Category Archives: information

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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I recently had many e-mails from friends telling me all kinds of courageous stories and stories about how they overcame fears. This is because I felt a little afraid when swimming in the ocean on our cruise. I wasn’t scared of swimming, I swim a lot. I wasn’t scared of the fish, there were a lot of them and even some barracuda. I wasn’t even scared of the sea urchins and there were some really big ones. I think I was just overwhelmed with the ocean. I live in Denver and though I’ve been to the ocean, I don’t get to see it that much.

So, thank you for all the stories about how when you were little (or not so little) you were scared of something and you overcame that fear. I can’t wait for our next trip near water so that I can snorkel and swim again. But, I love the water, so don’t be afraid that I am never going near it.

This is me swimming, diving and loving the water.

This is my favorite diving spot, I can’t wait for it to get warm to go there again (even in the middle of summer, the water is about 68 degrees.)

I live next to a river, so we spend a lot of time in the summer tubing, swimming and just being in the water.

One time we caught a HUGE crawfish.

Sometimes we take our dog with us, but she’s not very smart and can’t swim very well (and she stinks afterward.)

None of the water here is warm, it all comes from the mountains, so it’s usually cold.

But, when the temperature is 100, 65-70 feels nice. This spot neat Grand Junction was COLD when we went swimming in May.

Our river and the crick that runs into it gets a little warmer than that in the summer, but Clear creek (my diving spot) is always cold.

At this spot the bottom is about 9 feet down and there are cutthroat and brown trout swimming with you.

You can find a lot of stuff on the bottom on a clear water day, people who fall off their tubes in the chutes lose sunglasses, keys, and other things.

So, don’t worry about me, I love the water and everything in it. I may not get to swim with whale sharks like Alex, but I do get to swim with fish! (And I am going to see an IMAX movie about swimming with whale sharks and other marine animals, so that counts.) My Mom is going to get an underwater camera so the next time we swim you can see what it looks like.

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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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I’m a finalist! The video was ‘Bob the Bag – a cautionary tale.’

Dear Grace,

Thank you for choosing to participate in the 2014 Beneath the Waves Youth Making Ripples Film Festival! We are very pleased to inform you that your film is one of the 17 finalists that has been selected to debut at the premiere of the festival on Saturday, January 18th in the Gleason auditorium at Florida Institute of Technology from 5:30–8:30 PM. We received 109 films this year, so you should be very proud of this accomplishment. Congratulations for all your hard work!

Being a finalist means that your film will be in the running for a number of awards on Jan. 18th including: Best Scientific Message, Viewer’s Choice (at the event), and the Blue Life Water Conservation Award.

All of our finalists also have the opportunity to be included in the online Youth Making Ripples database and have their films shown at additional Youth Making Ripples festivals throughout the year (we already have 2 lined up). Additionally, we will recommend the films you made to the founders of the National Beneath the Waves Film Festival, which means that some of your films may also be shown at their premiere event in March! Finally, we have established a partnership with MARLISO ( a group in the European Union who are holding their own youth film festival. They will choose several films from our database to premiere at festivals around Europe!

Congratulations again on making such great films! We’re thrilled about the huge response to the first year of the Beneath the Waves Youth Making Ripples competition.

Lauren and Phil
Beneath the Waves Youth Making Ripples Competition

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The plastic video

Here is the video I made about plastic bags (and plastic) in the ocean. It’s a little choppy, but overall I like it.

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Inland ocean

An ocean in Colorado? Well, we are all downstream. Since Colorado is a head-water state (meaning that all of our water starts here and then leaves, nothing flows into us) we have a responsibility to keep our rivers and streams clean so that the next people to get the water get clean water and a good environment for marine life.

Vicki and others from COCO did a lot of work to put together this conference. The flooding right before did not help and had teams of people scrambling to clean up, make arrangements for visitors and find a way to link those who couldn’t come to the action going on. Going to the WAVES symposium was amazing. I learned a few things I didn’t know before, like what really happens to plastic in the ocean, how to make trash into art, what the Sea Shepherd does and how I can help the ocean. We got the news at the conference that Boulder is now a California inland ocean community thanks to Rep. Mark Stone from CA (that’s Vicki from COCO, the Rep. and a Rep. from Boulder accepting the proclamation for Boulder.)

I heard from people who love the ocean and want to make it a better place and explore it further.

In the exhibit hall I talked to diving outfits, a club for teens, artists, and the Sea Shepherd people (and I got a cool necklace from them.)

Back in the lecture hall I heard Stephanie from Green Apple Supply talk about plastics in the ocean. See, a plastic bag floating in the water can look like a jellyfish to a sea turtle. They eat it and die. Plastic, once thought to take thousands of years to break down, actually breaks down quite fast in the warm ocean water, but it doesn’t go away completely. Instead it turns into tiny bits of plastic that fish eat (and then they die), sea birds also eat the plastic as well as larger marine fish and mammals. The plastic can get so bad that it disrupts algae and plankton growth and that makes the whole food web go out of balance.

All of the things at the conference were cool, but meeting Mr.Cousteau was like a dream come true for me.

Fabien talked about stuff like Plant A Fish and Mission 31 where he and other scientists will go under water for 31 days. There is a quote from his grandfather that I think is cool he says, “When one person, for whatever reason, has the chance to lead an extraordinary life he has no right to keep it to himself”.

It was funny to see pictures of Fabien when he was little, but neat to see a picture of him with his Grandpa. He signed my Jacques Cousteau book which now sits on my desk at home.

I came away from the conference with some ideas about starting plastic bag recycling on my street and looking into using bags to make plarn (plastic yarn.) I made a video about things you can do to help the ocean and I’m working on a funny video about plastic bags and the ocean. I got to talk to scientists, artists, lawmakers and people who love the ocean (and Mr. Cousteau too!) The WAVES conference was the best day I ever had!! (And not because I got to sleep in a tent in our hotel room and eat Nepalese food, but that was nice too.)

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See it bigger by clicking on it.

Wordle: plastic

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Mission 31

mission 31

Do you know about Fabien Cousteau’s Mission 31? It is going to be 31 days underwater in a lab the size of a school bus. The lab is called Aquarius and he and other scientists will be doing experiments, swimming, and learning about the ocean. You can go here ( to help the Mission. Or go here ( to listen to an interview with Fabien about the Mission. Or go here ( to learn more about the Mission.

Only 1 month to go, I am excited for him!

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Cetacean lovers in Boulder

I’m taking a break for a bit from the conference, then going back. When you are a cetacean lover it is always nice to meet other cetacean lovers. I have gotten to meet lots of neat people like singers, Cake bosses, and even some mammals that are not people, like Winter.

But, today I got to meet Mr. Fabien Cousteau at the WAVES symposium. See?!

He signed my Jacques Cousteau whale book. I am meeting all kinds of people at the conference and I have some ideas about things I can do to help the ocean. I am thinking that I can get people in my city to get better at recycling plastic bags. I gave my card to one of the NetZero people at the conference and I’m going to talk to the Ocean Coalition later today about it. I also want to talk to the dive people about my lung disease and diving. I know that people with asthma can dive because Mrs. Maris II who started Save the Whales has asthma and she dives. (I have been hospital free for over 2 years now, but I occassionally end up in triage at National Jewish…)

Oh, one quick thing that was also cool was that a Rep. from Monterey Bay in California was here today and he proclaimed Boulder an honorary inland coastal CA community, how cool is that? I am going to tell Mrs. Maris I (from STW) about that. I also need to tell Sabrina from Riverwatch (here we are doing a river sample at the Platte river) and Casey from Cherry Creek watershed about what I learned today.

Oh, and some lady took a picture of my shirt, she thought it was cool. We took my art and transferred it to a shirt with ‘Keep Calm and Save’ on it.

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