Wednesday, March 31, 2010

CITES and Sharks - The Sordid History

I wanted to post this earlier while it was still a bit more timely, but then real life got in the way.

The big news last week was the complete smackdown of conservation efforts for marine species at CITES (even the porbeagle, initially thought to be the one success story, got hosed).  The marine blogosphere (including this blog) cried foul; Southern Fried Science gave us the list of failures, and Guilty Planet lamented the inability of policymakers to think of fish as wildlife

It was about this time that I went back to a book I had read a few months ago, Biology and Management of Dogfish Sharks (a great source of info if you like your sharks small and numerous).  Sonja Fordham from the Ocean Conservancy contributed an excellent chapter on the history of dogfish and shark management in both the US and internationally by CITES, and it should be essential reading for anyone interested in the political side of conservation.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Tidewater Recap - Only a Week Late

Last weekend some members of ECU's AFS student unit (including yours truly) headed up to Annapolis, Maryland for the annual meeting of the AFS Tidewater Chapter (which includes fisheries professionals and students from Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina).  Not only was this my first true fisheries conference, but I also gave a poster presentation on my work so far.  Here's a short form recap of the weekend, and a couple (non-incriminating) pictures.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Porbeagles Rejoice!

This porbeagle is psyched.  Photo by Andy Murch.

After the doom and gloom CITES news, it looks like not every animal up for listing got hosed.  News is trickling in that despite the inability of the UN to agree that polar bears need protection, porbeagles managed to make Appendix II.  This is great news for a species that has been in trouble for a long time, even if the Canadian population is starting to annoy some commercial fishermen.  I sure am going to miss bluefin tuna, though...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

CITES Results

The Southern Fried Scientist sums it up rather nicely.

No protection for anything at CITES.

Thanks for comin' out.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Ocean Conservation Smackdown at CITES

The Tidewater meeting went well and I'll have a recap of that soon, but I decided the results of the latest CITES (U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) vote should be commented on first.  Read on to see just how trying it can be to be an ocean conservationist.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Dogfish on Tour

One of the perks of being a grad student is that you're considered professional enough to be sent to conferences in your field.  This weekend I'll be at the annual meeting of the AFS Tidewater chapter in Annapolis, MD.  I'll be giving a poster presentation on my work so far on Thursday night, so if you're attending this event or are in the area stop by and cheer me on or heckle me mercilessly.  Several of my lab-mates and fellow grad students will be there as well presenting their work.

Spring Break: Continental Shelf - Scoreboard and Conclusions

Now that I'm back in NC and (relatively) settled, here's the scoreboard and final thoughts on my time aboard the Bigelow

Friday, March 12, 2010

Sharks vs. Cephalopods - The Battle Continues

A brief intermission from Spring Break: Contintental Shelf (I'll have the final data scoreboard up soon).  I wanted to post on this earlier but was busy puking dogfish.  It looks like more shots have been fired in the never-ending conflict between sharks and cephalopods.

A little history: sharks have long been in conflict with octopi and squid over who gets to be the badass rulers of the ocean.  A certain YouTube video of a Pacific giant octopus taking out a spiny dogfish in an aquarium fanned the flames, though all true elasmophiles know that giant octopus show up frequently in the diets of larger Pacific sharks.  Then Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus was released, and the conflict exploded into full-scale war (at least in my house; I used to room with noted cephalopod freak Matt).  Though Sharktopus may represent a first step in the peacemaking process, the conflict continues unabated.

That's a lot of links.

The latest news from the battlefield is that the shark heavyweight may be regularly taking out the cephalopod heavyweight (tip o' the hat to Dan for the link).  Micheal Domeier has been satellite-tagging great white sharks and has tracked them to an apparently barren part of the Pacific.  However, this area does have a plethora of squid, including the much-feared Architeuthis, and is already utilized as a feeding ground for sperm whales.  The sharks in this area are making deep dives, and at least one massacred giant squid was found floating around. 

As the article points out, Domeier does have a habit of making the most of his screen time, and his methods have been controversial.  However, when it comes to sharks I'm about as fair and balanced as Fox News, so in your face, squid freaks!

Also came the news that the dogfish vs. octopus video was staged.  So sad that cephalopods have to resort to blatant propaganda...

Now that I've thrown around all those fightin' words, what say the cephalopod fans?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Spring Break: Continental Shelf - Day 16 - Heading for Home

Sunrise on the last day of sampling.

Well, all good things must come to an end and Spring Break: Continental Shelf is no exception.  The last sampling station was towed earier this afternoon off of Delaware Bay, and now the Bigelow is steaming back to Newport, where I'm told we'll be docking sometime before lunch tomorrow.  I'll be taking a break hanging out in Newport with some friends for a few days after, so if you're in the Rhode Island area let me know.  

Thanks to everyone who's been reading so far, and do stick around.  There is plenty more red hot spiny dogfish action (not to mention shark-related nerdiness) on the way.  Now that I've collected all this data, it's time to see where it all goes.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Spring Break: Continental Shelf - Day 15 - Winding Down

Sorry about the lack of updates yesterday.  There were two deck tows and all the rest were huge hauls as well.  All I wanted to do after my shift was sleep. 

Also, the last North Carolina station was towed at the beginning of my shift yesterday, which means I've lavaged every dogfish I'm going to get for this cruise.  Now it's time to take stock of the data I've collected, enjoy being a normal volunteer crew member, and catch up on school work (internet access at sea is a double-edged sword).  I've also gotten copies of the raw data from the tows, so I'm already taking a preliminary look at any trends that might be popping up.

So while I relentlessly copy down data, enjoy this picture of the spiny dogfish's jaws of death.


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Spring Break: Continental Shelf: Day 13 - Dogfishpalooza or Dogfishpocalypse?

While the catches heading south in the near-shore stations were dominated by massive, mature females, the trawls heading back north through the offshore stations have hit the mother load.  I've been frantically trying to get data on all the smaller and male sharks while I'm still in North Carolina waters so I can even out the demographics on my study.  Unfortunately there are fewer sampling stations heading north so I'm trying to do more with less while hopefully preventing any one tow from biasing the data. 

Which is tough to do when some of the tows look like this:

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Spring Break: Continental Shelf - Day 12 - Southern Safari

Most of day 12 was spent south of Cape Hatteras trawling some very interesting subtropical species.  With the exception of one tow, spiny dogfish were virtually absent from the area (though when they did decide to show up they showed up in numbers).  Which isn't to say there weren't plenty of other sharks to keep me occupied (see below the jump). 

I was hoping to get some lavages south of Cape Hatteras and wasn't disappointed when the opportunity presented itself.  Though spiny dogs are known as a temperate/cold water species, when in warm waters they'll gladly eat warm water species.  Some of the most interesting and colorful stomach contents were found in that one tow.

Now that we're north of Hatteras we're running into massive schools of dogfish, which are still dominated by mature females but are finally starting to include significant numbers of males.  This provides the opportunity to compare diet by sex within the same school.  Tomorrow will be another long sampling day (and then after that I believe we leave North Carolina waters).

And now that you've suffered through the boring back story, here are the shark pictures:

Friday, March 5, 2010

Spring Break: Continental Shelf - Day 11 - Crossing the Border

Two posts in one day!  Enjoy while it lasts, I may never manage this again.

Today the Bigelow made it past Cape Hatteras to do a little southern sampling.  I'd hoped to get some spiny dogfish diet data from south of the Cape but it appears that at least this far offshore the spiny dogfish switch is set to "off."  This is very interesting given that my own major professor and several of his students have done quite a bit of work on spiny dogfish south of Cape Hatteras.  At least as far as this cruise is concerned, the spinies have been replaced with smooth dogfish.

That said, I managed to get nearly a hundred successful lavages in before crossing south of Hatteras.  The entire fish community really does shift here, and this was exemplified by this first tow in the area, which brought up something completely different...

Spring Break: Continental Shelf - Pictures from Day 10

As promised yesterday, here are pictures from yesterday's sampling fest.  Behold the glory of gastric lavage.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Spring Break: Continental Shelf - Day 10 - Sampling!

Just got off a watch and a half of dogfish sampling, and it was encouragingly productive.  I had been intimidated by the low catches we were getting off of Delaware and north of the Chesapeake Bay but as soon as we crossed the North Carolina state line it was like someone flipped on the dogfish switch.  There haven't been any obnoxiously huge dogfish catches so far, but it has been a comfortably steady 6-17 dogfish per trawl today.  I stayed for a few tows after my shift was over to make sure I had extra coverage for the North Carolina stations.  Here's the scoreboard as of right now:

7 North Carolina stations towed
53 North Carolina dogfish lavaged
17 dissected to gauge efficiency (all others released, some of these were from outside NC waters)
All sharks were females over 70 cm total length

I'll have pictures and commentary up tomorrow (plus a whole new day of sampling), but for now I am beat.  I'll be having visions of spiny dogfish circling my head.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Spring Break: Continental Shelf: Day 9 - Heart of Darkness

The ship is currently hanging out at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay to avoid some weather, so sampling has been suspended for the day.  For a while the seas were among the roughest I've seen, and then when snow started flying I just had to get some pictures.  Even the seasoned members of the crew were making Deadliest Catch references. 

At this point of the cruise I'm starting to feel like Martin Sheen going up the river in Apocalypse Now.  At some point tomorrow we hit North Carolina waters and I get very busy.  I'm hoping that we get a good chunk of the NC stations done during my watch, but that depends on how many Chesapeake stations we have to get through first.  Either way I'm probably going to be up for the entire day tomorrow frantically collecting dogfish puke.  Much coffee will be consumed.  I'll probably be hallucinating by the end.

On the plus side, I've taken the liberty of testing the efficiency of the tube lavage method.  Basically this means that I'm performing lavage on the dogfish already doomed to be sacrificed for the Bigelow's own diet data, and comparing the weight of what I get them to spit up to what's left in the stomach.  After a few minor tweaks I'm getting near-100% efficiency, which is awesome!  We'll see how that holds up when I'm trying to sample 20-30 dogfish per tow in the next couple days.

Nasty weather pictures below the jump.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Spring Break: Continental Shelf - Day 7 - The Dogfish Have Landed

Not a whole lot to update on today, except that spiny dogfish have started showing up in numbers in the trawls.  This is a good sign, as it seems the general trend is that they're getting more abundant as we travel south (we're currently working our way down past Delaware Bay).

Overexposed dogfish.

The interesting thing about the dogfish we've been catching is that so far they've all been nearly fully-grown females.  This goes against what the literature has lead me to expect, since most of the conventional wisdom on dogfish is that the large females are close to shore and the males are offshore where the Bigelow would catch them.  Instead I've seen mostly large, mature females, and these have been more abundant in the offshore samples.  This may have to do with the low water temperature in the New Jersey/Delaware stations, and goes a long way to explain the prevalence of skates in the trawls.  It'll be interesting to see how this breaks down once we get off of North Carolina.