Great Barracuda - Sphyraena barracuda

Great Barracuda - Sphyraena barracuda

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.