Category Archives: education

GILLS club

I went to a GILLS club meeting hoping to get paired up with a marine biologist. But, it turns out that the club was all about sharks and getting girls interested in them. Sharks are fine, but I really like cetaceans. The meeting was fun though, I really liked the metal detector shark. We had to use the ‘shark’ to find the ‘fish’ that were hidden under the water. The metal detector acted like the electroreceptors in a shark that let them find fish.


It’s a long drive to Boulder too, so unless they have a meeting about whales I won’t be going to it.


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Extreme life of the Sea

I didn’t know that I would be able to see the authors of the book Extreme Life of the Sea, I reviewed the book on here last year and my Mom found out they would be coming into town to talk about their book. I brought my book so they could sign it, but no one else brought one! The authors, father and son, talked about some of the stories in the book and showed pictures. They talked about things that have come from the ocean, like bumps on fan edges that move air 35% more – that idea comes from the bumps on humpback whale fins. They made me not want to eat low fat ice cream when I heard about an antifreeze gene in a fish that has been replicated for use in ice cream. They ended the talk with ideas about what we can do to help the ocean. I waited for a long time to get an autograph and talk to them. Tony and I talked about our favorite swimming places (he lives in CA and since we had been there in September I told him about the aquariums I visited and my favorite swimming spots) and favorite sea creatures. I told him about Deep sea news, he said he’d look in on it and i got a picture.


We also heard about a marine biology event for girls coming up in a few weeks, I’ll be there!

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Vaquita day 2014!

I hope to have something in Denver for next years Viva Vaquita day. But, you can go here to find out about what is going on this Saturday (July 12th) in California and other places.


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Weeks 6, 7, and 8

I am done! This was my second Coursera class I’ve had and it was hard! I didn’t like most of the lectures, I just didn’t like the way the professor talked. But, I did learn a lot about all kinds of marine mammals. Here are some of the things I learned in weeks 6, 7 and 8 (the last week.) These are just some of the questions on the test, not all of them.

Week 6-

Which of the following best describes the effects of upwelling and convergent fronts on phytoplankton? Upwelling supports the growth of phytoplankton while convergent fronts aggregate phytoplankton.

Surface waters are often nutrient limited while deeper waters are usually more nutrient rich. True.

Marine megafauna can be used for oceanographic in situ sampling. True.

Which of the following submarines traveled to the bottom of the deepest part of the Mariana Trench? DeepSea Challenger.

What stage of a whale fall succession can persist for up to 100 years? Sulphophilic.

Week 7-

Which of the following options are an example of a marine species that went extinct rapidly due to direct effects of human actions? Select the two best options. Great auk, Dodo.

Which of the following individuals is NOT an example of a terrestrial natural philosopher? Rachel Carson.

Sound frequencies greater than 20,000 Hz are: Ultrasonic.

Sea turtles hear best at what range of sound? 200 – 750 Hz.

What was one solution implemented to successfully reduce the bycatch of harbor porpoises in the North Atlantic Closed areas with high harbor porpoise bycatch rates.

Echolocation sounds of Blainville’s beaked whales give information regarding where the whale is foraging and the distance from the seafloor. True.

Week 8-

After 1850, which whale species was rarely observed in the North Pacific? Sperm whales.

A map of all observations of the five species of whales shows that right whales were mostly seen in what area? High latitudes.

What factor is important for the successful breeding of Emperor penguins? Fast ice.

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) has limited power to enforce a total moratorium on commercial whaling. True.

Which of the following options describe the blue whale unit? It is a management unit established to control whale harvest.

Which of these practices predates commercial whaling? Arctic aboriginal whaling.

What is the oldest known practice of commercial whaling? Basque whaling.

What effect does a permanent threshold shift have on marine animal hearing? The marine animal becomes insensitive to the specific frequency bands to which it was exposed.

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The Case of the Vanishing Vaquita

The Victim:


Vaquita. Illustrations courtesy of Brett Jarrett.

The Vaquita whose name means ‘little cow’ and is known as the ‘panda of the sea’, is a small porpoise that is in danger of becoming extinct. Gillnets used for fishing kill more porpoises than are born annually. The Vaquita is now the most endangered species of marine mammal. They are down to about 200 left in 2011 from 245 in 2008. The habitat of the Vaquita of the coastal waters of the Eastern Pacific ocean, but in this area they are continually threatened by over-fishing, gillnets and lack of education among the fishermen.

The Scene of the Crime:

Vaquita caught in fishing net. Courtesy – Alejandro Robles

The range of this problem is in the Gulf of California near Baja. This is where the porpoises live out their lives. Fishermen who are trying to earn a living are capturing and killing the porpoises when they haul in their catches for the day. The area that the fishermen fish in is the main area where the Vaquita live and breed.
In fact the Latin name Phocoena sinus, tells us that the Vaquita has a limited range and lives in a pocket or bay.

Facts About the Victim:

The species is the Vaquita, the smallest of the 7 species of true porpoises.

Class – Mammalia
Order – Cetacea
Suborder – Odontoceti
Family – Phocoenidae
Genus -Phocoena
Species – Phocoena sinus

It lives in the warm coastal waters of the Pacific in a tiny area in the Gulf of California near Baja, Mexico. The Vaquita was listed as Vulnerable in 1978, Endangered in 1990, and Critically Endangered in 1996. This is based on the less that 250 mature population count.

Study of the Victim:

Conservation of the vaquita Phocoena sinus

A study that shows the history of the Vaquita, the area where they live and the problems they face, mainly gillnets from fishermen. They focused on conservation and education to help the Vaquita survive. Through petitions and pressure from non-governmental organizations, the Mexican government started making changes to help the Vaquita. The International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA) was developed to promote and develop a recovery plan for the Vaquita. The article goes on to describe what has come of this intervention, things that worked and were put into place and things that are still in the planning stages. It also discusses the cultural and political obstacles of trying to help the Vaquita make a comeback and not become extinct during our lifetime.
Link to article.

An Expert on the Plight of the Victim:

Dr. Armando Jaramillo is a marine biologist for the University of Baja California Sur and he has a Doctorate in coastal oceanography from the University of Baja California. He has studied marine mammals for 22 years, focusing mainly on aspects of population ecology and dynamics. He has been researching the vaquita population for the last 13 years and is in charge of the project to monitor the species with acoustic methods.

Further Reading to Enhance Your Knowledge About the Victim, the Perpetrator, the Crimes and the Resolutions to Help:

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North Atlantic Right Whale

This is my paper for Coursera.

The North Atlantic Right Whale

right whale

The North Atlantic right whale was given the name ‘right whale’ because sailors believed it was the right whale to hunt. The right whale is a slow swimmer, swims close to shore and floats when dead; all things that a sailor would find helpful when trying to kill a whale and retrieve it. The right whale has no dorsal fin, like other baleen whales, instead it has a broad wide back. But it’s paddle-like flippers and triangular fluke help it navigate the ocean. Like other whales, the right whale makes moans and sounds to communicate, but unlike other whales the right whale also communicates with a ‘baleen rattle’. This sound happens when they are feeding and water passes through the baleen plates making a rattling sound.

The scientific name of the right whale is Eubalaena Glacialis which means ‘true whale of ice.’ The taxonomic information is: Kingdom: Animalia, Phylum: Chordata, Class: Mammalia, Order: Cetacea, Family: Balaenidae, Genus: Eubalaena. The common name is the North Atlantic right whale. A related species of the Right whale is the North Pacific right whale and the Southern right whale.

The North Atlantic right whale ranges in size from 40-60 ft long (13-16 m) and weighs from 140,000-200,000 lbs (63.500-90,000 kg). They have a sturdy, black body with no dorsal fin and callouses on their heads and sometimes white patches on their bellies. Their range is the Atlantic ocean between 20 and 60 degrees latitude. Most right whale nurseries are in shallow coastal water. Their are five areas that are high use for North Atlantic right whales they are: Coastal Florida and Georgia, Great South Channel, Massachusetts Bay and Cape Cod Bay, Bay of Fundy and the Scotian Shelf. It is believed that there are only 300 to 400 North Atlantic right whales left in the ocean.

The right whale can live to be about 50 years old, there is come conjecture that they might live as long as 100 years. Female right whales give birth to their first calf at about 10 years old. The gestation period is one year in length. The right whales gives birth in shallow coastal waters off the coast of Georgia and Florida from December to March. A female gives birth to one calf every three to five years. The calf nurses from the mother for 10-12 months and generally stays close to her for a long period of time.

Although the right whale is a baleen whale, it feeds differently than most. It tends to skim the surface and remove zooplankton while moving it’s mouth and baleen back and forth. They have about 225 baleen plates in their mouths that help them feed on 2,600 lbs of zooplankton per day. They eat zooplankton which includes copepods, euphausiids, and cyprids.

One thing that I did not mention about the right whale is its callouses. Right whales have callouses that are white on their faces. They are white because of cyamids. These tiny creatures are crustaceans related to skeleton shrimp and are parasites. In the case of the right whale they settle on the callouses and eat algae that attaches to the whale. The white cyamids make distinctive patterns on each right whale, thus allowing scientists to tell right whales apart by their callous/lice patterns.

The main threat faced by the right whale is human interference. Originally the population of these whales was depleted due to whaling ventures. Now boats, ships and fishing nets can all cause harm to these whales. To help protect them, the NOAA works with people to educate them about right whales and tells them how to avoid ship strikes. The NOAA uses photographs of individual whales to tell boaters where the whales are so they won’t bump into them. The NOAA also works to reduce net entanglement by setting limits on where fishing nets can be used.

One expert on North Atlantic right whales is Amy Knowlton. She is a right whale researcher that works for the New England aquarium. She loved whales from an early age and went to Boston college to study Geography. She did a semester called ‘Sea semester in Woods Hole’ and spent 12 weeks studying the ocean. It was this trip that got her interested in the ocean. She started volunteering at the New England aquarium and attached herself to the right whale research program. She’s been hooked ever since. Most of her job is spent analyzing data and matching up right whale photos to figure out what the population status is at.

Here are three references for further reading:
1. Harrison, Molly, (2005), The Kids’ Times: Right whale. NOAA publication.
This is a good site for kids, it gives a lot of important information about right whales but is written in a style that kids will be able to read.

2. Mellinger, D. K., Nieukirk, S. L., Matsumoto, H., Heimlich, S. L., Dziak, R. P., Haxel, J., Fowler, M., Meinig, C. and Miller, H. V. (2007), Seasonal occurrence of North Atlantic right whlae (Eubalaena Glacialis) vocalizations at two sites on the Scotian Shelf. Marine Mammal Science, 23: 856–867.
This article is about using recorded calls of the right whales to ascertain feeding patterns and right whale movements.

3. Cupka, David and Murphy, Margaret, (2005) North Atlantic Right Whale. South Carolina state documents.
This article gives information on the background of the right whale, population, status, habitat and more in an easy to read manner.

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Weeks 4 and 5

Here are some things I learned in weeks 4 and 5:

– Which of the following types of drag have a significant effect on large marine megafauna species? Pressure and wave drag.
– “Pinnipeds are efficient swimmers because they use pelvic or pectoral oscillation for propulsion instead of pelvic paddling or rowing.” True.
– “Temperature is an important factor for marine Megafauna species because seawater conducts heat away from their bodies much more efficiently.” True.
– Which of the following is an anatomical adaptation that marine homeotherms use to control heat flow into and out of their bodies? Counter current heat exchangers..
– In terms of osmoregulation, most marine Megafauna species are: hypoosmotic.
– “Most marine mammals do not drink large amounts of seawater.” True.
– Sessile animals incur handling time when foraging despite that fact that they don’t pursue prey items. True.
– All foods produce the same amount of metabolizable energy. False.
– During digestion, some proportion of ingested energy an animal gains is lost to what? Egestion.
– How much energy is typically transferred to the next trophic level to build new biomass? 10%
– A marine mammal’s fecal matter tends to disperse in surface waters as opposed to sinking rapidly to deep waters. True.
– In what seasons would cetaceans play a larger role in the nitrogen cycle in the Gulf of Maine? Spring and Summer.

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More from Coursera

Here are some things I learned from week 2:

-Albatrosses, petrels, and other Procellariiformes are characterized by tubular nostrils known as ‘tubenoses’

-The short-tailed albatross was a very abundant Pacific albatross in the 19th century and then was hunted to near extinction.

-Aspect ratio is the ratio of wing span to mean breadth.

-The second largest penguins are the brush-tailed penguins.

-The uropygial gland produces the oil that penguins use to waterproof their feathers.

-The Flatback sea turtle species is not globally distributed in tropical or temperate ocean regions.

Week 3:

-Manatees are a member of the Trichechidae taxonomic family.

-Otariid seals use forelimbs primarily for propulsion.

-To what group of baleen whales do humpback whales and blue whales belong? Balaenopteridae

-What is the key diagnostic feature used to differentiate a dolphin from a porpoise? The shape of their teeth.

-Viviparous reproduction in sharks means they sustain eggs with a placental link and give birth to live young.

-A cephalofoil is found on Hammerhead sharks.

Week 4 is hard, I have a paper to write and I still need two journal resources for it. The good news is I have an e-mail friend that is a North Atlantic Right whale researcher and my paper is about North Atlantic Right whales!

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Algae growth

Getting ready to do my science experiment on the effects of fertilizer on algae growth.

Fertilizer runoff from lawns and public grassy spaces flows through the local watershed to ponds, streams and rivers. While a little algae is a good thing, too much is a bad thing. Fertilizer encourages growth and when it comes into contact with algae, it can cause it to grow out of proportion to the environment that the algae is in. Too much algae can impede the growth of organisms in the water and lead to an unsustainable environment.

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I am taking the Marine Megafauna class at Duke University through Coursera. I just finished week 1 and took my quiz. I got 22/25. Here are some things I learned:

-The ocean is not uniform in salinity.
-One of the most important properties of seawater is its ability to dissolve salts, oxygen, and many other important elements and nutrients.
-Brackish water does not have the highest level of salinity that can still support life.
-Salinity and temperature determine the movement and ecological effect of a water mass.
-The benthos (or benthic zone) refers to the part of the ocean near the sea floor.
-Transitional forms of cetaceans had telescoping skulls.

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