Sometimes I come across some interesting news item that I don’t have time to write about in depth but still want to share. I’ve decided to start a new Speck of Science feature on my blog as a way to share brief blips and recaps of internet curiosities and dispatches.
“Photography is the only language that can be understood anywhere in the world” – Bruno Barbey
So I’m one of those people who use facebook as an image repository – a sort of dusty social media shelf where I can look back and browse through digital photo albums filled with virtual Polaroids (I grieve the fact I never owned a Polaroid camera). However I recognize that the often interesting stories related to these images are buried relatively quickly.
This is the first entry into what I plan on making a regular feature (perhaps weakly-ish?). I will unearth what will generally be a nature or ecology-centric photo and jot down a few words about the context in which the photo was taken. If nothing else, I think this develops some nuance to my interest in cultivating a presence as a science communicator.
The first photo I’m featuring is taken very near where I work on my dissertation research. The shoreline is from Washington Oaks State Park in Palm Coast, Florida – a half hour or so south of St. Augustine. This was winter in Florida which is still punctuated by the vibrant green of algea growing on coquina rocks.
Coquina is a very marine phenomenon – the sedimentary rock consists primarily of Donax variabilis shell – the tiny little Coquina clam. Shells originating from other molluscs and invertebrates may join the mix. The rock was used for many of the Spanish Colonial structures – primarily forts – in the St. Augustine area.
One of the most notable and striking features of the Coquina are the circular depressions weathered through the rock. The shells that comprise the rock are largely composed of calcium, making Coquina a type of Limestone, which is relatively soft and easily shaped by the elements and other influences. A couple sources I’ve found suggest these holes are from Coquina forming around cabbage palms at one time. They certainly make for a visually arresting landscape.
While microbeads have use in scientific contexts, such as breaking open cells for DNA and RNA extraction, they have been pervasively appearing in cosmetics and general consumer products in more recent years:
Microbeads may have significant environmental impact, especially within aquatic systems, as these microplastics may be washed down the drain with regularity. In addition, other small micro plastic particles may be formed from the breakdown of larger plastics introduced into these same environments.
The small size of these particles may parallel that of small microscopic organisms and so may be accidentally ingested by zooplankton, or other creatures that filter feed. See the below video capturing a copepod capturing fluorescently labeled beads with the use of feeding currents:
There’s been a couple interesting whale-centric stories I’ve come across lately, so I thought I would share on the blog.
While the idea of drone surveillance is proving to make a large part of the public uncomfortable, the technology is proving to have less pernicious applications in observing natural phenomena.
With regards to whales, drone footage of southern resident orca pods has recently been captured by a collaborative effort between the Vancouver Aquarium and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). NOAA recently released beautiful close-up photos and a video conversation with ecologist John Durban giving some additional context to the what the drone captured.
Over more recent years with advances in genetics and stronger observational data, it was determined that orcas are not a uniform species and instead vary with regards to morphological characteristics, ecology, and behavior, generally referred to as “ecotypes”. The southern resident population of killer whales numbers about 81 individuals. Aerial footage provides a relatively non-invasive way to study and collect data on these animals.
Read more about the study and about “mobly”, the hexacopter used to study these creatures, here.
Another fascinating footage find was this picture posted of an albino southern right whale calf off the coast of South Africa:
Anton Schutte was alerted to its presence by a tourist he had recently befriended and was able to snap pictures and video of the blindingly white baby whale.
Lastly, Discover Magazine released an interesting news bit based on a recently published paper about the Omura’s whale. This whale wasn’t classified as its own species until 2003, and was described based off of samples from carcasses that had washed onto beaches. Scientists spotted living populations off of Madagascar and were able to genetically validate the sighting as Omura’s whales. Surveys were completed over a course of 7 years in order to learn about their ecology and behavior. They have rorqual pleats like those seen in humpbacks, that allow them to “lunge feed” – quickly engulfing large masses of water and using their baleen to assist with filtering out their prey items. They sport an asymmetrical white patch on their lower jaw, much like Fin whales. They also likely do not wander far from their home base.
Hope you enjoyed the updates. Until next time my friends!