellyfish. Plastic bags in the water resemble their favorite food and so they eat them and die. 

As the article says:

Marine debris is one of those gnawing concerns for conservationists and biologists. Animals eat it and get tangled up in it. Debris can damage ships and transport invasive species. And human health concerns have begun to be raised. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has launched a multi-agency task force trying to educate people.

When you are out on the water this summer, stow your waste on board the boat and if you see things floating in the water, pick them up and dispose of them on the dock.

Humpback whale and calf (comp photo

Mother whale and calf (comp photo

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