Great Barracuda - Sphyraena barracuda

Great Barracuda - Sphyraena barracuda

June 28, 2010

Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea

Like many busy people, with spare time at a minimum, reading can be a luxury. The only time I have to read is usually in the evenings, or on the weekends. When I'm under the gun trying to meet deadline, reading takes the back-seat altogether. At those times, reading is saved up for vacation. Books are carefully chosen, stored, and giddily transported to the beach. Then, if I'm not fishing, sleeping, or eating, I'm reading. "Mom, come on!" "Just one more chapter." "That's what you said two chapters ago..."

The SS Central America went down in a hurricane off the coast of NC in 1857. Over four hundred lives, three tons of California gold, and massive amounts of coal sank in over 1000 meters of offshore water. Tommy Thompson, a maverick inventor and marine engineer from Ohio methodically located the wreck. In the process of recovering the gold, he fended off interlopers, set legal precident, and took deep-sea exploration to new depths.

Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea is well written and researched. Gary Kinder wove history, science, and human determination into a true story that had me hooked to the very end. He painted a clear picture of the ship, the sinking, the rescues, and the subsequent recovery of the remains some 130 years later by one very determined scientist, his supporting crew and backers.

A very good read. I promise.

June 24, 2010

White shark killed in Tournament

I personally think all shark fishing contests should be put to bed forever. This is just one reason why.

June 22, 2010


Finally! After four years of painting, writing, designing, and editing, we are in the midst of copyediting for our new book: A Field Guide to Coastal Fishes - from Maine to Texas. Hooray! This is one of the final steps before the book goes into production. Once we get proofs back, it will go to printing. For me, this is a big deal.

Although I haven't written any posts about the book, it's been largely the center of my attention for a very long time. I concieved the idea about 15 years ago while visiting an aquarium gift shop. I stood in front of a book shelf lamenting the lack of guides to fishes that were 1. comprehensive; 2. in full color; 3. current; 4. accurate. I turned to the man standing next to me and said "I'm going to write the next field guide to fishes of the Atlantic." He said something like, "Yeah. Every body thinks they can write a book."

Although the pieces were not yet in place to pursue the project, his comment only served to fuel my fire. I was determined. A few months ago, my editor told me while we discussed a potential author who didn't seem as driven, "One REALLY needs to WANT to be published. It's a long, tough process." It is. But, it is not impossible to achieve. Here are the ingredients:

1. A unique idea/concept
2. An empty niche in the market
3. Expertise in your field, eg: loads of experience
4. Connections
5. Savvy
6. Unrelenting determination, perserverance, resourcefulness, will, faith, trust, and vision
7. A very strong network of friends and family who are willing to support your goals no matter how late or long your days become

Then, all you do is work, work, work! The reward? A great book and more on the horizon.

June 18, 2010

Shark Conservation Act of 2009

The Shark Conservation Act of 2009 has not yet been voted upon by the Senate. I firmly believe in this bill, and I support any measures to help conserve and protect sharks. If you care to read the bill, click here. To contact your senator, click here, or here. For a well written draft of a letter you can send to your senator, click here. If you care to sign a petition, click here. Perhaps with enough 'clicks' we can get this thing done!

June 17, 2010

The coolest fishes?

When people find out that I am a Marine Science Illustrator who paints mostly fishes for a living, they often ask, "What is your favorite fish to paint?" My answer is always the same: "The weirder the better." Meaning, the more the fish doesn't look like a fish, the more fun it is to render. For example: Dories, Goosefish, Snipefish, Pipehorse...

There are a lot of very non-fishy fishes in the oceans. Among the most interesting are the bottom-dwellers. Of those, the frogfishes and batfishes are highly evolved. Not only are many incredibly variable within a species, they have turned specialization into an art form. The first dorsal-fin ray is modified into a lure consisting of a thin illicium and a fleshy esca. The esca of frogfishes is specific to each species. Pelvic and pectoral fins are used not for swimming, but for walking and clinging. The skin is cryptic, often mimicking sponges or seaweeds (in frogfishes), or the bottom (in batfishes). The gill opening is located behind the pectoral fins, and is slit-like. Frogfishes have large, upturned mouths, while the mouths of batfishes are inferior and fleshy.

The frogfishes are well documented as they usually occur above 300 m. Batfishes can survive in very deep, cold waters to about 1,000 m. A recent article on eludes to a possible new species in the Gulf of Mexico. Here is a good website devoted to batfishes, which might possibly be 'the coolest fish'!

June 15, 2010

I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin'

Sharks Smell in Stereo

This is interesting, and it makes sense.

When humans are searching for something by sound, we turn toward the direction of sound. If our right ear hears the sound first, we turn right. Apparently, this concept explains how sharks navigate toward prey. Scientists with Mote Marine Lab, Woods Hole, and University of South Florida have found that when a shark smells blood or some other prey indicator, it turns in the direction of which nostril smelled it first! It was long believed that sharks navigated by concentrations of odors. This study sheds new light.

It could also explain why some offshore sharks are making their way to inshore waters after The Spill. If sharks can smell and move toward blood, is it possible that they can smell and move away from oil? Furthermore, all fishes are equipped with a sense of smell. If sharks can avoid the oil, would other species be able to as well? It may be wishful thinking...but again, it may not.

June 13, 2010

'Jaws' turns 35 (for better or for worse)

It is true. 'Jaws' completely changed summer movies - for the better. It also changed the way people view sharks - for the worse. Hard to believe, but June 20 marks the 35th anniversary of this blockbuster's opening.
I think I was 13 years old when this movie came out. I remember watching it on the beach, at our club on the Long Island Sound. We kids lined the beach in sleeping bags on beach loungers, while the adults gnoshed in the club house. The movie was shown via a reel projector onto a large screen that was erected each week at the edge of the beach. In the distance danced the lights of Long Island.
The movie scared me to the core. Later that summer, while on vacation on Lord's Lake (it was a true L-A-K-E!), I refused to swim in the water. I knew that White sharks did not live in lakes (duh), but I was really shaken. It was a completely illogical response to a work of fiction. And that's why, as a thriller, 'Jaws' is a very effective movie.
Spielberg had fooled me, but I soon saw through the special effects. Because I was predisposed to thinking scientifically, and because I was taught to embrace living creatures, I saw the truth about sharks. I also saw the movie for what is was: just a movie; a very good movie - but just a movie. I was lucky.
Unfortunately, many still experience the irrational fear that 'Jaws' instilled. Even now, 35 years later, the movie is referenced by reporters in articles about shark encounters. This one is about a Basking shark - a filter-feeder - swimming near shore. What is so intersting is that the reporter doesn't seem to separate the shark in 'Jaws' from a real shark. The 'Jaws' shark was not a "man-eater" - it was a mechanical creation - a character in a cast of characters. This is the movie's legacy: it still warps people's sensibilities.
As an aside, Peter Benchley moved on to become an advocate for shark conservation. I wonder if this was due to any regret he had for vilifying White sharks? He eludes to this in at least one interview. But, could he possibly have foreseen the impact this movie would have on sharks in general? Could any one?

June 10, 2010

Kevin Costner's Oil Centrifuge

Turn on any real news channel, and The Spill has top billing. This morning on CNN, there were two stories that got my attention. The first was an interview of BP's COO, Doug Suttles. The transcripts of this interview haven't been released, so I am writing from memory.

What struck me about this was that Suttles came off like a seasoned politician: he did not answer the questions! When John Roberts asked him how he felt about being the "most hated man in Louisiana", he paused and said something like, "Well, there is a lot of work to do..." He then went on to talk about something completely unrelated to the question. He did not give a direct answer to any of Robert's questions. No wonder the prevailing feeling is that BP is witholding the truth, and denying the truth. In my opinion, BP is responsible for this disaster, but the company continues to gloss over the magnitude of it.

The other news item I found interesting is that Kevin Costner has been investing in a centrifuge that is capable of separating oil from water. He's been trying to get the government and the oil industry to pay attention to this device for some time, but has been met with apathy. Well, they are paying attention now! According to the article, BP has now ordered 32 of the machines. Only 32? Hello! They should be ordering 320,000 of them!

June 7, 2010

Wildlife Graveyard

Photo credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images.
As the bad news and grim photographs continue to stream out of the Gulf of Mexico, I find myself fighting tears. The above photo of Patrick Shay's memorial on Grand Isle is one the more poignant I've seen. And, as I click my way through even more photographs, the tears are winning...

June 6, 2010

Whale Sharks

I knew that the Philipines is the "Center of the Center" - meaning, there is more marine biodiversity there than any other place on earth. But, I did not know that it was home to one of the largest known Whale shark populations. It would make sense.
The Whale sharks have apparently transformed Donsol, Philippines, from a struggling fishing community to one that thrives on ecotourism centered around the fishes. It has been called the "Whale shark capital of the World". According to CNN, the fishermen of Donsol once viewed the sharks as pests. Now, they actively protect the animals, and throw festivals to honor them. Here's a great page about the Whale shark's natural history.

Whale sharks have been, and continue to grow as an attraction. I think it is because they are 'easy to love'. Not surprisingly, people flock to the few aquariums that keep them in captivity. I have mixed emotions about keeping Whale sharks in captivity. Yes, they inspire, yes they educate. But it is a controversial topic as they do not fair well, and the IUCN lists them as Vulnerable. Taking a Whale shark from the ocean and putting it in a tank seems sad to me. And, some experts believe that swimming with captive Whale sharks only stresses them more. But, if the history is correct, and two of the sharks at the Georgia Aquarium were saved from slaughter, then captivity is the lesser of the two evils. Still, what is keeping the aquarium from setting the vulnerable sharks free? (Hint: ticket sales) If they were to, who knows how many offspring might come from it?

June 4, 2010

Thinking ahead to After The Spill

It can be very difficult to maintain a positive attitude while witnessing so much destruction. In other words, it's hard to be happy when you are in pain! This disaster is very painful. The oil continues to flow, and now threatens the Dry Tortugas. But, if we look back in time to the Valdez spill, and the eventual recovery of Prince William Sound, there is hope that ecosystems can rebound. The effort to heal the Gulf will surely be monumental, but what other option is there? Here is a comprehensive article and time line of the Prince William story. It is many pages long, but worth a read. In this article from the National Park Service, one of the Kenai Fjords superintendants says that current visitors to the park actually have to look hard to find residue of the Valdez spill. What I take from all of this is that recovery is not absolute - there are levels of recovery, and recovery is static. Time DOES heal, though not thoroughly. However, as time marches on, wildlife will return. Wildlife will exploit every opportunity, it only needs the opportunity - and a lot of help.

June 3, 2010

Kosterhavet Marine National Park, Sweden

Photo credit: Kosterhavet Marine National Park
This is wonderful. Another marine park! A reader suggested I post thoughts, and spread the news about this new marine park, and I am more than happy to do so. The more marine preserves, the better! This area looks astonishingly pristine. And, I do not doubt that sealife flourishes here - the biologists have cataloged about 6000 marine species. Here is a link to the park's website. It is full of information. Here also is a link to a blog post with an interview about the park. If you read this, please pass it along. If you are in Sweden, visit!

Anthropomorphizing Sharks

an·thro·po·mor·phize  [an-thruh-puh-mawr-fahyz]
–verb (used with object), verb (used without object),-phized, -phiz·ing.
to ascribe human form or attributes to (an animal, plant, material object, etc.)

This is unjust. Although the video is interesting, the author does nothing to assuage the fear people have for sharks by superimposing human attributes and assigning misnomers to them. It is all too common and all too sad a practice. Sharks do not look at the world they way we do, they do not share our emotions, so it is unfair to anthropomorphize them. They are not 'mean' or 'angry'. Also, although in some places the egg cases may be called 'devils purses', I find the term denigrating, and they are no more 'menacing' than chicken eggs. This kind of article only serves to spread misinformation. I've written to the editor of and asked that they remove this article from their web site, pointing out that as a 'conservation-minded' company, they should not be spreading misinformation. We'll see what happens...

June 2, 2010

Spike Lee's take on The Spill

I don't usually share views with Spike Lee. But, I agree with much of what he says here. I do believe that President Obama SHOULD 'go off'. In a situation like this, people are suffering, the environment is suffering. I think folks want their leadership to share in their anger, and express that anger, and ally with them. I also agree that the parallels between Hurricane Katrina and this catastrophe end in the location, and the slow response. I realize that BP is operating in mile-deep water, but shouldn't they have had plans in place to deal with just such an outcome?


I just found this comprehensive seafood guide by fish2fork. It allows you to search by country, state, restaurant, or by species. It also allows to you give a nod to restaurants that serve sustainable seafood, AND, rat on restaurants that do not.
Last weekend, we were having family dinner out. There was tuna on the menu. To the chagrin of my kids, I asked the waiter what kind of tuna was being served. (I object to eating certain seafood and make no secret of this.) He told us it was "Ahi" tuna. I grilled him some more, as there is no such thing as "Ahi" tuna. He left, did some research, and upon returning told me that "Ahi" is the description of how the tuna is prepared, but he could not tell me the species of tuna. No pun inteneded, it all sounded fishy to me. So, instead of getting uppity at dinner, I'll inquire at an upper level. If they will not practice full disclosure, I'll direct them to this website. Bad publicity.

June 1, 2010

Maersk says "No" to shipping imperiled species?

I have long believed that logic would prevail over greed. And that the people who have benefited from over-exploiting the sea would realize that they are shooting themselves in the foot. If you over-fish, the fish go away, and you are out of business. Duh. But, I get ahead of myself...
The news that such a large shipping company like Maersk would review its policies and possibly refuse to ship Chilean sea bass (Patagonian toothfish), Orange roughy, shark products (YEAH!), and any whale meat, is nothing short of spectacular. Although Greenpeace says they have new policy in place, other sources say the company is reveiwing its policies. There is no statement on the Maersk website.
Regardless, I feel the tide is slowly, slowly, turning. If the groundswell of grass-roots and sophisticated organizations can sway large companies, there is surely light at the end of the tunnel.