Posted by: underseaencounters | June 15, 2009

A Different Sort of Vampire

The other day I googled my book series Undersea Encounters to see what came up. I found two interesting mentions of the series that I’m going to share with you. This is a Shameless Plug Post, but occasionally I like to spread the news about my (other) babies.

I have written about vampires…but not the undead you’re probably familiar with who sleep in crypts (or perhaps sparkle in the sunlight like the famous Edward Cullen). No, these are undersea vampires—called vampire squids.

Vampire Squid

Vampire Squid

I wrote about vampire squids in Octopuses and Squids, a book that is included as a reference in the American Library Association’s list of The Five Strangest Animals on the Planet. Here’s what they write about the vampire squid:

Vampire Squid don’t turn into bats or suck your blood, but they’re still pretty creepy. These sea creatures live in the deepest, darkest and coldest parts of the ocean where they squirt neon ooze at other species and turn completely inside out.

Some of the other strange animals they include are the star-nosed mole, the lungless frog, and an animal I’ve never heard of: The Long-Eared Jerboa, which is a sort of bouncing rodent that looks like a miniature Dumbo.

UPDATE: Check out this YouTube video from Planet Earth, narrated by David Attenborough, about the Vampire Squid:

The other mention of the series is on scientist Janet Stemwedel’s blog, Sprog Blogging, which is on the Year of Science 2009 website, where she explains in dialogue the differences between syngnathids and cephalopods. The post has some great photos (scroll a bit down the page to see) from two of the Undersea Encounters books. If you don’t know what syngnathids and cephalopods are, check out the post—-you may be surprised!

Posted by: underseaencounters | June 10, 2009

Whale Wars

The Animal Planet Whale Wars series has started up again, airing every Friday night at 9 e.t. Here’s a description from the Whale Wars site:

Only one group stands between a 750-ton whale-killing machine and its prey. Whale Wars follows the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society as they seek to end Japanese whaling once and for all.

The Sea Shepherd’s tactics are controversial and yet I think it’s insane that any industrialized country allows the hunting of endangered whales (and that includes Norway, Iceland, and a few other countries). Check out the The Animal Planet site for more information.

Sea Shepherd Encounters Japanese Whalers

Sea Shepherd Encounters Japanese Whalers

I missed the first episode. Unfortunately my husband and sons are addicted to Ghost Adventures, a show on at the same time! But I plan to tune into subsequent episodes.

A few years ago, I read Whale Warriors: The Battle at the Bottom of the World to Save the Planet’s Largest Mammals by Peter Heller.


I highly recommend this book  if you need a good beach read this summer. I love nature-related books in which the humans are as colorful and interesting as the animals, and in this case, they certainly are.

Posted by: underseaencounters | May 29, 2009

Kind of blue

Today Newsday reported that a blue whale made a rare appearance only 70 miles off the coast of Long Island. Normally they are spotted hundreds of miles off shore in deeper water.

The Newsday article also has a MP3 recording of the blue whale’s song, which is quite different from the famous humpback whale songs. Wonder what this whale was singing about?

If you want to learn a bit more about these amazing animals (the largest animals that have ever lived in Earth), check out this blog post “Blue Whale Fun Facts,” which includes a life-sized eye of a blue whale.

image from A-Z

image from A-Z

Posted by: underseaencounters | May 27, 2009

World Turtle Day!

Today is World Turtle Day, sponsored by the California-based American Tortoise Rescue to bring attention to, and increase knowledge of and respect for, turtles and tortoises, and to encourage people to help them survive and thrive.

In honor of World Turtle Day, the LA Times blog LA UNLEASHED (All Things Animal in Southern California and Beyond) has a post Your morning adorable: Baby Sea Turtles released in Mexico! The YouTube video of the baby turtles scrambling down the sand and plunging into the surf is very cute…Check it out! The article also has suggestions for how we can help our shelled friends….

Bill Curtsinger, National Geographic

Bill Curtsinger, National Geographic

Posted by: underseaencounters | May 20, 2009

The dolphins of Greece

For our 25th wedding anniversary, my husband and I splurged and took a trip to Greece.  As soon as I arrived in Greece, I felt as if I had arrived home. I had less culture shock in Greece than I had when I went to England, Scotland, and Wales (where my ancestors are from).

Our favorite place in Greece was the island of Santorini, which is famous for being the site of one of the most powerful volcanoes ever recorded. The volcano occurred 3600 years ago, creating a huge crater, called a caldera, in the middle of the island. Some people think Santorini is the source of the legend of Atlantis.  

At the Akrotiri site on Santorini, a Bronze age civilization flourished from around 3000 to 2000 BC, reaching its peak in the period 2000 to 1580 BC. On the walls of their elegant houses, these Minoan-like people painted scenes of  nature.  I read someplace that these are the first examples of representations of nature that were painted to show delight and appreciation of nature without religious or ritual purpose. We saw beautiful stylized paintings of monkeys, sparrows, crocuses, and dolphins. Here is a detail of one of the wall paintings:  


What inspired this post was an article I read this week about how common dolphins may soon become extinct in the Ionian Sea around Greece due to overfishing in the Mediterranean. Environmental groups have urged Greece to restrict trawling, to crack down on illegal fishing, and to take measures like having fishermen use larger mesh for bottom set nets.

Thousands of years ago, the ancestors of today’s Greek people delighted in these creatures. I hope they find a way to save them now.

Posted by: underseaencounters | May 7, 2009

Happy Mother’s Day!


HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY to all moms on land and undersea!

West Indian manatee and calf (comp photo

West Indian manatee and calf

Humpback whale and calf (comp photo

Humpback whale and calf

Alaskan sea otter with sleeping pup

Alaskan sea otter with sleeping pup

Posted by: underseaencounters | May 2, 2009

To bee or not…?

Photo by John Severn

Photo by John Severn

I’m not sure why, but I’ve noticed a lot of “buzz” about bees lately. The other day I was indulging in pineapple coconut Haagen Dazs ice cream. I saw something on the carton about how Haagen Dazs is committed to saving the honeybees. Saving the bees? I was only vaguely aware of a bee problem…but then I pay more attention to animals with fins than animals with wings and antennae.

It turns out there is a BIG bee problem. Billions of bees have abandoned their hives and died. Theories about the cause of this disorder (called Colony Collapse Disorder) include everything from cell phone signals to pesticides, mites, disease, industrial farming (ie, monoculture), global warming, and loss of wild areas…. Basically, all the stuff we’ve done to bees that isn’t natural and thus compromises the bees’ immune systems.

Here are some ways, however, that you can help:

  • Provide some shallow water for bees in your backyard. I have noticed bees drinking water in my birdbaths—they need the water…
  • Plant full-sun plants like cosmos, phlox, zinnia, chrysanthemums, mallow, coneflowers, sunflowers, lobelia, mint, bee balm, butterfly weed, lupines, milkweed, asters, teasel, globe thistle and fennel. This article from Centre Daily Times (PA) provides information about how/where to plant your bee-friendly flowers.
  • Support area beekeepers by eating locally grown organic honey. Mmmm….
  • Check out the Haagen-Dazs website, Help the Honey Bees, which is pretty cool, and lists other bee sites as well. Eat some ice cream, too. Some of the money goes toward helping the bees…On Tuesday, May 12, you can get a free scoop of ice cream from 4-8 p.m. at participating Haagen-Dazs stores. This year Free Flavor Day will spotlight the plight of bees, which pollinate ingredients essential to more than 50 percent of Häagen-Dazs ice cream’s all-natural flavors.
  • Become a beekeeper. Seriously. Here’s an article in the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch about the boom in beekeeping. It costs about $300 to set oneself up as a beekeeper and business is booming.
Posted by: underseaencounters | April 22, 2009

And they’re off! The Great Turtle Race


This Earth Day, I’d like to celebrate the leatherback turtle, a creature that was on the earth at the time of the dinosaurs—in fact, its evolutionary roots go back 100 million years. These prehistoric survivors, however, are critically endangered. It would be a sad story indeed if we upstarts, who have been on earth for only a million years, caused their demise.

Photo by Doug Perrine. It appears on p. 23 of my book Sea Turtles (co-author David Hall)

Photo by Doug Perrine. It appears on p. 23 of my book Sea Turtles (co-author David Hall)

You can read about leatherbacks in the May issue of National Geographic (should be on the newsstand soon). NG is also a sponsor of the Great Turtle Race. Eleven leatherback turtles will speed from their foraging grounds in “the frigid waters of Canada to nesting beaches on the sun-soaked shores of the Caribbean.” The turtles are tagged with satellite tracking devices so that we can follow their incredible 3,700-mile (6,000-kilometer) journey.

You can learn about it on the National Geographic website, which includes:

  • Daily race updates
  • Information about leatherback sea turtles
  • A turtle cam
  • Games
  • A map of the race

Here’s the information about CALI, the leatherback turtle I’m rooting for:

Cali’s sponsor: Bullis Charter School

Cali’s unflappable spirit got him through a life-threatening ordeal that almost kept him off the starting line. When Canadian scientists found him, he was entangled in fishing gear and unable to swim. But thanks to his can-do attitude and some help from the Canadians, he’s off to the races with his leatherback friends!

Go Cali!

Posted by: underseaencounters | April 11, 2009

My city backyard, aka certified wildlife habitat

I saw a cardinal in my backyard this morning and it reminded me that I wanted to register my backyard as a Certified Wildlife Habitat through the National Wildlife Federation.

I live in an apartment in the most densely populated city in the US (according to my son). We have a small deck and a tiny backyard surrounded by tall walls. When I’m feeling romantic, it seems like a secret garden.

Ten years ago, I tried to turn it into a suburban-type backyard, where I could walk out on a summer morning barefoot on spongy green grass. I bought a seed spreader and grass seed, topsoil. Uh..forget it. The grass was enemic-looking, scraggly, and a mess. I have one remaining patch of grass that my cats enjoy chewing on.

Then I thought it might be fun to have a whole backyard of clover—why not? I bought clover plants and tried this. They grew about 2 feet tall and it was a mess. A horse would have loved it. I tried pachysandra. No go. And so on.

I also planted a tree—a Norway maple, which I’ve been told is considered a weed tree. It has thrived, and despite almost everyone urging me to cut it down (evidently they more or less take over your yard), I don’t have the heart to do it.

Finally, some native plants, or plants that just came over from other people’s yards, took root. One is a fern I call the “New Jersey fern” because I’ve seen it all around New Jersey, and another is a no-name decent-looking ground cover that covers 1/2 the yard. It stubbornly refuses to grow in the other half. Oh well. But these plants are hardy and require little additional watering.

What I’ve noticed is that I now have a little nature sanctuary back there. The birds love the Norway maple. I have seen ten birds hanging out on that tree. I fill a birdbath regularly, and have seen a mourning dove sitting in it for twenty minutes. Grackles (?) splash in it, and sparrows are regular visitors. My neighbor has a grape vine that wandered over to my yard and at certain times of year, the grackles swoop down en masse and eat the ripe grapes.

I also tried putting out birdseed, but it attracted squirrels and pigeons so I stopped (any advice about this would be appreciated). Don’t feel sorry for the pigeons. The “pigeon mothers” in this city feed them excellent leftover Italian bread.

I planted a pine tree that’s doing well and I have vines growing up the walls that also came from someplace else. I see worms everywhere (a good sign) and slugs as well (not so good, but I haven’t figured out how to get rid of them. I tried the beer trap, but it didn’t work. Suggestions?).

I need to add a few things to meet the National Wildlife Federation requirements, but I’m almost there. Certain elements are needed for food sources, water sources, places for cover, places to raise young, and evidence of sustainable gardening.

I love seeing birds, butterflies, and fireflies in my city backyard. I highly recommend turning your backyard into a native wildlife-type environment, especially if you have a troublesome yard where you can’t grow much. It’s very satisfying. I’ve read recent reports about a dramatic decline in some bird groups, so it’s very much needed as well.

Here’s a photo of my semi-wild morning glories taken last September. I’ll try to take some pictures of my backyard wildlife, too, this spring and summer.


My roses are blooming….and the “NJ ferns” have returned and have doubled the area they cover. I never water anything except the potted plants and so far have not used any pesticides or anything (of course, everything will be chewed up later in the season, but for now everything looks great).

The other morning I saw a robin for the first time. It was all bedraggled and I thought it might be sick. Then I realized it was sunning itself after a bath in my birdbath. Its mate was splashing around in the birdbath. They appeared the next day too. To country people, seeing a robin probably isn’t that exciting, but to a city person like me, it’s pretty cool to see them in my yard. In the Land of the Pigeons, any bird that isn’t a sparrow or a grackle (? shiny largish blue-black bird), is reason for celebration.


Posted by: underseaencounters | April 5, 2009

polar bears in peril

I was saddened to read a recent article about modern-day trophy hunters who pay $35,000 to go on polar bear hunts. Perhaps I’m naive, but isn’t this illegal, and if not, why not?

The International Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears protects polar bears from random, unregulated sport hunting and outlaws hunting of the bears from aircraft and icebreakers. I do understand limited hunting of polar bears by native people. But wealthy sportsmen being allowed to hunt a potentially vulnerable species? I don’t understand this.

I wish these wealthy trophy-hunters would buy brand-new Nikons and go on one of the Arctic expeditions offered by wildlife groups, where they could photograph and admire these magnificent animals—and not kill them. The National Wildlife Federation has many such expeditions. Another outfit called Natural Habitat Adventures offers several polar bear tours. Or for a somewhat more affordable Arctic adventure, they might consider Cruise North Expeditions, which is owned and operated by the Inuit of Northern Quebec.

To learn more about polar bears, check out the Polar Bears International site.

comp photo copyright Corbis

comp photo © Miles/zefa/Corbis

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