Tag Archives: Australia

Unusual ‘high tide or low tide’ spider named for songwriter Bob Marley

A team of researchers in Australia has discovered a remarkable spider that has adapted to life at the edge of the ocean.

When the tide is out, the spider roams about the beach hunting tiny invertebrates. But when the tide is in, the spider retreats to underwater sanctuaries in barnacle shells or in tiny spaces among corals, rocks or kelp. To breathe, the spider builds air pockets out of silk.

The newly named Bob Marley’s Intertidal Spider, Desis bobmarleyi. // Photo: R. Raven

The researchers, associated with Queensland Museum and the University of Hamburg, named the newly discovered species Desis bobmarleyi for the late Jamaican singer-songwriter Bob Marley. They were inspired by the song “High Tide or Low Tide,” a lesser-known Bob Marley piece that seems to be cherished by his greatest fans. (Listen in the video below.)

“The song ‘High Tide or Low Tide’ promotes love and friendship through all struggles of life,” wrote the researchers — Barbara Baehr, Robert Raven and Danilo Harms — in an introduction to their paper published in journal Evolutionary Systematics. “It is his music that aided a field trip to Port Douglas in coastal Queensland, Australia, to collect spiders with a highly unique biology.”

It isn’t often that one sees a research paper that delays talking about the science to discuss history and inspiration. In this paper, the team honored not just one person but two. The opening paragraphs of the introduction to the paper need no explanation:

“When Amalie Dietrich travelled from Europe to Australia in 1863, she not only attempted to collect animals and plants for the museum trade, but also sought independence and liberty. A strong-headed and adventurous women by nature, she seized new opportunities and took risks on a then-unexplored continent to elevate herself from poverty and oppression.

“Her life story is that of adventure and also life’s struggles and how to overcome them. The Godeffroy Collection of arachnids, accumulated by her and other explorers over a decade in Australia and the Pacific before the turn of the 20th century, is the primary taxonomic reference for spiders of Australasia and remains highly relevant until today.

“Reggae legend Bob Marley certainly had a different background but shared with Dietrich and other explorers some character traits: adventurous and resilient at heart, he liberated himself and his peers from poverty and hopelessness. He took to music, not nature, but left traces through songs that teach optimism and independence of the mind, rather than hate and passive endurance.”

As for the newly discovered species of spider, the researchers propose the common name “Bob Marley’s Intertidal Spider.” The species belongs in the genus Desis, a group of spiders that are truly marine in nature, having broken ranks with an overwhelming number of terrestrial spiders.

The Godeffroy Collection of spiders is maintained by the Centre of Natural History in Hamburg and contains nearly all of the spiders collected by Amalie Dietrich in her early exploration of Australia. German arachnologists Ludwig Koch and Duke Eduard von Keyserling described the taxonomy of those unusual marine spiders along with other marine spiders collected from Singapore, New Guinea and Sāmoa.

This latest paper revisits intertidal species of Desis by re-examining the Godeffroy Collection, while describing the new species named after Bob Marley. The researchers found two of the newly named spiders on brain coral during an extremely low tide. The reef where they were found often lies under more than 3 feet of water.

The range and distribution of the Bob Marley’s spiders remains unknown, but they have been found in several intertidal zones along the Great Barrier Reef.

Along with the new species, two closely related species of spiders that occupy the “high-tide-or-low-tide habitat” were brought out, examined and described anew.

“Both species have been preserved for more than a century but not been studied in detail since their discovery,” the researchers wrote. “By doing so, we honour those that emancipate themselves from oppression, mental or organisational, and seek freedom and independence.”

Amusing Monday: Entering the world of
a top ocean predator

I was quite impressed when I watched this video of a diver cutting away a thick rope that had been slicing into the flesh of a massive whale shark. The animal, spotted 300 miles southwest of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, remained calm throughout the operation.

Daniel Zapata, dive team leader aboard the Solmar V cruise ship, said the divers knew it might be dangerous to cut the whale shark free, but it was heartbreaking for them to watch while the animal was suffering.

“We talked about it for some time between dives,” Zapata said in a question-and-answer interview with Joanna McNamara of Project Aware. “When we saw the whale shark again, I knew I had to help. It felt so good to cut this whale shark free. I found a thinner section of the rope and cut through it. I unwrapped the rope from each side of the whale shark and finally she was free.”

The action may have saved the life of the pregnant female and her unborn offspring, according to observers.

This video was featured on the Smithsonian Channel as part of the latest series “Secrets of Shark Island.” The “secret,” according to promotional material, is that the Revillagigedo Islands, some 200 miles from the Mexican coast, is home to one of the greatest concentrations of fish in the world.

“This is the only natural juncture for miles in an otherwise empty Pacific Ocean and a crucial area for migrating sharks and other apex predators,” states the Smithsonian Channel website. “Enter a world where whitetip sharks, giant lobsters and moray eels share living quarters, humpback whales breed, and mantas and tuna feast on bait in this land of plenty.”

The Smithsonian Channel has been going a little crazy over sharks the past few years. But it isn’t just about sharks. It’s about the people who love them. Two years ago, we were introduced to “Shark Girl” aka Madison Steward, who grew up around sharks on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and is as fearless as they come around the sharp-toothed creatures. See second video on this page.

“Sharks are misunderstood like no other creature, to the point where it is actually contributing to their slaughter,” Madison told Gerri Miller of Mother Nature Network. “I think it has a lot to do with media, but also that people cannot go and see them for themselves and learn the truth.

“Sharks are NOT what you think,” she continued, “and myself and many other people spend hours in the water with large sharks and feed them at ease on regular occasions. They are the apex predators, and nature doesn’t make animals like this for no reason. They are essential in our oceans. In previous years, the decimation of the shark population has caused the surrounding ecosystem to collapse. They are truly the ‘boss’ of our oceans.”

The third video is something of a personal manifesto from Madison Stewart, spoken in a voice-over as she swims in an awe-inspiring underwater world with ethereal music playing in the background.

If you think you know sharks, take a quiz from MNN.

Want to see more amazing sharks and stories from people involved with them? Check out these videos from Smithsonian Channel:

“Secrets of Shark Island” series

“Shark Girl” series

“Death Beach” series

“Great White: Code Red” series

“Hunt for the Super Predator” series

Also, “Shark Girl” Madison Stewart has produced some fine videos since she was 14 years old. Watch them on the Madison Stewart website, “Good Youth in a Bad Sea.”

Japanese whaling on trial before UN court

UPDATE, July 4, 2013
Japanese officials say objections to its scientific whaling program are based on moral arguments, not legal ones. Australia cannot win this case, Japanese officials say, because the international treaty allows for scientific whaling and it allows member countries to determine for themselves what qualifies as science.

This legal position is explained in a story written by Andrew Darby published in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald.

A later story by Darby, published in today’s Herald, reports on the surprising testimony by a witness called by the Japanese government. The witness, a Norwegian expert named Lars Walloe, described several problems he had with the Japanese research, but he confirmed that it was research.

Whether Japan’s annual whale hunt is a true scientific endeavor or a commercial operation without legal justification is the question being debated before the United Nations highest court this week.

Australia, supported by New Zealand, brought the case against Japan to the International Court of Justice, which is holding hearings in The Hague, Neatherlands.

Australia hopes to bring Japan’s whaling activities under normal prescriptions from the International Whaling Commission, as opposed to the ongoing scientific permits issued by the Japanese government that allow for hundreds of whales to be killed each year.

Bill Campbell, Australia’s agent to the court, addressed the 16-judge panel in the Great Hall of Justice, according to a report by Mike Corder of The Associated Press.

“Japan seeks to cloak its ongoing commercial whaling in the lab coat of science,” he said, later telling reporters, “You don’t kill 935 whales in a year to conduct scientific research. You don’t even need to kill one whale to conduct scientific research.”

Japan, which will present its side next week, has stated that it will challenge the court’s authority to hear the case while justifying its whaling operations under international whaling agreements.

To read more about the court proceedings:

Mike Corder, Associated Press

Julian Drape, Australian Associated Press

Mary Gearin, Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Story of Australian humpback calf coming to an end

Final update, Friday, Aug. 22, 10 a.m.

It’s all over for the young humpback whale that lost its mother in Australia. The starving calf was administered an overdose of anesthetic to end its suffering, according to the Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian (with slideshow).

Meanwhile, wildlife workers have located a dead adult humpback, which may be its mother, on a beach. DNA tests are planned to determine if there’s a relation between the animals. Sydney Morning Herald.

Another story in the Herald explores why humans have such a strong emotional reaction to the plight of other animals.

The sad story also includes complaints about the treatment of the whale during its ordeal. See The Australian.

Thursday, Aug. 21, 3:55 p.m.

Here’s an update on the young humpback whale that we’ve discussed on this site.

It’s Friday morning morning in Sydney, Australia, and the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service is expected to euthanize the humpback calf within hours.

The animal has not eaten in six days, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. It was suffering from shark-inflicted wounds, and its flukes were hanging down, said National Parks spokesman John Dengate.

“The last thing we want is that the whale should suffer,” he said. “The vets are saying, ‘He hasn’t got long to go – you should take action.’”

I was somewhat troubled by the humorous tone that some reporters were taking several days ago, when it appeared the whale was lost and trying to snuggle up to pleasure boats. It’s never a good thing when a young animal loses its mother.