Thursday, December 22, 2011

It wouldn't be a PNW blog without a post about Orcas!

Huzzah! Another reason to fete the season!  Puget Sound welcomes a new addition to J-Pod.

Figure 1. HEY BABY ORCA! Calves are often born orange,
which is cool.

This orange fellow is the son or daughter (often takes a while to sort that out) of J-16 (AKA Slick).  

I love that I live in a place where every time a new orca calf is spotted, it makes news headlines.  There is no shortage of orcas worldwide, but the population that lives closest to Puget Sound, the Southern Residents (Urban Orcas, I like to imagine they follow the trends and have transitioned from grunge to hipster - Figure 2) have been listed as an endangered species.  They are primarily fish-eaters and have different dialects than the mammal-eating transients that also come through the Salish Sea on occasion.  

Figure 2. You try to put a whale in skinny jeans! It's not what nature intended.

J-pod was always my favorite in my Free Willy years.  J-17 (Princess Angeline) was my adopted orca.  Whoops, busted: I had a Free Willy/Keiko phase.  Whatever, I have no regrets!  It turns out orcas are rad, but not in the way Sea World would like you to believe.  Speaking of which, do not try this at home - just don't.  I shouldn't have to tell you why.

I still really love orcas because they do not care what we think of them, and what images we like to project on them (see again, Figure 2).  They will still kill them a great white shark or some baby sea lions, right in front of us, if it please them.  The Southern Residents are beloved, which is easy because they eat mostly fish.  But most orcas, world-wide, eat things we think are cute and defenseless, and they get depicted in nature shows with some very choice, and very alliterative, language.  But they are incredibly smart!  And that's extremely cool!  Ignore most of the dramatics and graphics in this video, except the reaction in the crowd at the end - and then lets talk about how we felt when the orcas got that baby seal (Oh, Animal Planet, how fast and far ye have fallen).  

In other local orca news:  The latest fashion in Orca research happens right here in my own department: Dogs that hunt for whale scat!

Friday, December 16, 2011

"More than Meets the Claw" OR "How Emily Ruined Christmas with Snails"

Thanks Santa Oyster Drill! This is the best Christmas EVAR!

Every year when I was growing up, I asked for a pony for Christmas.  Never sincerely, of course, because those things are heinously expensive.  But the request was good for a laugh/groan - I am the youngest and my "jokes" were probably humored to excess (this might explain why I have a blog).  My parents were always extremely generous in supporting my horse habit, but since ownership was out of the budget, instead there would be a joke about the pony not fitting in the garage, or some miscommunication and Santa thought I meant a pony ornament, etc.  

This year I got my metaphorical pony - in the form of a

True, it hasn't been on my list as long as the pony, but I asked Santa SO HARD for a first-authored publication.  Theodore and his brothers ain't got nothin' on my Christmas wishin'.  Now entered into the prestigious Annals of Never Again Cited Research:

That's right! Grason and Miner (2010) just got all up in your face! It's such a big deal it doesn't even fit in the column.  It's still only available on Online First, but will appear in print sometime next year (and get it's very own volume and page numbers! eeeeee!).  

Since many of you won't have access to the full text (open access is not free, my friends), I'll summarize.  In the spirit of the season, and with only minimal apologies for ruining Christmas for everyone, here is:

Emily's Christmas Pageant
The Ecology of Fear: Rudolph Redux

Act I: Two kinds of invasive snails (here depicted as Rudolph) eat fewer oysters (here depicted as a little tree Rudolph was inevitably going to otherwise eat) and hide more when they smell native crabs (here, the Abominable Snowman) eating their brethren.   Merry Christmas to oysters!

Where is Yukon Cornelius when you need him?!

Act II, Scene 1: One kind of snail (only one tested) responds strongly even if it only detects smashed up brethren (no crabs around).

I'm only a little sorry if the graphic nature of this offends you.  Nature doesn't
really worry itself about your childhood memories.  Nature is for real.

Act II, Scene 2: But that snail also does respond to the native crab even when no bretheren are involved.

(to soothe the crying kiddos)

Act 3: Neither kind of snail responds less when there are more live brethren around to share the risk (see post on the ecology of awesomeness for more detail on why this matters).

Nothing like killing off the most cherished Christmas symbol to put you in the Holiday spirit!  I'm evidently feeling punchy today. 

Speaking of punchy, I wanted to title this paper, "More than Meets the Claw: Behavioral plasticity... blah blah blah".  I thought this was  a clever reference to the fact that without actually eating the snails, crabs can change the ecological dynamics in the system (more oysters, yay!), and to a popular 80's cartoon.  Academia has a different take on clever, so I went with a more direct title (*cough, cough, SELLOUT!*).  

In all seriousness, I am much indebted to my former advisor and co-author, Ben Miner for telling me to stick to my guns as long as was reasonable and then maybe figure out how to be flexible and take recommendations from the reviewers.  I joke when I say this publication came from Santa, I made this happen with the quixotic tenacity peculiar to junior graduate students.  This was not an easy process, and took about 18 months from the time of first submission.  I would have given up waaaay sooner if not for Ben, or maybe just submitted it to Veliger.  

First: Oecologia, then: THE WORLD!

Wishing y'all happy holidaysmas2011!