Friday, September 20, 2013

Mollusk Muzik #7 OR There aint more thing to climb

Re: Vi Hart. Big fan, big big fan!(1) Turns out she likes watching snails, too!(2) And writing tear-jerking ballads about frustrated snail aspirations. 

Vi Hart
"There aint more thing to climb"

Moving ... albeit slowly. If you enjoyed this video, you might also enjoy the prequel. These videos were at the top of my list of results for the search "Crazy Snail".

References and Miscellany:
(1) If you don't know why, watch these. If, after watching these, you still don't know why, we're done here. 

(2) I mean "too" in the sense of "like me" rather than "in addition to doing everything else she does"

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

On Freeing Whales OR Oh! What Misfortune to be Charismatic Megafauna

As I have previously indicated, I was a big supporter of the Free Willy/Keiko effort in the 1990's. While there are many things from that part of my life that I am happy I can shrug off as "growth", I'm actually proud of my 10 year old, or whatever I was at the time, self, because I think the cause was worthy and the outcome was not a failure.

There have been a few recent attention-grabbing news items focusing on whether orcas should be kept in captivity. In addition to the documentary, Blackfish, there has been an outcry (and OUTCRY) about the commodification of an orca named Morgan (Figure 1). that was supposedly in rehab after being stranded on the Dutch coast. 

Figure 1. Don't worry, Morgan, we're doing it because we love you! And that makes it ok. Photo:

These events have apparently reminded the collective consciousness (the media?) of the only orca for whom we have (so far?) had an attention span sufficient actually follow through on a plan for release into the wild. I really like this NYT video on the history and fallout of that story. Also, Craig McCaw, who knew?

Sorry for the sober interruption of what is usually a giddy exploration of science, folks. We will return to our regularly scheduled programming shortly.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Species species of the Week week #9 OR Artisan Beach Shovels

Hang on to your hats and prepare to be astounded by amazing sea life!

You know this week's tautonym as "The Billion $ bivalve", "The Chlam with the Charisma", "A Hell of a Shell", 

That's right, ladies and germs, this weeks tautonym is none other than:

Mercenaria mercenaria

Sorry if I got your hopes up, it's not my fault! With the rare exception, clams just make for soul-crushingly boring pictures. If I led with that picture you probably would have just browsed away to watch a cat climb into a fish bowl(1)

Ok, so thanks Blue Planet, now everyone thinks that the only cool things in the ocean are stunningly beautiful. But we know better right? Heck yes, we know better! Beauty is on the inside (Figure 1).

Figure 1. ACK No, beauty is not there either! Christ, that's gross! Make it stop, I'm eating my lunch here! 
I'm kidding, I don't think it's gross, and that could very well be your lunch. Not mine, though, I don't eat gross things like that.  I mean, of course, that it's INTERESTING. But not worthy of narration by Oprah I guess. Photo credit: R. Koss, U. Alberta

In fact, you probably already (and if you don't you soon will) appreciate M. mercenaria for the following reasons:
  • The most common common name(2) of this clam is Quahog. If you don't get why that is relevant to anything ever, suck it up and click on the link and get with the times.
  • The large shells make great artisanal, locally-sourced digging tools at the beach! (Figure 2)
  • It's one of the most widely consumed clam species(3) in the US. If you've had actual New England clam chowder, this species is a likely candidate for the gummy bits that make you wonder whether you are actually eating bits of your exercise band from pilates class.
  • It is the state shell of Rhode Island, and, yes, state shells are a thing. And don't act like you're surprised that states have such arcane totems, states got everything!
  • An individual M. mercenaria was dated as the LONGEST LIVED ANIMAL!
Figure 2. I really should be paid for my graphic design skills

So, aside from the list of quasi-interesting marginalia, these shells aren't much to look at.   But I did find a few interesting pictures of what are supposedly Mercenaria mercenaria shells (Figs 3 and 4)

Figure 3. From Roger Williams Univeristy.

Figure 4. From, which you should check out

Notice the cool patterns? That reminded me of a clam that shares the common name of "littleneck" with M. mercenaria.  The Japanese littleneck, which is also called the Manila Clam (Venerupis philippinarum) is part of the same family of clams, and is also important in aquaculture. I talked to shellfish growers a few years ago who were extremely excited they had figured out how to control some of these shell patterns (Figure 5, also, WOAH). And I'm all like, wow, thats so cool, so you can tell if your clams have wandered onto a neighboring bed (like branding cattle!), and the grower was all like, "yeah, I guess, but really it just makes them more appealing at the market." So, lesson learned people, don't be fooled into paying higher prices for a pretty clam.

Figure 5.  Not a tautoym, but indeed a good lesson in why color is not a good character to use to tell species apart - at least in invertebrates

ERRATUM!: It turns out the oldest clam reference is not Mercenaria mercenaria, but another quahog (which makes sense given the arctic distribution). I just assumed (and you know what they say about assuming) that since they said quahog, and didn't give a species...well, serves me right.  BUT it turns out that clam was 100 years older than they thought it was.  Thanks, Hillary B. for providing me with the truth.

References and miscellany:

(1) Ok, now you've gone and done it and off you are on your little voyage down the cat video rabbit hole - enjoy! and don't miss out on Maru.
(2) New blog series? Common common names?  Post it on Tuesday or some horrific day of the week like that? But srsly, there are a bajillion common names for this species, and more than a few synonymized scientific names as well. 
(3) God I thought current mixologists had gone off the deep end - seriously, this is a terrible idea.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

This just in.... Sea stars dying?

It's not often that anything seems like I should post it with any speed, snails don't move that quickly after all, but this does seem to be a story in progress, and relevant to the marine life of the PNW:

Divers in B.C. and off the WA coast have noticed massive die-offs of subtidal sea stars recently.  

Figure 1. I didn't want to shock anyone with pictures of dying sea stars, so this is just a wikimedia photo of a Pycnopoida, one of the species in the die-off.

Here is a link to a post on Echinoblog about it.  Warning, graphic pictures of dead and dying sea stars (including zombie arms that keep walking even with no other part of the animal left! Need future post on autotomy in echinoderms!).

Lots of speculation about possible causes:
  • Low dissolved oxygen?
  • Major freshwater input = salinty stress (it has been pouring in Seattle every night for a week)?
  • Wasting disease?
  • Poachers slicing and dicing or bleaching?
  • Combination thereof?

Mollusk Muzik # 6 OR 10,000 View Celebration Dance Party!

I ran out of songs for a while for this Mollusk Muzic series, but thanks to my dear friend Jan, I noticed that this is close enough to count. Also I [not so] secretly really like Donovan, who, I might add, was recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, probably for his recent work in advocating for ocean conservation.  

I have to say that I love this video, because it is clearly the kind of music video I would make if I were to apply myself to using Power Point slide show with timing and soundtrack.

"First, There is a Mountain"

I dare you not to dance just a little bit. 

Also, my blog evidently has 10,000 views as of today!  Hooray!

It's admittedly almost entirely driven by image searches for orcas and Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis.  Never underestimate the value of tags friends!