Last night's Secret Science Club lecture, by Dr Jesse Ausubel director of the Rockefeller University Program for the Human Environment and vice president of programs at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation (who has a crustacean named in his honor!) gave a fascinating talk on the Census of Marine Life, the first results of which were published in October of 2010. The Census of Marine life was a global endeavor which can be summed up as:
A DECADE OF DISCOVERY
US$ 650 million
2,600+ scientific publications
6,000+ potential new species
30 million distribution records and counting
Various techniques and techonologies were employed in the census- in shallow temperate waters, simple metal frames could be used to delineate a particular "piece" of ocean, in which the ocean inhabitants could be counted, colder and deeper waters necessitated more sophisticated approaches. Submersibles were used in deeper waters, airplane mounted lasers penetrated the upper reaches of the ocean, far-ranging top predators were tagged with "satellite enabled" devices (oddly enough, sharks with frickin' laser beams were not used in the course of the census.
Southern elephant seals were one of the top predators fitted with the "satellite enabled" devices, they were found to range from the northernmost reaches of Antarctica to South America, diving to depths of 2100 meters. Leatherback turtles were found to range throughout the Pacific in a ring-shaped path. A particular northern bluefin tuna ranged from L.A. to Tokyo in the course of 600 days. Great white sharks, while great travelers, exhibit philopatry, they usually return to the same areas they have frequented before. The migratory paths followed by these far-ranging predators can be likened to blue highways.
While diversity of marine life tends to be higher in the tropics, the overall biomass tends to be greater in colder waters, with much of the biomass composed of huge "mats" formed by microbes. One of the greatest areas of biodiversity ranges from the coast of Southeast Asia to the northern coast of Australia, encompassing the waters around Indonesia and the Philippines. Dr Ausubel likened it to a "Golden Triangle", one more felicitous than the other "Golden Triangle" of Southeast Asia.
Of course, the highlight of the lecture was the variety of amazing images Dr. Ausubel presented, slides of jewel-like copepods, and colorful squat lobsters, including the now-iconic yeti crab. In a comment to my last post, Laura requested:
Try to steal the "hairy-clawed Yeti crab" for me-wouldcha.
No such luck, but the New York Aquarium apparently sells stuffed versions (not pictured on their website), and there is a pattern for do-it-yourselfers (PDF warning). I also found a recipe for a yeti crab dessert.
We were also introduced to Escarpia laminata, a tube worm (impinging on Riddled territory here), some specimens of which are thought to be almost 500 years old.
While the Census of Marine Life was the first of its kind, means were suggested for estimating former populations of marine life, including examinations of Roman mosaics, cod fishery records, and whaling records. Many of the most prized fish species are long-lived predators, and overfishing has resulted in declining sizes. If such fishing trends continue, then only really small fish will survive. Smaller fish fare better- Dr Ausubel showed an image of a school of herring of the coast of Maine comprised of an estimated 250 million fish, a school of fish the size of Manhattan.
Another feature of the Census project was the collection of DNA from various fish species. In an amusing side note, a pair of high school students brought samples of sushi into a lab for DNA tests and revealed that cheaper fish are often substituted for more expensive fish in a fishy fraud.
In the Q&A, some bastard asked if there had been any "pushback" on the part of the commercial fishing industry. Dr Ausubel indicated that, while there are certainly bad players, the majority of commercial fishers were cooperative, seeing that sound policies are the key to long-term survival. Another individual asked about the BP oil spill in the gulf, and, while the long-term implications of the spill are unkown, the majority of the "cleanup" was due to bacterial action. The microbes have done a better job than the bipedal primates. After the lecture, I chatted with Dr Ausubel (a genuinely nice guy) about certain possibilities, such as explosions of squid populations due to overfishing of piscine predators, and the exploding jellyfish populations due to the decline of such predators as leatherback turtles.
The lecture, the fifth anniversary lecture, in fact (the first ever SSC lecture was also by a marine biologist), was amazing, and the visual presentation knocked it out of the park, so to speak.
Note: Damn, how could I have forgotten the carnivorous sponges? Seems that some sponges eat crustaceans, not just brain cells. Also, and more importantly, do check out the gorgeous Census of Marine Life website (linked above), what a glorious way to spend some online time.