A couple years ago, I was intrigued that a number of young women
were making a living as professional mermaids. (See
Water Ways, Jan. 27, 2014). Since then, the idea of becoming a
mermaid for a day, a week or longer has caught on, with mermaid
schools opening throughout the world.
Resort and Spa in the Philippines claims to be the first
mermaid school in the world, but others were soon behind.
In New York, World of Swimming, a nonprofit corporation,
inspires young people to become swimmers through lessons, swimming
camps and other activities.
The first short video on this page features young mermaid
swimmers accompanied by music as they swim about by swishing their
tails. In the second video (also below), ABC News reporter Sara
Haines takes the plunge in a first-person report to see what it is
like to become a mermaid. The piece made the airwaves on
Good Morning America.
In Vermont, reporter Sarah Tuff Dunn goes to mermaid school for
the online publication
“Seven Days” and is thoroughly enchanted after putting on her
mermaid tail with its built-in swim fins.
“I felt the tail rise as if magically,” she wrote. “I released
my hands from the wall and began to swim … like a mermaid. A
doggy-paddling mermaid, mind you, and one who momentarily panicked
when she realized she couldn’t scissor-kick her legs.”
Sarah, who soon catches on to swimming like a dolphin, discusses
the risks of drowning with one’s legs tied together, and she
explains why mermaid schools tend to emphasize safety.
What I find interesting about this mermaid trend is that
children are getting excited about swimming. Being a mermaid or
merman expands their confidence as they hold their breath under
water for longer periods of time while building up their muscles
for what could become a lifelong interest in aquatic sports — or at
least some basic survival skills.
I grew up with cats and have lived with cats for most of my
life. I can’t recall that any of my feline friends were fond of
water. But then nobody I know has ever taken the time to teach them
to surf on the back of a dog, ride the waves with a human or even
learn the basic command to “stay.”
These things are exactly what long-time dog trainer Robert Dollwet has
done after deciding he wanted to train cats. After moving from
California to Australia in 2010, Robert went to a local animal
shelter and adopted a lively kitten he named Didga, short for
Didgeridoo. As he proceeded through the training, Robert began
sharing his methods on a YouTube channel he named “CATMANTOO.”
Later, he added another kitten, Boomer, to his family.
The first video on this page shows Didga performing a stunt that
Robert calls “Ice surfing.” That’s because the dog (who belongs to
a client involved in dog training) is named Ice. Robert says many
of the feats shown in his videos take weeks or months for the
animals to learn.
“Please don’t try the things you see at home,” he says in a note
attached to the video. “I’d feel bad if your cat was hurt or forced
into doing something they don’t want to do. Watch my tutorials to
learn how to teach your cat.”
The second video, released in April, shows Boomer riding on a
surfboard on a river, as Robert gently paddles around.
“We’ve been doing this since he was a kitten,” Robert writes in
the notes. “I gave him lots of food while he rides on the
surfboard. He’s 11 months now, and he is so comfortable, it’s about
that time to take his surfboard riding skills to the next level —
by actual surfing on a wave in the ocean (with life vest, of
course). Stay tuned.”
The third video is an amusing story called “Didga Dreams BIG,”
which actually shows off this cat’s repertoire of tricks and
stunts. I like the way Robert demonstrates his cats’ abilities by
telling little stories in some of the videos — such as Didga’s
skateboard trip around the beach town of Coolangatta, where he
lives in Australia. See “World’s Best
One of the three species of rockfish listed as threatened or
endangered in the Puget Sound region is about to be pulled off the
Endangered Species List, following recent scientific findings.
Genetic studies carried out with the help of fisherfolk from
Kitsap County have determined that canary rockfish are not a
discrete population from those found off the Washington Coast. An
official comment period on the delisting is open until Sept. 6, as
described in the
I first discussed early evidence of this genetic finding a year
ago. Kelly Andrews, a genetics expert with NOAA Fisheries,
confirmed that limited genetic samples of canary rockfish from
coastal areas appeared no different from samples taken from Puget
Sound. Kelly wanted to review analyses from additional samples
before drawing firm conclusions. See
Water Ways, June 18, 2015.
canary rockfish from the Endangered Species List will have no
yelloweye rockfish, listed as threatened, or bacaccio,
listed as endangered. The change also is expected to have no
immediate effects on fishing rules, which are designed to protect
all rockfish in Puget Sound.
Rockfish are considered an important part of the Puget Sound
ecosystem. Understanding the causes of their decline and finding
ways to rebuild their populations could help with the recovery of a
variety of other marine species, experts say.
five-year review (PDF 15.1 mb) on the status of the three
species of rockfish was due last year, but it was delayed until
April of this year to include the new genetic information. In
addition to a proposal to delist canary rockfish, the report
discusses the difficulty in gathering population data. The authors
were able to report:
“The data suggest that total rockfish declined at a rate of 3.1
to 3.8 percent per year from 1977 to 2014 … or a 69 to 76 percent
total decline over that period. We did not find evidence for
subpopulations with different population growth rates.”
Those involved in the scientific effort expressed appreciation
to the anglers who went out with them to track down rockfish and
take fin clips for genetic sampling. The effort also included
information from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife,
where researchers surveyed rockfish areas with divers and remotely
The local fishing experts were able to take the researchers to
the hotspots where rockfish have always been found.
During the sampling, fishers were careful to release the
rockfish with “descending devices” to get them safely back to deep
water, where they reside. That is a technique recommended for all
anglers who catch rockfish while fishing for other species. For
“Bring That Fish Down” (PDF 673 kb) by California Sea Grant and
Washington’s Rockfish” by WDFW.
Among those helping with the survey were Ray Frederick, a
longtime leader in the Kitsap Poggie Club, a local fishing group,
and Randy Jones, a charterboat operator from Port Orchard.
Ray recalls catching rockfish decades ago while fishing for
salmon and other fish. “I considered myself lucky if I caught a
rockfish and brought it home, because they’re really good eating,”
Ray said in a story
written by Ed Quimby, a former NOAA writer. “I prefer salmon,”
Ray added, “but my wife likes rockfish better.”
Efforts to develop a recovery plan for rockfish continue for
yelloweye rockfish and bocaccio as required by the Endangered
Species Act. Details can be found on NOAA’s webpage
“Rockfish in Puget Sound/Georgia Basin.”
How high school and college students view climate change shine
through clearly in new video productions submitted in a contest
organized by the University of Washington School of Environmental
and Forest Sciences.
The school is a unit within the UW College of the Environment.
This is the second year for the contest, supported by the Denman
Endowment for Student Excellence in Forest Resources.
Contest rules describe climate change as an issue that unites
all the research interests within the school, topics that include
sustainable forest management, biofuels, wildlife conservation,
landscape ecology and plant microbiology.
“Much of the responsibility for finding sustainable solutions
will fall on the younger generations,” the rules state. “That’s
what inspired us to host this video competition — to spread
awareness and hear your voices on the issue.”
The first video on this page is the 2016 first-place winner in
the high school division. The second video is the 2016 first-place
winner in the college division. The third video is last year’s
first-place winner in the high school division.
Judging was conducted by a panel of climate scientists, artists
and filmmakers. First-place winners received $5,000; second-place,
$1,000; and third-place, $500.
Here are this year’s winning videos, with links to the top three
in each division:
High school students, 2016
Place: Yuna Shin, Henry M. Jackson High School,
Place: Suraj Buddhavarapu, Naveen Sahi, Allison Tran
and Vibha Vadlamani, Tesla STEM High School, Redmond.
Place: Luke Brodersen, Shorewood High School,
Other finalists: Julci Areza, Chloe Birney and
Tanaya Sardesai, Redmond High School in Redmond, and Aria Ching,
Jesselynn Noland, Emily Riley and Emily Weaver, Lynnwood High
School in Bothell.
College undergraduates, 2016
Place: Audrey Seda and Tommy Tang, Eastern Washington
University and University of Washington – Bothell.
Place: Ben Jensen, Charles Johnson and Anthony
Whitfield, University of Washington.
The common murre, which can be spotted in Puget Sound especially
in winter, may be considered “nature’s laugh track,” according to
Bob Sundstrom, writing for “BirdNote,”
a two-minute radio show heard on public radio stations including
I wasn’t sure what he meant until I heard the call clearly, and
then I wanted to share this amusing sound with readers who missed
“The Common Murre’s guttural call carries well over the roar of
the waves, a natural laugh track, far richer than human laughter
canned for a sitcom,” says narrator Michael Stein in the following
For other amusing bird sounds, I pulled a YouTube video created
with the help of Nick Lund, who writes a blog called “The Birdlist.” This
video was posted on National Public Radio’s science program
Andy Jeffrey of
Earth Touch Network points out that the bald eagle’s
less-than-intimidating chirp may not be the strangest call, but it
may be the most surprising. For films and such, Hollywood producers
have dubbed in the screech of a red-tailed hawk to give the eagle a
more imposing sound.
We can’t leave the topic of funny bird sounds without taking
time to listen to the lyre bird, known for its ability to mimic all
sorts of sounds. And who better to sneak with us through the
underbrush and explain this odd bird than the BBC’s David
Attenborough. Check out the video.
While all of these bird sounds are amusing, who would you say is
the most amusing bird? The question is open to debate, but I always
get a kick out of the thievery of the various species of sea gull.
The compilation video below offers a sampling of this clever bird’s
antics. As you’ll see, a few other clever birds also are
An international team of taxonomists has chosen the “Top 10 New
Species of 2016” from among some 18,000 new species named in
They include a hominin in the same genus as humans and an ape
nicknamed “Laia” that might provide clues to the origin of humans,
according to information provided by the College of Environmental
Science and Forestry at the State University of New York, which
compiles the list each year.
The list also includes a newly identified giant Galapagos
tortoise, two fish, a beetle named after a fictional bear, and two
plants — a carnivorous sundew considered endangered as soon as it
was discovered and a tree hiding in plain sight, states a news
release from ESF.
The annual list of the top 10 new species was established in
2008 to call attention to the fact that thousands of new species
are being discovered each year, while other species are going
extinct at least as fast.
“The rate of description of species is effectively unchanged
since before World War II,” said Quintin Wheeler, ESF president.
“The result is that species are disappearing at a rate at least
equal to that of their discovery.
“We can only win this race to explore biodiversity if we pick up
the pace,” he said. “In so doing we gather irreplaceable evidence
of our origins, discover clues to more efficient and sustainable
ways to meet human needs and arm ourselves with fundamental
knowledge essential for wide-scale conservation success.”
The top-10 list, compiled by the International Institute for
Species Exploration, is a colorful sampling of the new species
being named by taxonomists. The list comes out each year around
Mary 23 — the birthday of Carolus Linnaeus, an 18th century
botanist considered the father of modern taxonomy.
Descriptions of the “Top 10 New Species of 2016” are taken from
information provided by ESF, which permitted use of the
photographs. Additional information and photos can be found by
following the links below.
A research team working in the Galapagos Archipelago of Ecuador
has discovered that two species of giant tortoises — not just one —
co-exist on the island of Santa Cruz. The discovery comes 185 years
after Charles Darwin noted that slight variations in the shells of
tortoises could distinguish which island they were from, which is
among the evidence Darwin used in his theory of evolution.
This particiular giant sundew, a carnivorous plant, is the
largest sundew ever found in the New World. It is believed to be
the first species of plant discovered through a photograph on
Facebook. It is considered critically endangered, since it is known
to live in only one place in the world, the top pf a 5,000-foot
mountain in Brazil.
Fossil remains of at least 15 individuals makes this the largest
collection of a single species of hominin ever found on the African
continent. Once the age of the bones is determined, the finding
will have implications for the branch of the family tree containing
This tiny amphibious crustacean, discovered in a South American
cave, represents a new subfamily, genus and species of isopod with
a behavior never seen before in its family group: It builds
shelters of mud.
This two-inch anglerfish — with its odd fishing-pole-like
structure dangling in front — was discovered in the Gulf of Mexico
by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration while
assessing natural resource damages from the Deepwater Horizon oil
spill in 2010. The dangling structure, called an esca, is home to
symbiotic bacteria that produce light in the darkness of the deep
ocean and is presumably used to catch prey.
The ruby red seadragon, related to sea horses, is only the third
known species of sea dragon. At 10 inches long and living in
relatively shallow water off the West Coast of Australia, it is
notable for having escaped notice so long. The ruby seadragon was
first identified while testing museum specimens for genetics, then
the hunt was on for a living sample.
The scientific name of this tiny beetle, just 1/25th of an inch
long, comes from the fictional Paddington Bear, a lovable character
in children’s books who showed up at Paddington Station in London
with a sign that read, “Please look after this bear.” The
researchers hope the name for the new beetle will call attention to
the plight of the “threatened” Andean spectacled bear, which
inspired the Paddington books. The beetle is found in pools of
water that accumulate in the hollows of plants in Peru, where the
bear also is found.
An ape nicknamed “Laia” lived about 11.6 million years ago in
what is now Spain, climbing trees and eating fruit. She lived
before the lineage containing humans and great apes diverged from a
sister branch that contains the gibbons. Her discovery raises the
prospect that early humans could be more closely related to gibbons
than to the great apes.
Found near the main road in Monts de Cristal National Park, in
Gabon, this new tree species had been overlooked for years in
inventories of local trees, which tended to focus on larger
specimens. The tree grows to only about 20 feet high and is so
different from related members of the Annonaceae family of
flowering plants that it was given its own genus.
This new damselfly, called the sparklewing, is among an
extraordinary number of new damselflies discovered in Africa, with
60 species reported in one publication alone. Most of the new
species are so colorful and distinct that they can be identified
solely from photographs. The name Umma Gumma was taken from the
1969 Pink Floyd album, “Ummagumma,” which is British slang for
June is Orca Awareness Month in the Salish Sea. And, as we’ve
seen in recent years, the Southern Resident killer whales are not
around to help kick off the month-long celebration.
J pod, one of the three Southern Resident pods, typically moves
in and out of Puget Sound through the winter and into spring, but
none of the whales have been seen in inland waters since May 18,
Orca Network. On May 24, the same groups were seen off the West
Coast of Vancouver Island.
Let’s hope they are finding plenty to eat, then come home to the
San Juan Islands in time for Orca Sing at Lime Kiln State Park on
June 25, when people will gather to serenade them. Meanwhile,
plenty of other events will be held during Orca Awareness
Another annual event, planned for this Saturday, is EcoFest,
which has been revamped this year as a more active festival, rather
than a lineup of information booths. Organizers are calling the
event in Kingston “a community science and nature festival.”
A nature walk followed by tips on bird watching, solar power,
medicinal plants and green construction techniques are part of the
festivities, along with music and food. For information, download
press release (PDF 77 kb) from Stillwaters Environmental Center
or visit the Stillwaters
The following day, this Sunday, is the kickoff celebration for
Orca Awareness Month, including a Baby Orca Birthday Bash at Alki
Beach Bathhouse, 2701 Alki Ave. SW in Seattle. Live music by Dana
Water Ways, Jan. 25), face painting, orca bingo and other
activities are planned.
For the remainder of the month, activities include an
informational webinar June 9, a discussion about the toxic threat
June 16, “Orcas in Our Midst” workshop June 18, a march for
endangered orcas June 24, “Orca Sing” June 25, “Oil, Orcas and
Oystercatchers” forum June 25, and “Orca and Salmon: An Evening of
Storytelling” June 29. These and several events yet to be scheduled
can be followed on the Orca
Month website or the Facebook page.
Orca Awareness Month was started 10 years ago by Orca Network
and has been adopted by Orca Salmon Alliance, made
up of organizations working to expand awareness of the relation
between killer whales and salmon, both considered at risk of
After warmer-than-average temperatures for much of the past
year, May suddenly turned cooler across the nation — except for the
Northwest, which remained warmer than normal.
Although it seemed cool recently, at least compared to April,
Western Washington had the greatest deviation with temperatures
between 3 and 5 degrees higher than the 30-year average. See first
It seems ironic to write about cooler temperatures after last
month’s teaser headline at the top of the Kitsap Sun’s front page:
“Earth getting HOT, HOT, HOTTER!”
The big story earlier this month was that worldwide temperatures
had broken all-time heat records for 12 months in a row, and
April’s record-high temperature was a full half-degree higher than
the previous record.
The average temperature hasn’t been below the 20th century
average since December 1984, and the last time the Earth broke a
monthly cold record was nearly a century ago, in December 1916,
according to NOAA records.
“These kinds of records may not be that interesting, but so many
in a row that break the previous records by so much indicates that
we’re entering uncharted climatic territory (for modern human
society),” Texas A&M University climate scientist Andrew
Dessler wrote in an email to Seth Borenstein of the
El Niño, which is now fading, was blamed in part for the
unprecedented heat worldwide. But climatologists say the onward
march of global warming lies in the background. Last year turned
out to be the hottest year on record, easily beating 2014, which
was also a record year.
The first four months of this year were so much hotter than 2015
that 2016 is still likely to set another record. NOOA’s
Climate Prediction Center says La Niña conditions are on the
way, with a 50 percent chance of La Niña by summer and a 75 percent
chance by fall.
Summer temperatures are expected to be above average except in
the Central U.S., while both coasts are expected to be the most
likely to exceed normal temperatures. Check out the second map on
Speaking of the onward march of climate change, computer
graphics developers keep coming up with new ways to show how global
temperatures are increasing in concert with rising greenhouse gases
in the atmosphere.
Climate Central has combined data sets from NOAA to produce the
orange graph,which shows the advance of a trailing 30-year
temperature average from 1980 through 2015. To put it simply, we
continue to adjust to a new normal.
Others have used animation to depict temperature change. One
graphic (below) received a lot of attention this month. Temperature
change is represented as the distance from a “zero” circle starting
in 1850. Each month, a line moves one-twelfth of the way around the
circle, completing 360 degrees each year. The line gets farther and
farther from the center and really jumps outward in 2015.
Ed Hawkins, professor of meteorology at the University of
Reading near London, created the animation. He credited an
associate, Jan Fuglestvedt, with the idea of a spiral.
Jason Samenow, chief meteorologist for the Washington Post’s
Capital Weather Gang, called it “the most compelling global
warming visualization ever made.” His blog post also includes some
other visual depictions of climate change.
Another animated graph, by Tom Randall and Blacki Migliozzi of
show similar data depicted as a moving line graph.
Visualizations plotted temperature differences at various
locations on a world map. Over time, it is easy to see how the
Earth has gotten generally warmer, accelerating in recent
One of the most intriguing graphics, in my opinion, is one that
purports to show the various factors that affect global temperature
— from volcanic activity to man-made aerosols to greenhouse gases.
The designers, Eric Roston and Blacki Migliozzi of Bloomberg,
ask viewers to judge which factor they believe leads to global
Since this is a blog about water issues, I would probably be
remiss if I didn’t point out that the consequences of rising
greenhouse gases is not just an increase in the Earth’s
temperature. We can’t forget that a major portion of the carbon
dioxide is being absorbed into the ocean, causing effects on marine
life that are far from fully understood.
Baby river otters appear to be reluctant swimmers when they
enter the water for the very first time. As you can see in the
first video, the mother otter pulls, pushes and practically
wrestles her offspring to begin a swim lesson at Columbus Zoo in
The second video, from Oregon Zoo in Portland, features otter
keeper Becca VanBeek, who provides us some details about the life
of a young otter. Shown is a baby otter named Molalla. The mom
seems a bit rough with her baby, but she’s just trying to teach a
diving and breathing pattern.
If we want to be formal about it, what should we call a baby
otter? A baby walrus is called a calf, and a baby sea lion is
called a pup. So a baby otter is called a ______? If you said pup,
you are right.
Now for the parents. If a male walrus is called a bull and a
male sea lion is also called a bull, what is a male otter called?
The answer is boar, but please don’t ask me who comes up with this
stuff. Correspondingly, female walruses and female sea lions are
called cows, while female otters are called sows.
Thirteen kinds of otters exist in the world. Some, such as the
sea cat of South America, are so endangered that almost nothing is
known about them Read about all 13 on the h2g2 website.
In the Northwest, many people confuse the sea otter with the
river otter. Both are related to the weasel, and both have webbed
feet and two layers of fur to maintain their body temperature in
cold water. But there are many differences:
River otters spend more time on land than water. Sea otters
almost never climb up on land.
River otters live in freshwater and marine estuaries. Sea
otters live in seawater, including the ocean.
River otters generally grow to 20-25 pounds, sea otters to
River otters swim with their bellies down and expose little of
their back. Sea otters generally swim belly-up and float high in
the water because of air trapped in their fur.
River otters have rounded webbed paws, front and back. Sea
otters’ rear paws are elongated like flippers with webbing going to
the end of the toes.
Below is one of the two live cameras in the sea otter exhibit at
Seattle Aquarium. The cameras are in operation from 9 a.m. to 6
p.m. Visit the aquarium’s Otter Cams webpage
to see both cams and read about the otters.
Monterey Bay Aquarium also has a live otter cam, which is in
operation from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Visit the aquarium’s
Sea Otter page for feeding times, when the otters are
introduced to the audience and a live discussion takes place with
“Sonic Sea,” which will air Thursday on Discovery Channel, will
take you down beneath the ocean waves, where sounds take on new
meaning, some with dangerous implications.
Humans spend most of their time in air, a medium that transmits
light so well that we have no trouble seeing the shapes of objects
in a room or mountains many miles away. In the same way, water is
the right medium for sound, which shapes the world of marine
mammals and other species that live under water.
The hour-long documentary film reveals how humpback whales use
low-frequency sounds to communicate with other whales across an
entire ocean and how killer whales use high-frequency sound to
locate their prey in dark waters.
“The whales see the ocean through sound, so their mind’s eye is
their mind’s ear,” says Michael Jasny of the Natural Resources
Defense Council, an environment group that produced the film with
the help of the production company Imaginary Forces.
“Sonic Sea” opens with Ken Balcomb, dean of killer whale
research in Puget Sound, telling the story of how he learned about
16 beaked whales that had beached themselves in the Bahamas, where
he was doing research in 2001.
“Animals that I had grown to know over a 10-year period were now
dead,” Ken says during the movie, recalling the horrifying day when
one whale after another was discovered dead or dying. “They were
trying to get away. I was driven to find out why.”
Thanks to Ken’s presence during that stranding incident, experts
were able to prove that Navy sonar could be deadly. It took two
years for Navy officials to overcome their denial.
As I watched the film, I wondered if people would identify with
the idea that hearing to marine mammals is like sight to humans.
Would people see how much humans have invaded the underwater world
with noise from ship traffic, oil exploration, military training
and shoreline construction?
“I listen to the world, and to me song is life,” said Chris
Clark, a bioacoustics expert at Cornell Lab of Ornithology,. “It is
the essence of who we are, and it joins us all. The problem is, in
the ocean, we are injecting enormous amounts of noise, so much so
that we are acoustically bleaching the ocean. All the singing
voices of the planet are lost in that cloud of noise.”
This type of human invasion is different from wiping out habitat
as new construction changes the land, but the effect can be equally
devastating to some species.
In September of 2001, a group of researchers on the East Coast
were collecting fecal samples from right whales to check for stress
hormones. Stress levels were running high among the whales, except
for a few days when the levels dropped dramatically. That happened
right after Sept. 11, when ship traffic in the area was shut down
following the bombing of the World Trade Center. It still isn’t
clear what that constant stress is doing to the animals, but it
can’t be good. See
Duke University press release.
The good news, the film tells us, is that ships can be made
quieter, with an important side benefit: Quieter ships are more
efficient, which makes them cheaper to operate. Ships can also
reduce noise by going slower, saving on fuel. Beyond shipping,
people can find ways to operate in the ocean with less sonic harm
to sea life.
The Navy’s viewpoint, as represented in the film, appears to be
a more enlightened approach that I have seen until now. Of course,
protecting Navy ships against enemy attacks is the priority, but
the need to accommodate marine life seems to be recognized to a
“It comes down to what we value,” Clark said. “We value a living
ocean. We are putting the ocean at risk. And if you put the ocean
at risk, you are putting all of us at risk.”
The first video on this page is the trailer to “Sonic Sea” as
provided by the producers of the film. The second is the trailer
provided by Discovery Channel.