Category Archives: ABOUT THIS BLOG

Change for the new year: new home for this blog

Today is moving day for my blog.

For the past 12 years, I have been writing “Watching Our Water Ways” for the Kitsap Sun. The focus has been primarily on Puget Sound issues, with special attention paid to local matters in and around Kitsap County. My blog posts are frequently published in the newspaper’s printed edition.

As many of you know, I retired as the Sun’s full-time environmental reporter back in 2014. The following year, I started writing in-depth stories about Puget Sound for the organization Puget Sound Institute, which is affiliated with the University of Washington. They call me the “senior writer” in that half-time position.

As of today, my blog is moving to the Puget Sound Institute’s website, which also publishes my in-depth stories in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound. I encourage subscribers to “Watching Our Water Ways” to subscribe to the new blog, which will have a slightly different name, “Our Water Ways.” The signup is simple: just go to the new launch page for “Our Water Ways” and click on the subscription prompt. My first blog post there is “Welcome to ‘Our Water Ways,’ a blog about Puget Sound and all things water-related.”

One reason for the change is to bring my blog to the website where most of my work is now being published. I frequently spend several weeks on a story, interviewing top scientists and policymakers and reading their latest reports before beginning my writing. The new blog will allow more frequent coverage of what I’m learning along the way, including inside stories from researchers, political leaders, environmental advocates and so on.

One of my retirement goals was to keep working while slowing the pace over time. At first, I was writing three or four blog posts a week, in addition to my half-time job for PSI. I’ve slowed that pace already and expect to be writing one or two posts a week in the new location. I plan to retire the weekly “Amusing Monday” feature, but I will continue to report on humorous and creative issues in the Puget Sound region.

My focus will shift somewhat more to Puget Sound as a whole, meaning you may read less detailed coverage of Kitsap County per se. But Kitsap will remain in my writing, because I know this area better than most and I truly believe that the work going on in here represents some of the best efforts to protect and restore Puget Sound. Thanks to my ongoing relationship with Kitsap Sun reporters and editors, I will continue to share things that I hear about.

It would take too long for me to list the key players fighting for a healthy environment in our county, but I would like to point out that local leaders are tackling major issues of environmental protection and restoration: salmon and sea life, water quality, streams and shorelines, and forest ecology. Some folks in Kitsap are working hard to reduce the toxic chemicals and bacterial pollution going into our waterways by improving the management of stormwater, sewage and water supplies.

I’ve always said that the western side of Puget Sound, including Hood Canal, is perhaps the best place in the world to work as an environmental reporter. (Check out the profile that former Seattle Times reporters Eric Sorensen wrote about me in Washington State Magazine in 2012.) The support I have received from the Kitsap Sun — including editor David Nelson and local news editor Kim Rubenstein, as well as fellow reporters and other staffers — have made the job a pleasure, whether I was working as a full-time employee or as a blogger and part-time freelancer.

I hope current email subscribers to this blog will sign up for the new one, and maybe I can attract some new blog subscribers along the way. For those who use Twitter, I will continue to post new items under @waterwatching.

As far as I can tell, my 12 years of blogs on “Watching Our Water Ways” will remain as a resource, and I’m proud to see that the blog pops up frequently on internet searches related to environmental issues.

As always, I look forward to comments and suggestions as I move forward with the new blog (email: dunagc@uw.edu), and thank you for reading.

Amusing Monday: Nature photographers reach beyond ordinary

Attracting more than 48,000 photo entries from 100 countries, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition remains one of the most prestigious photo contests in the world.

“Night Glow,” contest entry by Cruz Erdmann, named Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year/2019 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Click on images to enlarge photos

The competition reflects a diversity of “wildlife” in its various entry categories, focusing on the “behavior” of various groups of animals while making room for stunning landscapes and photos of plants and fungi.

The first photo on this page, “Night Glow” provides a rare image of a bigfin reef squid showing off a variety of iridescent colors. Contest judges, impressed with the quality and clarity of the image, honored photographer Cruz Erdmann of New Zealand with the Young Photographer of the Year Award. The photo also was declared the best in the category for young photographers in the 11-to-14 age group.

The photo was taken during an organized night dive off North Sulawesi, Indonesia, where Cruz noticed a pair of squid engaged in a mating ritual. One of the squid jetted away, but the other — probably a male — stayed just long enough for the young photographer to capture this image of the creature in its colorful sexual display. Cruz understood the rarity of the moment as well as the technical challenge he faced.

“Land of the Eagle,” winner in the Bird Behavior category, by Audun Rikardsen/2019 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

“You have to be careful not to stir up the silt when you dive or you’ll get a lot of backscatter from the strobe light,” he told BBC News. “I wasn’t kicking with my legs so that’s why the photo seems very clear.”

Theo Bosboom, a nature photographer who served on this year’s judging panel, commented: “To dive in the pitch dark, find this beautiful squid and be able to photograph it so elegantly, to reveal its wonderful shapes and colors, takes so much skill. What a resounding achievement for such a young photographer.” (Check out the story by Josh Davis on the Natural History Museum website.)

Wildlife Photographer of the Year is developed and produced by the Natural History Museum, London. Images are selected by a panel of professionals for their originality, artistry and technical complexity.

“The Garden of Eels,” winner in the Under Water category, by David Doubilet/2019 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Judges included chairwoman Rosamund ‘Roz’ Kidman Cox, writer and editor from Great Britain; Shekar Dattatri, wildlife and conservation filmmaker from India; Jamie Rojo, naturalist conservation photographer from Mexico; and Tim Littlewood, director of science for the Natural History Museum.

“There has never been a more crucial time to move hearts and minds with beautiful, truthful and impactful nature photography, so judging the competition is both a privilege and a huge responsibility,” Littlewood said in a news release. “We hope the images we select will inspire not only the next generation of photographers, but the next generation of scientists, conservationists and advocates for the natural world.”

“Touching Trust,” Highly Commended by judges in the Wildlife Photojournalism category. By Thomas P. Peschak/2019 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

The second photo on this page by Audun Rikardsen of Norway was the winner in the Birds Behavior category. Titled “Land of the Eagle,” the picture was the result of a three-year effort to attract eagles to a tree branch where Audun had mounted a camera. Over time, with occasional treats of road kill for the birds, this golden eagle became accustomed to the camera, allowing its picture to be taken with a flash via motion sensor. Audun watched from a blind he had built nearby on the Norwegian coast.

The third photo, by David Doubilet of the United States, shows a colony of garden eels on a steep slope off Dauin, The Philippines. The slope, at least two-thirds the size of a football field, was home to the largest such colony he had ever encountered, David said. It was the winner in the Under Water category.

“The Huddle,” part of the best “portfolio” of wildlife images by Stefan Christmann/2019 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

The fourth photo, by Thomas P Peschak of Germany and South Africa, captures a young gray whale approaching a pair of human hands that are reaching down into the water. The photo was taken in San Ignacio Lagoon, a gray whale nursery and sanctuary off the coast of Mexico’s Baja California. Since the 1970s, trust of humans has developed to the point that gray whale mothers sometimes allow their young to get close to the limited number of whale-watching boats.

The picture of the two penguins by Stefan Christmann of Germany is part of a collection of photos deemed to be the best “portfolio” of wildlife photography in the contest. Other photos show up to 5,000 emperor penguins huddling on the sea ice of Antarctica’s Atka Bay. Females entrust their eggs to their closely bonded mates, who incubate a single egg while the females head to sea to feed for up to three months before returning to take over care of the chicks. For more of his work from this portfolio, visit Stefan’s website Nature in Focus.

Not shown on this page is an image by Yongqing Bao of China, named the overall Wildlife Photographer of the Year and winner in the Mammals Behavior category. The photo is a freeze-frame image of a startled marmot in its final moments of life as a Tibetan fox prepares to pounce. This image, along with other winners and “Highly Commended” photos in 17 categories can be viewed on the following pages of the Natural History Museum website:

In addition, The Guardian newspaper and The Atlantic magazine are showing the winning photos in nice presentations on their websites.

The Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest was started in 1965 by “BBC Wildlife Magazine,” called “Animals” at the time. The Natural History Museum came on board in 1984 and later took over the full contest operations.

London’s Natural History Museum is a place to explore the natural world and confront the most important issues facing humanity and the planet, according to museum officials. The museum welcomes about 5 million visitors each year, and the website receives more than 850,000 unique visitors each month.

Amusing Monday: Expert explains climate science with a touch of humor

Climatologist Adam Levy, better known as ClimateAdam, uses humor and examples from everyday life to explain the science of climate change and to dispel mistaken beliefs and misinformation.

Take, for example, the first video on this page, which addresses a common statement I’ve heard from climate-change skeptics: If carbon dioxide is essential to life on the planet, how can it be considered dangerous?

I love Adam’s example, which shows an alternative Adam getting drenched in a shower with his clothes on. Yes, water is essential to the planet, but it’s not always beneficial, as I discuss constantly in this blog.

“The greenhouse effect from carbon dioxide is actually a good thing,” Adam acknowledges. “We should all be super-grateful for it. Without it, there would be no protective warming blanket around the Earth, and things would get way too cold for comfort.”

But he points out that too much CO2 can mean too much of a good thing — that is, too much warmth. In another video, titled “Why the Greenhouse Effect is like a Hot Sweater,” Adam says when a person gets too warm, he needs to take off a sweater — or at least stop putting on more clothing.

Adam holds a doctorate degree in atmospheric physics from the University of Oxford, where he began his YouTube channel. He later worked for Nature publications, where he co-hosted the award-winning Nature Podcast. He currently works as a freelancer, producing scientific podcasts and videos for a variety of organizations while continuing his podcast.

The second video is a new trailer for his YouTube channel, showing clips from the videos he produced over the past five years.

“While I was doing my doctorate, I was constantly having conversations about climate change,” he told Mikaela Joyce in an interview for MIT’s “Climate” publication. “I realized just how different those conversations were when I had them with my colleagues versus when they were with friends, family and strangers. But I loved these discussions, because it felt like I was able to share the knowledge I was accumulating and help other people see through some of the disinformation they had come across. So I thought, why not start talking to even more strangers?

“I was aiming to make a YouTube channel that was first and foremost entertaining and engaging,” he added. “I wanted my videos to be funny enough that you’d want to watch to the end even if you didn’t care about climate change. The hope was that if I could do this, I could trick people into learning. And maybe even trick them into caring.”

Earlier this year, Adam won second place in the Comedy & Climate Change Video Competition sponsored by Inside the Greenhouse.

While most of his videos are based on humorous situations, Adam took on a serious tone a year ago when he became frustrated with the international climate-change negotiations known as Conference of the Parties to the United Nations, or COPP 24. His video “Climate negotiations made me terrified for our future” is the third on this page, but I only feature that video as a lead-in to the latest video that Adam produced last week during COPP 25.

In the fourth video, Adam expresses a heartfelt appreciation for Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish activist who has become famous for her emotional and even taunting speeches directed to political leaders and international assemblies. Greta was named last week as Time magazine’s Person of the Year. If you want to know why some people find her so inspirational, I would urge you to watch Adam’s entire video on this page.

In a similar fashion, Adam posted a video last month that reflects the frustration that must be felt by every climate scientist in the world when they consider the climate views of our current U.S. president, Donald Trump. I must say that I did smile at times while listening to ClimateAdam’s responses to Trump’s outlandish viewpoints. See “Climate Scientist reacts to Donald Trump’s climate comments.”

Here is my list of ClimateAdam’s Best Videos:

For all of Adam’s videos, check out his YouTube channel, ClimateAdam.

Amusing Monday: Satellites can reveal “Earth as Art” imagery

The latest collection of “Earth as Art” satellite images shows stunning depictions of land, water and ice in both natural and unnatural colors.

Enhanced drone image of algae bloom in Milford Lake, Kansas. // Image: USGS/NASA Landsat

“Earth as Art #6,” produced by the U.S. Geological Survey, is the latest in a series of Landsat images released since 2001. This new series includes for the first time high-altitude photos taken by unmanned aircraft, or drones, as well as satellite depictions.

The satellites are designed to capture both visible and invisible light. The photos are often enhanced with color to provide extra contrast for scientists studying various aspects of the landscape. USGS officials post some of the more interesting images online, allowing the rest of us to see dynamic changes underway in river deltas, wetlands, ice fields, mountain ranges, deserts and more.

Some people choose to display these images in their homes, as they would works of art — and in some ways the true-life stories behind the pictures make them worthy of discussion beyond the beauty of the Earth itself.

Enhanced satellite image of Bangweulu Wetlands in Zambia. // Image: USGS/NASA Landsat

The first image on this page, titled “A Study in Algae,” reveals the annual algae bloom in Milford Lake, the largest man-made lake in Kansas at 15,700 acres. Because the algae can be harmful to fragile wetland ecosystems, the USGS Kansas Water Science Center uses drones with multispectral sensors to monitor changes in the blooms and report their effects on humans and animals.

In the second image, called “Wondrous Wetlands,” we are viewing the Bangweulu Wetlands in Zambia, where 17 rivers flow in but only one drains out. The entire wetlands, which are about the size of Connecticut, include areas dominated by grasslands as well as open water with shorelines featuring dense patches of aquatic vegetation.

All 20 of the newly featured images and their descriptions can be linked from the “Earth as Art #6” webpage. This series also can be downloaded in high-resolution format for framing or purchased as a print for $25 from the USGS Store.

Enhanced satellite image of Solway Firth between Scotland and England. // Image: USGS/NASA Landsat

Previous collections can be found on the “Earth as Art” webpage hosted by the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center. Near the bottom of this page, I’ve posted a new video, which adds music to a slideshow that features this latest collection.

If you don’t wish to wait for the next “Earth as Art” collection, you might like to peruse the “Image of the Week Gallery” sponsored by EROS. Beyond that is the “Landsat Image Gallery,” which includes the latest up-to-date images as well as many others posted since 1972.

The third and fourth images on this page, posted by EROS on Friday, show the Solway Firth along the coast of Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, and Cumbria, England. The images, captured in October, provide a spectacular example of a drama that plays out in many estuaries during tidal changes.

Zooming out from above image to view surrounding landscape. // Image: USGS/NASA Landsat

“This sloshing of water into and out of basins can produce visible surges of sediment and floating debris, turbulent mixing of fresh and salty waters, and sometimes distinct lines between different water masses,” states the description on the image page. “The water changes color abruptly offshore where the shallower bay meets deeper waters of the Irish Sea.”

Blending art and science, Norman Kuring of NASA’s Ocean Biology group used software programs with color-filtering aspects to draw out the fine details in the water. The swirls and streamers are real, but the tones are enhanced to better show the sediments and dissolved organic matter. To see the natural colors, go to this lower-resolution image.

Also shown in these images captured by Landsat 8 is the Robin Rigg wind farm, located on a sandy shoal and revealed as a symmetrical pattern of white dots and shadows. Robin Rigg is Scotland’s first offshore wind farm, coming online in 2010. It can generate up to 174 megawatts of power, enough to supply 117,000 homes, according to the USGS summary.

In November, the USGS released a new report placing the economic value of the Landsat archive at about $3.45 billion in 2017, compared to $2.19 billion in 2011.

“The analysis is based on the number of scenes downloaded from the USGS and the price that users would be willing to pay per scene,” according to a summary of the report. “It does not include scenes downloaded by cloud vendors or other downstream economic benefits for things such as value-added products and environmental monitoring.”

The report also concludes that much of the value of the Landsat images comes from the open-data policy of allowing users to access as much or as little of the imagery they need. Despite the reported value to users, charging fees per image would likely result in a major decrease in their use, the report says.

Amusing Monday: Watching a key player in the Salish Sea food web

In the latest video in SeaDoc Society’s series called “Salish Sea Wild,” veterinarian and all-around marine life expert Joe Gaydos goes on a quest to observe herring during their annual spawning ritual — an event Joe calls the Salish Sea’s “most awesome spectacle.”

In this drama, there is a role for nearly all the players in the Salish Sea food web — from plankton that feed tiny fish to killer whales that eat marine mammals. As the story plays out in the Strait of Georgia, commercial fishers harvest herring at the peak of the spawn. These herring are sold overseas, often becoming sushi in Japan.

“This is the only major industrial herring fishery left in the Salish Sea,” Joe says in the video. “Our other herring populations are already too depleted.”

Canadian herring fishers are allowed to take up to 20 percent of the estimated herring run, which has triggered a debate over whether to reduce the quota, change the management system or cease fishing for herring altogether, as outlined in a story by Jolene Rudisuela of the Vancouver Island Free Daily.

A recent story by Randy Shore of the Vancouver Sun describes an ongoing effort by environmentalists to end the herring fishery. Randy raises the prospect of at least setting aside a protected herring reserve, as suggested by Andrew Trites, a marine mammal researcher at the University of British Columbia.

In another “Salish Sea Wild” video, released in October, Joe Gaydos goes out on Puget Sound with Brad Hanson, a federal marine mammal biologist with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center to collect scat and fish scales left behind by our southern resident orcas. These samples can provide clues about what the killer whales are eating at various times of the year as well other aspects of their well-being.

Puget Sound people, places featured in book ‘We Are Puget Sound’

Some of my favorite people are reflected in the new book “We Are Puget Sound,” which offers an overview of the geography, history and natural environment of our inland waterway.

Lead author David Workman does a wonderful job pulling together facts from the far-flung corners of Puget Sound, providing a realistic sense of the place where we live. But I was most captivated by the stories of the local people who have made a difference in protecting, restoring or otherwise improving our region.

The book provides only a sampling of the people doing good things, of course, but I enjoyed reading about people who I have long admired. Through the years, I’ve written about many of them, but not in such detail.

The people of Puget Sound were always a part of the writing project, said Mindy Roberts, who helped coordinate the “We are Puget Sound” project.

“We realized from the start that there are a lot of people doing inspiring things,” Mindy said. “We wanted to talk about the people who are doing things that everyone should know about.”

Mindy Roberts

Folks recognized for their work in special sections of the book include Betsy Peabody, who is leading a group that restores Olympia oysters and other native species; scuba diver Laura James, who has documented the effects of pollution on sea life; former Secretary of State Ralph Munro, who played a key role in ending the commercial capture of killer whales in the 1970s; and former U.S. Rep Norm Dicks, who secured federal funding for many Puget Sound projects, including the removal of two dams on the Elwha River.

Also featured are Native American leaders, including Joseph Pavel of the Skokomish Tribe, Sally Brownfield of the Squaxin Island Tribe, and Ron Charles and Jeromy Sullivan of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, all involved in protecting Puget Sound’s natural resources — including salmon and shellfish, guaranteed to the tribes by the federal government.

“My biggest takeaway (from the book project) is how much good is happening out there,” said Mindy, who leads the People for Puget Sound program for Washington Environmental Council. “There are a lot of amazing people doing a lot of amazing things.”

I’m going to keep this new book alongside my copy of “The Salish Sea: Jewel of the Pacific Northwest” by Audrey DeLella Benedict and Joseph Gaydos. Both books are filled with high-quality photographs of people, places and sea life. But where Workman profiles people, Benedict-Gaydos offers intimate portraits of sea creatures and their habitats.

David Workman

The book “We Are Puget Sound” also includes a chapter that describes more than 30 usual and unusual places around Puget Sound that are worthy of exploration. The chapter, written by former Seattle Times travel writer Brian Cantwell, has inspired me to visit several places I have never been and to take a fresh look at places that I have not seen in recent years.

Release of the book last week in Seattle marked the start of the “We are Puget Sound” campaign, which calls on people to go beyond their daily routines to think about what they can do to help recover Puget Sound. As part of the project, Mindy interviewed at least 20 people (including me) to come up with ideas for a section of the book called “Ten things you can do.”

The 10 actions form the basis of the campaign, which will include meetings starting in the Seattle area and continuing in communities throughout the Puget Sound region during 2020. One can follow upcoming meetings and other developments on the “We Are Puget Sound” website and the Facebook page “We Are Puget Sound: Discovering & Recovering the Salish Sea.”

Sea kayaks waiting to go out, Henry Island in the San Juan Islands // Photo: Brian Walsh

“The book is the foot in the door for a lot of people,” Mindy said. “We have an Instagram account called “I Am Puget Sound” in which people can take a picture of themselves maybe in their favorite place or perhaps with a ballot in hand.”

Voting in local, state and federal elections is actually the first item on the list of things that people can do to help Puget Sound. Other items include supporting businesses that protect Puget Sound, eating locally grown foods, reducing impacts in your home and sharing your delights of the outdoors with others. See the full list on the website.

Amusing Monday: Are you ready for winter snow adventures?

Snow is on its way. It has arrived in the mountains, and I expect it will soon come to the lowlands … maybe not this week … maybe not this month … maybe not this year … but snow is coming. You can count on it.

Comedian Ross Bennet recalls the excitement and confusion that he felt as a child when snow started to fall. In the first video on this page, he tells how “snow days” could keep him home from school to face the perils of sledding. Then right in the middle of his story about sledding, Ross reveals a universal truth about learning to ski, and I realized that my path was not unique.

“The first time I went skiing …, I found the fundamental truth of human nature, which is that good skiers lie to new skiers,” Ross notes in the first video. “They say, ‘I will take you skiing.’ They never take you skiing; they leave you skiing. They take you to the top of mountains, mountains with names like ‘No One Has Made It Yet’ and ‘Widows Peak.’ They leave you while they ski down the mountain. They jump over moguls, moguls which I am convinced are new skiers that did not make it all the way down.”

That’s exactly what happened to me when I first learned to ski. I was living in Idaho in 1975 when I was “taken” to the slopes by a young woman who I thought was my friend. She was a near-expert skier, and I had never skied before. After a nice ride on a long ski lift, I found myself at the top of the tallest run at Grand Targhee Ski Resort, just over the state line in Wyoming.

I was soon alone. Where were the other skiers? I can remember the cold air being so quiet that I could hear the wind blowing the waist-deep powder snow. I couldn’t see my skies in all that powder, but I should have been grateful. The soft snow cushioned my tumbles down the steep hill. My “teacher” was waiting for me about halfway down the slope, where she offered a few tips on reducing the frequency of falling. For some strange reason, I kept going back, and I became a better skier — but not right away.

Ross Bennett has appeared on numerous television shows, including “The Late Show with David Letterman” and Comedy Central’s “Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn.” Ross must be a little younger than I, since he was going into West Point when I was graduating from Washington State University.

“I dropped out of West Point to become a comedian — probably the greatest service I will ever do for my country,” he quips.

As these videos reveal, Ross can tell a good story, and his facial expressions are a key part of his performance. He talks a lot about his family, including his father, who was a colonel in the Marine Corps. Read Ross’s bio on IMDb.

Ross now teaches comedy writing in New York and still performs at comedy venues around the country. For specific dates, check out his website, RossBennet, which contains a few videos of his performances. For more videos, go to “Ross Bennett” on YouTube.

Amusing Monday: A slime mold named ‘Blob’ becomes a hit in Paris

A zoo in Paris, Parc Zoologique Paris, captured headlines and incited fits of laughter while announcing a new exhibit called “The Blob,” which is also the name of a particular slime mold that zookeepers have boldly placed on display for the public to see.

Yes, the zoo is proudly showing off a yellow slime mold, whose name is causing people to remember a 1950s horror movie, “The Blob,” starring Steve McQueen. The zoo’s website has stirred up passions and attracted visitors with this promotion:

“Sheltered in dark and humid habitats, Blob knows how to be discreet. This unicellular being is surprising by its unusual abilities. Even though he has no mouth, stomach or eyes, he is perfectly able to detect the presence of food (spores of fungi, bacteria and microbes) and to ingest it.

“Devoid of legs or wings, it moves up to 1 centimeter per hour while stretching its membrane. Cut it into pieces, the blob will heal in two minutes! He does not have two different sexes, but around 720, so reproduction is not a problem for him.

“The most amazing is his ability to solve problems, present different personalities, and even communicate, while being devoid of brains!”

You may have seen reports on television (videos this page) or heard NPR commentator Scott Simon’s interview Saturday with Audrey Dussutour of the French National Center for Scientific Research.

“If it were right in front of me on the bathroom floor, what would it look like?” Scott asks.

“Scrambled eggs; it would look exactly like scrambled eggs,” came the reply.

“Oh, but don’t mistake it for such,” Scott says, “This blob has been called a genius. What makes a blob with no brain a genius?”

The answer is based on years of scientific research into this eukaryotic organism called Physarum polycephalum, “the many headed slime.” Once considered a fungus, slime molds are not plants, animals or fungi but are grouped in the kingdom Protista, along with paramecia and amoebae.

Years ago, scientists realized that slime molds have a way of growing and moving to optimize their access to food sources. They can even find their way through a maze. Because slime molds don’t have a brain, their decisions are based on chemistry and physics. As researchers learned more about them, they came to realize that if the movements of the Blob can be explained mathematically, they might form the basis of a computer program.

In 2004, a group of Japanese researchers described how the slime mold was able to build a network of tubes through which chemicals and nutrients are transported, resulting in an impressive communications network. See Proceedings of the Royal Society – Biological Sciences.

Two years ago, a team of researchers based at Harvard University were able to simulate the observed responses of a slime mold with a mathematical model. Their hypothesis was that an unidentified chemical drives the response.

As they describe in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, ““A stimulus triggers the release of a signaling molecule. The molecule is initially advected by fluid flows but also increases fluid flows, generating a feedback loop and enabling the movement of information throughout the organism’s body.”

If you were wondering about the 720 different sexes, that is based on the large number of variants of three possible sex genes, with two genes making up an individual. Many combinations are possible. Check out the paper on genetics by two University of Tokyo researchers.

By the way, researchers have been referring to slime molds as “blobs” or “goo” for at least a decade, probably much longer. Basic information about these interesting creatures and how they are being studied can be seen in the bottom two videos on this page.

Most interesting of all perhaps is the video at this top of this page, which I found while searching for research on slime molds. It is a musical piece by Eduardo Miranda produced through the sonification of a slime mold as it searches for food.

I can’t say I understand all the steps taken to produce the music or the visualization that we see on the video, but you can read the 17-page paper written on the subject, including this tidbit:

“The instrumental part and the synthesized sounds are musifications and sonifications, respectively, of a computer simulation of Physarum goo foraging for food. A visual animation of the simulation that generated the materials for the composition is displayed during the performance, but the images are twisted by the musicians as they play: The music controls software that manipulates the animations in real-time. Each instrument holds a microphone, which relays the sound to a system that controls the images.”

Perhaps it is better to just enjoy the music.

After all the recent talk about slime molds, some people are wondering if the Blob would make a good pet. Sure, why not? An Internet search turns up a variety of do-it-yourself projects, and I even found a “Slime Mold Growing Kit” designed for classroom use.

Amusing Monday: Pacific Research Expedition shown live on video

Deep-sea corals and sponges are the focus of an intense research program now exploring the seabed along the West Coast. Live video from the bottom of the ocean can be viewed via the research ship Reuben Lasker, owned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

I’ve posted the two primary video feeds on this page, or you can link to the video pages associated with the 29-day expedition, which began a week ago and will continue until Nov. 7. Previous video recordings are often shown when live video is not available.

The research cruise is exploring the seabed off the Washington, Oregon and California coasts, as shown in the map below. Researchers are using Yogi, a tethered remotely operated vehicle (ROV), as well as SeaBED, an untethered autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), to collect samples of corals and sponges and observe changes in previously surveyed sites.

“Recent advances in deep-ocean exploration have revealed spectacular coral gardens in the dark ocean depths, far from the sunny, shallow reefs most of us associate with corals,” states a description of the mission. “Similar explorations have revealed new and familiar species thriving where we once expected little activity.”

Proceeding from north to south, the sites to be surveyed (green dots) are Willapa Canyon head, North Daisy Bank, Sponge bycatch Oregon shell, Brush Patch, Humboldt and Mad River, and Mendocino Ridge before a layover Oct. 19-22, followed by Cordell Bank/Farallones, Cabrillo Canyon, West of Carmel Canyon, Monterey Bay, wind site, Santa Lucia Bank, Channel Islands and Catalina Basin.

One goal is to characterize habitats at 12 specific sites along the West Coast. That information could help the Pacific Fishery Management Council modify fishing regulations while protecting essential fish habitat. Survey data may also suggest feasible locations — and locations to avoid — when developing offshore wind power and other energy projects.

The expedition is a collaboration of NOAA, the Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). The expedition consists of two legs: from the Washington Coast to San Francisco, where a public event will be held at the Exploratorium Museum, followed by the second leg from San Francisco to San Diego.

“With every survey I’ve been a part of there’s a frantic flurry of last-minute logistics getting the expedition together and loading the ship,” Elizabeth Clarke, co-leader of the voyage, said in a news release. “Once we start the expedition, however, things settle down and we start each day excited, wondering what new discoveries we will find.”

As of today (Monday, Oct. 14), poor weather conditions had delayed activities on the bottom since last night. “We are looking to get back in the water tomorrow (10/14) evening, weather permitting,” states last night’s Twitter feed, @Discover_GFOE, which is the best way of keeping track of the voyage. You can also use Twitter #expresscruise.

Additional information:

Amusing Monday: Costumes for people who wish to be sea creatures

I’m not sure if costume parties are as popular today as they once were, but costume makers have never been more creative. Given the theme of this blog, I decided to see what kind of costumes are available for people who wish to be a creature from the sea.

With concerns running high for our southern resident killer whales, I wondered if anyone might have an orca costume for sale. An Internet search turned up an amazing variety of costumes to fit people of any size.

 


 

 

In the picture above, we have a lightweight mascot costume from Amazon Fashion, a sleeveless adult costume from Walmart, a “sexy” orca costume from Sale Lolita, and an infant costume from Amazon Fashion.

 


 
 
There are many, many more orca costumes, as you can find with an image search for “killer whale costume” or “orca costume.” One costume, from Wonder Child, gives the appearance of a child riding on an orca. Others allow you to dress up in just a hat, as in the middle photo and the right photo above, both from Amazon.

When I think of a sea creature costume for Halloween, my first thought is the Creature from the Black Lagoon from the 1954 movie starring Richard Carlson and Julia Adams with the creature played by Ben Chapman on land and Ricou Browning underwater, according to Wikipedia. The movie was filmed in 3-D, but I remember watching the film — or at least clips — on a home movie projector without sound. I can’t tell you what the story is about, but I guess that doesn’t matter. The costume has been worn for years, and it makes for a good conversation piece. The costume at right is from Wholesale Halloween Costumes.

Other adult costumes include a seahorse, a penguin and a hammerhead shark, all from Spirit Halloween.

For babies, the list of manufactured costumes goes on and on, adding up to endless cuteness, even if we are talking about sea creatures. How about this octopus costume from Oriental Trading Co. The jumpsuit with extra tentacles attached and a matching headpiece “is sure to make your child’s Halloween one unforgettable night,” states the website.

One can also dress up the youngster to pay tribute to the late Dr. Seuss, author of “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.” Check out the “baby blue fish bunting” and the “baby red fish bunting” and other fish costumes on the Spirit Halloween website.

Dr. Seuss, whose real name was Theodor Seuss Geisel, wrote numerous whimsical books for children. “One Fish, Two Fish …” has been described in many ways — including a lovely children’s classic, a deeply confusing fantasy, an instructive story about human differences and a twisted satire about World War II and the Holocaust. Check out several essays about the book on an instructive website for teachers by Corbett Harrison.

 

 
 

I never would have guessed that there are so many costumes related to sea creatures, and I didn’t even consider all the mermaids, pirates and divers that can add to a night of fantasy for young and old alike.