New predator from the prehistoric seas

Artist’s rendering of Pentecopterus. Credit: Patrick Lynch/Yale University

You don’t name a sea creature after an ancient Greek warship unless it’s built like a predator. 

That’s certainly true of the recently discovered Pentecopterus, a giant sea scorpion with the sleek features of a penteconter, one of the first Greek galley ships. A Yale University research team says Pentecopterus lived 467 million years ago and could grow to nearly six feet, with a long head shield, a narrow body, and large, grasping limbs for trapping prey. It is the oldest described eurypterid—a group of aquatic arthropods that are ancestors of modern spiders, lobsters, and ticks.
A detailed description of the animal appears in the Sept. 1 online edition of the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology.

“This shows that eurypterids evolved some 10 million years earlier than we thought, and the relationship of the new animal to other eurypterids shows that they must have been very diverse during this early time of their evolution, even though they are very rare in the fossil record,” said James Lamsdell, a postdoctoral associate at Yale University and lead author of the study.

“Pentecopterus is large and predatory, and eurypterids must have been important predators in these early Palaeozoic ecosystems,” Lamsdell said.

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Rare nautilus spotted in the South Pacific

In early August, biologist Peter Ward returned from the South Pacific with news that he encountered an old friend, one he hadn’t seen in over three decades. The University of Washington professor had seen what he considers one of the world’s rarest animals, a remote encounter that may become even more infrequent if illegal fishing practices continue.

The creature in question is Allonautilus scrobiculatus, a species of nautilus that Ward and a colleague had previously discovered off of Ndrova Island in Papua New Guinea. Nautiluses are small, distant cousins of squid and cuttlefish. They are an ancient lineage of animal, often christened a “living fossil” because their distinctive shells appear in the fossil record over an impressive 500 million year period. Ward says this recent sighting of Allonautilus indicates that there is still much to learn about these creatures.

“Before this, two humans had seen Allonautilus scrobiculatus,” said Ward, who holds appointments at the UW in both the Department of Biology and the Department of Earth and Space Sciences. “My colleague Bruce Saunders from Bryn Mawr College found Allonautilus first, and I saw them a few weeks later.”

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Beaches closed after shark sighting

Credit: NOAA

A large shark has been spotted just offshore this morning at Ballina near a group of surfers. Police and Surf Life Saving have closed beaches in the area for the next 24 hours and are urging people to stay out of the water.

Ballina SLSC members have helped police clear the water and erected beach closed signs. The Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter is conducting aerial patrols along with volunteers aboard the Ballina Jet Rescue Boat and an Inflatable Rescue Boat from the surf club.

The following beaches are closed until further notice: Sharpes Beach, Angels Beach, Shelly Beach and Lighthouse Beach.

Source: Surf Life Saving NSW

Arctic sea ice increased after summer of 2013

(Image Credit: WWF)

The volume of Arctic sea ice increased by a third after the summer of 2013 as the unusually cool air temperatures prevented the ice from melting, according to UCL and University of Leeds scientists. This suggests that the ice pack in the Northern hemisphere is more sensitive to changes in summer melting than it is to winter cooling, a finding which will help researchers to predict future changes in its volume.

The study, published in Nature Geoscience on July 20th and funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), used 88 million measurements of sea ice thickness recorded by the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 mission between 2010 and 2014. It showed that there was a 14% reduction in the volume of summertime Arctic sea ice between 2010 and 2012, but the volume of ice jumped by 41% in 2013 (relative to the previous year), when the summer was 5% cooler than the previous year.

Lead author and PhD student, Rachel Tilling from the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling (CPOM), UCL Earth & Planetary Sciences, said: “The summer of 2013 was much cooler than recent years with temperatures typical of those seen in the late 1990s. This allowed thick sea ice to persist northwest of Greenland because there were fewer days when it could melt. Although models have suggested that the volume of Arctic sea ice is in long term decline, we know now that it can recover by a significant amount if the melting season is cut short.”

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This seaweed tastes like bacon

Dulse seaweed. (Photo: Oregon State University/Flickr)

Oregon State University researchers have patented a new strain of a succulent red marine algae called dulse that grows extraordinarily quickly, is packed full of protein and has an unusual trait when it is cooked.

This seaweed tastes like bacon.

Dulse (Palmaria sp.) grows in the wild along the Pacific and Atlantic coastlines. It is harvested and usually sold for up to $90 a pound in dried form as a cooking ingredient or nutritional supplement. But researcher Chris Langdon and colleagues at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center have created and patented a new strain of dulse – one he has been growing for the past 15 years.

This strain, which looks like translucent red lettuce, is an excellent source of minerals, vitamins and antioxidants – and it contains up to 16 percent protein in dry weight, Langdon said.

“The original goal was to create a super-food for abalone, because high-quality abalone is treasured, especially in Asia,” Langdon pointed out. “We were able to grow dulse-fed abalone at rates that exceeded those previously reported in the literature. There always has been an interest in growing dulse for human consumption, but we originally focused on using dulse as a food for abalone.”

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Marine Life’s effects on the Southern Ocean

The exact boundaries of the Southern Ocean are as up in the air as its many clouds. Credit: NASA

How clouds form and how they help set the temperature of the earth are two of the big remaining questions in climate research. Now, a study of clouds over the world’s remotest ocean shows that ocean life is responsible for up to half the cloud droplets that pop in and out of existence during summer.

The study, which appears online July 17 in Science Advances, combines computer modeling with satellite data over the Southern Ocean, the vast sea surrounding Antarctica. It reveals how tiny natural particles given off by marine organisms—airborne droplets and solid particles called aerosols – nearly double cloud droplet numbers in the summer, which boosts the amount of sunlight reflected back to space. And for the first time, this study estimates how much solar energy that equates to over the whole Southern Ocean.

“It is a strong effect,” said climate scientist Susannah Burrows at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. “But it makes sense because most of the area down there is ocean, with strong winds that kick up a lot of spray and lots of marine microorganisms producing these particles. And continental aerosol sources are mostly so far away that they only have a limited impact. Really the marine aerosols are running the show there.”

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Over 124 million rupiah raised for Project Clean Uluwatu

Image: Tommy Shultz

The Gerry Lopez Yoga and Talk Story at the Uluwatu Surf Villas raised over 124 million rupiah for Project Clean Uluwatu, the local environmental organization working to keep Uluwatu clean and beautiful.

In his first visit in decades to the fabled surf break he helped pioneer, Gerry returned to the Bukit Monday evening, June 15th. As a dedicated yogi for over 40 years, he hosted a Yin Yoga session under a spectacular Bali sunset atop the cliff at the Uluwatu Surf Villas. After a healthy dinner donated by Alchemy of Ubud and the local Lands End Cafe, Gerry narrated a slideshow of his early adventures to Uluwatu and surrounding iconic breaks, also offering his insights and words of wisdom on surfing and life. Narrating countless original photographs from Dick Hoole, Dana Edmunds, Dan Merkle and Don King dating as far back as back as 1970s, Gerry told his story of the early days surfing Indonesia – getting lost among the thickets and shrubbery trying to find Uluwatu; rickety bemo rides from Kuta, the scarcity of water on the Bukit, and 16 hour boat rides to G-Land.

Image: Tommy Shultz
Image: Tommy Shultz

With over 300 guests in attendance, this event was a huge success. “It goes to show that PCU has a strong following and that people care about the environmental issues facing Uluwatu,” comments PCU project manager Curtis Lowe.

A key figure of the history of Uluwatu, Gerry Lopez reflected upon the past and had these insightful words on the current waves of change approaching Bali:

“In 1974, the first time I came to Bali, I found very few surfers at Uluwatu and waves of a quality and consistency that I had never experienced before. The surf combined with the languid lifestyle of Kuta Beach plus the genuine and enviable contentment of the Balinese people kept me returning year after year on a regular basis. What attracted me also brought more and more people and as the surfing world grew so did the crowds at Uluwatu.

In the beginning, there were no plastic containers; water, drinks and food came in glass bottles, on plates or maybe banana leaves that would be reused or easily disposed of. Trash was dumped in the ravines, rain washed it out to sea and once again man used the ocean to clean up his mess. This worked, more or less, if the waste was organic but then came plastic containers and more people. Without the infrastructure to support the rapidly escalating usage, the raw sewage and garbage issues reached critical mass in a short time.

Project Clean Uluwatu is the initial effort directed toward dealing with this ever growing problem and for the moment it has the edge. The attractiveness of the waves, the lifestyle and the Balinese people is still as great as it ever was. It does, however, continue to bring visitors in increasing numbers and the wake they leave as they pass is not small. Please support the continuing undertakings of PCU as they tackle this monumental task. We all have a responsibility to protect our natural resources for future generations to enjoy as we have and Uluwatu is an extraordinary treasure that deserves our best efforts.“

Image: Tommy Shultz
Image: Tommy Shultz

This was the most important fundraiser of the year for Project Clean Uluwatu. All the proceeds will go towards the continuation of waste water treatment, rubbish removal, recycling, composting, community gardening, and the completion of a waste water garden facility, which further purifies waste water and sewerage after it has passed through the bio tanks. Finally, the proceeds will help PCU address future development near the surf break, thus ensuring the protection of the beach, reef, and ocean. PCU executive Tim Russo concluded: “We were so lucky to have the support from Gerry Lopez to do the yin yoga session and talk story for the 3rd annual pcu fundraiser. The timing worked out perfect and it was an awesome opportunity to reflect on the rich culture and history that Uluwatu has become famous for and to reaffirm why people need to act now to protect this beach for future generations”

Source: Project Clean Uluwatu

About Project Clean Uluwatu: PCU is a collaborative not for profit that receives no government funding. The organization creates sustainable environmental solutions for in Uluwatu so the world famous surf break can be preserved for future generations.

Toothed whales lack functional Mx genes

Credit: Wikipedia

Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have determined that toothed whales lack functional Mx genes—a surprising discovery, since all 56 other sequenced mammals in the study possess these genes to fight off viruses like HIV, measles and flu.

Modern toothed whales, including dolphins, orcas and sperm whales, have inherited defunct copies of the Mx1 and Mx2 genes, profoundly altering their immune systems. The basic role of these Mx genes is to make proteins that fight viral infections. The researchers hope that understanding this newly discovered mysterious genetic anomaly will help preserve these cetaceans as they face extensive die-offs.

“Given how important the Mx genes seem to be in fighting off disease in humans and other mammals, it’s striking to see a species lose them both and go about its business for millions of years,” said Gill Bejerano, Ph.D., associate professor of developmental biology, of computer science and of pediatrics. “It’s hard to determine if this is related to the die-offs. We hope that our observations will provide particular targets to go after when carcasses wash ashore, so we can better understand what is happening.”

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