Ulovane update: March Marine Guides
The first marine course of 2018 has also come to end now (last week we said goodbye to the field guide students) and now it is time to bid farewell to the marine students. It is a happy day but also sad day, because some of them has been with us for six months!
To our lovely little mermaid Jill – You have excelled in this course and I am super proud of you! YOU can truly be proud of YOURSELF!! I wish you the best of luck and hope we see you back in SA soon?
Grant – Well done on everything that you have accomplished and your amazing effort throughout every single course you have done!! We see YOU back as part of the Ulovane Team soon?
Dieter – Congratulations and well done! I think that you have proven to yourself that you CAN do it! All the best of luck for your future endeavours!
I hope that you will take with you a new-found love for the ocean and that you will be ambassadors for our oceans! The oceans are important – they produce half of the oxygen on the planet. They are literally our life support system and we NEED them to survive!!!
It has been a pleasure (as always) guys and gals – go get them!!!
Marine Conservation in the spotlight……..
Myths, legends, fiction, and facts
What is fiction and what is fact in our mysterious ocean where it is estimated that 95% of the world’s oceans and 99% of the ocean floor are unexplored? Exploring these regions deep below the ocean’s surface is difficult, time-consuming, and expensive. But that does not stop people from trying and making incredible discoveries along the way.
Deep sea discoveries
Humans are familiar with all sorts of coastal ocean creatures (from barnacles to seaweeds), coral reefs and clownfish, and the bigger, charismatic fauna of the ocean (dolphins and whales). But the picture of a whole strange world of life in the deep, dark waters of the world’s oceans are slowly emerging. People used to think that biodiversity dropped off as you got deeper and deeper in the ocean, but that was just because it’s harder and harder to catch things as you get deeper,” said Ron O’Dor, a professor at Dalhousie University in Canada.
Mentioned below are just a couple of the weird and wonderful creatures that we get in our waters.
The kraken is a monstrous, multi-tentacle sea creature capable of emerging from the depths and dragging a ship to the bottom. It sounds insane, but could there be some truth to these stories?
We now know of giant squid capable of reaching over 30 feet in length, a true sea monster. And, there is another species called the Colossal Squid, just as long with a more massive body.
Squid usually dwell in deeper water by day and come closer to the surface at night. There are even a few tales of giant squid attacking boats.
Could sightings of these massive creatures have led to stories of the Kraken? The giant and colossal squid are two animals that are only recently coming into the scientific light. In the past, surely, they would have been considered monsters.
The giant squid remains largely a mystery to scientists despite being the biggest invertebrate on Earth. The largest of these elusive giants ever found measured 59 feet in length and weighed nearly a ton.
However, their inhospitable deep-sea habitat has made them uniquely difficult to study, and almost everything scientists know about them is from carcasses that have washed up on beaches or been hauled in by fishermen. Lately, however, the fortunes of scientists studying these elusive creatures have begun to turn. In 2004 researchers in Japan took the first images ever of a live giant squid. And in late 2006, scientists with Japan’s National Science Museum caught and brought to the surface a live 24-foot female giant squid.
Giant squid, along with their cousin, the colossal squid, have the largest eyes in the animal kingdom, measuring some 10 inches in diameter. These massive organs allow them to detect objects in the lightless depths where most other animals would see nothing.
Like other squid species, they have eight arms and two longer feeding tentacles that help them bring food to their beak-like mouths. Their diet likely consists of fish, shrimp, and other squid, and some suggest they might even attack and eat small whales.
They manoeuvre their massive bodies with fins that seem diminutive for their size. They use their funnel as a propulsion system, drawing water into the mantle, or main part of the body, and forcing it out the back.
Scientists don’t know enough about these beasts to say for sure what their range is, but giant squid carcasses have been found in all the world’s oceans.
From Mermaids to Manatees
In centuries past, the ocean was thought to be full of krakens, sea serpents, sea monsters and other fantastic creatures. They helped to bring the mysterious ocean into the more familiar realm of the ‘known’ by introducing human traits and an element of storytelling. One creature that shows up in such stories throughout history is the mermaid.
Mermaid mythology is quite varied, with mermaids taking on many different appearances, origins, and personalities. The first recorded half-fish, half-human creature is Oannes, a Babylonian god from the 4th century BCE who would leave the sea every day and return at night. Though the ancient Greek sirens, who lured sailors to their deaths in Homer’s Odyssey, were originally described as having bird bodies, they are often portrayed as fish-tailed mermaids—so frequently that variations on the word “siren” means mermaid in many languages. Although these sirens had vicious personalities, as did the mermaids in J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, some versions of mermaids can be kind, such as Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, made famous by Disney’s 1989 popular film iteration of the same story.
Mermaids are just characters in stories, of course. But in a world saturated with mermaid mythology, people sometimes think they see them in real life. When Christopher Columbus set out to sea in 1492, he had a mermaid sighting of his own; little did he know that this encounter was actually the first written record of manatees in North America. It might seem strange to confuse a slow-moving, blubbery sea cow with a beautiful, fish-tailed maiden. Yet it’s a common enough mistake that the scientific name for manatees and dugongs is Sirenia, a name reminiscent of mythical mermaids. Even today there are false mermaid sightings.
While mermaids hold much of our attention and affection, their real-life doubles are left struggling in the sea. Manatees are easily injured or killed due to their large size and generally slow pace, which makes them vulnerable to being hit by motorboats and caught in fishing nets. Another threat to manatees is blooms of poisonous algae, which can grow rapidly during warm summers, especially in areas with nutrient pollution from fertilizer runoff. Some types of algae produce a toxin that contaminates the manatees’ wetland and estuary habitat and sticks to the seagrass they eat, making manatees sick or even killing them. Unusually cold water in the winter can also kill many manatees.
With all these factors combined, manatees are suffering. Florida manatee deaths hit a record high in 2013, with 829 killed—about 17% of the known population, including 126 calves. Of these, 276 were killed by algae blooms, 115 from an unknown disease, and 72 from boat collisions. Because of such harrowing statistics, the INternational Union for Conservation IUCN has listed all three species of manatees as vulnerable to extinction, and a few manatee subspecies as endangered. One subspecies, the Antillean or Caribbean manatee (Trichehus manatus manatus), currently has a population of just 2,500 mature individuals and is expected to decline by more than 20 percent over the next two generations unless something can be done to reduce these threats. There is also trouble for dugongs, close relatives of the manatee that share many of the same threats. The IUCN lists the dugong as vulnerable, as it is extinct or declining in at least one-third of its range.
If we don’t take actions like slowing boaters and reducing fertilizer runoff, we may lose these creatures, and a source of mermaid myth will vanish from the ocean.
Some food for thought…..
- Shani Preller
Ulovane Update: March Bird Guides
Semester one Done and Dusted
Unbelievable, the first three months of the year has vanished in a blink of an eye. The past three weeks we ran our birding course, definitely one of the most difficult and challenging courses we offer. The two brave students who undertook this challenge (Aislinn and Henco) quickly learnt there is a lot more to birding than one might think. Hours and hours of listening to various whistles and squeaks and looking at all colors of the rainbow to try and pinpoint which bird they are working with is finally culminating in the final exam tomorrow morning.
The first week was run by Justin, huge thanks to you for relieving me for the week giving me some valuable time away with family. As for the two students, thank you very much for the time spent on the course and the dedication shown towards our feathered friends. I want to wish you both good luck in the final exam tomorrow and all the best with your future endeavours.
This time of the year is always challenging with all the migrants already heading off back to the northern hemisphere and all breeding plumages being lost, saying this it is also a course where you could really challenge yourself in birding skills and knowledge, needing to work a bit harder to find those numbers that comes so easily during the spring and summer months.
The birding course provides an excellent opportunity for loads of activities at various places, giving the opportunity to experience different biomes and activities, every day something new to look forward to. This course was no exception with some highlights being the elephant herds of over 300 individuals at Hapoor Dam during our Addo excursion. Aislinn finally found her caracal after 4 years of searching during our night drive on Amakhala looking for owls and nightjars and all being topped off with some fantastic bird sightings on the Woody Cape forest walk as always.
With the first quarter of the year starting with a bang I am really looking forward to what the rest of the year has in stall for us. Best wishes to all students starting their careers and can’t wait for all the newbies on their way.
- Pieter Dunn
Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step. Lao Tz