Great Barracuda - Sphyraena barracuda

Great Barracuda - Sphyraena barracuda

December 28, 2011

Most Valuable Tool on Your Boat?

I have several, simple rules when I'm in charge of a boat and its passengers:

1. I'm the boss. What I say goes. No questions.
2. When you're done in the tackle box, CLOSE and LOCK the box.
3. Knife and pliers go back in the bait box, and CLOSE the box.
4. Watch your back cast.
5. No hooks on deck.

Why? Safety.
Why else? Those tools (especially the knife and pliers) can be invaluable.

I learned my lesson long ago. Back in 2002, I was fishing alone off Bermuda. Catching lots of oddballs. I got lazy and tried to flip a Squirrelfish off the hook instead of reaching for the pliers. I got stuck good. Lots of blood, pain, numbness.

So, please keep your knife and pliers safe, and use them to unhook your potentially dangerous fish! And... DON'T do this:
(PS: That's not a Cookiecutter Shark. If it had been, those fingers would be gone.)

December 14, 2011


It makes complete sense that fishes would 'learn' to walk underwater before moving onto land. But I've never seen video of this before now. This is a really cool clip of an African Lungfish walking in a lab.

Here's a link to the Underwater Times article... ><{{{{*> Enjoy!

December 10, 2011

Fish Prints

Here's the skinny... I really didn't think I'd ever get into this. I never had the time! Always under deadline, always focused on a big project (think: Aquarium or Book or Kids :)

But, I've been needled for years by my friends and compatriots to sell, offer, make available(however you'd like to describe it), prints of my illustrations. Online or in stores. Whatever. There was pressure.

See, I've been blessed with this freaky, geeky gift. I have an ability and desire to illustrate fishes precisely, exactly, and lovingly. The illustrations that come out of me are pretty amazing. I look at them and go: "Cool!" But I'm not just patting myself on the back like, "Yo! I'm Awesome! Fly Val!" It's just what I do. It's what I've always done: marching to my own drummer. When I nail an illustration, when it looks JUST like the subject, I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment.

And, obviously, I love fishes. So I feel a deep need to further understanding, appreciation and conservation of them and their environments. So, I've honed my gift to illustrate, sharpened it, and used it to the best of my ability. If I hadn't...shame on me. I'd have wasted a gift.

So, after almost a year of research and thought crunching, I decided to go for it and finally share the illustrations.
Inspired and coached by my nephew, Leigh, I've launched Val Kells Fish Prints.

Love fish. They rock.

December 9, 2011

Jellies and Jewfish

Last summer I was shooting the breeze with my friend Norman while waiting for sharks to bite our bait. Waiting usually includes sharing many anecdotes and funny stories. (We're good at waiting :)
Norman told me one story about fishing with Jellyfish bait. Apparently, he was using Cannonball jellies to catch some kind of fish (can't remember what kind, sharks, maybe). He decided to stock up and store the jellies in the bait well with the other bluefish bait. Not five minutes later, all the bluefish were dead.

Now, Cannonballs are virtually harmless. Pick one up sometime. No sting. They're like giant, slimy, hard-boiled eggs. BUT, put enough of them together, and there is enough toxin in their combined nematocysts to kill.

What made me think of this? This story out of St. Lucie.

Too many jellies and too many Jewfish trapped together. Lethal to all.

Norman learned his lesson. Maybe the power plant engineers will too? If they can split atoms, they can prevent fish from getting trapped.
(I'm surprised the state didn't slap them with a fine. They'd have slapped a fisherman for taking the Jewfish!)

December 4, 2011

What's In A Label?

Answer? A LOT!
Terminology can determine perception, action, and outcome. I've long held a bias against the terms "shark attack". And, I've always felt that sharks do not target people, therefore to label encounters that end in a bite as attacks is misleading.

Seems I'm not alone. This author feels the same. I hope his efforts make a difference, because it IS time to change the statistical and labeling systems. Will the University of Florida take notice and change the name of its 'Shark Attack' files? Hope so!

(Aside: When I was asked to offer comments/changes to the text of the upcoming Field Guide to Fishes of Chesapeake Bay, I asked that "shark attacks" be changed to "shark-related incidents." The authors agreed :)

December 2, 2011

Killing Baby Swords

I thought long and hard about keeping this blog permanently light and airy. Make it all fluff and stuff. Happy happy! In other words: keep the negative news out.
And besides, that would make me (in simple terms) fake.
So, oh well. A depressing video of Swordfish juvies brought to slaughter.

The translation at the bottom reads: "Fishery associations and political forces are fighting to amend the Community rules on fishing bans fishing: the use of the hook no. 7 with the technique of the line makes a real slaughter of small swordfish"

Maybe these fishermen will 'get it'. Maybe not. But one thing's for sure, YouTube exposed it. Until someone takes the vid down.

November 30, 2011

Shooting Fish? Uh... No...!

This crosses the line in my opinion. I've caught and eaten my share of fishes, but I've never overfished and I've never bashed their heads in or taken a gun to them.
I know (duh) every fish eaten has to die first, but shooting them to death? Really?
I'm thinking this is for folks who:
1. Have no morals
2. Have overblown egos
3. Need a new pasttime


November 28, 2011

No Love for Lampreys

Been away for a while... My stepdad passed away and with that there was another seismic shift in the landscape. Irrespective, he was instrumental in giving me the gift of the sea. So I decided to jump back into this and continue on in his honor...He'd have liked this and all it is.

Oh the lowly Lamprey! What a conflict of issues! Most folks find it repulsive (but not to me - I don't care - the uglier the more interesting it is). It's a parasite (and feeds on sought-after gamefishes). But on the other hand, it's also revered table fare?! Huh? News to me.

Reviled yet farmed, sought, and sauteed. Yeah, Lamprey. (Um, NO!?)

Click here... here!

November 1, 2011

October 28, 2011

FIshy Friday - Tripod fish!

I'm often asked what my favorite types of fishes to illustrate are. Honestly? The weirder, the better. I love the freaky oddballs - the critters who've evolved to resemble their environment, or resemble nothing else on Earth! This includes Deepsea fishes. Sadly though, I hardly ever get to illustrate Deepsea fishes.

Todays fish? The Tripod fish! This guy is wicked cool.

They perch motionless on soft bottoms in lightless depths of about 3,000 to 15,000 feet. While facing into the current, they splay their pectoral fins in a fan-like position. As prey such as shrimps or other inverts pass by, the Tripod fish detects their presence and uses their pectorals to net the prey. Oddly, they have underdeveloped eyes - most dark-dwelling fishes have large eyes. They are hermaphroditic (possess both male and female sex organs) that develop simultaneously - a cool adaptation that allows the fish to reproduce without a mate! (Kind of hard to find one in the dark... :)

October 26, 2011

Update on "PETA Bites!"

I never thought I'd get a response from PETA in regard to my letter (see below). Surprise! But, altough I'd written "Personal" on the envelope, it would seem that Ms. Newkirk does not answer her own mail. A Membership Correspondant wrote me. (I am not a member.)

Not to my surprise, the letter skirted the issues, and the correspondant spent a page defending the billboard and PETA's tactics, and diverting attention to fishing in general. She completely missed the mark and did not address my primary concerns. But, I'm guessing that was the intention. (She did not persuade me to give up fishing.)

So did my letter make a difference? Probably not. That said, there's nothing recent in the news about the billboard.
Hope they panned it.
Need to write another letter...

October 3, 2011

What's In A Name???

Oh this is TOO funny!!!
Coloquial names are all over the map! Channel bass = Redfish. Striped bass = Rockfish. Little tunny = Albie!
This video is a shining example of the confusion that odd common names can elicit. (What would he think of the Voodoo whiff or the Sarcastic fringehead? :)
This fellow should come to my house -- it is crawling with Daddy longlegs! The resident toads love 'em. YUM!

September 27, 2011

Gill Netting for Texas Sharks

This was posted yesterday by KGBT Action 4 News out of Harlingten, Texas.
What a shame.

September 25, 2011

Diana Nyad - an Inspiration

I was rooting for Diana Nyad. Who wouldn't? What an incredible undertaking. And, although she didn't reach her goal, in my mind she didn't fail. The only failure is the failure to try.
Kudos, Diana!
Click here.

September 20, 2011

Sharing with Sharks - Preview!

When I was a little girl, I spent summers in Connecticut with my grandparents at their country home. Every evening, Grandpa would sit by the fireplace and read to us from their collection of National Geographic magazines that lined the walls. We'd sit in his lap, snuggle tight, and listen intently. Good memories.

I still subscribe to National Geographic -- one of the few paper products I'll allow myself to purchase! I think they're worth the trees. I'll save and revisit special issues, particularly those about the ocean.

My how times have changed! Now, NG is on the web, and articles are free. Or, you can get the e-version on your Ipad or other digital toy. But, no matter how you get your NG, it's remains one of the best magazines around. Click here to read the latest, coolest news on Whale Sharks, and here to go to the fantastic photos. Can't wait for my copy to arrive the old fashioned way!

Photo Credit: (c)Michael Aw/National Geographic, October 2011 issue.
"Vying for position under a bagan, male whale sharks—two of about twenty that visit this spot—scramble for a snack. Typically an adult shark might cruise night and day at a sedate one to three miles an hour, sucking in enough seawater to feed itself. This group likely spends a lot of time in Papua's Cenderawasih Bay, making it one of a few places where the species gathers year-round. Scientists hope to cooperate with locals to launch studies of the giants."

September 19, 2011

Fish Shrinkage

You may recall I'd posted thoughts about the book 'Four Fish'. (My puppy ate the book. I was not happy.) One of Paul Greenberg's hypotheses was that by targeting/removing big fishes from fish stocks, humans were genetically selecting for smaller fishes. The 'big' genes are... gone! Fished out. Now scientists are conducting research on this very topic.

Click here to read article.

I hope it's not too late.

September 13, 2011

Marlin Chasing Teasers

This is fascinating...
Observations: Blue Marlin; amazing how the entire body is blackish (is this a hunting color?); the boat is moving fast, yet the marlin keeps up; the marlin is not deterred by the sound of the engine; last: why in the heck didn't they throw this fish a bait?

September 11, 2011

Holy crap.

This is an in-depth look at marine mammals in captivity, and the lengths that people will go to capture them. It is brutal, sad, and may forever change your perspective on marine parks. WARNING: graphic and disturbing content.

September 8, 2011

Kayak Fishing - Chesapeake Bay

I own two kayaks. They are old, heavy, and not at all set up for fishing. Believe me, I've tried to fish out of them - fail! It's awkward, clumsy, frustrating. Never did figure out how to paddle and fish or just make the simple switch, without getting blown or dragged off. There's no place for my tackle or rods. It's a messy operation.

Anyway, kayak fishing is very popular these days. Especially in Florida. The 'yaks' have evolved to include foot peddles, a rudder, rod-holders, camera-holders, etc. I've seen some great pictures of yak fishermen with some beastly fishes.

But, I still can't see reeling in a monster fish while sitting! Maybe it's because I'm a 'girl' (hahaha), and I need the leverage of my whole body to bring in a big fish. Dunno. Or maybe I just haven't invested the time or money to upgrade to a kayak that is fishing friendly. Whichever...

To prove that yak angling is flourishing far north of Florida the following video from Chesapeake Bay... Very nice!

September 5, 2011

Hurricane Irene Aftermath - Ocracoke

Oh, Ocracoke. It was spared in many ways from the worst of Irene. But the island now suffers in isolation. There are only three ways onto the island: the Swan Quarter, Cedar Island, and Hatteras Island ferries. But, Hatteras is still cut off, and awaiting a temporary bridge that will span the new inlet to its north. The bridge is scheduled to go up sometime in the next month (what are those odds?) The other two ferries are only transporting residents, owners, and essential support. No visitors allowed.

At the time of this video, the north end of Highway 12 had yet to be plowed. The harbor, usually bustling, is quiet. No planes at the airstrip. It is eerily vacant when normally fishermen would be lining the beaches. Folks would be walking and biking the village.

And still, no sign of the Rascal -- my friend Noman's boat. The one we take inshore, offshore... I think it's time for a phone call...

September 4, 2011

Juvie Sailfish

Photo credit, Jay R. Rooker:

Photo credit, Pisces Sportfishing:

Juvenile Sailfish rarely make it into the news. This little guy is the rare exception. Generally speaking, fishermen go for the trophies - the biggin's. The fish in the above picture is estimated to be only FOUR months old and weigh three pounds. From egg to three pounds in four months? That is amazing!

So why do the juveniles rarely make the fishing news? The obvious reason is that they go uncaught by hook-and-line. Again, why? They are big enough to take a hook, but they aren't usually landed. Well, apparently, they don't occur where fishermen fish for Sails. So where are they? Do they school in a different location and at a different depth than adults? Do they feed on different prey? Are they avoiding the adults as not to become prey themselves? I haven't a clue.

According the the FAO Species Catalog, spawning takes place inshore in warm water, with females releasing up to 4.3 million eggs. Larval Sails feed primarily on copepods, but switch to fin fishes at an early age. According the the FLMNH Ichthyology database, Sails are .125 inches at hatching. They lack the long bill and tall dorsal fin. By six months of age, they are 4.5 feet and 6 pounds. Growth then decreases.

Well, this means that Sailfish are not only ravenous, but they are also successful. They are eating machines at the larval and adolescent stages. They eat... a lot! But, where? If you find out, please let me know :)

Click here to go to FLMNH, and here to go to FAO. Oh, and HERE for the Texas A&M research page. Have fun!

August 25, 2011

Abissi Sparkling Wine - Hmmmm

Many years ago, we visited Portofino, Italy. Of all the places we'd been to from Brussels, to Florence, to Lucerne, to the Italian coast -- Portofino was by far the most spectacular and mesmerizing. The buildings are ancient, beautiful; the streets were cobbled; boats rock in the port; vineyards and farms frame the town and cling to cliffs that fall into the Mediterranean. If you EVER get the chance to go there.... go there!

Anyway, this is an interesting combination of entrepreneurship and use of natural resources. Harmless to the environment, the bottles are stored for a year in cages under the sea while the water rocks them and keeps them dark and cool. If I can get my hands on one, would't that be nice?

Click here to read article.

August 24, 2011

Hurricanes and Hatchlings

Whew! I've only been back home a few days and already I'm buried in work, and missing the ease and pace of life on Ocracoke. Some day I must write a short story or long book about the island. It is a place like no other.

Anyway, seems like we came and went just in time to avoid Hurricane Irene. As of today, the path looks like it will skirt the coast and wind up in New England. There might not be a 'direct hit', but any hurricane off of the thin line of Outer Banks islands can be devastating to many creatures. Especially the young, the old, and the weak. There are still a lot of nesting birds, and the Sea turtles have many un-hatched nests still buried in the sand.

Sea turtles have been caught between a rock and a hard place: loss of habitat, increasing ocean pollution, declining ecosystems, death by net.... compounding these issues is the fact that along the east coast, the later nests hatch at the beginning of hurricane season. There is a very good chance that all of the remaining nests on Ocracoke and other barrier island in Irene's path will be lost. They can survive rain, and minimal flooding, but not hurricane flooding. The eggs literally drown.

Last summer, a storm churned off of Bermuda bringing heavy surf and high water to Ocracoke. Every nest was lost. It was the most depressing sight: staked nest sights completely underwater.

Well, no one can change the weather. But we can keep plastics out of the ocean, eat only turtle safe seafood, contribute to our favorite causes. And, turn off the lights... Updates forthcoming.

August 20, 2011

Back Home?

Oh Lordy... Two weeks on Ocracoke Island. There is too much to relay. It is late. I'm tired. So, just a glimpse: These two juvie Spades are dancing around eachother. Balletic.
More later....

August 5, 2011

Shark Week Live - Day 6

7:29pm: Refreshing! I think I'm watching the tail-end (no pun intended) of a segment on getting close to Blue Sharks off of New Zealand. The fellow narrating actually has a NORMAL voice! And, the information is interesting and factual. Nice... Now, another scientist giving a primer on Hammerhead sharks. Straight forward, factual. OK! Maybe I can stay in tune with this.

7:50pm: Uh oh... I just realized this is a count-down kind of thing: least to most dangerous to humans. Ugh. Here we go. Downward spiral into White Shark statistics? I've been duped. OK OK calm down... The narrator was bitten by a Gray Reef, but holds no grudges. I don't know what to think about this now. It's a combination of science, with semi-scary narration. The one seems to temper the other.

8:06: Further decline. Quote: "Oceanic Whitetips don't make their living off of ship wrecks. Ship wrecks are just bonuses." Oh boy. The shark just ate a floating doll or something while quasi-Jaws music played in the background. Okey doke. Got it. I bet by 9pm we'll be watching White Sharks and Bull Sharks terrorize.

8:26: Tiger Sharks. 8:31: White Sharks. 8:47: Bull Sharks at #1. Another mix of science and scary.

Synopsis: Perhaps the only things that kept me engaged in this episode was the mix of science into scary, the tempering of 'Jaws' music with 'normal' music, and the shear lack of scary gutteral voice-over.... Maybe (just maybe?) next year will be all science? Fat chance.

August 4, 2011

Shark Week Live - Day Five? (I'm losing track...)

DISCLAIMER: Bad language.
I've pretty much given up on Shark Week. There's nothing new to report, and I haven't learned anything useful. It's all White Sharks, Bite Cams, and now, "Air Jaws" -- which my son told me is a repeat... The heck with it.
So! Instead of repeating myself redundantly over and over again, here is a collection of parodies!
First, a really bad parody of the music and theme with lots of bleep words -- really bad:

This has one bleep word, but at least it's funny:

Then this!!

I know this has absolutely nothing to do with Shark Week (and it's chocked with bleep words). But I'm punch drunk on chum and this is flat out funny:

HAPPY SHARK WEEK! (one day to go??)

August 3, 2011

Shark Week LIve - Day Four ? ! !

8:00pm: I may not make it to the end. I'm wiped. Been out all day trying to get my sons ready for school: one to senior-year high school, the other to senior-year college. This entailed trips to the ASPCA rummage store (inexpensive kitchen ware), J. Crew, Verizon, Dick's Sporting, Kroger, Bed Bath and Brainwashing. Then I helped a neighbor who can't drive get to her orthopedist apt. Then I cooked dinner. Then I did dishes and laundry and packing. I did not draw or paint today. All I want right now is to GET TO OCRACOKE AND GO FISHING!!!

Ahhh. Well with that off my chest... here we go....

What the hell are these guys doing? They're treading water while chumming fish heads among feeding sharks. If they get bit, they asked for it. 'Bite-Cam'? WTF? How is learning how sharks bite going to help preserve them from overfishing? It's useless information. They can't bite their way out of a net or off of a hook.

8:52pm: No wonder this program gets ratings... it's all about scary, sharp teeth. Maybe that's erotic? Ugh.

10:07pm: Yep, I'm toast. The staged blood and guts and gore were no match against my longing for sleep. It's just too repetitive and boring, and sad. Shark Week: 0. Sleep: 10. Bye!

August 2, 2011

Shark Week Live - Day THREE ! ! !

7:23pm: This is really funny. I'm actually looking forward to the next few hours. "WHAT!" you may say! Yep...

See, my 18 year-old son is on the brink of his senior year at high school. Thus, we have begun the college application process. Yippee! (I'd rather have a root canal.) So, after wrangling with him for the past five hours, I'm looking forward to being disgusted by Shark Week. He was THAT annoying.

7:29pm: I'm laughing at the voice-over! Jeeze... Normally it pisses me off. These guys must practice this voice thing. I wonder if they do it in a mirror?

8:45pm: Isn't this a rerun? Sharks circling? Hey! Rerun! Maybe they're running out of material...

9:56: Scary reenactment. "Jaws" theme rip-off: city mayor against scientist. Can we please see something cool like a Frill shark, or a Gulper shark, or a Goblin Shark? It's all White Sharks and Bull Sharks and Tiger Sharks. Nothing new.

Interesting: I'm now more agitated than I was filling out college apps with apathetic son. Hmmm.... Perhaps I've overdosed on Shark Week just as I did on College App Week.

Hmmm.... I'm double dosed?

10:47: No lie. Bear is asleep next to me and just let lose a particularly gaseous fart.

I give up...I'm going to sleep...

August 1, 2011

Shark Week Break - Fun News!

11:05pm: I'm really tired and fed up. Forcing myself to watch the same gruesome stuff over an over has become exhausting. So, I went looking for a break.
Yay! This is fun - Click Here. This fellow sat on a dock and caught over 2,000 fishes in 24 hours. I suspect that since these fishes live under a restaurant dock, they're trained. But, who cares? A record is a record.

Shark Week Live - Day Two

OK! 8:05pm: Ano Nuevo, California. My old stomping grounds! I graduated from UCSC and spent many afternoons walking the Ano beaches and trying not to choke on the smell of Elephant Seal poo. Folks didn't really worry about the sharks. I don't remember any incidents -- and surfers frequented key spots when the waves were ripe.

Anyway, besides the scary voice-over and creepy music, the video of a White Shark eating an Ano Nuevo Elephant Seal was pretty cool. It was honest - not like the video of the sharks hitting the fake, towed seal. That was staged. Not natural. Sensational.

Oh! I forgot! This is Attack Night. So, it didn't take long for Discovery editors to get right to it.

Quick segue from seals to humans. Attack Attack Attack. Reinactment (typical), scary music (typical), and deep gutteral voice-over (typical). Hoping the next installment has some educational content....and something OTHER than White Sharks...

9pm: "They're natures perfect killing machines... But do some sharks target people? Intentionally, purposefully... do some go rogue... Humans are not a sharks favorite meal... it was a blood-bath... " Graphic reenactments and retellings....


9:55pm: Coppelson sucks. He did more to vilify sharks than Benchley did using his theories in 'Jaws.'

Ooohhh! Epiphany: The White Shark is completely and absolutely capable of devouring - devouring - a human. They don't. The encounters are a 'mistaken identity' situation. Duh... again.

July 31, 2011

Shark Week - Live

Ok, I've never done this blogging. I usually let thoughts percolate before I post them here. But, what the heck... It's good to try something new (?)

Sunday - 10:40pm (younger son is still laid up after having his wisdom teeth removed on Friday morning. Dogs are asleep - Bodie is in his cozy crate, Bear has his head on a pillow next to mine. One of them is farting. It STINKS in my bedroom!

Synopsis: The first hour had a lot of scary voice-over with a mix of conservation and fear. More fear than conservation. Many dumb Gillette commercials. Nothing learned.

Now: They've got a man in a shark cage tethered to bouys, a dead whale, and a feeding White Shark. OK then... The shark gets caught up in the bouys. Big surprise! Then the shark gets freaked out and gets caught up in the line. Free advice: Think things through to their final conclusion. DUH! Of course the shark would get upset and caught up in the lines. Clue: IT...IS...A...SHARK! It doesn't know about lines and bouys and cages. I knows about food and mating and food and mating.

10:50pm: Oh boy! A commercial about tomorrow's Shark Week! Shark attacks! They gotta squeeze that in.

Scary Mike Rowe voice-over. Ugh. This is SO predictable. It's the same old sh-t.

Maybe this live blogging wasn't a good idea....

11:20 pm: A scientist is on a paddle-board 'investigating' a White Shark. OK then. BUT, he does not have a life vest on. Huh? Come to think of it, not many of these scientist/actors have life vests on. What's up with that?

More scary voice-over.

Need to crash. (Bodie just barfed up something in his crate. Yay.) Oh, not without some crapolla Fosters beer commercial telling me to have a "Happy Shark Week".
Well Okey Doke. If you say so!

Tiger Shark Close Encounter

This blog is quickly becoming a blog about sharks. Should I change the name? Nah...

Sharks are in the news - a lot. What with Shark Week (dum dum dum dum!) beginning tonight and summer in full swing, sharks and humans are having close encounters of the virtual, fictional, and real variety.

Now, no matter how much I love sharks, I would NOT want to have a close encounter with an adult Tiger Shark. I've got too much respect for them. These spear fishermen did too! Fortunately, they hadn't speared any fish, yet. Click here to read the article.

Hammerhead on Tarpon

Over 8 million views. Wow. And I JUST saw this. Normally, I'd share it on the Facebook but I have a lot of friends who are Tarpon fishermen and generally, they sharks. Because, well, sharks take Tarpon.
Anyway, this is pretty amazing.
Sidenote: If the Tarpon had not been hooked, the Hammerhead wouldn't have gotten it in the first place.

July 28, 2011

Need a Fish Fix?

Oftentimes, when I need a mental break from work, I'll pull up my ReefNet DVD and zone out on the myriad of videos. Nothing like watching fishes sway and dart and chase to distract from tedium. Usually, I'll notice something new. "Wow! I've never seen that before!" Then, refreshed, I get back to work.

This time, I poked around Google Video for refreshment. I found Undersea Productions.
WOW! What a wellspring! The site goes on and on! Critters I didn't know existed! Thousands of images and clips. Hundreds of different species. It's no wonder I'm in love with the ocean. It's beautiful!

Uh oh, I'd better watch my time...:)

July 26, 2011

Now Gillette is getting in the act... Ugh.

It's no secret that I loathe Shark Week. Is it this week? Last week? Next week? I dunno. The whole thing grosses me out: the sensationalism, the the over-reaction, the fear factor. The best thing that the Discovery Channel could do is do away with Shark Week. But will they? Fat chance. They won't give up the advertising dollars.

Advertising dollars from sponsors such as Gillette! Yes! A razor company has put a new spin (new low) on their product! The message: If you don't use it, you will be terrorized by sharks! YAY! So let's all dive into our cages, shave with the new razor and try not to choke on our fear. Take a gander here.

Sorry, this kind of thing pisses me off.

July 13, 2011

Random: Peacock Spider

This is so amazing, I couldn't help sharing. Evolution at its finest!

July 12, 2011

Saving Valentine the Humpback Whale

This made me so happy I cried. It is one of those stories that restored my belief. There are people, many people, who really REALLY care, and will go to extraordinary measures to help animals.

July 11, 2011

Congratulations, You Killed a Shark.

Conundrum: What to do about Facebook 'friends' that kill sharks.

I realize that FB is supposed to be a happy cyber-space where we can all share and be jolly and sing kumbayah (sp?). But when one of your 'friends'' actions flies in the face of your convictions, what do you do? Do you hit the kill switch (de-friend), or turn a blind eye and keep the peace? Do you risk rocking the boat, or make nice?

It's no secret that I hold a special place in my heart and mind for sharks. That said, I also understand how hard it is to make a living as a fisherman - either commercial or recreational. In certain states, it is still legal to 'harvest' certain sharks. The law is the law. But, with every shark killed, the fishermen inch closer to killing their livelihood. No fish, no business. Furthermore, through my FB friends, I can stay informed - on the lines as it were - instead of being fed a stream of filtered information. It's a fine line.

I got into a tussle with one of my FB 'friends' over this about 6-7 months ago. He takes sharks legally, I oppose taking any sharks for any reason. We came to a mutual understanding. I'd hoped over time, he'd find a way to satisfy his clients and stay in business WITHOUT taking sharks. Not. Today he posted a picture of a client with a Blacktip Shark with the caption: "blacktip - that's what's for dinner." (See above. Interestingly, out of his over 500 'friends' only four 'liked' it, and only two commented. What's that say?)

I was completely grossed out and my visceral reaction was to say so. But, I didn't. Then, I felt like a total coward. Wimp! Wishy-washy! That's not usually how I operate.

So, when I can't smack myself out of myself, I go to my roots. What would Mom say? That's easy enough: "Follow your heart."

In conclusion: Bye bye FB 'friend'. The only good shark is a live shark.

July 8, 2011

The Plastic Gyre...Continued

Photo credit: Newscom
This is really gross. According to this article, the Scripps Oceanographic Institute has concluded that 1 in 10 fishes that live around or in the Pacific Plastic Gyre have consumed plastic debris. No surprise given how expansive the gyre is. The question I have is not how many fishes or top predators are affected, but how will this mess get cleaned up?

July 7, 2011 - Great Cause, Great Idea!

A reader recently turned me on to an organization devoted to clean living (terrestrial and oceanic) in the Pacific Northwest.
Click here to visit Among the many issues they cover: ocean acidification, over-consumption of plastics, and storm water runoff. Looks to me like these folks have big hearts and an abundance of motivation to clean up their corner of the world -- which just happens to be connected to my, and everyone else's corner! Check it out!

July 6, 2011

So-So Shark Press

This Time article is the kind that may pull at heart strings, but it is flimsy on scientific backing. And the author fails to report anything new. Which is too bad. Given the space and opportunity to reach hundreds of thousands of readers, he missed the mark and did not press the most important message: the oceans need sharks, we need the oceans, therefore, we need sharks. It's bad enough that he blames Steven Spielberg for 'Jaws' (Peter Benchley is responsible for its penning), but he blames him for 'indelibly imprinting sharks as killers', and potentially influencing young Chinese. Lame, far-reaching, and untrue. Spielberg is hardly responsible for the decades of global overfishing and abuse that sharks have endured. And Benchley became a vocal advocate for shark conservation post-'Jaws'. It is true that Sharkfin soup is a major contributing factor to the sharks' demise. But we can also point a finger at the fisherman who, while not breaking the law, still elected to bring a dead shark into his local marina. Yes, global governments are responsible for failing to see the larger picture, and read the writing on the wall: without united intervention, sharks may be doomed. But who put those governments in place? We did. We elected them. So the fate of sharks is no just in the hands of the government and conservationists like Yao Ming, it is in all of our hands.

June 29, 2011

"Sammy" the Salmon Shark

This is cool...
I was poking around the internet in search of video of Megamouth and Goblin sharks. Amazing what you can find on YouTube! I found video of both -- living video.
By accident, I also found this video of a young Salmon Shark that was lucky enough to fall into the right hands.
Spoiler alert: All's well that ends well :)

June 28, 2011

Cyclops Shark

Apparently, instances of Cyclops phenomena are not too rare. That said, I've never seen a Cyclops fish. From what I gather, this is a Bull Shark fetus. And, investigations are ongoing. If I find anything more, I'll post... Click here to read article.

June 26, 2011

Shy Luke the Fisherman

A week ago Saturday I had a book signing at the local Barnes and Noble. They'd set up a small table for me and Jim Rowinski. Behind me they'd stacked a large pile of my books to sign or personalize. I thought, "No way. That's too many books." Boy was I ever wrong.

At one o'clock sharp, a long line formed in front of me. We had to move the table back to make room. There were some familiar faces -- my mother-in-law, my niece, some golf buddies. Most I'd never met before, but with them I shared similar passions: fish, fishing, diving... There was a retired Ichthyologist. There was a mom whose daughters loved to dive (she took pictures). There was another mom whose daughter was studying marine biology at UF. Someone asked me to sign the Daily Progress article so she could send it to her parents in California! Many bought mulitple copies of the book for friends and family.

But the one person who left the biggest impression on me was someone I didn't get to meet: a fourth grader who loves to fish, and paint and draw fishes. He is also painfully shy. When his mother arrived at the table, she kneeled down beside me and told me his name is Luke and he was hiding in the stacks. He wanted to meet me, but his shyness was in the way. She had a folder of his artwork to show me, and a copy of my book to dedicate to him. The artwork looked like mine at his age. And the book! The book was dog-eared, dirty, and had seen some serious action. She said he'd been taking it with him on the bus to and from school. He wouldn't get in the car without it. He was reading it, using it to paint. It looked like he'd been trying to memorize it! The sight of it gave me goose-bumps.

If in some small way I've helped inspire and fan the fires of this young fisherman, then my mission was accomplished. If in some way what I've done lives on in him, then that's icing on the cake! If he takes what I did, expands on it, uses it to create something bigger, better, then... I have no words.

Cheers, Luke, where ever you are. Keep up the good work!

June 11, 2011

Clover the Leatherback

This is cool. This Leatherback sea turtle returns to Juno Beach each summer to lay her clutches of eggs. She's sustained injuries to her hind flippers that prevent her from digging a properly deep nest. So, volunteers help her out. Click here to read article!

June 1, 2011

You Might Be A Fish Nerd If...

Oh Yeah...! Finally! The definitive Fish Nerd List. Sadly (or perhaps happily?), I qualify. I laughed my way through this list, while nodding my head, 'Yeah, that's me. Yep, me again. And, again...and again..." Too funny. I actually knew the lyrics to "Fish Heads", and the video cracked me up. Alas.... Fish Nerds. We are a pathetic, yet deliriously giddy bunch.


May 30, 2011

Amazing What You Can Find...

The Worldwide Web is an extraordinary resource. Yes, it can be a black hole of time. But, if you are patient enough, and if you dig in the right places, you can find images and video of the tiniest and most obscure critters. This little poacher only grows to 3.4 inches. It lives at shallow depths from the intertidal zone to about 60 feet from Kodiak Island to central California. Meet the little-known Rockhead.

May 28, 2011

Tarpon Fishing - Another Perspective

Not the fish, but maybe her offspring:
So, upon return home, I had the following conversation with Vickie, the wonderful woman who helps keep my home in order. She does not fish...

Vickie: So... where did you go?
Me: Tarpon fishing! We got up at 3:30 in the morning and we were fishing by 5:15.
Vickie: In the morning, for fish?
Me: Yeah! Big fish -- Tarpon.
Vickie: Tarpon. What kind of fish is that?
Me: Huge. Jumps. Runs like crazy. The first one I caught was 160 pounds.
Vickie: 160 pounds? 160 Pounds?
Me: Yeah. Took me about 45 minutes to get it to the boat. Slammed me into the bow.
Look at my knees. See the bruises?
Vickie: The fish did that?
Me: No, the boat did that to me when the fish took off. I almost went over. But we got the fish.
Vickie: Did you eat this fish?
Me: No! I mean, no. We let it go.
Vickie: So, you got up at 3:30 in the morning to get bruises from a fish that you let go.
And you paid money to do this?
Me: Yeah.
Vickie: Well, everybody's got something.

:) It's an addiction only fishermen understand :)

May 25, 2011

Tarpon Fishing. Is There Anything Better?

Finally getting the girl to the boat:


I grew up in New England. Wicked cold winters. When we were little, my Mom would bribe us: for each 'A' we got in school, she'd treat us to a ski trip. At one point, we'd racked up so many 'A's' that she was pulling us out of school to go skiing. The principal didn't like this. He told her, "Mrs. Kells, you shouldn't be taking your children out of school to go skiing!" Her response? "Well, they're getting 'A's' aren't they?" Good point.

And what does this have to do with fishing? Well, back then the skiing in the Northeast was hit or miss. If you hit the slopes after a snow storm, the skiing was great. If not, you skied on rocks and ice. We didn't care - we didn't know anything else! It wasn't until many years later, when I lived in Steamboat Springs, did I experience 'real' skiing. Powder. All the time. And it spoiled me rotten. Never skied in New England again. I hear they've got good snow machines now, but who wants to listen to that noise?
I digress...

I've done a lot of fishing in my 49 years. Not as much as some, but more than most. Inshore, offshore, wreck, reef, beach, inlet, sound, bay, marinas, harbors, rivers, ponds, creeks... you name it. I took my first Tarpon trip a year ago. It was a combination "Congratulations for finishing the book, and Happy Christmas" present. I didn't know what I was in for, but I knew I wanted to catch Tarpon. I'd heard the stories and seen the pictures. Well, just like skiing out West, catching Tarpon on the flats of the Florida Keys has spoiled me rotten. Nothing like it...

This year we were up at 3:30... Met Pat and his boat at the marina at 5... Tied to the pole in the channel by 5:15... We were rigged and were fishing by 5:30. I felt a tug on my line and was hooked up at about 5:35. The sky was still dark, and I had 160 pounds of Tarpon on the end of my line. Big fish. Strong fish. Determined fish. Leaping fish. That fish had 40 pounds on me and eventually took us a mile from where we started. I almost gave up, and I NEVER give up! My back began to cave, my legs shook, my hands cramped, and sweat ran down my face. I'd get her close, then she'd take off, or she'd dive and hold tight. Captain Pat encouraged me, pulled on the leader when he could, then let go when the fish ran again, and again. The rod bowed so low it ran against the gunnel. The fish shot off so fast, I was slammed into the bow. When I finally got the fish to the boat, when she finally cried 'uncle', the sun peeked over the clouds. What a gorgeous animal! The eyes! The scales! The power, the beauty. If I could have, I'd have dived in to hug her.

I pushed back my tears, Captain Pat cut her lose, and I fell prone and heaving on the bow. My knees and shins were bruised. My left hand was curled into a 'monkey paw.' "Holy Shit! Goddam! I didn't think I could do it!" To which Pat said, "I knew you could do it. Good job. Now, up! We need to find the pole so we can catch 'ya another." A short while later I hooked a 140 pounder. Another old girl. Another long test ensued. My husband caught two more, and when the tide went slack we hit the flats and caught our share of Bonefish under clouds so ephemeral they didn't seem real.

That evening I flopped into bed, passed out, rose again at 3:30, and hit the water for round #2. 100 pound Tarpon? 120 pound Tarpon? No problem!

Tarpon fishing brings out the best in you. It reveals your character. It takes patience, skill, tenacity, courage, and a depth of determination you may not know you have, until you go against the big one. Do you have the will? Do you have the strength? Go Tarpon fishing. So what if you're spoiled? It's worth every dime and every mile. And you'll never lose the memories.


Captain Pat Bracher. Fish Overtime. Cudjoe Key. Top notch.

May 16, 2011

Protection, Recovery, and... New Species!

Photo credit: Gerald Allen
Bali is a well-known tourist destination. Scores of people travel to this Indonesian island to dive its extensive reefs. The Balinese government recently requested a survey of their reef's biodiversity to assess their health and to make recommendations for a large network of marine parks. Smart!
A team of scientists with Conservation International spent two weeks combing the reefs. Their findings? While reef sharks and wrasses are still rare, and plastic polution is still prevalent, the reefs are recovering from bleaching and destructive fishing. As a boon, researchers also discovered nine potentially new species.
I suspect with further protections in place, the reefs will continue to thrive. And maybe, rare or endangered creatures will prosper and be added to the list of 953 species of fishes that already populate Bali's reefs.
Click here to see the full gallery of new species.

May 15, 2011

Living Keychains. Gross.

Every once in a while, I'm stunned. This is one of those times. It's inconceivable to me how people can profit in good conscience at the expense of living, suffering, animals - no matter how small or domesticated they may be.
Yuck. Gross.
Click here if you want to be grossed out, too.

May 9, 2011

Oddballs and Monsters

This is true: I am married to a 'fish snob.' Let me explain... My husband, ABM, likes to fish but he is neither obsessive about fishing, nor is he overly appreciative of the oddballs. He likes trophies. Big fish. I, on the other hand, am perfectly content to fish for anything and everything, in any manner. Don't get me wrong - if he's happy to paddle me around while I catch oddballs and sticks, that's cool. He's happy, I'm happy.

On this morning, I was either going to play golf or go fishing. I decided to go fishing on Chan's Lucky Pond and wore my golf shoes in case the fishing was slow. This pond is filled with about 7 acres of dark green, very fishy water. The Chan's had built and stocked the pond some 16 years ago. There are bass, brim, and channel catfish in it. On a good day, I can catch 20-40 fish. ABM had promised me he'd meet me for both activites, in any order.

When I arrived, I was on the phone with my ABM - still trying to persuade him to join me. He was being a tad wishy-washy, but said he'd be there shortly. I loaded up the Chan's little flat-bottom dinghy with paddles that don't lock...(rowing that dinghy in wind can be a bit dicey)...pushed off...rigged up a Yamamoto...and promptly caught 10 bass. I returned to shore, climbed the hill so I could get some reception, and summoned ABM again: "You gotta come. I'm tellin' 'ya, the fishing is awesome." He said he was on his way. I caught two more while waiting for him.

When he showed up, he didn't have a rod (typical), but he did have his camera (good omen). I offered my spare surf rod, but he declined and said he'd rather row. So, we switched spots on the boat and he ferried me around. I plied the little island and caught about five more bass. Then I asked him to move to a shallow area that I knew had nests and I knew would produce some hits. I caught a couple more bass then hooked something big.

When that bass hit, I initially thought it was a log. Then, it moved. I started to shake. "Holy s-it! That's a big one!" ABM said, "It's not a fish. It's a stick." I hollered, "That's no stick! That's a HUGE bass!" A few minutes later the fish came up. Holy smokes! It was ginormous! ABM snapped some pictures.

I started shaking some more. There was no way to turn off the adrenaline. My hands shook, my knees shook. The fish ran toward some branches. The spool (not full to begin with) ran low. I tightened the drag. ABM said, "Don't tighten the drag!" "The heck with that, I don't have enough line if this fish takes off!" When the fish went under the boat twice, ABM worried, "Don't break off..." I said, "It won't." And it didn't. When I finally got it to the side, ABM asked for a net. A NET!? "We don't have one, and we never use one! Grab her mouth!" He did. "Bring it in, bring it in!" He did. I think he was in shock because he couldn't get the hook out. He handed me the fish, I got the bent hook out, and he snapped a few more pictures. Then, I lowered her back into the water, resuscitated her, and let her swim off.

ABM said, "That was the biggest bass I've ever seen." Still shaking, I replied, "See? You should come fishing with me more often! 'Ya never know what might happen!"

Later, the Chan's confirmed it to be the largest bass to date. I think I'll buy them some new oars that lock... :)

May 6, 2011

Palau Shark Sanctuary

This seems like a no-brainer to me. Sanctuaries provide, well, sanctuary! A place for fishes to live, eat, and breed, in peace. Sanctuaries also help repopulate their surrounding areas. There are other benefits to sanctuaries, especially if the sanctuary happens to center in a stunning habitat like Palau.
Palau's economy clearly benefits from the sanctuary the nation has provided sharks. Sharks' presence on the reefs adds to the reefs' value. So, the sharks' value is tangible. If the sharks did not add dollars, would the country have created a sanctuary? I don't know. Would saving the sharks for the benefit of saving sharks been enough incentive to create a sanctuary? I'd hope so.
Click here to read the National Geographic article.

May 1, 2011


When I graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 1986 (!!), one of my first clients was the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Back then, the MBARI program hadn't yet been developed. When the deep sea subs finally made their maiden voyages into the trenches, the scientists brought back dozens of newly discovered critters. One of my assignments was to illustrate the animals -- or more specifically, put them back together. Because, when they were brought to the surface, they literally fell to pieces.
Deep sea animals are soft, fleshy, and adapted to intense pressure. They can't withstand the lack of pressure at the surface.

Anyway, I'd meet up with the scientists and they'd hand over jars of what used to be a fish, or a squid, or a siphonophore. There was no video, no photos to help me. Somehow we managed to recreate the animals, and the illustrations were published in educational brochures, booklets, and on note cards. I no longer have the original illustrations, and I'd given back the specimens. The images and the jars of critters are just memories now.

Amazingly, I just discovered the above video on the MBARI site. I remember the squid with one eye larger than the other! The 'Dumbo' octopus, and the jellies. Anyway, it's a nice glimpse into the deep, rare places off the California coast. Enjoy.

April 26, 2011

In the Sunday Papers

It's very flattering to see yourself and your work in the Sunday papers. This is the second time David Maurer has interviewed me for a feature story in the Daily Progress. The first time around was 2001 when I was deeply involved in producing massive numbers of illustrations for public aquariums. Things have come a long way since then. Now, the paper is digital!

This time around came after he'd received a copy of our new book. We played phone and email tag for a few weeks prior to our interview date. When we finally connected, he arrived at my studio armed with a tape recorder and a list of questions. Being taped is a little nerve wracking -- it makes you speak in carefully-chosen, measured words. Regardless, we talked for over two hours. Dave's a very nice man who seems unscarred by his two tours in Vietnam. He's genuinely interested in the work I've done and we share a common respect and fascination for nature. It was easy to talk to him about the process, and the experience of writing and illustrating the book.

Not surprisingly, he's never lacking for material to write about. Our little county is a haven for writers (John Grisham), photographers (Sam Able), painters (Dean Daas), and actors (Sissy Spacek)... and folks like me who have found obscure but precise niches.

Anyway, it was a lot of fun. CLICK HERE to read the article :)

April 18, 2011

Kristen Bell Tags Sharks - Tonight Show

Kristen Bell on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno from R.J. Dunlap Marine Conservation on Vimeo.

This is great. Sharks need as many advocates as possible, and celebrities who step up to the plate can do a world of good. I don't know who Kristen Bell is (no doubt my sons would), but she does an amazing job of keeping the information clear, detailed, and on point even when Jay Leno attempts to make funny. Even better, she is clearly passionate about shark conservation and excited to be a part of tagging them. Kudos! Now, I've got to go Google her to figure out why she's on the Tonight Show to begin with...

April 17, 2011

Just Another Weather Event

I am fortunate to be blessed with many smart, witty, fun, and often geeky friends. Every one has a geeky obsession. Mine happens to be fish. My friends Heidi and Roscoe are obsessed with weather... the more violent and vile the better. Their reports are not your run-of-the-mill amateur jobs. They both have masters in mathematics and were actual 'weather people' reporting the news on legitimate news stations. They both also possess a wicked and twisted sense of humor when it comes to weather (as evidenced in the video). Their daughter is bright, inquisitive, and fearless. I am charged with teaching her to fish. Their dog is big, fluffy and (they would not mind me saying this), somewhat stupid. Fortunately, the dog does not swim. Why? The tag on her collar says: "Reward: Call Val Kells". Who knows where she'd wind up if she jumped in that creek!

April 16, 2011

Fishermen v. Amazon River Dolphins

Photo credit: Kevin Schafer

Click here for video.

It's an age-old conflict. Fishermen need to make a living. They compete with top predators for their shared prey. Often, the top predators become the fishermen's enemy and then quarry. (Think California sea lions v. Salmon fishermen). This New York Times article relates the story of the Amazon River Dolphin and the Amazonian fishermen who kill them for their flesh and bones. The bones are used to attract catfish which are then sold to customers under a pseudonym. Will the conservationists be able to convince the fishermen to use other methods (pig meat)? Or, is their loathing too deeply ingrained?

April 9, 2011

Random: World Sunlight Map

Wow. I stumbled upon this link while perusing the latest Facebook posts. I've seen many images of Earth, but none like this. I can't even begin to wrap my brain around the technology that generates this constantly updated information. No fish here, but look at all that ocean!!
Click here to view!

April 6, 2011

Sharks and Lionfish

This is an interesting National Geographic photo essay about the attempts of divers and scientists to train local Honduran sharks to prey on the invasive Red lionfish. It appears that the sharks need some coaxing, but once they 'figure it out', they'll hunt the lionfish on their own. As George Burgess accurately states, this learned behavior will help (a bit), but it will not ultimately rid the Atlantic of these "rats of the sea." From what I've read, lionfish cannot be caught by trawl but may take hook-and-line. The most effective form of irradication is by spearing. After that? Many now make their way to restaurants.

March 31, 2011

Random: RMR - Bear Tagging

Every once in a while, it's nice to enjoy the wonderful, terrestrial wildlife around us. If this doesn't make you fall in love with bears, nothing will!

March 28, 2011

Eagle Ray Crashes a Party and Lives to Tell About It

This is progress. Usually when stories like this surface, there is more drama and exageration than factual reporting. This piece seems to cut a line between the two. It's still 'newsy', and a little exciting (read: ratings), but tempered and somewhat balanced (read: stay calm people, it's just a big fish without any harmful intentions.)

Aside: Some scientists believe that there are several distinct populations of Spotted eagle ray, and possibly several genetically separate species (read: non-sequitur :)

March 25, 2011

Trip to the Plastic Gyre

Part One:

It's well known that the oceans are cluttered with flotsam, jetsam, and flotillas of drifting debris. The "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" is a giant whorl of floating plastic refuse that has been estimated to rival the size of Texas. I've read that this place would be impossible to clean up due to its vast expanse. It is also impossible to guess how many animals swim through or fly into this toxic dump. Interestingly, the majority of the garbage comes from land, and not sea-going vessels.
Part Two:

It is also well known that the animals that pass through this area directly ingest a lot of plastic. They also ingest planktonic animals that have stored plastic toxins. Eventually, the toxins accumulate as they move up in the food chain.
Part Three:

I've been to sea. I know what it's like to bake on a windless, seemingly bottomless expanse. We passed the occasional jumble of line and bouys, but we never saw the dump. But, it was there... in molecular form. What a bummer.

March 22, 2011

The Fish Cave

Click here for: "Marine Science Illustrator Releases New Field Guide"

Ahhh... The Fish Cave. It was a name I came up with during the shortest, yet longest days of producing the book. February. Horrible February!!! Lonely days. Dark days. Cold days. Days on end of just me and the fishes. The fishes on the ceiling, the fishes on my paper, the fishes in my computer, the fishes in my head :)

My hours were long... I worked from about 7am to about 8 or 9pm every day. Often, my husband would bring my dinner up to the Fish Cave. He'd later return to take it away while I finished Photoshopping, writing, cataloging. While I wrapped up my day (evening) I'd drink a nice cold beer before putting my work away and turning the lights off in the Fish Cave. Then, a little TV, and fitful sleep. The next morning, I'd eat my spaghetti breakfast (no jokes please!), and move myself and my mug of tea back up to the Cave. I'd turn XM on, tune to "Mike and Mike in the Morning", check the news and email, and begin the new day's work.

Don't get me wrong! I absolutely LOVE the Fish Cave. It is a converted attic, yes, and I've hit my head on it's dormers to the point of screaming tears. It hurts! But it is also the tiny space where so many illustrations were created and so many ideas became reality. Books and more books line the walls. Plastic seagulls hang in the breeze. Precious photos are stuck to corners and crevices. It's hot hot hot in the summer, and never warm enough in the winter. Stink Bugs squeeze through the sky lights. The carpet is old and torn in places. My drafting table chair doesn't adjust, and my computer chair is propped up with books.

The space is a visual mess. But, it fits me. My kids played here while I drew and painted and drew some more. Cats and dogs and toads and birds and fishes lived with me here. Friends visited me here. From here I watched the snow, the rain, the moon. I laughed and cried and pondered in this cramped space. And it's served me, and many others, very well. More than 50 aquarium, museum, nature center, and publication projects began and wrapped here. Now it's for all the world (?) to have a glimpse of... the Fish Cave.
And, the book that came out of it.

March 17, 2011

Mimic Octopus

Many fishes mimic other fishes - usually as a form of defense, sometimes as a form of opportunism. For example, juvenile Atlantic tripletail are mottled yellow and black. While lying or swimming on their side, they resemble a fallen mangrove leaf rather than a possible meal. Another example: frogfishes are masters of disguise and may resemble sponges, corals, or seaweeds while waiting for unsuspecting prey.

It's an old ruse that is used by numerous plant and animal families. The Mimic octopus takes this behavior to the extreme. What is so interesting about this is that the octopus doensn't mimic just one form, but many: fishes, sea snakes, anenomes, shrimps! Its boneless body can conform in ways vertebrate bodies cannot. It is equipped with millions of chromatophores, allowing it to change color instantly.

It's easy to undertand HOW the octopus mimics, but harder to grasp how it LEARNED to mimic. Is this behavior instinctual or learned? Trial and error? Luck? To read more Click Here.

March 11, 2011


Over 70 percent of planet Earth is covered with water. A simple molecule: H2O. The foundation for all life.

While millions of people live without running water in their homes, it is something many of us (myself included) often take for granted. According to National Geographic, the average American uses an average of 2,000 gallons of water per day. This number probably includes gallons for: bathing, car washing, and irrigation etc. Drinking water is likely a small percentage of our overall consumption. BUT, if our drinking water comes out of a bottle, we're consuming more and wasting more than just water.

According to this graphic, 17 million barrels of oil are used to produce plastic water bottles which then become 3 billion pounds of waste every year. Wow.

The movement to remove plastic bottles from our lifestyles is well-established. But, every so often, we need to be reminded why.

March 8, 2011

Ocracoke - Installment No. 2

Yesterday some photographs above arrived in my mailbox. When I clicked open the note, I screamed! Joy oh Joy! Tears came to my eyes. They represent a long but not too tangled tale of full-circle...

We began visiting Ocracoke about 10 and a half years ago. Our annual two-week visit has since become family tradition. In the early days, the boys were so young they got around on training wheels. Now, they both drive. Back then, they'd pack Beanie Babies and books. Now, they pack iPods and computers!

10 years ago, my book idea was just that - an idea. I didn't realize how big a role Ocracoke and the experiences we had there would play in its evolution. How was I to know that all those photos of the boys holding the fish of the minute would come in handy? That my friendship with Norman would extend into long fishy expeditions and result in numerous discoveries? And that 10 and a half years after we first wet a foot on Ocracoke, that a friend would stand in front of Ocracoke Lighthouse with my book in her hands? I didn't have a clue.

Now, looking back, it is easy to connect all the dots, retrace the links, piece together the story. The woman in the picture is Candice. I met her last summer through Facebook. This winter, she became one of the first to buy a copy of the book, and is quite possibly the first to bring a copy to Ocracoke. From what I've read, she loves Ocracoke as much as I do. She also loves to fish. And when the book arrived at her home she vowed to take it to Ocracoke. Not only did she take it with her, she took it to the Lighthouse and she showed it to her/our friends at Tradewinds Tackle and Books to be Red.

How many pictures have been taken of me and my family with that lighthouse in the background? How many times did we ride to it in the drizzle and heat? How many blinks of its light did we watch from the crow's nest or harbor? My tackle boxes are full of Tradewinds tackle. I can't begin to count the number of Tradewinds nets the boys have trashed in pursuit of bait on the beach. If we needed hooks, we went to Tradewinds. Air? Tradewinds. Advice? Tradewinds. And that little bookstore... How many visits have we made on bike or skate board to browze, read, and buy a novel, biography, or picture book that we'd absorb on the boat or back at the house? Too many to count.

And now, both Tradewinds and Books to be Red will carry my book this season. Coincidence? I don't think so!

March 3, 2011

Fishy Friday: Kroyer's deep-sea angler fish

Photo credit: Mary Levin

This is the first of a new series of posts called 'Fishy Friday.' On Fridays I'll search out, discover, explore, and explain species new to me, and hopefully, new to you...

Kroyers' deep-sea angler fish, Ceratias holboelli. Also called Northern seadevil.
Females are oblong, fleshy, with prickly skin, and fins set far back on the body. The eyes and pectoral fins are small, and the gill opening is oval in shape. Females also have a long, bioluminescent lure to attract prey, and two horny knobs on the back. The males are small and parasitic. They attach themselves to females where they remain throughout their lives. The two bodies form a two-bodied hermaphrodite - meaning, together they function as male and female simultaneously. Females grow to about 4 ft.

A rare, deep-dwelling fish, they occur worldwide in tropical to temperate seas from about 1,300 to 6,500 ft., but they may be found at the surface. They have been reported to feed on invertebrates.

Cool stats: Light only penetrates ocean water to about 1,000 feet. Below this photic zone, little to no plant life survives, making the deep sea a very unproductive mass of water. Many of the fishes living in the dark feed on organic prey that falls from above. The temperature can range from 50 to 37 degrees Farenheit. The pressure is intense, and there is very little oxygen. To adapt to the pressure, deepsea fishes have poorly-developed skeletal systems and lose, fleshy bodies. Many have complex bioluminescent lures and photophores to attract prey and mates. Most have large, gaping mouths.

Thoughts: I liken living in this environment to a game of hide-and-seek. If you can hide, you live. If you are found, you're eaten!

March 2, 2011

It's All Good

Today my (our) book went to #4 on

It has become part of my morning ritual since it's publication to go on Google, and do a search for news or updates pertaining to the book. So, over a big cup of tea, I discover 'where it's been' and 'what it's done.' Norway. Japan. UK, Eleuthera, Kitty Hawk, IUCN! An environmental book seller now carries it. Folks in Korea can purchase it for some 1,000 yen (?). Is that right? I don't know...

In any event, it got to #4 on Amazon today. So, I posted this news on Facebook. Soon thereafter, my son called home from school. After a little chit-chat, I told him: "The book is number four on Amazon." He replied, "That's awesome, Mom! Can you help me on my paper about shark evolution and importance?"

Not only did I manage to raise a boy to care about sharks in this world of X-cube-game-boy-crapola, I managed to do something on the side that will make a lasting and positive impact here and abroad. Coincidence? Baddabing, baddabang - when I checked back on Amazon, the book was #3.

From good comes good. No lie.

More on the Goliath and Catch-and-Release

I read with interest a raging argument via lengthly and passionate Facebook posts in response to a photo of a girl on the deck of a boat next to an enormous Goliath grouper. On one side of the debate were the fishermen who respect the law, apply it, and keep their noses clean. On the other side were fishermen who apply their own rules, don't care about the current law, and thumb their noses at it. In a nut-shell, it is unlawful to remove Goliath grouper from the water except to quickly remove a hook.

One fellow argued that pulling a 150 lb. fish over the side of a boat is the equivalent of pulling a 150 lb. person over the side of a boat. The image touched a nerve. I do not weight 150, but when I've had to get back into a boat after a swim, or when I've slipped on the gunnel, the result is never pleasant: bruises, bruises, and more bruises.

When we went fishing last May for Tarpon, our guide took plenty of time to respirate the fish before letting them go. But he would not, under any circumstances, boat the Tarpon. No gaffs, no glory pictures, but lots of blurry pictures and wonderful memories. That was AOK with me. I know what it's like to 'be boated.' :)

Click here to read Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute's Techniques to Reduce Catch-and-Release Mortality.

Also, here is Sea Grant's short primer on proper Catch-and-Release.

March 1, 2011

Shark Finning

Watch if you have the stomach. I couldn't.

February 27, 2011

Goliath grouper - threatened again?

The IUCN Red List still considers this fish as Critically Endangered. However, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission is considering lifting a ban on taking them. Huh? Who's running the show? The scientists, the bureaucrats, or the fishermen?

There is an odd disconnect between fishermen and scientists. Fishermen are on the water every day, and make observations that aren't always considered when scientists publish their data. However, shouldn't Florida officials consider the IUCN's position before ruling on this? Just because Goliath grouper populations may be stable in Florida, this does not mean they are stable throughout their range, even if the last IUCN assessment is five years old.

New Dissolvable Fishing Line

Tungsten weights are slowly replacing lead. Hard-soled waders are replacing felt-soled waders. Now, a dissolvable fishing line. Another step in the right direction. Click here for article.

February 26, 2011

Half Ton of Shark Fins were Bound for NYC

Photo credit: NOAA

Back on December 21, 2010, the Senate passed the Shark Conservation Act of 2009. It was passed by the House the next day. President Obama signed it into law on January 4, 2011.

But, yesterday is was reported by the New York Times that nearly a half ton of Hammerhead shark fins were siezed in Panama while en route to New York. That's New York City, New York USA. What's wrong with this picture? Shark fins being IMPORTED to New York?

One ton equals 2000 pounds. One half ton equals 1000 pounds. According to Greenpeace: The World Conservation Union (IUCN) estimate shark fins comprise, on average, 2 % of body weight. This means one would expect 20kg (44 lb) of shark fin for every ton of shark carcass. So, 1000 pounds of fin equals approximately 22,727 pounds of carcass. There is no way to translate this number into numbers of carcasses.

Here's my question: If it is US law and is intended to in part "to urge international fishery management organizations to which the United States is a member to adopt shark conservation measures", then why were those sharks killed? Will the people who were supposed to receive this shipment be taken to trial? Would the fins have wound up somewhere else? What happens to the middlemen? Apparently, the law has failed to impress upon shark-finners in Ecuador, or restraunteurs in New York. So what will it take to extract this country from such a horrific enterprise?