Posts Tagged 'National Aquarium CEO'



A Blue View: Dolphin Earthquake Study

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 pm as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

June 19, 2013: Dolphin Earthquake Study

A Blue View podcast

Click here to listen to Dr. Mark Turner discuss how
our dolphins reacted to last year’s earthquake.

On August 23, 2011, a magnitude 5.8 earthquake occurred with its epicenter approximately 118 miles from the National Aquarium, Baltimore. A short time before the dolphin pavilion started shaking from the earthquake, an Aquarium volunteer logging the activities of four dolphins noticed that they all started to swim very quickly in close formation, something she could not recall ever having seen before. She had enough time to note this behavior in her handwritten log before the building suddenly started shaking. At the same time all this was happening, the underwater sounds in the dolphin pools were being recorded using a pair of hydrophones (i.e., underwater microphones). The combination of the in-person observation and the hydrophone recordings provides valuable insight into dolphin behavior.

When an earthquake occurs, seismic waves radiate out from the focus of the earthquake at different velocities. The fastest of these, called the primary wave or P-wave, can travel at speeds of 15,000 miles per hour. However, although very fast, P-waves often are unnoticed by humans. The S-wave and surface waves, the ones that shake everything and cause the worst destruction, travel at much slower speeds.

Although no humans at the Aquarium that day reported feeling the P-wave, its trace did show up in our hydrophone recordings almost 22 seconds before the arrival of the S and surface waves. In view of the P-wave’s appearance in the recordings and the dolphins’ behavior, marine mammal researcher Mark Turner believes the dolphins felt the P-wave, and the volunteer observed their reaction to it. Listen to the hydrophone’s recording: 

This is a clip of the underwater sounds in the dolphin pools when the August 23, 2011, Virginia earthquake occurred. Two hydrophones were recording at the time. The left stereo channel is the recording from the hydrophone in the front pool where a dolphin presentation was in progress. The right channel is from the back holding pool where fast swimming in an unusual configuration was observed. In the video that accompanies the sound clip, the top two panels show the raw signal picked up by each hydrophone. The top panel is from the front pool and the bottom one is from the holding pool.

The bottom two panels are spectrograms. A spectrogram is a visual representation of sounds in which the x-axis is time and the y-axis is frequency. In a spectrogram a dolphin whistle will appear as a dark, wavy line, and a squawk can sometimes appear as a stack of parallel wavy lines.

The sound clip begins at almost exactly the time the earthquake started in VA. The various seismic waves traveled from the earthquake’s focus to Baltimore at different velocities, with the P-wave arriving first, 27 seconds into the clip. Although the very low frequency vibrations induced by the P-wave are visible in the upper panels, they are inaudible, although you might hear some water splashing. The S and surface waves (the ones that are very loud and shook everything) did not arrive until almost 22 seconds later, 49 seconds after the beginning of the clip.

You may hear some of the presentation music, a bit louder in the left channel. If you listen carefully you will also hear (and see in the spectrograms) dolphin clicks, squawks and whistles. And, of course, you will hear the loud noises made by the earthquake surface waves as they sounded underwater.

An excellent overview of the different seismic waves with animations can be found by clicking here.

All signal displays were generated using Raven Pro, Interactive Sound Analysis Software, Bioacoustic Research Program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

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A Blue View: Explore A Shore Responsibly

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 pm as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

June 12, 2013: Explore the Shore

A Blue View podcast

Click here to listen to John discuss the importance
of responsibly enjoying the shore!

Whether boating, fishing, or just walking along the sandy shore, spending time on the water is a classic summer pastime. For many of us, these visits are an opportunity to explore. From birds, crabs, and fish, to the occasional dolphin and seal sighting, an amazing diversity of life lives in harmony along the shore. It is critical, though, as many of us make our way to the water, that we take responsibility for the ways that our actions impact the environment.

When we get too close to certain wildlife, for example, we can unintentionally cause a nest failure or force an animal to flee, putting its survival at risk. Never feed wildlife, not even the bread scraps from your beach picnic, and avoid sensitive sand dunes by sticking to walkways. And when boating, obey posted speed limits and slow down while motoring through shallow waterways. Respect these natural habitats by observing wildlife from a distance—close enough to appreciate the beauty of these incredible ecosystems but far enough away to leave wildlife and plants undisturbed.

It’s also essential to dispose of trash properly. Every summer, people leave their footprints—and a whole lot of trash—along our coasts. From fishing line to plastic bags, our throwaways can throw our oceans into turmoil if we don’t dispose of these materials responsibly.

Fishing line is particularly dangerous to animals. Wildlife often eat or become entangled in monofilament line, which is practically invisible. One unfortunate sea turtle was found with an astounding 590 feet of fishing line in his gut. One study showed that more than 50 percent of sea turtles stranded on a beach contained traces of debris in their digestive tracts. Sixty-five percent of those animals had ingested plastic bags, and it’s no wonder: the U.S. International Trade Commission reported that 102 billion plastic bags were used in the United States in 2008 alone—that’s a bag a day for every woman, man and child.

Though there are many statistics citing the numbers of animals that die as a result of marine debris each year—one estimate in fact is 100,000 marine mammals and millions of birds and fishes—this area of study is evolving. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Program is taking essential strides in supporting efforts to research, prevent, and reduce the impacts of marine debris, but it’s clear that we can’t afford to wait to take action. The bottom line is that even one piece of garbage on the beach is one too many.

This year, think about your impacts as you pack for your day at the beach. A great place to start is reusable goods. It’s often windy by the shore, so keep your trash and belongings from blowing into the ocean. Some popular fishing areas provide safe recycling containers for monofilament line. You can also ship monofilament to the Berkley Recycling Center in Iowa. This company will use your line to create Fish-Habs, which are four-foot underwater habitat structures made from recycled fishing line, milk cartons, and soft drink bottles. These cubes attract fish and encourage plant growth, providing natural cover necessary to maintain healthy habitats.

Whatever you do, follow this one essential rule when you’re at the shore this summer: When it’s time to go home, leave nothing but your footprints!

James Cameron Inspires Future Generations of Explorers in Washington, DC!

You don’t have to go to space to find great exploration horizons!

Yesterday, ocean pioneer and Academy-Award winning filmmaker, James Cameron, and his submersible, the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER, arrived in Washington, DC!

It was the fifth stop on the DeepSea America Tour, a nation-wide trek to bring the sub to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts where it will be studied by engineering students who are building the next generation of submersible research vessels!

In Washington, the tour made two stops: first, on Capitol Hill to advocate on behalf of ocean research and exploration; and second, at an outdoor event for local school children. At the second event, students were invited to come see the vessel and learn more about the ocean, exploration and science. National Aquarium was honored to be asked by Cameron and his foundation to support these DC outreach efforts. Our CEO, John Racanelli, and education team were delighted to be on-site  participating in yesterday’s educational program!

Here at the Aquarium, one of the most important aspects of living our mission to inspire conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures is engaging the community and our youth through STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education topics!

We have a variety of learning programs including internships, on-site field trips, teacher workshops, after-school programs and more that provide local students the hands-on experience and knowledge they need to become the next generation of ocean explorers!

Click here to learn more about how National Aquarium is taking education beyond the classroom!

The Ocean, Our Planet’s Final Frontier

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In Barcelona in 2006, oceanographer Sylvia Earle received an international award for her storied career as an ocean explorer. Also honored that day was John Hanke, developer of the now-famous Earth visualization tool Google Earth. Smiling slyly, Dr. Earle commended John for creating an amazing new way to view the world, then asked, “When do you plan to finish it? You’ve done a great job with the land—‘Google Dirt.’ What about the ocean?” Thus challenged, John asked Sylvia and her team to help him fix this oversight and in early 2009, we unveiled Ocean in Google Earth, offering earthlings a global view of the ocean’s vast bathymetry.

This story illustrates a truth about how many of us think (or more accurately, don’t think) about the ocean. Though half the world’s population lives within 50 miles of a coast, the cliché “out of sight, out of mind” describes the way most of us relate to the expansive, interconnected ocean that covers 70 percent of Earth’s surface and contains 97 percent of its water.

This blue planet is indeed a water planet, yet incredibly, over 90 percent of the ocean remains unexplored and unseen by humans. In a world that’s increasingly tamed and cataloged, it’s astounding to learn that until last year, only two human beings had been to the ocean’s greatest depth: Challenger Deep, off the Mariana Islands. That epic descent occurred in 1960—before we’d even ventured into space! Just last year, one more explorer made the voyage: renowned filmmaker James Cameron piloted a new craft, Deepsea Challenger, there and back. I suspect we’ll soon be treated to some spectacular footage of a world we understand less than we do the planet Mars.

Experts believe that up to two-thirds of the plant and animal species in the ocean may still await our discovery, with as many as one million species of non-bacterial sealife yet to be identified. In other words, we’ve only scratched the ocean’s surface.

Scientists, poets and philosophers have referred to the ocean as our planet’s life-support system, its blue lungs. Our air, weather, freshwater, climate and much of our food are ultimately regulated, moderated or provided by the sea’s seemingly limitless bounty. Over 2.6 billion people rely on the ocean for their primary source of protein. And we count on the ocean to absorb more than 30 percent of the climate-changing carbon dioxide (CO2) we produce.

Yet for all these benefits (called ‘ecosystem services’ by ecologists), the ocean cannot sustain our unrelenting onslaught. We put in too many bad things, take out too many good things, and reconfigure its shores, chemistry and balance. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists have calculated that the ocean absorbs and stores 50 times more CO2 than the atmosphere, yet it’s no secret that atmospheric levels of this greenhouse gas are rising at an alarming rate and now routinely approach 400 parts per million; at this rate, we are poised to double pre-Industrial Revolution CO2 levels in the next few decades. And, in case you’re wondering, human-influenced climate change is no longer mere theory, as if it ever were. In a review of 12,000 papers published in research journals, 97 percent of the authors—atmospheric scientists who seldom agree on anything—concur that it is directly attributed to human activities.

Against this gloomy backdrop, one might ask, “What hope is there?” In my view, there’s plenty. We have never known so much about aquatic systems and the delicate interplay between them. We’ve doubled the area of our National Marine Sanctuary system over the past decade. We have a National Ocean Policy and a nascent implementation plan, the first in our nation’s history. Whether in fisheries management, ecosystem thinking or product life-cycle planning, we’re learning from our past and planning a better future.

Here at National Aquarium, we value the conservation of aquatic treasures—by which we mean habitats and inhabitants, human and non-human, individual and community. By definition, treasures are worth protecting. World Oceans Day is one way of celebrating such oceanic treasures. This year, I invite you to embrace a thought, one shared by all of us who commit our lives to the sea: the ocean matters to me and to those I love. With every drop of water you drink and every breath you take, you are connected to this complex ecosystem, whether you live on the coast, in the mountains, in a city or a desert.

Simply by existing, the ocean gives us the gift of life. It’s time we returned the favor.

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A Blue View: Seafood Fraud Uncovered

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

May 1, 2013: Seafood Fraud Uncovered

A Blue View podcastClick here to listen to John discuss
seafood fraud.
 

When we go to restaurants and grocery stores, most of us assume that we’re getting what we pay for. But as a recent study shows, that’s not always the case—especially when it comes to seafood.

Seafood fraud is not a new issue, but according to a recently released study from Oceana, it continues to be a pervasive problem. From 2010 to 2012, Oceana conducted a seafood fraud investigation, collecting more than 1,200 seafood samples in 21 states. Using a DNA barcoding technique, a short DNA sequence was obtained from each sample and then compared to a catalogue of sequences from more than 8,000 fish species. This DNA testing showed that 33 percent of the samples analyzed were mislabeled, though there was tremendous variation depending on the type of fish purchased.

Red snapper in particular was the most commonly mislabeled—113 out of 120 samples were a fish species other than red snapper. Twenty-eight different species were substituted for red snapper, and 17 of those weren’t even in the snapper family at all. In one instance, the red snapper was actually tilefish, which the government advises sensitive groups to avoid due to high mercury levels.

Also raising health concerns, escolar was a substitute for white tuna in 84 percent of samples. Escolar is a snake mackerel that contains a naturally occurring toxin and can have serious digestive effects on people who eat more than a few ounces. The Food and Drug Administration actually advises against the sale of this species, and some countries have banned it outright. Consumers are not protected, though, when it’s mislabeled as white tuna.

The Oceana study reports that 44 percent of retail establishments sold mislabeled fish, with sushi outlets far outstripping restaurants and grocery stores. In fact, 74 percent of sushi venues mislabeled fish, compared to 38 percent of restaurants and 18 percent of grocery stores.

There are many reasons that seafood fraud occurs. They include a lack of understanding, a desire to increase profits, and attempts to launder illegally harvested seafood. Somewhere along the supply chain, someone may substitute a lesser-valued fish. Others may short-weight the product, meaning the seafood processor misrepresents the weight of a seafood product so the customer gets less food for their money.

The consequences of this fraud are considerable. In addition to affecting human health when one species is swapped with another that may have contaminants, allergens, or toxins, seafood fraud disguises what is truly happening in the marketplace, incentivizing illegal fishing and threatening conservation efforts.

To address this critical issue, the SAFE Seafood Act was recently introduced to the House of Representatives and the Senate. This bill requires that seafood in the U.S. be traceable from its origin, standardizes seafood names, keeps illegally caught fish off the market, and increases inspections.

So what can you do to protect yourself from seafood fraud? Show curiosity about where your fish was caught and how. This will increase the dialogue around these important issues and hopefully encourage restaurants and stores to ask questions of their suppliers. Be knowledgeable about what you’re buying—and if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Take Back the Planet, and Not Just on Earth Day

Earth Day

The following is an excerpt from National Aquarium’s CEO John Racanelli’s piece in today’s Baltimore Sun:

For over 40 years, Earth Day has sent a powerful message: that each of us has both the capacity and the duty to support the environment that sustains us. This is certainly a message that dedicated conservationists can get behind, but what about everyday people with busy lives, kids to raise and jobs to keep? For many, Earth Day has become a day of celebration rather than an urgent call to join a movement.

Earth Day Network, the organization behind Earth Day, cites the impressive statistic that 1 billion people participate in Earth Day activities each year, making it the largest civic observance in the world. Participants plant trees, clean streams and resolve to recycle more. In schools around the world, students spend several weeks learning about the planet and how they can make a difference.

What really matters, though, is what people do the day after Earth Day — and for the 363 days after that. Earth Day was born out of a desire to do something. In 1970, 20 million individuals from all walks of life united to protest the deterioration of the environment, and the results included the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act. Why can’t Earth Day 2013 be the start of this same kind of sea change?

My colleague Sylvia Earle, a renowned oceanographer whom Time Magazine called a “Hero for the Planet,” has said that the next 10 years may be more important than the last 10,000 in determining the fate of our oceans. She may as well be talking about the fate of humans. It may not be the planet that needs saving so much as we do.

 To read more of John’s call-to-action, click here

How are you celebrating Earth Day? Tell us in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter using #EarthDay

A Blue View: WIDECAST

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

October 23, 2012: WIDECAST 

Listen to John discuss the important work that WIDECAST does to save leatherback sea turtles! 

The National Aquarium has had a long partnership with turtle conservation network WIDECAST, particularly in Costa Rica, where the leatherback sea turtle comes ashore to nest. This species has been listed as endangered since 1970. Very little is known about the turtles’ migratory behavior, population genetics or dynamics, inherent diseases, or mortality rates.

WIDECAST gathers research through rescue operations and satellite tracking to develop programs to help save this amazing species. As part of our partnership, Aquarium staff conducts training programs for local volunteers on veterinary care and stranded animal rehabilitation. We hope that through awareness and support from the international community, the WIDECAST network can continue to grow!


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