Ocean Updates - June 2008

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June 30, 2008
Vol. 1, Issue 7

Video Story on squid dissection at NOAA Fisheries Santa Cruz Lab.
25-foot squid found off coast 2:02 minutes
Excited scientists look at a giant squid found off the coast of California. KGO reports.


More Info on Giant Squid
Information adapted from Wikipedia's Giant Squid page

Giant Squid, AP Photo/Tsunemi Kubodera of the National Science Museum of Japan
This giant squid was caught near Japan using a smaller squid as a lure. The 20-plus-foot female is one of the first giant squid ever seen alive. It died during capture, but gives researchers a chance to get a rare, close-up look at the elusive creature.

Giant squid are squid of the Architeuthidae family. They are deep-ocean dwelling animals that can grow to a tremendous size: recent estimates put the maximum size at 13 meters (43 ft) for females and 10 meters (33 ft) for males from the caudal fin to the tip of the two long tentacles.

  • Like all squid, a giant squid has a mantle (torso), eight arms and two longer tentacles. The arms and tentacles account for much of the squid's great length, so giant squid are much lighter than their chief predators, sperm whales. Scientifically documented specimens have weighed hundreds, rather than thousands, of kilograms.
  • The inside surfaces of the arms and tentacles are lined with hundreds of sub-spherical suction cups, 2 to 5 centimeters (1 to 2 in) in diameter, each mounted on a stalk. The circumference of these suckers is lined with sharp, finely serrated rings of chitin. The perforation of these teeth and the suction of the cups serve to attach the squid to its prey. It is common to find circular scars from the suckers on or close to the head of sperm whales that have attacked giant squid. Each arm and tentacle is divided into three regions — carpus ("wrist"), manus ("hand") and dactylus ("finger"). The carpus has a dense cluster of cups, in six or seven irregular, transverse rows. The manus is broader, close to the end of the arm, and has enlarged suckers in two medial rows. The dactylus is the tip. The bases of all the arms and tentacles are arranged in a circle surrounding the animal's single parrot-like beak, as in other cephalopods.
  • Giant squid have small fins at the rear of the mantle used for locomotion. Like other cephalopods, giant squid are propelled by jet — by pushing water through its mantle cavity through the funnel, in gentle, rhythmic pulses. They can also move quickly by expanding the cavity to fill it with water, then contracting muscles to jet water through the funnel. Giant squid breathe using two large gills inside the mantle cavity. The circulatory system is closed, which is a distinct characteristic of cephalopods. Like other squid, they contain dark ink used to deter predators.
  • Giant squid have a sophisticated nervous system and complex brain, attracting great interest from scientists. They also have the largest eyes of any living creature except perhaps colossal squid — over 30 centimeters (1 ft) in diameter. Large eyes can better detect light (including bioluminescent light), which is scarce in deep water.
  • Giant squid and some other large squid species maintain neutral buoyancy in seawater through an ammonium chloride solution which flows throughout their body and is lighter than seawater. This differs from the method of flotation used by fish, which involves a gas-filled swim bladder. The solution tastes somewhat like salmiakki and makes giant squid unattractive for general human consumption.
  • Like all cephalopods, giant squid have organs called statocysts to sense their orientation and motion in water. The age of a giant squid can be determined by "growth rings" in the statocyst's "statolith", similar to determining the age of a tree by counting its rings. Much of what is known about giant squid age is based on estimates of the growth rings and from undigested beaks found in the stomachs of sperm whales.
  • Recent studies show that giant squid feed on deep-sea fish and other squid species. They catch prey using the two tentacles, gripping it with serrated sucker rings on the ends. Then they bring it toward the powerful beak, and shred it with the radula (tongue with small, file-like teeth) before it reaches the esophagus. They are believed to be solitary hunters, as only individual giant squid have been caught in fishing nets.
  • Giant squid are very widespread, occurring in all of the world's oceans. They are usually found near continental and island slopes from the North Atlantic Ocean, especially Newfoundland, Norway, the northern British Isles, and the oceanic islands of the Azores and Madeira, to the South Atlantic around southern Africa, the North Pacific around Japan, and the southwestern Pacific around New Zealand and Australia. Specimens are rare in tropical and polar latitudes.

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World Ocean Day - June 8, 2008

World Ocean Day was established during the Rio De Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992 to raise awareness of the important connection between people and the ocean. In celebration of World Ocean Day, which for 2008, occurred on Sunday, June 8, the Pacific Coast Science and Learning Center's Ocean Education and Outreach Coordinator produced a series of emails highlighting one thing that park staff and visitors can do to help our coastal and marine ecosystems. These messages were based on excerpts from 50 Ways to Save the Ocean by David Helvarg (2006, Inner Ocean Publishing). This book is for a general U.S. audience, and where appropriate, some Point Reyes specific information was provided as well.

Visit a Tide Pool
Protect the Dunes So They'll Protect Us
Don't Use Your Storm Drain as If It Were a Toilet
Keep Your Household Refuse Nontoxic
Keep Your Home Aquarium Ocean-Friendly

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June 6, 2008
World Ocean Day is June 8, 2008

World Ocean Day is Sunday, June 8, 2008. It was established during the Rio De Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992 to raise awareness of the important connection between people and the ocean. In California, Governor Schwarzenegger proclaimed World Ocean Day to be "Thank You Ocean" Day. The Thank You Ocean campaign is designed to raise awareness of ocean issues in California.
Watch the 70-second California Thank You Ocen video.

This week, in celebration of World Ocean Day, I'm going to send out an email a day highlighting one thing that you can do to help our coastal and marine ecosystems. These will be excerpts from 50 Ways to Save the Ocean by David Helvarg (2006, Inner Ocean Publishing). This book is for a general U.S. audience, and where appropriate, I will provide some Point Reyes specific info as well.

"When considering your impact on the planet, realize that the critical concept is not that you can make a difference; it's that everything you do already does make a difference." - Phillipe Cousteau

Visit a Tide Pool

Learn what happens when the ocean and the shore are mixed by the tides.

"I was walking along the Point Loma tide pools in San Diego with my friend Charlie and his four-year-old son, Nick. Every few feet Nick would stop at the edge of a watery depression, point to a sea star, a small fish, a crab, or some waving fronds of seaweed and ask, "What's this, dude?"

The rocky intertidal zone where land and ocean meet is a window into the sea and a chance to discover some of its unique and complex life up close. During low tides, pools of trapped water form in rocky depressions. In these pools you can find flowery anemones, limpets, sea stars in many colors (orange, red, brown, pink, and purple), small blenny fish, spiky sea urchins, and sometimes an elusive octopus or other unusual creature.

Few animals in this dynamic, tidal-driven ecosystem can harm humans, but many are sensitive and can be harmed by us. The tide pools of California, for example, used to contain many large abalones clinging to the rocks along the surf zone, until they were stripped away for sale and consumption. Now, even though the taking of wild abalone is banned, it's rare to spot even a small one in these shallow waters. The same problem is occuring where people now collect mussels, sea palms, turban snails, and owl limpets for food from tide pools where this foraging is strictly prohibited.

The joy of discovery as you watch the behavior of predators and plant eaters, the chance to stroke a sea star, and the feel of a periwinkle snail crawling across your palm fascinate children and adults alike. The movement when water separates ropes of seaweed to reveal living dramas no more than a yard across and as transient as the turning of a tide can both educate and inspire. Here's how you can capture the wonder while assuring that it will remain to be discovered anew:

  1. When visiting tide pools, step carefully to avoid slipping and falling. Wear shoes with good traction and clothes you don't mind getting wet.
  2. Start your visit at least one hour before low tide, and keep an eye on the water, so you don't get trapped with the incoming tide.
  3. Avoid stepping on animals or clumps of seaweed, which might be hiding crabs and other creatures.
  4. After you've turned rocks over and examined what's under them, carefully turn them back to their original position so as not to dislodge small creatures.
  5. Don't remove animals attached to rocks, such as sea anemones and barnacles, from the tide pool.
  6. Return crabs, sea stars, snails, and other creatures to the pool location where you found them. Do not remove fish and other creatures that need to remain in the water to survive.
  7. Ask a local ranger or naturalist about the life you're seeing.
  8. Don't take home any "souveniers."
  9. If you see anyone stealing animals or edible seaweeds from a protected tide pool (where warning signs are posted) report them to a local ranger. If none is around, take down a license plate number, and file a report.

(Helvarg, pp19-21)

At Point Reyes National Seashore:
The tides this month are phenomenal. We will have minus tides Saturday 6/7, Sunday 6/8 and Monday 6/8, and again between next Sunday, 6/15 through Monday 6/23. Check a local tide chart. Places to go tidepooling within the Seashore are McClures Beach, Palomarin Beach, Sculptured Beach, and Agate Beach, among others. Agate Beach is part of the existing Duxbury Reef State Marine Conservation Area. There is also proposed protection at this intertidal area through the California Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA). Check out the park's Beaches of Point Reyes page for more information.

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June 9, 2008
World Ocean Day - 2 - Coastal Dunes

Yesterday was World Ocean Day (June 8, 2008)! I'm continuing my little week-long series of excerpts from 50 Ways to Save the Ocean. The idea behind these is this: "everything you do makes a difference, and all of your actions have consequences. Things are simple as what kind of toilet paper you buy or where you choose to get married (on the beach, for instance) have a ripple effect -- an echo that resounds from your life, and then, in unforeseen ways, comes back to enrich it or degrade it." (P. Cousteau, Foreword)

Protect the Dunes So They'll Protect Us

Sand dunes protect the beach naturally, provided they aren't damaged or removed.

Coastal sand dunes are created and shaped by wind and tide. Sands deposited by rivers and offshore currents build them into physical barriers that protect the coastline and inland areas from saltwater intrusion and erosion while also absorbing wave energy in ways that keep the soft beach from eroding away. Dunes protect coastal population from flooding during coastal storms and act as homes and shelters for a variety of plants, animals, nesting sea turtles, and shorebirds. Beaches, barrier islands, and coastal sand dunes are dynamic, changing natural systems. Like geology with the fast-forward button always on, they change with weather, tides and storms.

As developers have built homes and high-rises on our country's beaches, they've knocked down many dunes and then tried to stabilize the newly exposed sand with seawalls and jetties. Unfortunately, these constructions actually increase erosion. Jetties steal sand from the nearshore current running parallel with the land. This builds up the beach on one side of the jetty and erodes beaches farther down the shore. Not wanting to see their beaches farther down the shore. Not wanting to see their beaches turn into rock cobble, neighboring property owners begin to build more and longer jetties. Geologists call this the "New Jerseyfication" of the shore. Seawalls also concentrate wave action, which then undermines the walls and eventually turns them into rubble.

Other human constructions impairing the health of dunes are dams and water diversion structures on coastal rivers, which reduce upland sand flow to the beach.

One response has been multimillion-dollar "beach restoration" projects carried out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, whose contractors pump offshore sand onto degraded beaches. But this often alters the appearance and biological structure of the beach and can destroy offshore habitat for bottom fish, crabs, and other creatures. Instead, we need to work for the protection and restoration of existing sand dunes, along with wetlands and other natural storm barriers. Here's how you can help:

  1. No matter how tempting it is to jump or slide down sand dunes, stick to established paths and elevated walkways to avoid damaging plants and animals that live in the dunes.
  2. If you must drive on a beach, keep off the dunes, soft sand, and wetland areas.
  3. Leave seaweed and driftwood where you find them. They provide food, habitat, and shelter for various beach animals.
  4. Join local dune restoration programs run by groups like the Dunes Center in California (and the Point Reyes National Seashore paleodune restoration project!). Their activities may include replacing non-native species with native plants, like American dune grass or beach bursage. Native plants help to stabilize the dunes and keep them in place.

(Helvarg, pp99-100)

At Point Reyes National Seashore:
In 2001, Point Reyes National Seashore initiated the coastal dune restoration project aimed at removing European beachgrass (Ammophila arenaria) and iceplant (Carpobrutus edulis) from dunes at Abbotts Lagoon. These dunes are the most intact in the park and support large populations of the endangered plants Tidestron's lupine (Lupinus tidestromii) and beach layia (Layia carnosa). Restoration goals include increasing nesting habitat for Western Snowy Plovers (Charadrius alexandrinus nivosus), expanding the ranges of endangered plants, and providing a foundation for dune restoration throughout the seashore.

Contact the park's Plant Ecologist 415-464-5190 or the park's Vegetation Biologist at 415-464-5196 for more information on the Point Reyes National Seashore paleodune restoration project.

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June 10, 2008
World Ocean Day - 3 - Storm Drains

Continuing my five-part series related to World Ocean Day, here's a tidbit about storm drains. I know that folks in West Marin are typically very environmentally conscious, so this may not be news to you, but if you can, forward it on. This issue is tied into a slew of other issues such as plastic pollution that ends up in the ocean, toxic waste, etc., so please feel free to ask me if you have any related questions. As is the case with the previous two emails, these are excerpts from David Helvarg's 50 Ways to Save the Ocean.

Don't Use Your Storm Drain as If It Were a Toilet

What goes down the storm drain soon finds its way into the sea.

Storm drains flush excess waters from rainstorms, snowstorms, and hurricanes into nearby rivers and bays or directly into the sea. People often think that storm drains lead to their local water treatment plant, but most do not. In Los Angeles, former director of sanitation Judy Wilson calls the first rains of winter, "the first flush." She explains, "That's when all the paper, plastic, and everything else collected in the storm drains just get whooshed down to the ocean, and you get tons of trash on the beach, along with oil and grease that's collected on the freeways during the dry season, and also your dog poop, the chemicals used on your lawn, and everything else people use to wash their cars."

Storm-drain pollutants not only harm the seas but also harm beachgoers and marine life. A study in Los Angeles found that people swimming within 500 feet of storm-drain outlets had a 57 percent greater chance of getting sick than those who kept a greater distance away. One of every 25 people swimming near the outlets got sick with pollution-related illnesses or infections.

Some cities have begun to divert part of their storm water to sewage plants for treatment before releasing it into the sea. Others are installing more sophisticated filters on storm drains. Unfortunately, a number of cities, including Washington, that have combined their sewage and storm-drain systems find that their waste-treatment plants overflow during heavy rains, adding untreated sewage to the storm water released into local waters.

One obvious way to reduce storm water pollution is to make sure that nothing but rainwater goes down your storm drains in the first place. Here are some ways to do this:

  1. Throw all trash in garbage cans. Don't drop gum, paper, cigarette butts, or other waste down a storm-drain grating or even on the pavement.
  2. Use soap sparingly when washing your car.
  3. Use a broom to sweep your driveway rather than watering it down, and put everything you sweep up into a garbage can.
  4. If you use chemicals on your lawn, don't spray them on a windy day (so that they blow into waterways) or just before rain is predicted (so that they are carried away by runoff). Better yet, learn how to maintain your lawn and garden without chemicals.
  5. Control erosion from your property by planting group cover, especially native plants, to secure the soil.
  6. Don't change your oil in your driveway, and never dump oil or oily wastes on the street or down a storm drain. Recycle your oil, and immediately fix any oil leaks in your car. One gallon of oil can pollute 250,000 gallons of seawater.
  7. When you walk your pet, scoop up the waste and dispose of it in a garbage can. Some 15 tons of pet wastes end up in our oceans every day, adding pathogens and bacteria that can sicken both marine animals and people.
  8. Join a storm-drain stenciling project. Students and volunteers pain images of fish or dolphins and warnings such as "No Dumping! Flows to Sea" at storm-drain inlets. Project sponsors include cities, water districts, and activist groups. If your city doesn't have a stencil project, encourage it to start one.
  9. If you see someone dumping litter or waste down a storm drain, offer to help them dispose of the waste in a more environmentally friendly way, and explain why that's so important.

(Helvarg, pp71-73)

Local action: Tune into the Ocean

To learn more about ocean conservation topics you can tune into KWMR once a month for Ocean Currents, a radio program hosted by Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary staff that focuses on ocean topics locally and globally. Tune in the first Monday of every month at 1:00 PM on KWMR at 90.5 FM Point Reyes Station, 89.3 Bolinas, or live on the web at www.kwmr.org. You can also subscribe to the Ocean Currents podcast or hear archived shows by going to Cordell Bank's Ocean Currents Podcast page. Learn about rockfish, artificial reefs, humpback whale research, sustainable seafood, history of the Farallon Islands, the Marine Life Protection Act, plastic in the ocean, bioluminescence and more!

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June 12, 2008
World Ocean Day - 4 - Household Refuse (waste)

This is the second to last email in this series of practical things you can do to save the oceans. Again, these are excerpts from 50 Ways to Save the Oceans by David Helvarg.

Keep Your Household Refuse Nontoxic

Chemicals tossed in the garbage find their way into streams, rivers, and eventually the sea.

Many household cleaning products contain toxic chemicals. So do some types of carpeting, insulation, maintenance materials, and construction materials. Batteries, thermostats with mercury switches, computers containing lead, and other electronic household products are particularly hazardous. Lead, mercury, and other persistent organic pollutants (POPs) can build up or "bio-accumulate" in the food chain. Small amounts of these chemicals tossed into the garbage eventually leach out of landfills and into the planet's water system. There they concentrate in plankton, which feed small baitfish, which in turn feed larger predator fish, which are consumed by humans, bears, and marine mammals. As a result, creatures such as beluga whales and polar bears have been found with extremely high concentrations of synthetic chemicals in their body fat. Certain top-of-the-food-web predator fish and may fish caught in urban harbors have become a health risk to consumers, particularly children, pregnant women, and people with medical problems.

Chemical and heavy metal wastes have been linked to increased risks of cancer, birth defects, developmental deficits, and neurological diseases. Much of this "circle of poison" could be eliminated if we'd just begin to replace the toxic chemicals around us with benign and nontoxic alternatives. Here's how you can help stop the cycle:

  1. Remove your shoes when you enter your house, to avoid tracking in harmful amounts of pesticides, lead and other contaminants. Keep a welcome mat at the door for people to wipe their feet on before they enter your home. There's already enough bad stuff in your house that you want to clear out without trampling more in.
  2. Use baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice, and water for cleaning a range of items, including ovens, windows, kitchen counters, and mirrors, instead of using more harmful (and expensive) cleaning agents. Baking soda also freshens drains.
  3. Substitute cedar chips for toxin-heavy mothballs.
  4. Keep herbal mixtures or lemon, vinegar, and water in spray pump bottles to use in place of air fresheners containing potentially harmful chemicals.
  5. Choose carpets with nontoxic backings and "green" building materials. These are now widely available at competitive prices.
  6. Never throw household batteries, computers, television sets, and other appliances containing harmful components into the trash. Instead dispose of them through your local recycling center. Many drugstores, office-supply stores, and other retail outlets now accept batteries and printer cartridges for recycling.

(Helvarg, pp67-68)

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June 13, 2008
World Ocean Day - 5 - Home Aquariums

This is the last World Ocean Day email. You might have received these emails and wondered, what are all these World Ocean Day emails about? Well, June 8 was World Ocean Day, and over this week, I sent out a series of tips and practical things you can do to help our coastal and marine ecosystems. I drew excerpts from David Helvarg's 50 Ways to Save the Ocean, and where appropriate, I provided some local info as well. These excerpts also include some great background information that will place these practical tips in the larger context.

The idea behind this week-long series of "what can I do" emails is to translate some of the technical, often overwhelming scientific information into actual action items. Hopefully, in this age of great scientific discoveries and the availability of information like none before, we will not only learn more about the natural world, but also be able to do more for the planet. "The key is to realize that we are all responsible to act on that information in a positive and empowering way. I hope that we use our knowledge wisely and learn that we are tied to every living creature in one way or another, that none of us can live without a healthy planet." (P. Cousteau)

Keep Your Home Aquarium Ocean-Friendly

Make sure your saltwater tank reflects the ocean's wonders without depleting them.

"I gave up smoking and got addicted to aquariums," says Brian Harrison, owner of The Reef, a restaurant in Washington, DC, whose marine aquariums contain a mind-boggling assortment of neon-bright saltwater tropical fish. He's quick to explain that the fish, algae, and corals in his tanks are all captive-raised, grown by hand, either by himself or by other aquarists and dealers. None has been collected from coral reefs in the wild. Just as he wouldn't think of serving nonsustainable fish in his restaurant, he doesn't believe in keeping display fish unless they fit his ethic of marine protection.

Most people who keep saltwater or marine aquariums, including some 600,000 in the United States, do so because of their love for and fascination with these wondrous fish -- and their reef or other ocean environments. But many don't realize that their hobby also affects coral reefs. More than 1,400 species of ornamental fish are traded worldwide, more than 20 million individual fish each other. Many tropical fish are captured through the use of cyanide, which is sprayed into coral caves and crevices to stun the fish. As a result half or more can die within hours of collection. Fish that are not targeted for sale are also killed, along with many coral polyps, and the coral's intricate marine ecosystem is damaged. With the high price tropical fish often command, too many are being removed from their home waters, including oceans off Hawaii and Florida. Fewer than 10 percent of marine ornamental species are currently captive-bred.

You can create an ecofriendly saltwater aquarium, but you have to do more than simply purchase whatever fish or rock coral catches your eye at your local pet store. Here are some guidelines for a sea-friendly aquarium:

  1. Consider owning a freshwater aquarium. It is easy to set up and maintain one, and more than 90 percent of freshwater fish sold as pets are captive-raised. Some African cichlids rival the color and beauty of their marine cousins and breed readily in home aquariums.
  2. If you own a marine aquarium, purchase tropical fish that have been reared in captivity. Aquacultured species you can now buy include clown fish, dottybacks, cardinal fish, gobies, batfish, sea horses, and several interesting invertebrates such as peppermint shrimp and snails. The group Reef Protection International produces a pocket guide to help you select sustainable aquarium fish.
  3. Join a hobby club or contact more experienced aquarists to learn how to captive-breed and trade your marine plants and animals. Several excellent online resources are available, such as Reef Central, where experts answer questions for new hobbyists.
  4. Patronize aquarium shops that are environmentally aware. Hobby groups such as the Marine Aquarium Societies of North America and advocacy groups such as Reef Protection International can help you locate them.
  5. Ask about the origin of all fish you purchase. If they are not captive-bred by a company dedicated to sustainable aquaculture, make sure the company has Marine Aquarium Council (MAC) certification, which assures they were sustainably captured.
  6. Never dump anything from your tank into a storm drain, lake, river, bay, or other body of water, because you could be introducing harmful non-native species or microbes.

(Helvarg, pp13-15)

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Last updated: February 28, 2015

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

1 Bear Valley Road
Point Reyes Station, CA 94956


This number will initially be answered by an automated attendant, from which one can opt to access a name directory, listen to recorded information about the park (i.e., directions to the park; visitor center hours of operation; weather forecast; fire danger information; shuttle bus system status; wildlife updates; ranger-led programs; seasonal events; etc.), or speak with a ranger. Please note that if you are calling between 4:30 pm and 10 am, park staff may not be available to answer your call.

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