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BLUE PLANET, GREEN PLANET

What do you think of when you think of St. Patrick’s Day? The rolling green hills of Ireland? Green shamrocks and leprechauns? Green food colouring in otherwise perfectly-good beer? Whatever images you associate with March 17, the cultural and religious holiday celebrating Irish heritage, it’s likely that they’re awash in green!

And when it comes to the colour green, the ocean might not be the first thing that pops into your head. After all, when we look down at our planet from above, it’s our terrestrial spaces that appear green—the oceans have always been, and will always be, blue. …or will they?

The planet is warming—the effects of climate change can be seen all across our oceans, from the phenomenon known as coral bleaching, all the way down to changes in the growth and abundance of phytoplankton (microscopic photosynthesizing algae). These changes are happening at an unprecedented rate due to decidedly human factors such as industrial carbon emissions.


There are two main classes of phytoplankton, dinoflagellates – which have a whip-like tail (flagella), and diatoms – which do not.

While you are more than likely aware of the harmful effects that climate change is having on our planet, a new study has shown a surprising side-effect that you might not have considered… The planet is about to get a whole lot greener—and not in the environmentally-sustainable way you might have been hoping for.

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, NASA and the US Department of Energy published a paper last month summarizing their findings using a global model that simulates the growth patterns of different species of phytoplankton, and how those phytoplankton absorb and reflect light. This model could serve as an early warning signal for ocean health–or ill health.

In short, the researchers found that more than 50% of ocean waters will experience a change in colour by the year 2100!

Regions appearing blue (such as the subtropics) in satellite photographs will become bluer due to a loss of life in general, and phytoplankton in particular, compared to those regions today. However, water that currently has a greenish tinge, such as that near the Earth’s poles, will become even greener, due to warmer water temperatures creating blooms of more diverse species of phytoplankton in those regions.

So what creates the ocean’s colour to begin with, and how does algae affect it?

It has to do with how sunlight interacts with what’s in the water itself. As you may know, light is comprised of all the colours of the rainbow. Water molecules absorb almost all light frequencies except for the colour blue, which is reflected back to us, which is why the open ocean appears as a deep blue in photographs taken from space. But ocean water that contains a lot of phytoplankton will appear greener, as the chlorophyll (the green pigment that helps plants and algae photosynthesize the sun’s energy into food) in phytoplankton absorbs almost all of sunlight’s blue spectrum, and reflects back more green light.


This side-by-side comparison from NASA illustrates typical Arctic waters (left) and the same waters during a massive algal bloom (right).

What does this all mean, apart from the fact that our planet could soon be looking a lot greener?

Plankton of all kinds—and phytoplankton in particular—are at the bottom of a huge number of ocean food chains. So if climate change shifts the growth of phytoplankton—whether from one species to another, or from one part of the ocean to another—this will change the types of food webs that they can support, and that will impact on species further up the food chain. Entire ocean ecosystems will be affected.

Not to mention that phytoplankton produce about 50% of the oxygen we breathe… Needless to say, changes to their distribution across the ocean means a whole lot more for the planet’s health than just its colour.

But don’t despair. When it comes to climate change, we have more power than you might think. Stay ‘tuna’ed to the Deep Sea Diary for an upcoming post about what you can do to reduce your carbon footprint, and join the fight against climate change.

For now, sláinte, Happy St. Patrick’s Day, and may all your rainbows end in a pot of gold(fish)!

Images

  1. Phytoplankton, https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/phyto.html

Sources

  1. Anderson, Paul Scott. “Much of Earth’s Surface Ocean Will Shift in Color by End of 21st Century.” EarthSky, 7 Feb. 2019, www.earthsky.org/earth/mit-study-climate-change-affect-color-earth-oceans
  2. Dennis, Brady, and Chris Mooney. “Climate Change Will Alter the Color of the Oceans, New Research Finds.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 4 Feb. 2019, www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2019/02/04/climate-change-will-alter-color-oceans-new-research-finds/?utm_term=.9295b2a6173e
  3. Moran, Barbara. “Climate Change Is Altering the Color of the Ocean.” WBUR, WBUR, 4 Feb. 2019, www.wbur.org/news/2019/02/04/climate-change-ocean-color-phytoplankton
  4. Obscura, Atlas. “Climate Change Is Shifting the Color of the Oceans.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 5 Feb. 2019, www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/climate-change-ocean-color-algae-nature_us_5c59e918e4b09293b208ea51
  5. Dutkiewicz, S. et al.Ocean colour signature of climate change. Nature Comm. www.nature.com/articles/s41467-019-08457-x

STRANGER THAN FICTION: THE INSPIRATION BEHIND MYTHOLOGICAL SEA MONSTERS

It was explorer Robert Ripley himself who said that “truth is stranger than fiction.” Where tales of mythological sea monsters are concerned, this is definitely true. Ancient seafarers saw strange and wonderful real-life sea creatures on their ocean journeys, and through the power of imagination and oral storytelling, these animals took on larger-than-life proportions.

Today we’re taking a closer look at some fantastically strange sea monsters, and the real-life sea creatures that inspired them.

Those beautiful siren sea cows…

The legend of sirens or mermaids – half-human, half-fish and, in some versions of the story, sweet songstresses that lure sailors to their doom – is probably one of the best known tales of mythological sea creatures. From The Little Mermaid to “mermaid hair, don’t care,” mermaids and sirens proliferate our culture.

These stories are thought to have been inspired by a rather unlikely source. Manatees are the largest aquatic herbivores. Also called sea cows, they are big, slow-moving, mustachioed grey animals related to elephants. They are from the order Sirenia, a clue that they were probably the animal that inspired written documents about so-called sirens

So how did the giant, slow-moving sea cow inspire the legend of mermaids? It could have to do with their decidedly human-like behavior with their young. Female manatees have been known to cradle their pups in their flippers while nursing. Add to this a behaviour known as spy-hopping, whereby a manatee rises vertically out of the water to check things out at the surface, and it’s easy to see how a sailor might mistake this curious sight for a siren, especially after months at sea.

Even famed explorer Christopher Columbus reported seeing mermaids. In 1493 he wrote in his journals about spotting three mermaids from aboard his fleet to the Americas. This is one of the earliest European accounts of a manatee sighting, though it was hardly complimentary to the manatees: they are “not half as beautiful as they are painted.”

Kraken or giant squid?

Out of all the sea monsters of legend, few are as fearsome as the kraken.

The kraken is a terrifying sea monster said to live off the coasts of Norway and Greenland – it is described as a vast creature with giant tentacles, all the better to drag fishermen or even entire ships of sailors to their death beneath the waves. The kraken is hard to detect, because it lurks under boats in the dark of the water, but it was said that if fishermen suddenly started catching a great many fish, it was because the kraken had scared them to the surface, and was ready to attack.

Once the kraken sinks back below the surface, the real trouble starts: its massive size was said to create a colossal whirlpool, taking anything still at the surface down with it.

That’s definitely the stuff of nightmares. The good news is that the kraken does not exist. The giant squid, however, is a real animal, and was likely the inspiration for these cautionary tales.

The existence of giant squid was confirmed by Danish naturalist Japetus Steenstrup in 1857; he named it Architeuthis dux, which translates as “ruling squid” in Latin. Today there are 21 confirmed species of giant squid. They can grow up to 15 metres, including their tentacles. That’s huge, but not likely to take down any ships.

The giant squid is elusive, so its maximum size is still hotly debated. It lives at depths of up to 1,000 metres, probably in order to avoid making a tasty snack for its top predator – the deep-diving sperm whale.

Leviathan

Speaking of whales…

In the earliest days of sailing, encounters with whales led to strange stories and the creation of the myth of the Leviathan, which manifested in different ways. To some the Leviathan was a giant fish. To others, it was a serpent, crocodile or marine mammal. In some versions of the legend, it was a monstrous whale (called the Devil Whale) that lay asleep in the water and was frequently mistaken for an island. But when sailors stepped aboard to prepare their dinner on land, the great whale would wake, and sink below the surface, bringing the sailors and their ship with it.

Another version, the prister, was described as being “two hundred cubits long, and very cruel.” It had two blowholes, which could fire onto ships like water cannons. How to defeat this fearsome beast? Try sounding a trumpet, in order to startle it away. Obviously.

These tales were likely inspired by real-life encounters with whales – both alive and dead. The sperm whale – the largest toothed predator in the world, at up to 67 feet long – has been known to strand itself on shallow beaches, and was likely the source of many legends of sea monsters. It should also be noted that baleen whales like blue and fin whales have two blowholes – they too seem to be an inspiration for this fearsome beast.

The sea serpent

Lastly, no exploration of sea monsters would be complete without mentioning the sea serpent. A sea serpent or sea dragon was a type of dragon described in various mythologies. They were imagined as huge, toothy, serpentine monsters.

The possible real-life inspiration for these tales – the oarfish – is almost as fantastic as the legends themselves. First described in 1772, the oarfish is the longest (known) living species of bony fish, at up to 56 feet long and weighing up to 600 pounds. Like the giant squid, oarfish are deep-dwelling animals, thought to live at a depth of 1,000 metres, and sightings of living oarfish are rare.

They are known as the “king of the herrings,” due to their resemblance to those smaller fish. Despite their massive size and monstrous looks, they are not dangerous – they eat plankton and have a tiny gullet! Still, sometimes oarfish get pushed to the surface by storms or strong currents, where they can become distressed and die. It’s not hard to see why a sputtering, squirming oarfish might have been thought of as a terrifying sea serpent.

Are you feeling curious? Swim by the aquarium to visit our Curious Creatures exhibit and learn more about the strange and bizarre animals living below the surface.

Photos:
Manatee www.time.com/4719439/manatees-endangered-species/
Giant Squid www.behance.net/gallery/54729185/Giant-Squid
Sperm Whale www.hakaimagazine.com/news/sperm-whales-have-eve/
Oarfish www.nbcnews.com/science/weird-science/caught-camera-rare-sighting-oarfish-worlds-largest-bony-fish-n76376

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OPEN WIDE: UNDERSEA TOOTH ADAPTATIONS

Open wide! February 9, 2019 is International Dentist Day – a day to celebrate one of the oldest and most important jobs in the world. While you might not be the biggest fan of sitting in the dentist’s chair, you can’t deny that keeping our teeth clean and shiny is a huge part of our overall health.

What better way to honour IDD than to dive into an underwater exploration of the different kinds of tooth adaptations found in the ocean?

Shark teeth

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CONGRATULATIONS! IT’S A…SEAHORSE?!

As you may have heard, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada’s newest residents are a whole herd of baby lined seahorses. But wait, there’s more! You may also have heard that they hatched on New Year’s Day – our very own new year’s babies! They arrived on January 1, 2019 with much fanfare; in fact, their arrival was covered by media across the country.

We’re very excited about our new fry (baby fish), so we thought we’d take this opportunity to teach you a bit more about them.

First things first: they were the size of grains of rice when they were first born, not jellybeans.

But that doesn’t mean that they were any less cute!

The lined seahorse (a.k.a. the northern seahorse, a.k.a. the spotted seahorse) is found in the Atlantic Ocean, as far north as Canada and as far south as the Caribbean, Mexico and even South America. It swims in an upright position (thus its scientific name – Hippocampus erectus), using its dorsal and pectoral fins to guide it through the water. Seahorses have an armoured body made up of bony plates and prehensile (capable of holding) tails, which they use to grasp onto sturdy structures such as seagrass or coral. Due to their weak swimming abilities they spend much of their time anchored like this, sucking in small prey through their tubular snouts.

Due to their unique digestive system – they lack a true stomach for the gradual digestion of food – seahorses may feed continuously for up to 10 hours a day!

Here at the aquarium our shoal of seahorses is fed at least three times daily, and our new babies, up to six times a day! That’s a lot of work for our aquarists!

Lined seahorses eat plankton and small crustaceans such as brine shrimp. Their eyes are able to move independently of one another (like a chameleon’s), all the better to survey their surroundings and ambush unsuspecting prey. While they are found in a wide variety of colours (from black, grey and brown to green, orange, red and yellow), they also have colour-changing skin cells called chromatophores (like an octopus) that allow them to blend in with their environment.

The lined seahorse is monogamous through the mating season; a bonded male and female will perform a special ritual dance every morning to reestablish their connection. They revolve around one another, change colours in unison, and sometimes even grasp tails.

As you may know, seahorses are unique in the animal kingdom in that the male is the primary caregiver of young. The female seahorse passes her eggs into the male’s brood pouch – a pouch where the eggs are protected before hatching – where they are incubated for about three weeks. Upon hatch, they are only the size of a grain of rice! Regardless of size, the male releases them into the water column and from that moment on they must fend for themselves.

The number produced from the male is anywhere from 97 to over 1,500 offspring!

You might ask why so many baby seahorses are spawned at a time, when only a fraction of them will survive to adulthood. Think of it as quantity versus quality. Essentially, organisms living in inhospitable environments with limited resources and lots of predators (like the ocean) reproduce quickly and in large numbers to ensure that at least some of their offspring survive to their own age of reproduction. This is the same strategy employed by sea turtles and horseshoe crabs – both species lay thousands of eggs, but few survive.

Luckily, here at the aquarium, the new year’s babies have been separated from the rest of the shoal, and have a better-than-average chance of surviving this vulnerable period.

Lined seahorses have a lifespan of 1-to-4 years; here at the aquarium, they live 3-4 years, the maximum reported for their species.

Now that you know all there is to know about the lined seahorse, giddy-up and get yourself to the aquarium to see our New Year’s babies, now on display in The Gallery!

 

Sources

  1. Bester, Cathleen. “Hippocampus Erectus.” Florida Museum, 12 May 2017,
    www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/hippocampus-erectus/
  2. Langley, Liz. “Romance of the Seas: Strange Mating Habits of the Seahorse.” National Geographic, National Geographic Society, 25 June 2016,
    www.news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/06/seahorse-reproduction-behavior-conservation/
  3. “Lined Seahorse.” Chesapeake Bay Program,
    www.chesapeakebay.net/S=0/fieldguide/critter/lined_seahorse

Tips to Green Up Your Travels

Good day Deep Sea Diary readers!

Now that we have entered the winter season, some of you are probably already thinking of a tropical getaway (myself included!). Planning a vacation involves many decisions, and, for your reading pleasure this month, we here at Ripley’s Aquarium are going to help make those decisions easier, cheaper and greener!

After you’ve picked your travel destination, you need to decide how to get there, and how can you make your choice a green one?

My first suggestion would be to select a non-stop flight. Did you know that airplanes produce over 25% of their carbon emission during landing and take-off?

By opting for a non-stop flight you reduce the overall carbon footprint of your trip.

Even better, why not travel by train instead? While I understand this may not be applicable for all trips, but to those Europe-bound readers, Europe is a fantastic place to put this suggestion into practice. Rather than using short plane trips to sight-see overseas, opt for the train. Not only will you gain a greater appreciation of the landscape, you will also be using a cheaper (yay $), greener method of transportation.

With a big check mark beside the method of transportation box, we can move on to picking a place to stay. If you’re looking into hotels, ask yourself this question: how green is my hotel? There are many organizations world-wide that specialize in identifying green hotels, one you may be familiar with is LEED. LEED accredited buildings partake is energy saving strategies such as solar heated pools, graywater systems and using recycled construction materials.

Now we arrive at a big hurdle…what to pack?!

I try to live by the motto: skip the plastic, pack the cloth.

Save room in your suitcase for a cloth tote that you can carry on your daily travels. Be it farmer’s markets, shops or large malls, being able to skip the plastic bags limits the number of petroleum-based products you use.

If you’re destined for a sunny spot be sure to pack the SPF! As a redhead, I can’t stress this enough! There is nothing like a bad sunburn to ruin a vacation. Just remember, your sunscreen can be harmful aquatic life, especially sensitive aquatic organisms like coral. Thankfully, there are many companies that make reef-safe sunscreen for you coral-bound travelers!

The time is here! It’s vacation time!!

Now I know while on vacation staying green may not be at the forefront of your mind. My next suggestions however, are very simple!

Suggestion the first: don’t touch that!

When out hiking and being one with nature be sure to keep to marked paths, and keep a safe distance from wildlife. If you’re like us here at the aquarium, you will probably opt for either a snorkel or a dive while on vacation. Be sure to also keep a respectable distance from aquatic life, and never touch those lovely coral reefs you see as they are very sensitive animals.

Suggestion the second: pick up garbage you see.

This may not be the first thing that you want to do on vacation, but it is an important thing to do. I recently visited a tropical resort and was shocked and disappointed by the state of some beaches. The number of straws, plastic cups, bottles and wrappers that littered the beach was heartbreaking. Every day while walking the beach I brought a bag with me to collect what garbage I found. Not only was it great exercise, but I also lent a helping hand to the community and environment.

Travel souvenirs have always been a staple in my family. Even now, as an adult, I’m still excited for my parents to bring me something from their travels. Try to stick to local souvenirs, not only will you help support the local economy, local products have a minimal carbon footprint because they aren’t shipped long distances. One thing to NEVER do is buy wildlife souvenirs. Unfortunately, in many places, illegal wildlife harvesting (poaching) still occurs and unknowing travelers buy into it this way.

Now I have a challenge for you, rather, homework. If you’re travel destination is on a coast, why not take a photo and submit it to COASTWARDS (http://www.coastwards.org/)? Coastwards is using citizen scientists to map out coasts worldwide in an effort to determine their vulnerability to erosion and rising water levels.

There you have it, some quick and easy ways to green up your travels. I’m sure you all have other ways to help.

Why not share them below?

Welcome Home, Mr. Sandbar!

On Wednesday, November 8, 2018, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada welcomed its newest resident: a 6-foot-long, adult male sandbar shark!

But how did we get a 2-metre-long shark into the building, you might ask?

The same way all of our large animals get here. The answer involves a truck (with its own life support system etc.), a crane and the coordination and hard work of our entire husbandry team, in charge of animal care.

Prior to his arrival our sandbar shark was living at the Ripley’s Aquarium holding facility in Buffalo, New York. This facility is a fully-operational aquarium staffed by full-time aquarists (aquarists are aquarium biologists, the team responsible for feeding and caring for our animals), where our animals are cared for while they grow or undergo a period of quarantine before being transported to their final destination at one of our three aquariums.

On that momentous Wednesday, our sandbar shark was loaded from his habitat at the holding facility into a tank on the back of a special Ripley’s moving truck. This mobile tank was not only large enough for him to swim around in during transportation, but was also fully equipped with a life-support system, including huge cylindrical oxygen tanks. Sandbar sharks are obligate ram ventilators, meaning that they push oxygenated water through their mouths and over their gills via the action of swimming in order to breathe. So making sure that our sandbar shark had room to swim in his mobile tank for the duration of the drive from Buffalo to Toronto was important!

After a brief holdup in traffic on Spadina Avenue (have you ever heard of a shark stuck in traffic on Spadina before?), the truck carrying our shark arrived in the early afternoon. Almost our entire husbandry team, including our veterinarian, was on-site and waiting eagerly for his arrival.

When the truck backed into the loading dock at the back of the building, they sprang into action removing the lid and layers covering the shark’s tank. If you have owned a fish before you probably know that once they arrive home, you need to slowly introduce them to their new habitat. The same was done for our new sandbar shark, whereby water from the transport tank was slowly exchanged with water from our Dangerous Lagoon exhibit.

This process took nearly two hours, but when the time came to move him from the truck into the aquarium, the husbandry team had to act quickly.

The shark was safely secured into a body-length net, which was then lifted out of the water by a crane system built into the ceiling of the loading dock and husbandry hallway behind-the-scenes here at the aquarium. From the moment our shark left the water, the aquarists set timers to ensure that he wasn’t out for more than 1 minute. The husbandry team slowly guided him off of the truck and into a waiting mobile tank, already filled with water from the Dangerous Lagoon. He was out of the water for just over 30 seconds.

 

The new tank, now containing our shark, still in the full-body sling net, was secured to the crane system, and then it was off, being slowly guided down the hallway to the acclimation pool, which feeds directly into the Lagoon.

The timers started again as he was lifted out of the mobile tank, and into the acclimation pool. Still in his net, the team set about measuring his length and width, and our veterinarian worked to collect a blood sample.

As the team approached the fifteen-minute mark from the time the shark left the truck – the maximum amount of time our shark could stay in his net – everyone backed away and set him loose in the acclimation pool.

He swam around and around, getting his bearings, and then, just an hour later, watched by our husbandry team and guests alike, he swam out into the Dangerous Lagoon for the first time.

His arrival was met with curiosity from his new neighbours – his every move followed by our school of yellow snappers – but he was soon accepted into the fold, and our smaller male sandbar shark began to swim with him.

The husbandry team congratulated one another on a job well done, and our team from Buffalo got back on the road.

Since his arrival, our newest shark has done just swimmingly (pardon the pun) in his new environment. His journey might have been a long and exciting one, but now he’s home, and we couldn’t be happier.

Canada’s Orcas: Population in Crisis

Canada’s Orcas: Population in Crisis

For many, the orca (or killer whale, which is in fact the largest species of dolphin) is a symbol of the beauty and diversity of the Canadian Pacific.

The Southern Resident orcas live in the Salish Sea between Vancouver Island and Northern California. This group–which is comprised of three pods (J, K and L pods)–is well-known and well-loved in British Columbia. Tourists come from around the world to BC to whale-watch and locals report the annual comings and goings of the whales to research groups.

Unfortunately, this beloved population of whales is currently in crisis.

As of October 2018, there are only 74 Southern Resident orcas remaining

(down 24% from their population high of 98 whales in 1995). In August a mother orca lost her newborn calf to starvation and carried it with her for 17 days. A month later a juvenile male died after growing emaciated and falling behind the rest of his pod. Scientists are now concerned that due to the high mortality and slow reproduction rates among these whales, the Southern Resident population could be facing extinction.

The issues affecting orcas are those affecting many ocean species, but the specialized nature of their diet means that the Southern Residents are especially susceptible.

Other orca ecotypes have a diet comprised of marine mammals and other large prey in addition to fish. But due to their reliance on chinook salmon as a primary food source, the decline of salmon in the Salish Sea (by 60% since 1984) has led to malnutrition and starvation among the Resident population. The salmon are disappearing due to traditional migratory runs being blocked by dams, habitat loss, interbreeding with hatchery fish and overfishing.

In addition to the decline of salmon, the increase in underwater noise in the Salish Sea–due to ship traffic, construction and the use of sonar–has affected the orcas’ ability to hunt using echolocation and communicate effectively with one another while hunting.

Finally, as a top predator, orcas are particularly affected by bioaccumulation from pollution.

When chemicals leak into the ocean, they become concentrated up the food chain (bioaccumulate), meaning that orcas are some of the most contaminated animals on earth. High concentrations can damage reproductive organs and the immune system, as well as cause cancer. Fat-rich milk from mothers then passes that contamination to calves at alarming levels.

What can you do?

Although we don’t have orcas here at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, they are an indicator species–a signal of what is happening to marine life across the planet. The issues affecting orcas are the same ones negatively impacting many of our favourite aquarium species, like sharks, sea turtles and stingrays.

This crisis serves as an example of what can happen when all of these issues compound to affect the health and lifestyles of one species. The ball is already rolling–we have to act quickly to save our orcas and, as a result, the species we know and love at RAOC.

Here’s what you can do to help:

  • Eat Ocean Wise-approved sustainable seafood and skip the salmon
  • Reduce your personal use of single-use plastics, find out how here: link
  • Consider voting for political candidates who prioritize the health of our oceans
  • Choose organic cleaning supplies to help reduce the amount of everyday chemicals finding their way down sink drains and to the ocean

 

Photo

Sources

  1. Carrington, D. (2018, September 27). Orca ‘apocalypse’: Half of killer whales doomed to die from pollution. Retrieved October 11, 2018, from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/sep/27/orca-apocalypse-half-of-killer-whales-doomed-to-die-from-pollution
  2. Center for Whale Research – Orca Conservation. (n.d.). Retrieved October 11, 2018, from https://www.whaleresearch.com/orca-conservation Southern Resident Killer Whales. (2018,
  3. August 28). Retrieved October 11, 2018, from https://www.epa.gov/salish-sea/southern-resident-killer-whales

I’ll Have a Green Christmas

Tis the season…

to shop ‘til you drop, to eat a little more than usual and spend time with loved ones. Personally, I look forward to the holiday season all year. I just can’t get enough of it, the décor, the baking, the quality time with family (pets included!) and friends, it truly is magical. Despite all of the splendor, the holiday season can also be one of the most wasteful times of year. Take a moment to think about all of the waste produced over the holidays: food, wrapping paper, ribbon, bows, cards, the list goes on and on. If you’re looking for small ways to ensure your holiday is a green one you have come to the right place!

Let’s start with the lighting shall we?

In this case, LED is better, or at least more efficient and cheaper. LED lights consume 95% less energy than their incandescent counterparts. On top of that, the lifespan of an LED light is almost 10 times longer, way more bang for your buck if you ask me. Christmas can already be expensive enough, and this hack is a great way to cut costs! Better still, why not have the sun pay your lighting bill for you?! This is easy to achieve by visiting your local hardware store and investing in solar powered outdoor Christmas lights (yes, those exist!).

While we’re on the topic of lights, did you know many people accidently leave their holiday lights on long after they have retired for the night. Now is also a great time to think about investing in a light timer! By having lights on an automatic timer you can toss the responsibility of remembering to turn them off out the window!

Let’s move on and discuss my personal favourite part of the holidays, the tree.

For as long as I can recall getting the tree has been the best part of the holidays. My family would load up our dogs and trek out to the farm to find that perfect tree to decorate. You may be in for a shock if you think artificial trees are the way to go green, it’s actually live trees that are the more sustainable option. Being a petroleum-based plastic product, artificial trees last forever, that’s true. However, after a few holiday seasons they start to show a little wear and tear and are relegated to landfills shortly thereafter. Live trees, as we all know, do wonders for our air quality during the growth process and are grown on specific tree farms where they get re-planted on a regular basis. By selecting a locally grown, live tree you are also not contributing to the carbon emissions that come from shipping over long distances.

Moving on to the act of gift-giving now, why not try to opt for battery-free gifts? About 40% of annual battery purchases occur over the holidays, and batteries (rechargeable or not) can be an environmental hazard if not disposed of properly. If you do choose battery powered gifts, be sure used batteries are dropped off at designated battery disposal sites after use.

When wrapping those thoughtful presents, there are so many options! Between ribbons, wrapping paper, bows and tags, there are so many ways to spruce up their appearance.

Did you know, in Canada, the annual waste produced from gift wrap and shopping bags is close to 54, 500 tonnes? To put that into perspective, consider this: a blue whale (the largest mammal on earth) weighs a mere 200 tonnes in comparison. You can minimize your waste contribution by wrapping gifts in cloth bags, giving new life (as gift wrap!) to old calendars, maps or comic strips or by recycling gift wrap from year to year. Here at the aquarium we make tree ornaments from recycled maps and tickets. Another great hack (which, admittedly I just learned about) is to cut the front of last year’s holiday cards off and re-vamp them into this year’s gift tags!

My final suggestion is something we all probably do far too infrequently. Defrost your freezer! Not only will this make it more energy efficient, it also means you have more room for all those delicious holiday leftovers.

There you have it, some quick and easy ways to join me in making this year’s holiday season a green one!  I’m sure you all have other ways to help. Why not share them below?

5 Unexpected Ways You Can Reduce Your Plastic Use

Our everyday lives are ruled by plastic. It’s in the products we buy, it’s in the packaging we buy those products in and it’s in the bags we use to bring those products home. When we’re done with plastic, at best it can be recycled. But whether through littering or by being placed in the wrong bin, millions of tonnes of plastic end up in our landfills every year. And from there, loose plastic can make its way into our waterways, and ultimately, to the ocean.

Once there, that plastic is deadly to marine life. The bellies of whales are found filled with plastic bags. Fish can become permanently disfigured after getting trapped in six-pack rings. Plastic straws too-often end up choking sea turtles.

And it’s not just marine life that is suffering. Plastics don’t biodegrade (cannot be decomposed by living things). Rather, they break down into ever-smaller pieces called microplastics. Those microplastics are eaten by small organisms such as plankton, which are then consumed by larger organisms such as small fish, and so on and so on. As top predators in some seafood food webs, it is ultimately us that wind up with that plastic in our systems. In fact, in October 2018 a study showed that microplastics are now being found in our poop. That’s just gross!

But don’t despair. As you know, you can make simple changes to your habits, such as carrying a reusable water bottle or using cloth shopping bags, that can greatly reduce your production of plastic waste. And there’s even more you can do to become part of the pollution solution, that you might not have thought of! Read on

  1.  Consider a bamboo toothbrush.
    Over 99% of the toothbrushes in the world are made using non-recyclable plastic (hard plastic for the handle, rubber for the handle and nylon for the bristles). Not only are bamboo toothbrush handles biodegradable, but with its antimicrobial properties, bamboo is a more sanitary alternative to plastic.

  2. Try toothpaste tabs.
    Making the switch from conventional liquid toothpaste to toothpaste tabs reduces plastic use times two. Not only will you be swapping out your toothpaste tube for more sustainable packaging, but many toothpastes with whitening properties contain small, abrasive microbeads, a form of microplastic that washes down the drain and can be consumed by egg-eating animals. Toothpaste tabs come in a solid form and activate into a minty, frothy paste when combined with the water from your (bambo
    o) toothbrush.
  3. Use shampoo bars.
    By switching from conventional liquid shampoos in disposable plastic bottles to shampoo bars you can reduce your plastic use AND save money. Shampoo bars last longer than shampoo bottles, as consumers are less likely to waste product by pouring out more than they need. Bars are also less likely to contain chemicals such as sulfates, which can damage your hair over time. Saving plastic, money and my hair? Sign me up!
  4. Invest in a long-term razor.
    By replacing the disposable plastic in our lives with longer-lasting alternatives we benefit from better-made products that have the potential to save us money in the long-term. Such is the case with the classic safety razor, which requires only the replacement of (recyclable) metal blades rather than the entire razor handle and head. After the initial purchase of a safety razor, blade replacements will run you about $0.50 each.

  5. Make food choices based on packaging
    When it comes to grocery shopping, there are brands that come wrapped in lots of disposable plastic, and others that are packaged with more environmentally-friendly materials, such as cardboard. While it might be difficult to avoid plastics entirely while grocery shopping, making a move toward buying (and not wasting!) fresher products (which require less packaging for long-term freshness) and staples such as detergents in boxes vs bottles can reduce the amount of plastic stocking your cupboards.

The plastic problem in our oceans can seem overwhelming, but we have the power to purchase products that help reduce our environmental footprint, and let companies know (through our dollars and cents) that we care about protecting our planet. Consider making a pledge to lower your plastics use today, and spread the word about it to your family and friends. Check out the hashtag #liveplasticfree online and on social media for more ways in which you can choose to live with less plastic today and every day.

How do you reduce your plastic use? Please share in the comment section!

The Monster Splash: Halloween in the Ocean

Happy Halloween Deep Sea Diary readers! Whether you look forward to Halloween for the jump-scares or for the opportunity to dress up as somebody (or something) else, there’s no doubt that this holiday is full of spooky fun.

While you might choose to seek out monsters at a haunted house or by watching a classic horror movie, we at the aquarium know that you don’t need to look any further than the ocean to find them. The ocean is home to a whole graveyard’s worth of creatures who look as scary as they sound, or who practice behaviours that make them ready for Halloween year ‘round.

Let’s dive deeper and take a look!

GOBLIN SHARK

Brace yourself for this one. The goblin shark is one ugly fish.

The goblin shark is an ancient species of shark identifiable by a flattened snout that juts from the top of its head. Its jaws protrude outward and contain as many as 50 rows of upper teeth and 60 rows of lower teeth.

The goblin shark has a thin body with blood vessels close to the skin, which give it a pink colouration. This is the stuff of nightmares.

Goblin sharks are found globally, at depths between 1,300 and 1,370 metres. They are also known to venture into shallower waters to find prey. Their dietary staples include fish, crustaceans and cephalopods. This slow-moving fish is an ambush predator, meaning it waits patiently for animals to get close before it strikes (easier to do in the murky depths, where it uses electroreception to sense its prey, rather than its small eyes).

 

COFFINFISH

Despite its rather sinister name, the coffinfish is…almost cute. This sea toad (part of the Chaunacidae family, which also contains the anglerfish) looks like a pink balloon covered in tiny spines. Coffinfish live between 274 and 305 metres and are found in the southwestern Pacific Ocean.

The coffinfish uses its pectoral fins to “walk” on the ocean floor (be sure check out its relative, the frogfish, in our Curious Creatures exhibit, who do the same thing) and can fill its body with water to enlarge itself when threatened (similar to some species of pufferfish). Like the anglerfish, it uses a small lure on its head to attract prey.

As far as I can tell, coffinfish get their name from the fact that the inside of their mouths are completely black. Scientists don’t know why, but to the unfortunate fish fooled by their lure, it certainly serves as their final resting place.

FLASHLIGHT FISH

Safety is paramount on Halloween. If you plan on trick-or-treating in the dark, it’s best for you to carry a flashlight or reflectors with you to help you watch your step and alert cars to your presence.

There’s one species of fish at the aquarium that doesn’t have to worry about that, of course. Flashlight fish, also called lantern-eye fish, are three species of fish in the family Anomalopidae characterized by bioluminescent organs below their eyes.

The flashlight fish’s light is created by bioluminescent bacteria. They can create an on-and-off blinking of this light by covering and uncovering it. Scientists believe that this blinking is a form of communication between fish, and used in the detection of prey.

Be sure to swim by and check out the flashlight fish at the aquarium in our Curious Creatures exhibition!

VAMPIRE SQUID

Ah, the vampire squid, or Vampyroteuthis infernalis, whose Latin name translates to “infernal vampire from Hell.” Kind of intense. Originally mistaken for a new species of octopus in 1903, the vampire squid is an ancient species of cephalopod that strangely shares characteristics with both squids and octopodes.

The vampire squid has large fins at the top of its body that resemble ear flaps, but which serve as its primary means of propulsion through the water. Although they grow to only one foot, the vampire squid has the largest eyes relative to its body size of any animal. Depending on the light, these eyes can appear blue…or glowing red!

The vampire squid’s eight arms are connected by a web of skin, which looks like a long cape trailing behind it. When the squid is threatened it can draw its arms over its head to form a spiny defensive web that covers its body.

Using light-producing cells called photophores, the vampire squid can illuminate to create patterns that attract prey or frighten predators. This is similar to other cephalopods, who use chromatophores to change colour, but which would be useless in the dark, deep waters where vampire squid live. The vampire squid also lacks the ink sack used as a defense mechanism by other cephalopods, and can instead eject a cloud of bioluminescent (glowing) mucus from the tips of its arms when threatened.

DECORATOR CRAB

What are you dressing up as this year? Regardless, you’d be hard-pressed to win a costume contest against a decorator crab.

Decorator crabs are a group of crabs belonging to the family Majoidea that collect and use materials from their environment to hide and protect themselves from predators. They stick sedentary animals (animals that don’t move) and plants to the hooks covering their bodies to help them camouflage, and even use venomous decorations such as anemones to ward off predators.

Talk about DIY – everything from algae to seaweed to shells to gravel is fair game when it comes to decorating their shells!

Decorator crabs live in intertidal zones (an area that is underwater at high tide and dry at low tide) and can be found here at the aquarium in our Canadian Waters gallery.

Thanks for joining us in this exploration of Halloween-y sea creatures. Here’s a spooky joke for you:

Q: Why wasn’t there any food left after the deep sea party?
A: Because everyone was a goblin (shark)!

Happy Halloween!

Photos

Goblin Shark (http://fishesofaustralia.net.au/home/species/3254)
Coffinfish (https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/science-blog/mysterious-identity-bright-red-sea-toad)
Vampire Squid (https://www.mbari.org/dream-team-of-scientists-and-aquarists-gives-public-first-view-of-a-live-vampire-squid-and-other-deep-sea-cephalopods/)

Sources

  1. Australian Museum. (2010, January 05). Retrieved October 12, 2018, from https://australianmuseum.net.au/decorator-crab
  2. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2018, January 04). Flashlight fish. Retrieved October 12, 2018, from https://www.britannica.com/animal/flashlight-fish
  3. Jordan, V. (2018, April 05). Mitsukurina owstoni. Retrieved October 12, 2018, from https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/mitsukurina-owstoni/
  4. Knight, J. (n.d.). Vampire Squid. Retrieved October 12, 2018, from http://www.seasky.org/deep-sea/vampire-squid.html
  5. Sain, T., Sr. (2018, August 21). Coffinfish l Amazing Living Balloon. Retrieved October 12, 2018, from https://www.ourbreathingplanet.com/coffinfish/