Great Barracuda - Sphyraena barracuda

Great Barracuda - Sphyraena barracuda

June 17, 2015


Once again, sharks have made the news, and not for good reasons. While I do not mean to minimize the seriousness of the injuries caused, I feel compelled to re-emphasize the rarity of shark-related injuries.

In the aftermath of recent events, the Washington Post published a blog that put into perspective the chances of being killed by a shark versus being killed by a cow... or a dog... or a wasp. The post did not include statistics about being killed by vending machines (13 per year) or by falling out of bed (450 per year). CLICK HERE or click on image to read post.

When I enter the ocean, I weigh the risk, and understand that when I am making the choice to enter their world. And I keep a length of rope in my truck -- just in case a shark mistakes me, my sons, or anyone near me for a fish.
Safe travels, Val

June 12, 2015

Horseshoe Crabs

Photo credit: Carl Safina
On my way back from the Keys a few weeks ago, I overheard a conversation between two students. One sat next to me in the airport terminal, the other sat on a beach counting birds that were feasting on horseshoe crab eggs.

Then, this morning, Carl Safina posted the following excerpt from his book, "The View from Lazy Point:"

"When horseshoe crabs were new under the sea, fish did not yet have jaws, corals were just evolving, and flowering plants, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals did not exist. Hundreds of millions of years later, dinosaurs would rise, flourish, and vanish. Right around closing time, we've strolled in, and they're still here."

Just a thought...

May 4, 2015

Mackerels, Tunas & Billfishes of the United States.

Mackerels, Tunas & Billfishes of the United States, by Val Kells

This just in... Fresh off the presses! Top-notch quality, spot-on reproduction.
You can get one HERE.

Enjoy, share, and please care for pelagics :)

April 27, 2015

Blacktip Sharks Chasing Topwater Lures

It's no secret... I love sharks. They fascinate me~!

While I'm not close to being a shark-fishing expert, I've caught my share. It's usually a messy experience with lots of knotted line and bent hooks. Grabbing a wriggling shark is a tricky deal -- watch out for the sharp end! Getting the hook out of their very leathery skin is another deal that requires pliers and a strong hand. Fortunately, sharks are hardy creatures, and I've released all alive.

This video is really cool. Blacktip Sharks doing what they are built to do in a swift, tenacious, and aggressive manner. Quite a show.

No worries, the hooks were removed, so no sharks were harmed or landed. Heck, I don't think I'd want to land one of those fishes! I'd probably loose a finger... or two ;)

April 17, 2015


Image by Mike Laptew ©

The Earth is flush with many spectacular rituals and phenomena. Think: mass coral spawning, Northern lights, phosphorescence.

Migrations have always intrigued me. When a Rubythroat Hummingbird recently showed up at my front porch looking for the jar of nectar I keep hanging each summer, I thought: "Holy COW! That little bird came all the way from MEXICO and REMEMBERED how to get back to this very spot in VIRGINIA!" I quickly prepared a new batch of nectar, hung it on the porch, and sure enough, the little bird returned again.

Fish migrations are another source of wonder. Think about it: Salmonids hatch in rivers (sometimes miles upstream), move offshore, and return to the very same stream to spawn as adults. American Eels make the opposite migration.... adults spawn somewhere in the Sargasso Sea, and their offspring move inshore and upstream until maturity. Other fish migrations remain a mystery. To this day, no one knows for sure where Great White Sharks spawn, or really why they travel such long and seemingly random distances.

Shads (collectively called "River Herring") are anadromous and a vitally important link in the food web. They used to have unimpeded pathways to their spawning grounds. When the rivers they traveled were dammed, their numbers plummeted. Aside from the dams and natural predators, they also had to overcome pollution, siltation, water withdrawal, and over-fishing. Today, some of those dams have come down, and other dams have been modified to include fish ladders. It's been proven that once a dam comes down, the fishes return almost immediately! Amazing.... An internal GPS and a drive to reproduce is hard-wired into the fish's DNA and cannot be suppressed, even by a dam.
The beautiful photo above was taken by Mike Laptew of Laptew Productions. His images document the gorgeous and often overlooked diversity of fresh and salt water wildlife, both above and below the surface. Take a look here to see more.

April 14, 2015

Goblin Shark revistied

Original 1898 illustration showing protruding jaws (feeding/gulping position)
What is a 'goblin', anyway? According to Mirriam-Webster dictionary, a goblin is "a grotesque sprite or elf that is mischievous or malicious toward people." It adds, "Goblins are demons of any size, usually human or animal form, that are supposed to assail, afflict, and even to torture human beings." Wikipedia describes goblins as: "A Goblin is a legendary evil or mischievous grotesquedwarf-like and daemon or monster that appeared in European stories and accounts during the Middle Ages.” They are attributed with various (sometimes conflicting) abilities, temperaments and appearances depending on the story and country of origin. In some cases, goblins are little creatures related to the brownes and gnome. They are usually small, sometimes only a few inches tall, sometimes the size of a dwarf, and have magical abilities; they are greedy, especially for gold and jewelry." 

This is what their jaws look like most of the time. 
When the David Starr Jordan described the Goblin Shark in 1898 goblins were likely still a part of the culture and lore of the time. I don't know if he coined the common name, or if it was assigned at a later date. The scientific name, Mitsukurina owstoni, honors Mr. Allen Owston who secured the first specimen from a fisherman off Japan, and Professor Keigo Mitsukuri who passed the specimen on to Jordan for official description. It is a fitting and honorable name. The unattributed common name, however, cast a spell upon the shark which remains today.

When a specimen was recently caught in a trawl net off of Australia, it was variously called "evil, vile, creepy, ugly, terrifying, disturbing, hideous." NBC news said it can also be found "in your nightmares." Inaccurate descriptors surely meant to drum up attention and feed the public's thirst for drama. The only adjectives to accurately describe it are "prehistoric," and "living fossil," as those are true.

The Goblin Shark is a rare shark indeed, and from one of the oldest lineages of Elasmobranchs. It is one-of-a-kind and the only species within its genus. It is dissimilar to all other sharks with an elongate snout and highly protrusible jaws. It's soft body allows it to live at crushing depths. It occurs in scattered circumglobal locations over deep continental shelves, upper slopes, and around sea mounts to about 4,200 ft. Encountering one in your annual trip to the beach is less likely than winning the lottery.

While I doubt the common name will change in my life time, it would be refreshing to see it done. Heck, the American Fisheries Society renamed the Jewfish~! Why not rename the Goblin Shark? Such a cool fish deserves a more flattering moniker.

March 26, 2015


A Field Guide to Coastal Fishes by Val Kells & Kent Carpenter
I work long hours. Sometimes from 6am to 8 or 9pm. As I write this, it's 8:33pm.
Why? The answer is complicated and would take up more space than this post affords :)
In short, I'm driven. And:
One: I LOVE my work.
Two: I love the people I work with.
Three: I love what we accomplish together.
Four: I get to help other people do their work.
Five: (and this is most important)... my work spreads... it grows... it multiplies.

What I did five years ago is helping someone right now! Or, someone five years from now.

It's cool.

Here is something I came across by accident that rewards my efforts, and also propels me to continue. Scroll down to References :)


Cheers, Val

February 27, 2015

A Move in the Right Direction~!

This should happen across the US. Even the most innocuous bit of plastic will eventually find its way to an ocean. Stop the plastic, stop the problem.

San Francisco Becomes The First City To Ban Sale Of Plastic Bottles.