The Mystery of the Nautilus

The thing I found most intriguing about this article, was that it addresses all of the things that are unknown about the nautilus. In reality, there is very little knowledge surrounding the means by which it propagates its species and the phases it undergoes in its life cycle (beyond the development of the shell of course). The nautilus is very much a mystery to marine scientists, primarily due to the lack of observation made of it in its natural settings. All of the scientific observations on nautiluses were of those living in captivity under highly unnatural conditions and ergo, were unable to exhibit natural behaviors or fully mature. To date, no one has been able to raise a nautilus to maturity in these conditions.

Among the many things unknown about the nautilus include the places and conditions in which the nautilus prefers to spawn, how long it takes for a nautilus to reach maturity, and its full life-span in a natural setting. It is speculated that in a natural setting, a nautilus may live to be as old as twenty years. This is significant, as most cephalopods (excluding some species of octopus) have a life-span of a year or less. Among that which is known, includes the nautilus’s tendency to reproduce once over the course of a lifespan (a process known as semelparity). They also use a different strategy for hatching eggs than do other cephalopods, such as keeping the eggs consolidated in one environment as opposed to dispersal.

The questions I have include the following; What ecological niche does the nautilus hold? What might be some of the benefits (both ecological and human) of determining more about the nautilus?

Indian Ocean Humpback Whale Phenomenon

An unusual new trend has been observed by Marine Biologists in the Indian Ocean in regards to the humpback whale, as noted in this article. In a recent study, a research team comprised of Marine Biologists from Colombia University, WCS and Australia, noted that humpback whales on opposite sides of the same basin of the southern part of the Indian Ocean are now singing different tunes. This is considered highly significant, given that whales from the same basin typically sing identical tunes.

These results contradict previous comparisons of whale songs and suggest that the exchange of whales between whale colonies in this region of the Indian Ocean may be limited. If this is so, it serves to provide insight into the extent that cultural change manifests itself between regions in a single ocean basin. Other theories have emerged attempting to explain this phenomenon, including those that have suggested that the cause may be tied to external influences, such as singing whales from other ocean basins in the Atlantic and Pacific.

Are there any other inferences that can be made regarding this phenomenon from this information? What other possible theories could explain this anomaly?

 

Temporary Positive Impacts of Global Warming?

An interesting new article on the effects of climate change on the wandering albatross discusses how wind-pattern changes brought on by climate change have altered the birds foraging habits. As a result of increasing southern-bound wind-speeds, the albatross is now requiring less time to forage for its food, as it can now access its feeding grounds more rapidly, which has resulted in greater breeding success and an average weight gain of approximately 1 kilogram per bird (that’s approximately 2.205 lbs; an increase equal to roughly 10% of the bird’s body weight). The methodology for examining these changes consisted of analyzing and combining data on the albatross collected over the course  of more than forty years.

Although this is considered by scientists to be a positive change in the albatross’s habitat, scientists postulate that it will very likely be a short-lived one. Climate scenarios for the following decades predict that the winds will continue to move in a southerly direction, which is to suggest that the average distance required for the albatross to fly in finding food will surely increase. This could either restore the albatross to its previous state or worse.

The questions I have for the reader to consider are these: (1.) Even if we assume that these climate change postulations are not to occur, can the ecosystem sustain the albatross’s current habitat? (2.) Will the albatross be able to adapt if these sorts of changes come more at an unprecedented rate?

The Trouble in the Florida Keys

Aerial View of Florida Keys

As mentioned in this article, NOAA scientists have determined in recent years that pressures exerted by a combination of factors (including a swell in coastal population, poaching and climate change) are having a critically harmful impact on the well-being of the Florida Keys ecosystem.

Many organisms that were once abundant in this ecosystem are declining in numbers enough to be deemed seriously threatened with minimal chance of recovery. Among the organisms and marine resources most seriously threatened and endangered by these problems are sea turtles and coral habitat, not including a whole host of other organisms that may also be threatened by these changes.

The findings of the NOAA were released on October 20, 2011, in a report titled Condition Report 2011 for Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. While the report did note some ecological improvements over previous years, the problems which threaten this marine ecosystem still persist and the chances of recovery are quite low. The conditions which manifest themselves today are essentially a still worsening culmination of marine exploitation that date back to the late-1800s.

Questions remain as to what can be done to prevent this problem and help to facilitate ecological recovery; What can individuals do to help alleviate these problems? Given that there have been past efforts to preserve this habitat and its resources, why is it that some problems are persisting and worsening to this day?

North Pacific Humpback Whale Population Skyrockets

As noted in this article, a new trend has been identified in the whale population by marine biologists in the North Pacific region. Previously, commercial whaling had reduced the humpback whale population to just less than 1,400. But since the time that census was taken in 1966, the number of whales has skyrocketed to approximately 21,000: a substantial improvement.

This number was first reported in a 2008 statistical study known by the acronym SPLASH (Structure of Populations, Levels of Abundance and Status of Humpbacks). SPLASH began as a three year project, undertaken by researchers and NOAA scientists from all over the world, including Russia, Japan, United States, Mexico, Guatemala and Canada. The methodology consisted primarily of analyzing photographs taken in known population areas and feeding grounds for humpback whales. The tails of the humpbacks (known as flukes) were analyzed due to their distinct pattern, and 21,000 differentiating patterns were identified.

Jay Barlow, Marine Mammal Biologist for the NOAA, noted that the results of the study were very promising stating, “These improved numbers are encouraging, especially after we have reduced most of the biases inherent in any statistical model.” It has been postulated that these statistics produce a most conservative estimate, as not all population areas are known and increases are believed to have been “across the board.”

Several questions remain regarding both how this survey was carried out and how this should be interpreted: Could there any problems inherent in the methodology used? What might an increasing whale population entail for the ecosystem as a whole? Would these impacts be positive or negative? How long will it take for these whales to surpass their carrying capacity?