Wednesday, August 26, 2009

One for the road... week, I will be off to an expedition with MBARI in the North Pacific Ocean where I will be blogging with Dr. Craig McClain from Deep-Sea News...

The Echinoblog will be on autopilot with a "Best of the Echinoblog" series...with a link to the MBARI Leg 5 daily blog! (which will be updated daily-sometimes by me!)

In the meantime, courtesy of Neptune Canada, here's a cool video of ophiuroids (looks like Ophiura) feeding!

and a deep-sea bottom community, including crinoids and other deep-sea critters!

2009 Pacific NW Expedition!

Next week.....
My good buddy Craig M over at Deep Sea News and I will be participating in Leg 5 of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute's Expedition to the Pacific Northwest! Craig sez it better then me:
Leg 5 of the expedition focuses on sampling lava flows that erupted during historic time on the Juan de Fuca and Gorda Mid-Ocean Ridges, and comparing them with the surrounding, older flows. Chris and I will be leading the biological sampling focusing on how the communities on older flows vary from those younger flows. We will be trying to address questions such as: How much time is required for a deep-sea community to form? As lava flows become older do the provide new habitats for organisms? How do the species found at volcanic ridges compare to the surrounding seamounts? Overall a great trip. You can follow Chris and I through daily posts and pinpoint our daily location.
Here is roughly where we'll be (departing from Newport, Oregon):
...and hopefully THIS is what we'll be seeing!!
I will be keeping an account via MBARI's blog here. and when I get back, all of my experience will be dumped onto you guys like a bad sofa on the street corner!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Friday Crinoid Video Spectacular!

So..I am still preparing for the cruise next here's videos about crinoids!

Something REALLY special...a brittle star living ON a crinoid... look closely at the dark, black thing humped over the center. (the crinod is red-ophiuroid is black)

Dense crinoid forests from the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary in California!

Swimming Antarctic Crinoids

Pretty nice video of a swimming crinoid in the Philippines...

Monday, August 17, 2009

I'm a biologist! What is there for ME do in San Francisco??

This week after writing a grant, getting two manuscripts off my desk, identifying bunches of starfish, plus a myriad of other echinoderm related tasks, I am taking a BREAK before I head off to Oregon and the North Pacific for some field work (which I will publicize again later this week..but here it is). and am in my hometown of San Francisco with a little time off.

So, other then friends, family and the crisp, bracingly cold beaches of Northern California, what sorts of pleasant distractions does a person with a PhD in starfishes pursue in San Francisco?

1. The California Academy of Sciences
I can almost never get away from this place (my alma mater)! Whether its their new exhibits and state of the art aquarium or my research visits to my colleagues in the Department of Invertebrate Zoology my visits to San Francisco almost always entail dropping in...

2. USED Science Bookstores!! Moe's (Berkeley) & Green Apple Books (San Francisco)

So, ya' looking for used SCIENCE textbooks at reasonable prices? Moe's used bookstore in Berkeley (on Telegraph Ave.) is HUGE and has a science section that has in the past satiated even MY raveous appetite for texts and references on marine biology, evolution, geology, invertebrate zoology and etc. I scored my set of Libbie Hymans' "The Invertebrates" here as well as several others.

The other really big place to score used books is Green Apple on Clement st. in San Francisco. Its not quite as good for science books but you can find a great many deals on used books here as well. And heck..they have OTHER books aside from science!

The Richmond Clement st. area also happens to be one of the most delicious and rich areas to score food in San Francisco. Dim sum, tasty coffees & cakes, Vietnamese sandwiches, and orgasmic pizza are all to be found nearby!

3. FOOD!!
Sushi & Noodles!

So, when I come to San Francisco, I almost inevitably end up having sushi at Ebisu or udon at its sister restaurant Hotei, both on 9th avenue near the Academy. Fresh fish, great service and authentic Japanese cuisine make this one of my favorite places to enjoy sea urchin!! I'm sure there are other great places in the city..but this one always wins in my book!

I grew up in this I am just in LOVE with the different kinds of Pizza you can find in the Sunset on Irving (near the Academy). My favorites include Pasquale's Pizzeria which creates a fresh but thin crust versus the more thick crust Milano Pizzeria. The smells coming out of either of these places sets off my pizza-based pleasure brain receptors! mmmmm....
4. Comic Books!
I always visit my friendly neighborhood comic-book shop when I visit SF. Amazing Fantasy on Irving is another San Francisco tradition and has been in that same location for over 20 years..

After this to Oregon & the North Pacific!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Video Friday! Sea Urchins Galore!

Just some cool videos to carry you over the weekend! Enjoy!

Strongylocentrotus purpuratus in time-lapse FEEDING fest! courtesy of the BBC and with the rich, robust narration of David Attenborough!

..and more Strongylocentrotus from the Channel Islands..

Fire Urchins!

A loveniid or something irregularly urchinish

Saturday, August 8, 2009

This Week in Starfish Comic Books! Acanthaster planci-the Crown of Thorns gets a COVER!

So, this week, starfish were featured prominently in issue #2 of the Boom Comics rendition of Disney Pixar's "Finding Nemo".

Probably the FIRST time that the Crown of Thorns Starfish (Acanthaster planci) has EVER been shown in comic books!! I've written about the Crown of Thorns
and some cool video here.

Acanthaster is shown to be sort of a monstrous eating machine....screaming "Foooooood.."" which is uh..probably not too far from the truth.. But it DOES get to chase around those dumb little orange fish! ha! Take that vertebrates! looks like the artist actually did their homework and did a "picture-real" rendition of at least one color variant (A. planci is actually highly variable in color)
(this pic from Wikipedia)

The mouth left a little to be desired...
Actual mouth: no tongue and canines! Plus Acanthaster would have probably NO interest in eating living clownfish...(from this excellent website on echinoderms from the Gulf of Aqaba)

And finally.... What MAY be Tosia or some other kind of coral-reef type valvatidan asteroid....

with the BEST line EVER!

"Well, the other fish tend to think we're a little strange..."

Could ANY sentence summarize the starfish (and the starfish worker) any better???

Friday, August 7, 2009

Why Sea Pigs (Scotoplanes, and other deep-sea animals) can't be pets!

Sea Pigs
So, the other day, I was tracking down some of the various places (discussion boards, etc.) my "sea pig" posts had ended up and discovered there was a fairly common discussion that seemed to happen.

They usually go like this:

Person: Wow those are adorable! I can't wait to get one to put in my coral reef tank!
Me: Well, you can't really. They live in deep water.
Person: Does that mean I need to get a bigger tank?
Me: *sigh* (sound of hand slapping against forehead), Why can't you make sea pigs pets?? There's MANY reasons. I will completely avoid any of the ethical considerations and emphasize a bunch of facts that will be pretty straightforward...


As I mentioned in my original post on sea pigs  they live in the deepest part of the ocean, the Abyss.
That's in the neighborhood of 3000 to 5000 METERS down. Easily THREE MILES beneath the surface of the ocean where we live.

That's about THREE times the distance from the edge of the Grand Canyon to its deepest point with ONE important difference. Its filled with WATER. And here is where our story begins!

They Live In The Abyss.
So, here's the deal. Sea pigs live in some of the DEEPEST PLACES ON EARTH and they are UNDERWATER.

Everything is different.
  1. There is no light.
  2. Temperature is close to freezing
  3. Because there is WATER, there is PRESSURE. For every 10 m, the pressure increases by ONE ATMOSPHERE. At 3000 m that means you have a pressure that is the roughly the equivalent of 300 atmospheres or about 317 TONS per square foot (US)!
While that means a LOT in the real of the things it means is this:
On the left is a normal styrofoam cup. ON the right is a cup which I took down with me to about 1000 m off the coast of Kona, Hawaii. All the air has been crushed out of it and all you've got remaining is the plastic compressed into a shriveled little husk.

So, What does this mean for the animal??

Sea pigs and other deep-sea animals have EVOLVED to living in these environments over the course of millions of years. That means, almost ALL of their body systems are adapted to working efficiently in this environment under an ideal balance of pressure, temperature and etc.

What seems like a harsh and alien environment to us, is just their natural home. We don't deal well in "their" world any better then they do in ours.

Several reactions of the animal to being brought to the surface include:
  1. Gas sacs (if any) in the body suddenly expanding. 
  2. Body physiology, including digestive enzymes, gas uptake, waste and metabolic systems, autoimmune systems, would all be completely thrown out of balance. 
  3. The animal would undergo thermal shock (from essentially near freezing temps to surface temps) 
Of these my experience, the thermal shock is the most traumatic influence and the one that most immediately damages the animal being drawn through different thermal water layers.
Echinoblog Art Dept!

I've seen very well-equipped laboratories and aquariums collect and keep some of these invertebrates alive for a short while. They manage to minimize the temperature differential and some species lack either the pressure/temperature dependent body metabolism or gas bladders.

But to keep them alive, they were often stored in special custom made, refrigerated tanks that needed to be kept in a completely dark room and constantly watched by several specially trained biologists. A difficult and expensive process.

Feeding is also a difficult process to duplicate. As indicated in my original post,  sea pigs thrive on fresh, high-quality goo, i.e., organic material that falls to the bottom of the ocean floor.

Duplicating the quality of this food would not be easy and even if you came up with something, you wouldn't know if you were successful for literally MONTHS. These things have such slow metabolisms, that they would slowly starve to death and it would be difficult to determine if they were eating.

And finally... COLLECTION of sea pigs is expensive (and near impossible for most people)
(from the Galathea 3 website)
To Recap:  Sea pigs live in DEEP-SEA environments. 
Movies and TV don't often give you a good idea of just how DIFFICULT or EXPENSIVE it is to reach even a 1000 m depth.

If we just talk nets and trawls for example, it can take nearly a FULL DAY just to drop and recover a net to 1000 meters. That generally involves a ship, about a half-dozen fully trained deck hands, plus all the other planning and etc.

Even smaller research vessels, such as this one  cost about 2,000 US Dollars a DAY to operate. Big research vessels, such as the one above can easily run into MUCH more then that. Also, if you're trying to collect them in good shape, you would want to use some kind of submersible (say an ROV) which would cost another 1500-2500 per day. So...shipboard expenses are already running you about 5000.00 or more a day!!!

For most people that's gonna be uh.. "cost prohibitive" for an aquarium pet..

PLUS the expensive of the custom made tanks with refrigeration units (and specialized equipment such as the one below-go here for more) AND finding food. Plus replacing them if you wanted more, not to mention the personnel.
from Popsci-go here for link!
Bottom line: You want a sea pig for a pet? 

Unless you're already a deep-sea biologist, my options to you: If you're not FANTASTICALLY rich... find some models or toys and appreciate the real ones from afar via their pictures and video!

Or get yourself something a little more conventional...cats need love too!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Jury Duty+Summer Lull= SEA CUCUMBER VIDEOS!!! Yay!

So, this week I am stuck with Jury duty and based on the numbers it looks like everyone has left for their various summer fun.

So this week, I offer some cool sea cucumber (cl. holothuroidea) videos!!

Hey Holothurian experts!! Do you know what these are??? Share in the comments!

A "sea apple" feeding

Sea Cucumber Feeding! (from Anilao)

Sea Cucumber Spawning!! (this one from Bonaire)

More Sea Cucumber Spawning! (from Kumejima Island)

A great short clip from "Most Extreme" on Animal Planet