Great Barracuda - Sphyraena barracuda

Great Barracuda - Sphyraena barracuda

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?

February 24, 2011

Migrating Sharks off Boca Raton

VIDEO: Sharks migrate in Boca Raton:

I haven't dug around enough to figure out what species these are. But, I thought it was a pretty cool sight.

Artificial Reefs

The world's coral reefs range in age from thousands to millions of years-old. Coral polyps are very sensitive to light, currents, pollution, and turbidity. They are very fragile, and they are disappearing. Thus, there is a growing need for conservation, preservation, and repopulation of coral reefs. Reefs, especially those in the Indo-Pacific, are dense in genetic diversity.

Artificial reefs dot most coasts, either by accident or by purpose: ship wrecks, sunken box cars, tankers, naval ships, tires, cement blocks... To certain extent, these artificial reefs are successful. Within days, small invertebrates begin to encrust -- within years, they may be teeming with life. They also provide diving venues and revenue without impacting existing natural reefs. Yes, over time many of these artificial reefs succumb to the ocean and eventually crumble. In the meantime, they provide cover and habitat in the face of disappearing reef habitats.

This is the latest artificial reef to come across the newswire. Initially I was skeptical -- bamboo? Tile? Tile might hold up for some time, but bamboo is entirely organic. The article says the tiles will disolve and the entire structure would be gone within 6 years. What happens to the invertebrates that may have attached themselves? Does the company plan to replace these reefs as they disappear? Is this a waste of time and money? Well, no. Even though these are more short-lived than more durable artificial reefs, they'll at least provide habitat - if even for a few short years.

February 23, 2011

Another Brood Stock Fish Dies for a Record

Sorry, I just don't understand why some folks choose trophies and records over conservation when its become increasingly unnecessary. The fact that this Alligator gar is going on diplay does not, in my mind, lessen the loss. Instead of helping to populate the lake with healthy stock and prey for other fishes, it will spend eternity as a mount. Yuck.

Maybe folks just aren't thinking it all the way through? And in the exciting moments of bringing up a record fish, forget that the fish is OLD, really OLD? And, if they are females, they can carry millions of eggs which represent valuable genetic diversity?

Changing the 'rules' has been a point of debate for some time, especially since overfishing has reduced so many large fish species to schools of runts. Just look at this break-down! A bit complicated.

My rule? If the gamefish or foodfish is not legal, and we're not going to eat it that night, it goes back into the water. Period. No sharks, no records, no mounts, no arguments. And, no guilty conscience.

February 22, 2011

Reef Fishes

Puddingwife - Long Island Bahamas. Hand-lining.

I've come to understand that folks largely do not realize I illustrated virtually every reef fish that occurs from Maine to Texas. See, I'm a card-carrying rabid fisherman with an inner-ear issue. I can't equalize my ears! So, I'm limited to snorkeling. Which is fine, if you can find cool places to snorkel!

So, I'm known more as a fisherman than a diver. Well, I'm also a card-carrying ichthyologeek. I love ALL fishes. But, I digress...

When I got to the part of the book that included blennies, damsels, and (Lord!) the wrasses, I realized there was no way I'd make the deadline. We simply had to include all the juveniles, all the initial and terminal phases. They were there, they were common, and they lived over shallow reefs. So, I did some math and presented an extension proposal to my editor: "Leaving out the juveniles and females would be like writing a book about humans and leaving out women and children." I asked for six more months. He gave me nine. And that's how virtually ALL the reef fishes made it into the book.

I've been invited to speak at Dive Connections in April. I'm really looking forward to it. It will be a great venue to talk about the abundant wreck and reef fishes. And, I'd like to get their reaction toward another book idea I've have in the back of my mind (hint: reef fishes). Perhaps they'll prod me to take a stab at diving again. If I can figure out how to equalize my ears!

February 20, 2011

Tight Lines-Learning to Fly Cast Part 1

After five years of researching, illustrating, writing, designing, living and breathing the book (see sidebar :), I finally have a little time to play. And I'm not giving this time up! So, I've ventured back into fly-tying. When the weather breaks I'll pick up a fly rod for the first time in a long time and try to relearn fly fishing.

I never did master it. A timing thing? A technique thing? It certainly wasn't a gear thing... we've own a plethora of rods, reels, flies, line and leaders. Thankfully, we also have a large field at our place where I can embarrass myself by myself. I can cast and cast and snag and cuss with only birds, dogs, and cats snickering at my feeble first attempts. When I've got a little confidence I'll take some lessons. Then, GASP!, maybe book a trip out west! Or, east! Yeah...!

February 19, 2011

Dog Eats Four Fish

Bodie. Guilty as charged.

This is not what you may think. My (our) dog did not actually eat four fishes. He ate the book, 'Four Fish' by Paul Greenberg. I did not kill the dog. But boy was I mad! OK, OK, he's a dog, a Labrador, and he got bored, and I left the book on the counter. He is well known to counter-cruise for any interesting item left on the counter. I should have known better. But, lordy! 'Four Fish'??!!

I should be happy, I suppose, that he ate the book instead of his other option: fly-tying materials and a box of wet and dry flies. I'd also left these on the counter... next to the book. So I should be relieved, perhaps, that he ate a book instead of hooks. I can hear it now, "I mistook it for a branch! It is a branch, kind of... in another form, maybe... Please don't be mad, Mommy!" But I'm still a little mad.

See, I was taking particularly good care of this book. Normally, books go all over with me and suffer the fate of being in hot tubs, on beaches, in boats, and wind up shredded if they survive at all. Also, I'm a very, very slow reader. I started reading this amazing book some four-five months ago. It's thoroughly researched and well-written, but I need my whole brain to absorb all of the information. The topics are complicated, interwoven, and acutely important: fisheries are collapsing. 'Four Fish' explains some of the complex reasons why.

I'd just finished the 'Sea Bass' chapters and had started 'Cod', which put me approximately one-half of my way through 'Four Fish.' This passage stood out:

" catching all the big cod, fishermen have in a sense selected for small cod. The genes for small cod may now be more frequent in the overall genome than they were before fishing pressure was applied. Even if cod on the Grand Banks were left alone, it might take decades for the population to recover its previous genetic potential and reclaim the average size required for dominance."

WOW! What a simple yet powerful and insightful rationale. Perhaps by ingesting some of this book my dog will aquire some higher intellegence and choose his marks more carefully? Just kidding. The dog is dumber than a post and happier for it. I won't stay mad long.

Read this book. It will be worth your time if you can keep it safe :)

February 10, 2011

Teaching at The Field School

Today was the last day of a six-week Science Illustration class I've been teaching at The Field School for Boys, in Charlottesville, VA. It was all at once amazing, exhausting, touching, and down right fun. I have a new-found appreciation for teachers. It is not easy keeping 60 boys on track and moving forward, especially when some of them find more joy in throwing erasers than creating art! That said, the vast majority of them flourished, and went from zero to a hundred in a very short amount of time. Some started out timid, tentative, and nervous. Others jumped out of the gate and drew and painted with abandon. Some I had to coax. Others, I just cut loose. There are a lot of artistic genes at this school!

We covered the basics, and followed a complex series of steps to create final black and white art, mixed media art, and finally, full color art. All were scientific in nature. The boys were not allowed to copy from other books or magazines, but drew from their own observations. I taught them to Look Look Look at their subjects. Don't make it up! This is science illustration, not science-fiction illustration!

As a professional illustrator, with a career that spans over 25 years, my work has been published in about 20 books and periodicals, and reproduced across the nation in 30 public facilities. On any given day, hundreds if not thousands of people see my illustrations in aquariums, nature centers, museums, and in books. But very rarely am I able to observe folks observing my work. I'm usually in my office producing more! But this experience allowed me to actually see the boys take what I've created, what I have to share, and learn and create their very own artwork. The gift went directly from me to them and back to me. At times, it was difficult to hold back the tears. I'm terribly proud of their accomplishments.

Above are just a few of their pieces. I'll put more on my FB page soon. Just great stuff!

February 3, 2011

New Species in Our Own Back Yard

Photo credit: P. Wirtz

This is amazing to me...

Carl Linnaeus established the cornerstone of taxonomy (the separation of plants and animals into separate taxa) some 350 years ago. The Linnaean method uses anatomy, appearance, and in some cases, behavior to describe plants and animals. Until the 1990s, scientists had to rely soley on the Linnaean method to group or separate species, and this method is still largely used today. But, the advent of DNA analysis has not only blurred the lines that separate species, it has also allowed for further separatation of species.

For example: Fish 1 and Fish 2 were long been thought to be the same species because they posess almost identical physical attributes; with new DNA analysis, Fish 1 and Fish 2 are found to be completely different on the genetic level; so, Fish 2 becomes a new species, or subspecies. Another example: Fish 3 and Fish 4 were thought to be separate species; DNA analysis proves they are one in the same; Fish 3 and 4 are then grouped under the same name.

We often hear about new species being discovered or described for the first time from far-flung locales such as Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand, and from the darkest ocean depths. These are species that probably have been there for hundreds to thousands of years, but were only recently determined to be unique and separate from those around them. Sometimes these animals live in small, hard-to-reach pockets, thus explaining their recent discovery. Sometimes these animals were misidentified as a similar bretheren: they appear on the surface as identical, but in fact have minute attributes that separate them. Sometimes, these animals are so small, they go overlooked!

Seven new Labrisomid blennies from the Bahamas and Caribbean Sea were recently described using a complex combination of Linnaean taxonomy and DNA analysis. Not two, not three, SEVEN! Here's the deal: these guys are really small (just over an inch long), live cryptically on reefs, and could easily have been misidentified for eachother, meaning they all look somewhat alike. Some (if not all) of the blennies have male and female color patterns that serve to further confuse the issue. I don't know how long it took the researchers to conclude their study, but on the surface, it looks like a years-long project of collecting, analizing, untangling, and concluding.

The article is complex, and not for the faint of heart. I think it's pretty darned impressive. This is heavy science! Way over my head. But, it will make it much much easier for me to illustrate these fishes in the near future!

Click here to read more.