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Environmental reporter Christopher Dunagan discusses the challenges of protecting Puget Sound and all things water-related.
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Amusing Monday: scenes and sounds of imagination

Monday, April 14th, 2014

A couple years ago in Water Ways, I described how I used to spend a great deal of time recording and mixing sounds. As a child, I was fascinated with sound effects, and I’ve always loved music.

A website called Go Mix It allows you to create sound compositions and add photos like this one. Go Mix It photo library

A website called Go Mix It allows you to create sound compositions and add photos like this one. / Go Mix It photo library

At the time I wrote the blog entry, I had been playing around with a website called Nature Sounds for Me.

I encouraged everyone to create their own sound compositions, and provided some examples of what others had done, including myself.

I recently discovered what seems to be a related website that allows you to add photos to the mix. The site is Go Mix It. (Notice how the web domain is used in both links.) The site contains most of the same nature sounds, but includes a “photo panel” for choosing pictures to watch while the sounds are playing.

I think it would be better if I could toss my own photos onto the screen. I can’t find a way to do that, but there are many photos to choose from in the library, which can be searched by topic and added to the sound compositions.

Take a look at the site, and feel free to share your compositions in the comments section. A couple I threw together quickly are called Majestic Forest and Wild Ocean.

Amusing Monday: Surprises from a drop of water

Monday, April 7th, 2014

I find myself returning again and again to videos that surprise me with scientific phenomena, such as a droplet of water bouncing at least three times before it gets absorbed into a glass of water.

Using videos to reveal something visually exciting is a thousand times more rewarding than watching a science teacher explain the properties of matter. I wish that teachers would have had some amazing videos available when I was growing up. But considering today’s technology, maybe teachers find it more challenging to surprise their students.

Anyway, check out the first video on this page, which shows a couple of goofy guys fascinated with the idea that water can bounce. The value of this video lies in the fact that these two “Slo Mo Guys,” Gavin Free and Daniel Gruchy, seem to be having a good time exploring this feat of nature.

That first video is fun and all, but is it enough? If you’re like me, you want a little more. You know that this relates to the surface tension of water, something the goofy guys never seem to mention. So I found another video, which has even better photography — plus a mathematician able to explain what’s going on. Check out the second video by Molecular Frontiers, a nonprofit group of scientists dedicated to spreading an appreciation of science. Maybe they’re a bit more professional than the Slo Mo Guys.

If you would like to delve further into the surface tension of water, I recommend a couple articles in Wikipedia, one on surface tension and the other on hydrophobic properties.

Finally, getting farther afield from where I started, a company called Ultratech has created two amazing videos about its super-hydrophobic product called Ultra-Ever Dry. It shows how treated products cannot get wet or dirty. See Ultra-Ever Dry 1, Nov. 12, 2012, and Ultra-Ever Dry 2, Jan. 31, 2014.

Ultra-Ever Dry is a product based on nanotechnology, and the formulation is mostly proprietary. As amazing and useful as nanotech products can be, I should point out that some concerns have been raised about potential long-term effects on the environment if they were to come into common use.

The Slo Mo guys, featured in the opening video, have also played around with a super-hydrophobic surface, as well as tiny particles of metal in a liquid. Believe it or not, they were invited into General Electric’s Global Research Lab in New York, where they felt free enough to bring along their playfulness for a video they made there.

These two guys also got invited to use a more advanced camera to watch what happens when they shoot a gun underwater. In the video of the bullet launch, the prime segments come between 2:20 and 3:30 and between 5:25 and 6:32.

If you want to see more of the Slo Mo Guys, check out the video of them bouncing on a giant water balloon — or visit their YouTube Channel.

The bottom video shows collisions taking place among droplets of liquids that are heavier than water.

Amusing Monday: Celebrating World Water Day

Saturday, March 22nd, 2014

I’m posting this “Amusing Monday” entry two days early, because today is officially World Water Day, as declared by the United Nations.

Photo by xxxx. Copyright World Water Day, used with permission

Photo by Murli Menon.
Copyright World Water Day, used with permission

I guess the timing is not that important. After all, I don’t expect anyone to go out and march in a World Water Day parade, or fire off water pistols in celebration, or even drink water in excess and then sleep in the next morning. But if you are inclined to celebrate, you may as well celebrate the essential value of water.

The photos on this page are the top choices of Facebook voters in a contest sponsored by World Water Day.

The picture of the white tiger, called “Water Preserves the Earth,” is said to demonstrate that all creatures need water, yet the tiger realizes that this water is polluted and hesitates to drink it.

Photo by Joseph Galea Copyright World Water Day, used with permission

Photo by Joseph Galea
Copyright World Water Day, used with permission

The second photo, called “Water Gives Energy,” illustrates the hope of a future when all children have access to a safe supply of water.

A slide show of the best photos submitted in the context can be found on the World Water Day Flickr page.

Finally, the two videos below provide a strong contrast between technologies available to produce a clean supply of water for everyone.

Amusing Monday: Puzzling in the underwater world

Monday, March 10th, 2014

It’s been awhile since I brought you some puzzles, so I thought I’d mention a couple good jigsaw puzzle sites and offer a few interactive animations.

Yellow tan and clown fish puzzle. (Click to solve.)

Yellow tang and clown fish puzzle. (Click to solve.) site contains nearly 300 jigsaw puzzles of underwater scenes, including the one on this page. In addition, there are at least two dozen other categories to choose from.

You pick a scene and watch it crumble into 100 or more pieces. Online jigsaws often have special features, such as a quick sort of the edges. If you want a little more control, such as the ability to use your own picture in forming the puzzle, check out Jigsaw Planet and click on “create.”

Three funny little animated puzzles can be accessed for free on Learn 4 Good. I was surprised to find that the site asks you to pay for the fourth puzzle, given all the free puzzles on the web.

Finally, there’s a bartender game, “The Right Mix,” in which you mix drinks, one at a time, then shake and serve. The best part is the bartender’s reaction after he tastes the concoction. Unfortunately, the exercise does not improve one’s skill as a bartender.


Attack by orcas scatter dolphins near Nanaimo

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

John Buchanan of Squamish, British Columbia, was in the right place at the right time when a group of transient killer whales mixed it up with hundreds of fleeing white-sided dolphins.

John said it appeared that the orcas had formed a line to herd the dolphins into shallow water in Departure Bay near Nanaimo.

“The only way they could escape was going through the orcas,” he told me. “I was wondering if they would swim right into the ferry. The ferry may have made the escape a little narrower for them.”

John happened to be on the ferry from Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver to Departure Bay on Vancouver Island when the wild encounter occurred on Monday.

“I was just traveling on the ferry to meet someone at Nanaimo,” said Buchanan, who is active in the environmental groups, including Squamish Stream Keepers. “I always have my camera close by.

“We were just coming into Departure Bay. Someone spotted the orcas, then the water just exploded with all these dolphins in the bay. The orcas had them pinned in.

“I bet there was all kinds of action going on under the water,” he said. “It was spectacular, especially when one orca was breaking in one direction and another was breaking in the other direction.”

John recorded that exciting shot of a double breach on his camera, which you can see toward the end of the video.

Later, he was informed by a biologist at Vancouver Aquarium that breaching is often how the whales celebrate a kill. Although he noticed a lot of chasing at the time, he never spotted any dead or dying dolphins nor was any blood in the water.

John posted the video on YouTube on Monday, the same day he recorded the dramatic encounter. As of this morning, the number of views was approaching 100,000.

CBC News posted the video on its webpage, and John has been approached by people who would like to purchase the footage, but he plans to keep it available for public viewing.

“I’ll never see anything like that again,” he said.

At my suggestion, John sent photos to Ken Balcomb and Dave Ellifrit of the Center for Whale Research. Ken reported that the orcas included T-100s. According to the book “Transients” by John Ford and Graeme Ellis, they are a group of killer whales seen mainly in Southeast Alaska.

Capt. Jim Maya’s favorite whale photos of 2013

Sunday, January 12th, 2014

I always look forward to the annual photo gallery created by Capt. Jim Maya from his favorite photos of the year. Jim owns the whale-watching company, Maya’s Westside Whale Watch Charters, which operates out of Snug Harbor on San Juan Island, so he gets to see a lot of things.

Here’s Jim’s message for the year:

“Each year about this time I go through my images from the year and try to pick out favorites. Sometimes it had to do with the emotion of day and the memory or the company on the boat. Other times, special lighting, composition, and other elements. I still haven’t gotten the shot of a breaching Orca with a salmon in its mouth, with an eagle after the salmon, in front of a lighthouse and a mountain and a rainbow. No, I don’t even own Photoshop!”

I’ve selected eight of my favorites from the 18 that Capt. Jim sent me. For a full gallery of photos, go to Maya’s Photo Gallery.

Transient killer whales travel along the north side of Stuart Island. Look for a deer in the upper right corner.

Transient orcas travel along the north side of Stuart Island. Look for a deer in the upper right corner.

A transient from the group passing by Stuart Island.

A transient from the group passing by Stuart Island.

Transients pass in front of San Juan Island and Mount Baker.

Transients pass in front of San Juan Island and Mount Baker.

Transients feed on a sea lion in Haro Strait, San Juan Islands.

Transients feed on a sea lion in Haro Strait, San Juan Islands.

Lime Kiln Lighthouse on San Juan Island.

Lime Kiln Lighthouse on San Juan Island.

Southern Resident orcas, San Juan Islands.

Southern Resident orcas, San Juan Islands.

A humpback stayed with Maya's boat for an hour.

A humpback stayed with Maya’s boat for an hour. The group named the whale “Wendy.”

Humpback whale fluke seen in the sunset, Haro Strait.

Humpback whale fluke seen in the sunset, Haro Strait.

Amusing Monday: World’s largest ice festival

Monday, January 6th, 2014

China’s Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival got under way yesterday with an ice-swimming competition in sub-zero weather in this northern Chinese city.

The annual festival is said to be the world’s largest winter festival, now in its 30th year and attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors from throughout the world. Surprisingly, I had never heard much about it until this year, when I’ve stumbled upon several news reports and lots of cool photos. The video below is from The Telegraph, based in London.

Highlights of the festival include massive ice sculptures, some lighted by LED bulbs, some by lasers and others by traditional Chinese ice lanterns. Although sculptures can be seen throughout the city, the largest ones are on display in two exhibit areas: Sun Island, across the Songhua River, and Ice and Snow World, a Disney-like area with full-size buildings constructed from blocks of ice cut out of the frozen river.

This year’s ice structures include replicas of New York City’s Empire State Building, Rome’s Colosseum and Reykjavik’s Hallgrimskirkja Church, along with the Great Wall of China, according to a story by Mark Johanson in International Business Times, which includes colorful photos from Reuters.

Interest in Harbin as a winter destination grew during the 1970s and early ’80s, when tourists began flocking to the city from all over China to see the locally produced ice lanterns and sculptures and to participate in winter sports, according to the Ice Festival Harbin website. After approval by the municipal and provincial governments, the festival was officially launched in 1985 and approved to begin on Jan. 5 of each year.

Slide shows worth checking out:

The video below is from China Central Television, the national TV station of the People’s Republic of China.

Amusing Monday: Amazing wildlife photos

Monday, December 9th, 2013

Paul Souders of Seattle won the Grand Prize in the latest National Wildlife Federation photo contest. His entry was an amazing shot of a polar bear peering up at him from beneath the water in Hudson Bay.

Paul Souders' winning photo.

Paul Souders’ winning photo.

During the summer of 2012, Souders gathered together 500 pounds of gear, including a Zodiac boat and outboard motor, as he explains in his blog. He hauled the equipment 1,800 miles from his home in Seattle to the end of the road in Thompson, Manitoba, Canada. Then he continued on by train another 600 miles to Churchill, Manitoba, all so he could take his time on the water, aiming to get the best possible photos.

Souders spent days in the Zodiac, waiting and watching before this female bear presented herself — and then he continued to wait to make her comfortable with him.

“Maybe that’s why this image feels so much like a gift,” Souders writes. “Having come so far and worked so hard to find this one special bear, tolerant of my presence, curious but not aggressive.”

He first thought his best shot was the moment the bear raised her head out of the water. Later, when he looked at his images, he realized he had an even better one. The bear had been watching him from underwater as he waited, and that was winning shot.

For Paul’s full description and a better image of the water bear, visit his blog on the website Paul Souders, WorldFoto. His expanded portfolio is well worth a bit of browsing as well.

Souders and his bear photo also won a top prize in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest, co-sponsored by the Natural History Museum of London and BBC Worldwide. The category was “Animals in their Environment.” See all the winning photos on the website of the Natural History Museum. Details of that competition, which will take new entries for 2014 starting today, can be found on the “enter page.”

As for the National Wildlife Federation contest, that competition is now in its 43rd year. Associated with “National Wildlife” magazine, the contest received some 43,000 entries during 2013. The slide show below shows the top winners. You may also wish to read the stories behind the photos.

Amusing Monday: Orca surprises fishermen

Monday, June 24th, 2013

Frank Sanders is an experienced hunting and fishing guide, yet he screamed with excitement when he reeled in his fishing line to find a killer whale at the other end.

The video, posted two weeks ago by Frank’s deckhand Charlie Barberini, has been viewed more than 800,000 times on YouTube. That doesn’t count the number of times people watched the original Facebook post and videos copied from the original.

The video has raised numerous questions, such as why Frank is showing his ring to the camera and looking for someone named Jason. I was able to reach Frank in Hawaii, where he was on a fishing trip, and he filled in some of the blanks.

Frank, Charlie and others were fishing for halibut near Ninilchik in Cook Inlet in Southern Alaska. They had seen a couple killer whales go by a few times but not close to the boat. I think Frank told me the orcas were eating sockeye salmon that were in the area. Suddenly, out of the depths, a killer whale appeared following the fish on his line.

You need only to see and hear the video to know how much excitement that generated.

Frank told me the orca did not appear to want the fish. It was playing with the fishermen in the boat, grabbing the fish, pulling the line out about 200 yards, then bringing it back. The whale circled the boat a few times, he said, tangling fishing lines played out from other poles. This went on for at least 10 minutes before the whale went on his way.

The whale, of course, had the strength to bite the fish through and take it away or snap the line any time he chose, Frank said. But it didn’t.

About his ring, Frank explained that he travels a lot for his business, Alaska Trophy Hunters. In fact, he is away from his wife about as much as he is with her, so he sends her hunting and fishing pictures from all over Alaska and displays his ring for her.

As for Jason, I didn’t get the full story, but I heard enough to understand that this, too, was an inside message. Jason is Frank’s best friend and the best man at his wedding. Jason was in a four-wheeler accident and suffered a severe brain injury. He was in a coma for a month but then was getting better. Jason set up a personal website on “Caring Bridge” to share information back and forth with his friends and family. Frank wanted Jason to understand that he was thinking about him during this adventure and was showing him a special bracelet they shared. Unfortunately, Jason suffered a stroke and may not pull through. (Update, June 24, 11 a.m.: I just received word from Frank this morning that Jason passed away yesterday.)

After the video was posted, Frank reportedly told reporter Lydia Warren of London’s Daily Mail:

“Fishing gets kind of repetitive after 18 years, but this is one of the most exciting things that has happened to me.”

Plankton bloom in Puget Sound: art on the water

Thursday, June 20th, 2013
Eyes Over Puget Sound shot some amazing plankton blooms this week, including this one between Bainbridge Island and Seattle. Photo courtesy of EOPS

Eyes Over Puget Sound shot some amazing plankton blooms this week, including this one between Bainbridge Island and Seattle. / Photos courtesy of EOPS

Team members for Eyes Over Puget Sound, a Washington Department of Ecology program, were excited to discover and report on a second major plankton bloom during their flight this week.

Here are a few notes provided in the latest EOPS report, dated June 17, presumably by team leader Christopher Krembs:


“The real show came at the end of the day when we got to Edmonds and started to see a bright orange Noctiluca bloom. It was huge! It persisted all the way to South East Passage. It was the most extensive bloom I have ever seen. Every direction you looked, there it was. It’s as if Puget Sound was on fire!

“The size of this bloom made me wonder … Why is it happening in the Main Basin and not in South Sound? Why is it happening again? Why don’t we know more about its appearance and ferocious appetite for phytoplankton? Could it be that our imprint on Puget Sound is artfully surfacing to remind us of our daily connection to the Sound? Could these large blooms be a clue of a shift in the food chain?”

The report provides all kinds of good information, which I will review more carefully when I get the chance. General observations include red-brown blooms in Port Townsend Bay, Discovery Bay and Bellingham Bay. Large mats of accumulated plankton were seen in Samish Bay. Clusters of jellyfish were spotted in Budd, Totten and Eld Inlets, all in South Puget Sound.

References were made to a previous Noctiluca bloom, which we discussed in Water Ways May 23. Also check out the previous EOPS report.

EOPS provides aerial observations of sea surface conditions between landings, when water is sampled for a variety of conditions. Weather and general oceanographic conditions also are reported after each flight.

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Food for thought

"In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught."Baba Dioum, Senegalese conservationist