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Throwback Thursday, Part VI: Fascinating Fishes and Faded Fisheries

A historical series by USFWS fisheries biologist Dan Magneson

This is the oceanic whitetip shark – with a school of pilotfish alongside – more about pilotfish later.  They are called whitetips because of the white borders on the outermost edges of their fins, and can reach up to 13 feet in length and 370 lbs. in weight, but most are around the 7 – 10 foot range

The ancient mariners used to call them “sea dogs” for their habit of following ships.  They occur near the surface in tropical or subtropical waters between 68 – 82 degrees Fahrenheit.

They are an aggressive “in your face” sort of shark, almost fearless and very opportunistic and persistent.  They cruise through the ocean slowly and are active both night and day.  But if they see an opening, they can quickly exploit it in a surprising burst of speed.  They aren’t a critter you’d want to turn your back on.

The famed oceanographic researcher Jacques Cousteau called oceanic whitetips “the most dangerous of all sharks.”

This shark is real hazard to castaways – survivors of shipwrecks and plane crashes at sea – and has probably killed more people than great whites, bull sharks and tiger sharks all put together.  If oceanic whitetips could talk, they might be able to tell you what ever happened to Amelia Earhart, and had it not happened in such cold water, oceanic whitetips would likely have been on the scene when the Titanic went down. 

The shark attack files consist of recorded attacks, and since this shark lives way out in the open ocean, far away from crowds and cameras, there just aren’t any witnesses.

And back to those pilotfish:  they associate with many kinds of sharks, but seem especially fond of oceanic whitetips.  It is a mutually-beneficial relationship:  the pilotfish gains protection from predators and feeds on left-over scraps from the shark’s meals, and the shark gains freedom from parasites the pilotfish peck off its body.  The shark apparently views the pilotfish in much the same grateful manner as the lion viewed the little mouse that pulled the thorn out of his paw.  The pilotfish can even act as a living toothpick, cleaning away food stuck between the shark’s teeth.  It is extremely rare for a shark ever chomp on a pilotfish, and that has led to applying the color pattern of a pilotfish to the bottoms of surfboards in hopes of warding off shark attacks.

Photo credit: National Marine Fisheries Service, Southwest Region

These yellowfin tuna are probably around 3 feet long, and the one in the middle was the victim of an oceanic whitetip, who usually leave a wound somewhere between the size of a softball and a cantaloupe.

Oceanic whitetips were involved in the two of the worst shark attack incidents ever recorded, both during World War II and both involving ships that had been torpedoed.

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Throwback Thursday, Part V: Fascinating Fishes and Faded Fisheries

A historical series by USFWS fisheries biologist Dan Magneson

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As a top predator, great whites aren’t common anywhere, but they do seem to enjoy their greatest population densities in regions having a Mediterranean climate.  So if you have a place with warm to hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters, where olives, figs, citrus fruits and grapes are typically grown, and there is chilly water in the 50’s and 60’s offshore, and where there are lots of seals and sea lions – or where there have been in the past – then there are going to be great white sharks cruising those waters.

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Many people still tend to think that great whites are a tropical species, but they are actually a temperate water species that can occasionally occur as far north as Alaska.  When it comes to shark attacks by great whites, the 120-mile stretch from Bodega Bay – where Alfred Hitchcock filmed his movie “The Birds” – on down to Point Sur and thence out around the Fallaron Islands, is where over half the world’s attacks have taken place.  It is called the “Red Triangle” for blood in the water, and this relatively-small area has over 10 times the number of attacks as all the rest of the California coast put together.  So although there are great whites in the waters off New York, a more realistic setting for the movie “JAWS” would probably have been some coastal town in the general vicinity of San Francisco.

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The relatively-high number of attacks in California is hard to sort out, but might be the result of a combination of several things:  a higher population of great white sharks that might also be increasing due to the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which has allowed their normal prey to greatly multiply; a large human population with a corresponding large number of people playing in the ocean, and the attacks themselves taking place in mostly coastal areas with crowds of potential witnesses on the beach and nearby news organizations with lots of access to shark experts, cameras and reporters that hear about every incident. 

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Throwback Thursday, Part IV: Fascinating Fishes and Faded Fisheries

A historical series by USFWS fisheries biologist Dan Magneson

Here’s a really sad story. 

At up to 40 feet in length, the basking shark is the 2nd largest living fish on earth after the whale shark, and is a gentle, slow-moving shark that filter-feeds on plankton.  Therefore, they have only miniscule, poorly-developed teeth. 

Basking sharks hold their mouths open like a butterfly net and can strain half a million gallons of water per hour.

They are found in all the world’s oceans close to the continental shelf, following plankton concentrations and therefore are readily visible at the surface.

Basking sharks were formerly commercially-valuable not only for human food and animal food , but also for a liver that comprises up to 25% of their body weight, and from which you can manufacture a smokeless lamp oil, an excellent machine oil, and even use it as a cosmetic base for lipstick.  Their fins are highly-prized in Asia as a base for soup.  The large dermal denticles, the shark’s version of scales, point rearward on most sharks, but they point every which way on the basking shark, and the seafaring Norwegians of the past used those skins on the bottoms of their boots to make them slip-resistant.

Sharks like the great white will actively evade approaching boats, but basking sharks are very tolerant of nearby boat traffic and curious about divers and make great candidates for ecotourism.

But that tolerance has also been their downfall and makes them vulnerable to those bent on doing them harm. 

The waters off British Columbia were once loaded with basking sharks but they were judged a nuisance who could potentially entangle themselves in gillnets.

So a war was basically declared on them in 1945 and a patrol boat named the Comox Post was outfitted with a huge blade that could lowered on a cable down a track along the bow so it was just below the water line, and upon ramming the blade into a basking shark, they would be more or less cut in two.  The Comox Post sometimes killed up to 18 basking sharks a day and in the Barkley Sound area alone, chalked up 413 kills over a 14 year period.

The Comox Post was featured in the November 1956 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine.  And on the front page of the June 22, 1955 edition of the Victoria Times, it featured a drawing of a basking shark with the caption:  “This is a basking shark, basking and leering.  But the smirk will soon be wiped off its ugly face by the fisheries department, which is cutting numerous sharks down to size.”

And the public was also encouraged to ram, harpoon and shoot them.

The war was basically over by 1970, and today times have really changed: the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the general public themselves would like to have the basking sharks be back again, but there have been only 6 confirmed sightings between 1996 and 2008.

And worldwide, their populations have fallen 80% since the 1950’s.

No fish talk would be complete without mention of fishdom’s super predator, the great white shark.  Everybody talks about how hokey and phony “JAWS” was, how sharks are not that diabolical, but all this is missing the point.  “JAWS” was a thriller, not a documentary.  It was historic in that it introduced the concept of the summer blockbuster to Hollywood and the movie-going public.  Before the phenomenal success of “JAWS,” the summer had always been a slow and sleepy movie season.  For those of you that do remember the movie, the television reporter on the beach was Peter Benchley himself, the author of the story.

This is a more realistic size comparison between a human and a great white shark, but they still dwarf us in size; the very biggest of the great whites are probably on the order of 21 feet in length and close to 3 3/4 tons in weight.  When people see a great white in real life, what strikes many of them – besides teeth the size of a shot glass – is just how heavily-built they really are.  There was an 18-foot tiger shark caught that weighed 1,780 pounds; by contrast, an 18-foot great white would easily weigh over twice as much.  I saw one record of a great white that measured a little over 17 feet long and was 13 feet around; it took a big bulldozer to pull it out of water.  No scale in the area could have weighed it, but it was estimated at 4,500 lbs.  So while a tiger shark can also achieve a great length, they are shaped more like a sausage while the white shark is shaped more like a football.

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Goslings, not Ryan, but nēnē - have moved in to James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge on Oahu in Hawaii! This is the first time nēnē have been spotted on the island since the 1700s. 
The pair of the endangered Hawaiian geese have nested and successfully hatched three goslings on the refuge near Kahuku, Oahu. It is possible more birds will arrive on Oahu in the future, particularly in places that provide safe and protected habitat like national wildlife refuges. The nēnē were first observed on Oahu around January 9, 2014. 

The Hawaiian goose or nēnē was driven to near extinction in the early 1950s . Approximately 30 birds where left in the world – all on Hawaii Island. However, Hawaii’s state bird is on the comeback with statewide totals estimated between 2,450 and 2,550 birds on the islands of Hawaii, Maui, Molokai, Kauai and, now, Oahu. Nēnē population increases and recovery are due to cooperative management by federal and state agencies, including the Service, Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife, National Park Service and San Diego Zoological Park.
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Goslings, not Ryan, but nēnē - have moved in to James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge on Oahu in Hawaii! This is the first time nēnē have been spotted on the island since the 1700s. 
The pair of the endangered Hawaiian geese have nested and successfully hatched three goslings on the refuge near Kahuku, Oahu. It is possible more birds will arrive on Oahu in the future, particularly in places that provide safe and protected habitat like national wildlife refuges. The nēnē were first observed on Oahu around January 9, 2014. 

The Hawaiian goose or nēnē was driven to near extinction in the early 1950s . Approximately 30 birds where left in the world – all on Hawaii Island. However, Hawaii’s state bird is on the comeback with statewide totals estimated between 2,450 and 2,550 birds on the islands of Hawaii, Maui, Molokai, Kauai and, now, Oahu. Nēnē population increases and recovery are due to cooperative management by federal and state agencies, including the Service, Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife, National Park Service and San Diego Zoological Park.
Zoom Info
Goslings, not Ryan, but nēnē - have moved in to James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge on Oahu in Hawaii! This is the first time nēnē have been spotted on the island since the 1700s. 
The pair of the endangered Hawaiian geese have nested and successfully hatched three goslings on the refuge near Kahuku, Oahu. It is possible more birds will arrive on Oahu in the future, particularly in places that provide safe and protected habitat like national wildlife refuges. The nēnē were first observed on Oahu around January 9, 2014. 

The Hawaiian goose or nēnē was driven to near extinction in the early 1950s . Approximately 30 birds where left in the world – all on Hawaii Island. However, Hawaii’s state bird is on the comeback with statewide totals estimated between 2,450 and 2,550 birds on the islands of Hawaii, Maui, Molokai, Kauai and, now, Oahu. Nēnē population increases and recovery are due to cooperative management by federal and state agencies, including the Service, Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife, National Park Service and San Diego Zoological Park.
Zoom Info

Goslings, not Ryan, but nēnē - have moved in to James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge on Oahu in Hawaii! This is the first time nēnē have been spotted on the island since the 1700s. 

The pair of the endangered Hawaiian geese have nested and successfully hatched three goslings on the refuge near Kahuku, Oahu. It is possible more birds will arrive on Oahu in the future, particularly in places that provide safe and protected habitat like national wildlife refuges. The nēnē were first observed on Oahu around January 9, 2014. 

The Hawaiian goose or nēnē was driven to near extinction in the early 1950s . Approximately 30 birds where left in the world – all on Hawaii Island. However, Hawaii’s state bird is on the comeback with statewide totals estimated between 2,450 and 2,550 birds on the islands of Hawaii, Maui, Molokai, Kauai and, now, Oahu. Nēnē population increases and recovery are due to cooperative management by federal and state agencies, including the Service, Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife, National Park Service and San Diego Zoological Park.

Climate Science Success: North Pacific LCC Funded Work Aiding Land Management Around the Region

By Meghan Kearney, NPLCC

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Photo: Researchers collecting wetlands data. Credit: Maureen Ryan

Each year, the North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperative (NPLCC) funds a number of management-relevant projects that enhance understanding the effects of climate change to better inform natural and cultural resource management decisions. In 2011, the NPLCC provided funding to The University of Washington’s Dr. Alan Hamlet for a project researching Climate Change Effects on Pacific Northwest Wetland Ecosystems. 

The goal of the project was to develop hydrologic projections for wetland habitats such as forest wetlands, wet meadows, small ponds and riparian wetlands to help managers understand which wetlands might be at risk under current climate projections. Using existing climate models and datasets for wetlands in Washington, Oregon, and California, this project developed approaches for simulating past and future montane wetland behavior.

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Photo: "NPLCC Montane Wetlands Webinar": Historical wetland volume data from Mt. Rainier and Olympic National Parks. Credit: Maureen Ryan

While the project was in development, Dr. Maureen Ryan of Simon Fraser University, a key partner for this project alongside Dr. Hamlet, connected with the North Cascades National Park Complex (NPS) to discuss their potential interest in the proposed research.  After expressing interest in the project, the NPS along with representatives from Western Washington University, University of Washington, and the North Cascadia Adaptation Partnership began collaboration on expanding and utilizing Dr. Hamlet’s and Dr. Ryan’s work. 

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Three Years After Tsunami at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge

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Nesting albatross on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Photo credit: USFWS

Reflection and Road to Recovery at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge

By Ann Bell, Visitors Services Manager, Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument

March 11, 2014 marks the third anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated vast areas of Japan - killing nearly 16,000 people and leaving millions without homes. On that fateful day, the people on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge received early warning and initiated the tsunami response plan, gathering on the third floor of an old navy barracks. Around midnight that night, they heard the rise of the ocean. The next day’s sunrise gave witness to extensive damage and loss of wildlife including an estimated 102,000 seabirds, many sea turtles, and a countless number of fish. Hundreds of birds were still struggling after being buried alive in flood debris.

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A petrel buried in the sand on Midway Atoll NWR after the tsunami. Staff, visitors and contractors worked to free birds from the sand and debris. Photo credit: USFWS 

This third anniversary of that date ignites memories and reflection for the refuge staff, visitors and contractors. As occasional tsunami debris is still found along the beaches of Midway Atoll, it is a solemn reminder of the human tragedy and continued struggle to recover from this disaster. Although it was an unthinkable moment in time, the three years since the tsunami, have unveiled extraordinary resource and wildlife recovery efforts and opportunities that have exceeded the Service’s expectations.

“After watching the devastation in Japan on TV, we were relieved to not see any inundation near the building when the readings from NOAA’s [National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration] tide gage began to go down after reaching almost five feet above normal sea level,” noted refuge biologist, Pete Leary.  “In the morning, we awoke to a kind of eerie calm and surreal mist rising from the washed over areas. The more areas we explored, the more birds we found stuck in vegetation or debris piles. The surge of water came too fast for the adult albatross to take off and the chicks were too young to fly, so the next few days were spent trying to save the surviving birds that were still trapped in the debris.”

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Beautiful songs and rare birds on South Puget Sound Prairies

By Audrey Lamb, Center for Natural Land Management 

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Photo: Golden paintbrush at Glacial Heritage, Credit: Adam Martin

For two decades, the Center for Natural Land Management (CNLM, previously The Nature Conservancy) has dedicated themselves to conserving the rare prairie ecosystem in the South Puget Sound region of western Washington. Their staff and volunteers are showing the world how native plants and animals can be restored:  One weeding, one planting, one prescribed burn at a time!  With CNLM  as a primary partner, the USFWS continues to work toward recovery of South Sound prairies, rich habitat that includes such species as the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly, golden paintbrush, Mazama pocket gopher, western toad, white-top aster and Oregon spotted frog.

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Photo credit: Adam Martin

With the coming of spring this year, have you heard the return of the rare streaked horned lark? Their beautiful song is now being heard on prairies in the South Puget Sound area of Washington.  In early February 2014, biologists noticed them at the Olympia Airport and have since found them at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Their 2014 homecoming is particularly significant as these native birds were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in October of 2013. To increase their numbers , many conservation partners are coordinating actions to improve their habitat, protect existing birds, and bring larks from healthier populations to those in trouble.  The ones we are seeing in the South Sound today have been carefully relocated from Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

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Photo: Streaked horned lark, Credit: Adam Martin

Biologists with the Center for Natural Lands Management  (CNLM) moved the lark eggs from Oregon to a South Sound prairie site on the same day. Traveling carefully with the eggs up I-5 has already reaped rewards:  A male lark that originated in Oregon successfully produced lark chicks this year! With this success, CNLM will keep a keen eye out to see his offspring return next year.  Meanwhile, CNLM continues transferring  lark eggs to South Sound prairies this spring.  


For a fine spring outing with your families head out to Scatter Creek in Olympia, Washington and Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve and Listen up!!


For more information or to volunteer with South Sound prairie restoration projects, please contact Audrey Lamb, conservation assistant, CNLM, at (360) 357-6280, alamb@cnlm.org, or visit www.southsoundprairies.org
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