Wednesday, July 25, 2012

TV Review: Bubble Guppies

Nickelodeon has evolved so far since the days when You Can't Do That on Television took the opportunity to slime people every time a cast member uttered the phrase "I don't know".  If you don't recall that show, just know that it is where the infamous Nick-Slime originated.  Now there is an entire series of shows dedicated to preschoolers and even younger children; these are tagged as "Nick JR" programs and have even garnered their own television station.

Since this blog is all about things of the water, I simple could not pass up the chance to address another one of my 3 year old's favorite shows - Bubble Guppies.  The students are all mermaids, so obviously they live under water... right? Well, not exactly.  Those who find themselves completely turned off and annoyed at scientific inaccuracies and cringe at the sight of characters based on household cleaning sponges, here is the short cut: BLOCK this show from your toddler!  They will fall in love with the songs and actually learn wonderful and useful things that will make everyday tasks like brushing teeth so much easier on parents.  At that point, you will never be able to take the show away from them and have these fishy little friends in your life for some time.
Probably the only accurate thing about their teacher, Mr. Grouper, is that he changes colors... but, neon blue?
For those parents who are bit less intense, here you go:
Each episode includes the Bubble Guppies' explorations of everyday life.  They learn about colors and how to care for pets, explore the moon and even go camping.  But they DO NOT behave in any way as though they actually live under water.  Now and again there are bubbles floating around, and every swimming creature has a tail, but none of the physiological rules to being below the water's surface actually apply.

Okay, so yeah, I found the rhino a bit creepy
Consider this TV series just another educational program that is as interesting to a small child as a dancing mouse or singing dinosaur.  If everything your little one watches must be accurate on all accounts, this show will annoy your to tears.  I spent the first season grabbing the remote before my son was engaged in the opening music and wincing every time Bubble Puppy floated by.  But now I see how helpful so many topics are - my son was completely relaxed going to the dentist and the doctor's office for a check up.  He knows all sorts of instruments by name and understands more about dinosaurs than I ever expected for that age.

So here are two different ratings for your reference:
EDUCATIONAL rating: ~~~~ 4 out of 5 waves
AQUATIC ACCURACY (if you are looking for watery education) 0.5~ waves

It is not a show about being underwater, that is just the creative setting chosen by the artists.  Don't let that spoil the fun of an excellent show focused on preschool education.  Now, if they could just do an episode on potty training...

Looking for a run down of the entire program's cast of characters and basic methodology? I recommend a blog post from a cool (if a bit cynical) dad in Ohio:
It's a different view from mine, and worth the short read.

Eventually, I went online to print some coloring pages and Jace hopped, well scrambled is more like it, into my lap the moment the music came on.  We explored the games and he definitely knows how to play "Bubble Pop".  I do NOT let him have unsupervised play with the computer, so it makes for a great play time educational reward where we hang out together.  To discover for yourself: and I highly recommend doing this for the first time on your own to allow for familiarization.  Tough to do with a toddler squealing in one's lap, I assure you.  We also chose to download a few episode to his LeapFrog computer, which is perfectly great for unsupervised play and even better for road trips without a DVD player in the car.

Keep monitoring what your child watches, that is a great habit. But relax and take content into account just as must as context and setting, otherwise most of the cartoons out there will simply not make the cut.

Just keep swimming... just keep swimming... Finding Nemo is coming back out in September.. in 3D!
I'll be there!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Back on Turtle Beach

Like most Florida residents, I moved here from somewhere else - somewhere quite different. I didn't come here for the endless summer, but the sand and saltwater were directly related to my pilgrimage from the heart of the Bible belt to the east coast, the crust of the New World and the beginning of mine.

As a kid I was in awe of Shamu and inspired by every bleached out sea star in the gift shops of Hawaii.  I was fortunate enough to go there as an enthusiastic 11 yr old and nearly went blind on that 2 week trip, staring at the ocean horizon; not daring to blink lest I miss a humpback whale sighting. Even then I knew that April was past season and their migration to the cold waters of Alaska had already begun-  they were long gone.  Still, I stared endlessly and used my allowance money to buy a t-shirt with a very friendly sunglass-wearing humpback cheerfully displaying the false impression that I had actually seen a whale for myself 

Florida, despite its lack of humpback whales, was still the ocean and I jumped at the chance to move over 1500 miles from everyone and everything I knew just to be near it.  Following one opportunity to the next landed me working on the beach doing sea turtle research. This immersion commanded my attention both professionally and recreationally for nearly 10 years.  From nesting to rehabilitation, through live capture and necropsies on the dead, sea turtles has been so integrated in my life that I can honestly say, "been there, done that, got the tattoo." 

Last week I found myself back on the beach recently with another college buddy, Donna.  Scheduling conflicts and a toddler kept me off sea turtle nesting surveys (this year) but I was able to capture this moment and remember why I love the world of turtles and find the process of nesting surveys on the beach so restorative.  As an educator, it would be easy to carry on about sea turtles indefinitely, and anyone who has known me for more than 5 minutes would probably attest to that fact.  There will be more on turtles in the future on this pages, but today I want to talk about one day and one survey.

Sea turtles live in the ocean. That might seem like a silly thing to mention, but I have seen people trying to raise them in chlorinated swimming pools and release poor freshwater sliders on the beach.  Marine turtles have such rare contact with land that it can be pinpointed to just a few reasons:

Perfect loggerhead nest fresh from the previous night
1. They are born on the beach, but immediately go to the water if healthy
2.  Females return as close as possible to the beach of their birth to lay their own eggs
3.  Unfortunate turtles wash ashore when injured or seriously ill
4.  There are always exemptions found in nature. For instance, green sea turtles, both male and female, have been documented basking on the rocky shores in areas of Hawaii. Have NOT seen that on my excursions to the islands, but have seen plenty of pictures and spoken to scientists and witnesses about it.

Sea turtle nesting surveys require permitting, training, and getting dirty.  Since marine turtles are all protected by the Endangered Species Act, not just anyone can go running out on the beach at dawn and go digging around. The survey consists of 3 major situations: nests, false crawls (aka non-nesting emergence if you want to sound technical), and hatch outs.  The last involves the end of incubation when live hatchlings (baby turtles) emerge from the nest and head for the water. This particular survey did not have any new hatch outs.

Donna and I arrived on the beach prior to sunrise, but when the sun finally started to peek out from the clouds we had already been walking and rained on for awhile.  Years ago, prior to becoming pregnant with my now 3 yr old son, I dragged my "I am SO not a morning person" friend out on to a totally different beach at dawn to volunteer on a 2 mile stretch not far from this day's survey.  While walking along we chatted lightly about turtle work in the past and how our lives have shifted, yet here we are again, back on the beach tracking the trails left behind by living dinosaurs.  Awesome.  It was almost surreal this time, though, as she was the lead on this survey, instructing me on how this beach is run. The methods and tracking vary with permit, and it was very cool to be trained by someone that I had trained in the past.  Then Donna said perhaps the greatest compliment I have heard this year... she thanked me for introducing her to sea turtles.

Just like me, D finds the long beach walks cathartic and prime time for self-reflection.  Since conservation work is happening at the same time, one often walks away from the beach feeling productive on a professional and emotional level.  C'mon, it's such a great feeling to know you are doing something for the greater good of the planet and pardon my lofty enthusiasm, but saving the world one species at a time also provides those warm fuzzies which drive humans to do many great things.
This False Crawl is a direct result of the turtle hitting a large sea wall.
Okay, the warm fuzzies have officially cooled off and now here are some real facts about sea turtles for you to enjoy!  Of the 7 species of sea turtles found on this planet (many scientists discuss an 8th, the black sea turtle but that is a discussion that merits its own entry - so I am going with tradition and the Sea Turtle Conservancy on this one), 5 are found in or around Florida's coasts and 3 of those have significant nesting here: loggerhead (Caretta caretta), green (Chelonia mydas), and leatherback (Dermochelys coriacia). 

Textbook green sea turtle track

In Florida, the turtle nesting season technically runs from March 1 - Oct 31, but the height of season is June 1 - August 31. Donna and I were greeted by both loggerhead and green turtle crawls on this day.
Loggerhead crawls are characterized by comma-shaped tracks
Any time a sea turtle comes ashore and does not nest, it is considered a false crawl or non-nesting emergence and can happen for a variety of reasons. Something may have startled the turtle (human or otherwise), or maybe she just digs for a bit and simply doesn't like the quality of the sand and changes her mind - a woman's prerogative after all.

Green turtle tracks look very similar to large tractor tire tracks (see above) and generally range from about 3-4' across.  These mature ladies start at 300 lbs, so they are using all 4 flippers to hoist their bodies up the sand  The center line seen in the photo I took on this survey shows the tail dragging in the sand as she moved back to the water.

Loggerhead turtles are smaller and crawl very differently.  They have an alternating gate, like how human babies typically crawl around with one limb forward at a time.  The comma-shaped flipper marks are made by the back flippers, so the track pictured here is moving to the left. The back flipper track basically covers up the front track, which makes it easy to spot a "stumpy" turtle - one with a short or missing back flipper.  It happens, and while the egg chamber may look odd, these injured turtles can still have successful nests.
This loggerhead nested right next to a large stack of folding beach chairs, so we tri-staked the area to keep it from getting consistently trampled for the next 2 months.
In addition to marking new nests and taking notes of false crawls, we were keeping an eye out for hatched nests.  Roughly 60 days after the nest is laid, all of the eggs hatch and the baby turtles emerge from the nest as a group. This usually happens at night, so a mass of tangled tiny track marks can be seen the following day.  I do not suggest sitting next to a nest all night long exactly 60 days after it was laid in the hopes of seeing a natural hatch out.  I have personally spoken to people who had "been walking this beach for 40 years" and never seen one, and also a family from Indiana that had arrived the previous night/morning on a red eye flight, checked in to their hotel and walked out on to the beach to see the little critters everywhere.  It's like roulette, and all about luck.
I never get tired of beach work!... although I do smell pretty bad when I get home

Part of the survey includes excavations.  Digging up a hatched out nest yields extremely valuable scientific data. Loggerhead nests (what we dug this time) are usually about 2 feet deep overall and shaped like an upside down light bulb.  The hatchlings move around in the bowl portion and since you have 75 - 100 of them moving around down there, the sand packed into the shaft by momma breaks away and filters down under the babies.  This process slowly pushes everybody up in one chaotic group, but sometimes the dudes at the bottom of the pile get left behind, but don't worry - we find 'em later and set them free after taking complete inventory of the nest contents.
Excavation & inventory take place 3 days after hatch out to allow nature to take its own course
We finished the morning after 3+ hours with 3 loggerhead nests, 1 green nest, and a couple of loggerhead false crawls. We excavated 2 loggerhead nests, and ended up with 7 live guys that all went to the ocean quickly. Not a crazy day considering this is a record nesting season for loggerhead turtles across the state, but no nests washed away, no poaching, and no natural predators destroying nests so I would still call it a productive and positive day for turtles.

Happy Birthday! to this little loggerhead hatchling
Since my passion for sea turtles does run so deep, expect to see plenty of photos from past excursions emerge on to the blog.  Going back out for one morning reminded me of how amazing the experiences have been, and that I documented so many of them with photos and videos!

Even if its raining, don't be afraid to go to the beach.  At least it won't be crowded! (now, lightning is a different story and use that big beautiful brain of yours when it comes to playing safe) Dig through those old photos and take a moment to reminisce about those adventures that truly shaped your life.

And, if you aren't sick of sea turtles yet... stay tuned!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Jellyfish Bio 101: Local Identification, Local Research

When approaching the final few semesters of college, I began to lament the fact that I didn't have that typical group of "College Buddies" like those so important to the plot lines in a generic comedic movie. Very few of my family members actually went to college, so I knew people with "High School Buddies" and still have several of those myself - but the feeling that I had missed out on some beautiful part of the college experience was looming in the rafters.

Then, I seized the opportunity to live, eat, and breathe marine science at one of the most ground breaking facilities in the world with a group of 9 other similarly minded individuals as part of the Semester by the Sea program at the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute. While I could easily blog for a year about the adventures and experiences had during that pivotal time in my education (and when I find those photos I will do just that!), I would like to focus on one specific colleage, Evan Orellana. We learned to surf together, although he pursued it with passion and I plateaued quickly, and I consider him a life-long "college buddy" for sure.

Evan, without the promises of post-graduate bliss, also championed his own research on one of the local invasive species - the Tripedalia cystophora species of box jellyfish.  The box jellyfish is famous for A) having an extremely painful sting and B) being found in Australia.  There are actually several different species in the Cubozoa family, and 3... well, now 4 are found here in south Florida.
This newest invader is only one of several species of box jellies
So, today is a quick lesson on jellyfish.  This post will cover many species found here in south Florida but also provide information on the jellyfish life cycle, and perhaps more interestingly how they sting.  Yes, there will also be notes on what to do when stung by various types of jellies ranging from sea lice to the Portuguese man o' war.  The photos included in this segment come straight from the scientist buddy mentioned before, Evan Orellana, from his exceptional presention that he has already given at a variety of venues.  We have deemed him "the Jelly Man" as a tribute from the awesome title given to Marlin in Finding Nemo after he cleared a serious jellyfish bloom.

Jellyfish Biology 101: 
Disclaimer - These facts are the basics and a generalization of jellyfish species.  This will help you understand what you see in the water and on the beach. While well researched and accurate, I do not recommend this as a short cut for writing your own biology paper. If you are a biology major or want to know the real details about Evan's research, additional information about the paper can be found at the end of the blog post. Now that portion is something you can reference with your research papers, but please be sure to give credit where it is due and not refer to this blog as the original publication. To see his abstract jump to

On to the fun!
The jellyfish is not actually a fish. These invertebrates are generally characterized by a dome shaped "bell" and tentacles bearing stinging nematocyst. They are an ancient species with evidence in the fossil record dating back to the Cambrian era (570-505 million years ago).  The "medusa" is a stage in the jellyfish life cycle, and the first image brought to mind when you think "jellyfish".
Jellies use both asexual and sexual reproduction - smart move for an animal with no brain.
To put the above diagram in basic terms, jellyfish start out as polyps, very similar to corals.  They "bud" off into a floating form that eventually grows into the medusa we all recognize. The second reproductive stage yields planktonic planula that settle on a substrate (ideally a sold location like a rock) and then grow into a polyp. Cool, huh? Way simpler than that frog life cycle you had to learn back in high school bio.
The infamous stinging portion of a jellyfish is called the "nematocyst" and is located on the tentacles. These are used for capturing prey like tiny fish. Since jellyfish are so delicate, paralyzing their food is essential to avoid being torn up while trying to eat dinner.  The above diagram shows the stinging cells coiled up inside the nematocyst. When triggered, usually by contact, the nematocyst fires and shoots the thread out where it attaches to the victim.

This view of a tentacle up close shows thousands of tiny dots crammed into the larger casing. Think of it as yarn when bound up tightly, making it nice and compact while allowing for easy access.
The second close-up hones in on individual nematocysts, and the coiled up threads are still very active and waiting to fire.  This is why finding a jellyfish on the beach, live or dead, can be able to sting! Those cells are still under tension and will fire upon contact.

HINT: Don't pick up a jellyfish when it washes ashore just to show your friends or family. Walk them over to where you found it and just point. Plus, now they will know what to avoid while on a nice beach walk.

So, what does one do when stung? Going back to basic chemistry, think of how acids and bases can neutralize each other.  To offset the burning from a jellyfish sting, here are the most common treatments and why they work (or maybe don't):
1. Ammonia is weak base (11.6 on the pH scale), and it is also what gives cat urine that oh-so identifiable stench. Many are told to pee on a jellyfish sting, but this is not usually very affective.
2. Vinegar is a very strong acetic acid, so it doesn't burn skin. With a pH of around 2.4, vinegar is acidic enough to neutralize the jellyfish venom. Yay! And it still smells better than pee. I have learned from personal experience that the type of vinegar doesn't seem to matter; this includes using the vinegar condiments right off the table at a BBQ place in the keys - still worked!
3. Perhaps the WORST thing you can do is douse the sting in COLD FRESHwater. This causes any nematocysts still on the skin to fire like crazy. Saltwater will not make the stingers release, but this also does not help with the pain if you have already been stung. HOT or very warm freshwater does do the trick. When snorkeling virtually everyday, we would place a large jug of tap water on the beach; by the time we exited the water, it was nice and toasty.  Rinsing off with this water relieved my husband's jellyfish stings (usually man o' war, sea lice, or moon jelly) but prevented any outbreaks from sea lice when washing off at the cold freshwater stations near the bathrooms.
NOTE: Individuals may react quite differently to jellyfish stings depending on the severity and quantity. Serious allergic reactions may occur.  Tell-tale signs include tightness of chest and/or shortness of breath. In this case, call 9-1-1. Simple topical treatment of the whelps will not be enough.  If there is swelling and pain, but no trouble breathing, just calm down.  Boat captains/dive masters and lifeguards deal with this everyday and should be perfectly capable of helping.

Years ago, a friend in the Florida Keys had a very sweet mutt that she would take to the beach.  One such visit resulted in her poor little dog getting wrapped up in a Portuguese man-o-war and the tentacles became very tangled in its fur. She rushed her dog to the vet where they gave steroid shots and diphenhydramine (benadryl/major ingredient in anti-allergy meds and tylenol pm as a sleep aid).  After waking that evening, the dog started shrieking and her owner repeated the process. At work the following day she was in tears and at a loss on what to do. "Give her a vinegar bath, just use the cheap stuff", I advised. Sure enough, she returned home and quickly had a very happy and pain free dog (although the smell of wet dog and salad dressing seems like olfactory overload to me).
Jellyfish are amazing and found world wide. They are microscopic but also over 20 feet long, can be found in the deep ocean with striking bioluminescence and even reside in freshwater coves.  It would be easy to spend a career striving to understand and appreciate the diversity of these animals, but this snap shot of identifications will at least help improve your beach walk and snorkeling on the east coast of Florida.
True jellies are Cnidarians (phylum). Locally some of the most common species are pictured below. Just check out the caption for identification:
Upside down jellyfish (discussed further in the 7/12 blog posting)
The Moon Jelly is extremely common and quite beautiful in the water.

Moon Jellyfish often wash ashore and can still sting despite the short tentacles

True Jellyfish are Scyphozoans

The thimble jellyfish is more commonly known as "sea lice"

Sea lice is actually the thimble jellyfish. This true jelly is very common in our waters, and it is the smaller medusa stage in the life cycle (see diagram noted earlier) before the animal reaches sexual maturity that has the uncanny ability to sting all along the edges of one's swimsuit. The thimble jelly is one of the 4 different species of box jellyfish found in Florida waters now. Just look at the box-like shape of its body to figure why it is considered a Cubozoan.
A "true" jelly is defined by how it buds off from the polyp.  While in this phase of reproduction, true jellyfish are stacked on top of each other like miniature stinging pancakes and the animal at the top of the stack is released in succession.

The fabulous and colorful comb jelly has no stinging nematocysts. They are Ctenophores, not Cnidarians
Also not "true" jellies, these species are generally harmless to humans. Their stinging cells are usually not strong enough to break through the skin... Man-o-War EXCLUDED of course.
When on the beach, check out the conditions board before crossing the dune. If jellies have been washing ashore in significant quantities, a warning should be posted. Also look at the lifeguard tower's flags - PURPLE flag = jellyfish sighted that day in the area.  While walking along, particularly after a night of rough seas, there will probably be all sorts of cool things washed up with the sea weed.  Sometimes large wads of "sea snot" might be mistaken for a jellyfish. When in doubt, don't pick it up; but if you still are willing to take the risk, the ball of clear gelatinous goo that has no tentacles, striations or body structure is actually the feeding sack of a tube worm. These little critters create sticky snot-like balloons to catch bits of plankton and algae for the worm to eat without having to leave the safety of its hole. These balloons get tattered and break away, or the worm might just release them as a quick clean up when the in-laws are coming to visit unannounced. They have no nematocysts and cannot harm humans... unless you tried to eat one, but then maybe that person should get nauseated. This last bit of information is speculation. NO WAY am I gonna test that theory and neither should your toddler.

Not all creatures are susceptible to the jelly's sting. Sea turtles, for instance, are one of many ocean dwellers that use jellyfish as a major food source. While all species of sea turtle will eat jellies, they are the primary food source for the leatherback in particular. So the largest of all marine turtles, often weighing up to 1,000 lbs, survives solely on an animal that mostly water (95-98% depending on the resource)!

Another term commonly attached to the jellyfish, particularly in the media, is the "bloom".  Many different species of jellyfish are known to suddenly aggregate in abnormally high densities. This can be caused by removing the major predators in an area (leatherback turtles, for instance, are critically endangered) but also by environmental changes such as nutrient run off from the land into the sea, or by significant climate changes. Higher ocean temperatures have also been correlated to large jellyfish blooms in areas like the Gulf of Mexico.

Okay, the following is the abstract to Evan Orellana's actual published work. The topic of invasive species are finally gaining some general public interest, but the realization that exotics often end up in the wrong ecosystem without having been introduced as a pet (i.e. pythons in the Everglades) has not quite set in.  Marine exotics are a particular problem because all life on earth needs water, and when the balance of health is compromised starting with the water resources for an environment, serious problems may take hold quickly and be extremely difficult to control.  Prior to Orellana's findings, only 3 species of Cubozoans (box jellyfish) were found in south Florida; the addtion of a 4th is significant.  Even now this species is being spotted further north in Florida, so his research continues and we will follow his work closely.  (I did have some formatting issues while transferring the pdf into this post. While all of the information is verbatim, I might have missed some italicizes here and there. My apologies) Enjoy!

First report of the box jellyfish  Tripedalia cystophora (Cubozoa: Tripedaliidae) in the continental USA, from Lake Wyman, Boca Raton, Florida">

Marine Biodiversity Records, page 1 of 3. # Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 2011  doi:10.1017/S1755267211000133; Vol. 4; e54; 2011 Published online
First report of the box jellyfish Tripedalia cystophora (Cubozoa: Tripedaliidae) in the continental USA, from Lake Wyman, Boca Raton, Florida

Gumbo Limbo Nature Centre, 1801 North Ocean Boulevard, Boca Raton, FL 33432, USA, 2NMFS, National Systematics Laboratory, National Museum of Natural History, MRC-153, Smithsonian Institution, PO Box 37012, Washington, DC 20013-7012, USA

A male specimen of Tripedalia cystophora (Cubozoa: Tripedaliidae) was collected from Lake Wyman, Boca Raton, Florida, USA. This is the first report of this species from the continental United States and brings the total known number of cubozoan species living in this region to four. Lake Wyman is a natural lagoon/estuary ecosystem which is part of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. The box jellyfish was found in shallow water around the roots of the red mangrove, Rhizophora mangle, where it was observed feeding on copepods attracted to light. This finding may indicate a local population in the waters of south Florida, USA, but an isolated occurrence cannot be ruled out.
Keywords: Cubomedusae
Submitted 5 May 2010; accepted 21 January 2011


Bentlage B., Cartwright P., Yanagihara A.A., Lewis C., Richards G.S. and Collins A.G. (2010) Evolution of box jellyfish (Cnidaria: Cubozoa), a group of highly toxic invertebrates. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 277, 493–501.
Calder D.R. (2009) Cubozoan and scyphozoan jellyfishes of the Carolinian biogeographic province, southeastern USA. Department of Natural History, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, ON, Canada.
Coates M.M. (2003) Visual ecology and functional morphology of Cubozoa (Cnidaria). Integrative and Comparative Biology 43, 542–548.
Collins A.G., Bentlage B., Gillan W., Lynn T.H., Morandini A.C. and Marques A.C. (2011) Naming the Bonaire banded box jelly, Tamoya ohboy, n. sp. (Cnidaria: Cubozoa: Carybdeida: Tamoyidae). Zootaxa 2753, 53–68.
Conant F.S. (1897) Notes on the Cubomedusae. Johns Hopkins University Circulars 132, 8–10.
Daly M., Brugler M.R., Cartwright P., Collins A.G., Dawson M.N., France S.C., McFadden C.S., Opresko D.M., Rodriguez E., Romano S. and Stake J. (2007) The Phylum Cnidaria: a review of phylogenetic patterns and diversity 300 years after Linnaeus. Zootaxa 1668, 127–182.
Gershwin L.A. (2005) Taxonomy and phylogeny of Australian Cubozoa. PhD thesis. School of Marine Biology and Aquaculture, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland, Australia.
Migotto A.E., Marques A.C., Morandini A.C. and Silveira F.L. da (2002) Checklist of the Cnidaria Medusozoa of Brazil. Biota Neotropica 21–31.
Nilsson D.E., Gislen L., Coates M.M., Skogh C. and Garm A. (2005) Advanced optics in a jellyfish eye. Nature 435, 201–205.
O¨stman C. (2000) A guideline to nematocyst nomenclature and classification, and some notes on the systematic value of nematocysts. Scientia Marina 64, Supplement 1, 31–46. Stewart S. (1996) Field behavior of Tripedalia cystophora (Class Cubozoa). Marine and Freshwater Behaviour and Physiology 27, 175–188.

Werner B. (1973) Spermatozeugmen und Paarungsverhalten bei Tripedalia cystophora (Cubomedusae). Spermatozeugmata and mating behavior in Tripedalia cystophora (Cubomedusae). Marine Biology 18, 212–217. [In German, with English abstract.]Correspondence should be addressed to:
E.R. Orellana
Gumbo Limbo Nature Centre
1801 North Ocean Boulevard
Boca Raton
FL 33432, USA

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Monterey Bay Aquarium & "The Jellyfish Experience"

While in California this past April, we knew that the Monterey Bay Aquarium was a must see. I am fortunate that my husband not only tolerates my requirement of seeing every zoo and aquarium available wherever we go, but he enjoys them as well.  Our perspectives are often quite different, but just because I have a marine science background and also have spend innumerable hours in classrooms both at the front and in the seats it does not mean he isn't embracing the experience as well. Quite often it is this outside point of view that keeps me light and happy instead of locked into the left brain that interrupts fun with quips of how this might be inaccurate or that might not be how I would have expressed information. Whatever, dude!  Sometimes just enjoying the beauty and retaining that open excitement is what makes for the best memories and even better stories later in life.
 When we arrived there were some major factors to be considered on this trip:
1) We were traveling with a 2 year old who requires naps in order to avoid becoming a whining terror.
2) We were traveling with Grandma and Grandpa who aren't necessarily as enthusiastic about all things aquatic like myself.
These might seem like simple speed bumps to the single and those without children, but to anyone who has truly tackled family trips across the country will understand my dilemmas.
So we managed to find the perfect way to experience the Monterey Bay Aquarium even with the previously mentioned hurdles.  We stayed in a lovely resort that had a concierge and a package deal - get your tickets through the hotel and receive 2 days for the price of 1!! This means that on the first day we were not running around like maniacs trying to experience every little detail of the facility, and not having to rush around is a priceless perk rarely enjoyed when a toddler is involved.  This particular blog entry is chocked full of photos, so take your time and enjoy the captions!

For better details on the actual size and structure of the Monterey Bay Aquarium exhibits, check out their website:
because, seriously, I could drag on for days about the details I did witness and weeks about speculations on animal husbandry, staff interactions, and exhibit design.  Instead I choose to focus on the experience itself, particularly for a marine biologist and mom who just thrilled to check a box off on the overall bucket list. I must add that this checked box now has an *asterisk next to it to ensure that someday I return. (my list never seems to shrink...)

The first 2 photographs were taken of the same exhibit, a live kelp forest. It was one of the most spectacular of the day(s). Being an Atlantic coast baby, algae is so incredibly different in my local ocean world, and having worked with aquaria including live marine plants and algae, I was absolutely stunned by the magnitude of these 20' strands of slow waving habitat. The Kelp Forest has 2 different viewing levels, and just like virtually every exhibit in the place, an interactive component to help identify the fish and other animals living inside. This computer program passed the toddler test for entertainment/education as well!

The newest exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium (MBA) is "The Jellies Experience", which opened on March 31st, 2012.  We visited the Wednesday after opening weekend and were extremely privileged to be some of the first visitors to take it all in. The following are some highlights of the "Experience" for us.
Cassiopeia, the upside-down jellyfish, is my personal favorite
The upside-down jellyfish is precisely that - they swim right side up (which means the bell of the animal pulses to produce a small bit of forward thrust) but settle on the bottom with the tentacles reaching up to the surface.  This is because there is symbiotic algae growing on the tentacles! The green strands on the jellies pictured above are clumps of that algae.  These jellies can still sting, but are not as severe as the more famous stinging nettles, etc.
Jace sitting on the "bell" of a harmless jelly
The Jelly Experience is a very dark space but filled with black lights and glowing displays.  While I personally didn't care for the psychedelic theme of the overall experience, each individual aquarium and educational exhibit was remarkable. Even the large jellies that children (and adults) could climb and sit upon was a fun and different way to sit and enjoy the animals.
fascinated by the few black jellies sprinkled throughout this tank
The tanks were all shapes and sizes from tiny and planktonic, filled with baby jellies, to huge and bulbous, giving wonderful 3D views of them swimming.  After speaking with a variety of professional aquarist, the jellyfish exhibits are some of the hardest to maintain since the animals are so delicate - but one would never get that impression from the scope and scale of MBA's jelly world. I also appreciated the special walk-thru light up "combs" in the area focusing comb jelly. Since comb jellies aren't a true jellyfish (neither is the man-o-war, by the way) I was pleasantly surprised to find them there anyway.
Jacen's finger painted jelly goes for a swim on the interactive wall of jellies
From light shows to tunnels, there was a striking amount of fun things for a toddler to do! Above is a unique interactive exhibit that had several consoles where anyone could use their fingers to create a personal jellyfish that literally swims across the screen / tank for all to see! Once you get the "big" kids to share it was pretty cool. This ended up being a great lesson for Jace in "waiting your turn".
Lots and lots of Touch Tanks!
The Touch Tank is such a part of my history as an environmental educator, that there is no way we are passing up the chance to interact with some cool critters. From large decorator crabs to knobby sea stars, our 2 year old was ready to meet them all!  I lost count at the number of touch tanks found in several different locations throughout the Aquarium.  They were all well manned and OPEN!  The volunteers and staff from the scheduled talks to the gift shop had something very interesting in common - a GREAT ATTITUDE!  There were people everywhere and speaking all languages, yet each member of the MBA crew remained pleasant and information while keeping a wonderfully relaxed demeanor.  The impression that everyone actually wanted to be there is vital to the presentation of the entire center.

Another cool aspect of the MBA is that the facility was an old cannery, so the architectural lay out of the facility is not in a traditional style. I sincerely wish our camera batteries hadn't died while visiting because some of the original equipment was still in place to commemorate the history of the Monterey Bay and its interactions with the humans that rely upon it. Alas, I do not have those photos.
Love the intensity of my little pirate scouting the horizon
One the second day of our adventure, we explored the even more toddler friendly areas that included floating play-type interactions about tidal shifts and a wondrous viewing area of the Monterey Bay itself.
Jacen's reaction when we told him we were going back to the Aquarium the next day. The quote: "Holy Cow!" he says.
I was so relieved about day 2 partly because we had skipped the entire wing of the seahorse area in order to avoid skipping nap time.  Maybe I simply have a soft spot for those delicate creatures of the undersea grasslands, but it there were much more than sea dragons in this place!

Just as expansive and thorough as The Jellyfish Experience, we found the sea horses to be fascinating. Still dark in many areas, there was plenty of room to walk around and look at displays without feeling crowded.  A significant feat for any busy aquarium.  I liked that so many aquaria were low enough to the ground that a toddler could look at the animals without having to climb an adult or part of the exhibit.
As part of the interactive play, Jace and I took on the role of a sea horse hiding from predatory fish by changing our color or hiding in the colorful habitat.
Having large scale sea horses to interact with created far more than a great photo-op, it allowed for a personal interaction with a creature that is far to sensitive to live in a Touch Tank.
How do I get one of these for my ceiling at home?
 From the variety of whale and shark species (replicas, don't worry) hanging from the ceilings to the open atmosphere and giant windows viewing the Monterey Bay, this Aquarium not only met the very high expectations that had been building in my mind since I was a child, but surpassed it and left us more than grateful that a second day was available for us to continue our explorations.

So, if you do plan on exploring the Monterey Bay Aquarium, show up early for multiple reasons: parking is tricky if you don't know the area or aren't staying within walking distance.  Take your entire party into consideration; when traveling with those who will struggle with a long walk or need a nap after a few hours, you might need to take a second day if the plan is to actually see and experience everything.  If you want to spend an hour with the otters, plan for that too - it is easy to spend a entire day in this exceptional place.

While I know you wouldn't skip something on your bucket list when the opportunity arises, but be sure to give adequate time to fully embrace that experience too. Don't always cut corners when it comes to yourself!

Monday, July 2, 2012

SUP - Bridging the Generation Gap

That's right! Back out on stand up paddleboards (SUP) - again!

Today we went out once again with Jupiter Point Paddling, this time by Grandpa's special request. As a unique Father's Day gift, my mid-sixties father-in-law joined us a few weeks ago to try something new. After hearing my own mother relay her experience (see 6/16/12 post) with smiles and laughter, he was very interested in trying this out for himself. The initial outing for dad's day had a strong current, but he was ready to stand up after only a few minutes on the board. The SUPs we use with JPP have a soft grip section on the surface referred to as "topped".  This allows for better balance without tearing up your feet - awesome for beginners and, let's be honest, general comfort.
Standing up in no time, Grandpa!
 As always, our toddler joined us too. Jace sits on the front of a 12' SUP with Daddy standing in the middle doing to the real work.  He has a blast dragging his hands or legs in the water, pointing out fish, birds and boats, and we do take swim breaks on a fabulous sandbar in the middle of the intracoastal or simply beach the boards at a secluded spot to play on the sand and in the water.  It is easy to maneuver into areas no jet ski shall tread, and nowhere near as strenuous as pulling a canoe or kayak out of the water.  Our little guy just turned 3 years old and is becoming quite the SUP pro; today he instructed his father to sit down while he paddled.  Though he tired of that quickly and passed the paddle back, the site was so cute I nearly fell off the SUP laughing and he was rewarded with a juice box on this rather hot day.
SUP and Sip!
 The temperature was 85-90 °F, but the heat index was actually 104 °F, and we have learned to utilize the bungees on the SUP (in the right hand corner of the above photo) to do more than hold a lifejacket.  Now we take a small cooler with us as a reminder to DRINK WATER while out and about.  Jumping in the water will cool you off, but the heat and saltwater are pushing dehydration on all who dare come out to play - and besides, taking the extra time to slow down and enjoy the experience is a great excuse to have a drink.
3 different generations on the water
I mentioned before this was a return to stand up paddleboarding with Grandpa; the first outing weeks ago was such a fun and new experience that Grandma said he talked about it incessantly and even mapped out his firefighter son's schedule in order to find the nearest opportunity for everyone to go again.  This trip was on such short notice, manager Cynthia actually loaned out her personal board just so we could all go!  When I asked Grandpa what his favorite part of SUP-ing is he said, "Just taking it easy, enjoying the water, and taking it all in for a change."  That is alot to say from a man of few words.
Taking it easy and taking it all in
As today's adventure was coming to a close, we turned around and the wind decided it was done relaxing and instead required us to bust our rumps and fight it all the way back.  Once realizing my full height was creating a sail and counteracting about 50% of my efforts, I dropped to my knees and gained ground (er... water) more efficiently.  I am still learning how to improve my stroke and balance each time we venture out.

We were not the only ones using a SUP as child transport today! Nice mask/snorkel, kid!
... but wouldn't it be easier to breathe with them off when you are out of the water?
Playing on the sand bar
While sharing my addiction to watery fun is a highlight for any adventure, I'm still blown away watching others - particularly those I didn't think would really get into it - when they have a blast too.  Who knows, after embracing the peace and wonder of the blue part of this planet, maybe a few will even convert to the lifestyle that loves water too.

Happy Monday, Everybody!
-Callie Sharkey

To enjoy the exact same experience we do with friendly staff, an amazing location, and great customer service, check out Jupiter Point Paddling at