Blue crabs. Photo via Benjamin Wilson, Flickr
Blue crabs. Photo via Benjamin Wilson, Flickr

Crab Chowder?

In 2012, northeast sea surface temperatures reached an all-time high. Many speculate that rising water temperatures have contributed to a record high catch of 126 million pounds of American lobster, Homerus americanus, in the Gulf of Maine. However, the steady rise in New England’s sea surface temperatures may have also made southern areas of New England inhospitable for lobster. In a recent interview with AccuWeater, Maine Lobstermen Association’s Patrice McCarron said, “In southern New England, Buzzard Bay, Mass., and the waters off of Rhode Island, temperatures in the Long Island Sound area have become too warm for lobsters.” Lobster catch in these areas has plummeted since the 1990s.

The warming trend in New England waters has caused alarm for local fishermen, and we’re only beginning to understand the ways climate change might affect our fisheries. While some treasured New England species may relocate father north, it’s possible that other species will move into this region and create new economic opportunities.

We’ve written before about some of these species moving north as water temperatures rise, and now we can add another to the roster—blue crabs. Although blue crabs are traditionally caught off Maryland and Virginia, fishermen in Long Island Sound have been seeing more of them lately. Some think that, in time, Long Island Sound could replicate the blue crab fishery of southern areas like Chesapeake Bay.

The blue crab, Callinectes sapidus, whose Latin name can be translated to mean “beautiful savory swimmer,” is the Maryland state crustacean and the most valuable shellfish in the mid-Atlantic region. The crabs can grow to be around 4 in long and 9 in wide, weighing around 1 pound, and reaching maturity in 12 to 18 months. The bottom-dwelling blue crab can live in a range of salinities, feeding off of crabs, claims, snails, eelgrass, sea lettuce and decayed vegetation. Blue crabs can be found all along the Atlantic Coast, with a prominent population in Chesapeake Bay presently suffering from habitat degradation and overfishing.

Could Maryland’s pride species create a new industry in New England Waters? The blue crab, caught for sale in both hard and soft shell forms, is currently sold at a market price in Maryland of $39.25 per dozen. With the growing blue crab population and a high demand market, does New England clam chowder have a new competitor on the way?

Scientists are careful to note that the long-term effects of climate change on species like blue crabs are still far too uncertain to predict the future of a fishery, but one thing is for sure—New England’s ocean is changing, and marine life is on the move.

A diver above the Heroic. Image credit: Alex Shure
A diver above the Heroic. Image credit: Alex Shure

Diving The Heroic in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary

Categories: Guest Posters

This story and video of a wreck dive on Stellwagen Bank was shared by Alex Shure, a regular contributor to the New England Ocean Odyssey photo contest. For more information on shipwrecks on Stellwagen, see this post from Matthew Lawrence.

I recently had the opportunity to dive The Heroic, one of several shipwrecks located in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. The Heroic began its life as an Accentor-class coastal minesweeper built during World War II. Now, over 70 years later, its final resting place is marked by a large engine block, decaying wooden ribs, and a trail of ghostly debris scattered about an otherwise sparse sandy bottom 100 feet below the ocean surface.

We set out mid-morning from Beverly Harbor with Northern Atlantic Dive Expeditions planning for a dive at slack tide. After a remarkably calm ride out to the wreck site, 2 divers dropped into the water to tie onto a mooring recently installed by NOAA. As the first divers descended, we could still see their tanks and blue gloves 20 feet beneath the boat; this would be a good dive. I donned my gear and readied my camera with great enthusiasm for the wreck below. Steadily lowering myself along the downline deeper into the crisp water, The Heroic’s engine was visible from almost 50 feet away! As I got closer, the shadowy structure beneath gave way to a worn metal block swarmed with cunner and encrusted in hydroids. There’s not much “wreck” beyond the massive engine, but what is there has turned into an artificial reef for the local inhabitants. Shooting photos and video, I managed to burn through my bottom time before I knew it.  I waved goodbye to all of the rebreathers and reluctantly ascended back up the line looking backwards at the disappearing wreck below me.

Stellwagen exploration is the pinnacle of SCUBA in New England. Due to its location and unique underwater topography, many species of marine life call this sanctuary home. Its human visitors have the inherent adventure of offshore diving. Visibility in the sanctuary tends to be spectacular and there is a rich variety of locations, wrecks and wildlife at recreational depths. Divers get all this and can still be home in time for dinner. One can easily compare diving Stellwagen to visiting a national park above water. It is a place that deserves our respect, admiration and perhaps most importantly, our protection.

An orca swims 150 miles off Nantucket. Image: USCG
An orca swims 150 miles off Nantucket. Image: USCG

New England’s Unexpected Summer Visitors

Pure-white, Arctic-dwelling beluga whales and their black and white cousins the orcas are rarely seen in the Atlantic outside of icy polar waters.  While orcas migrate around the globe and inhabit both Arctic and Antarctic waters, belugas are usually at home only in the frozen north. Massachusetts residents, then, are unlikely to ever see these whales, but this month prospective whale watchers might get lucky. Just a few days ago, both whales were spotted in Massachusetts—quite a distance south from the whales’ usual frigid habitat.

On June 15th, a lone beluga was seen in the mouth of the Taunton River in Fall River, Massachusetts. The sighting was rare for two reasons: first for its distance from the arctic and second because belugas usually travel in pods and are rarely seen alone. This beluga, however, which appeared to be a healthy adult male, cruised around solo in the river for several days, delighting the citizens of Fall River but worrying advocates concerned for the whale’s safety. Meanwhile, on June 25th, the U.S. Coast Guard came across a pod of orcas about 150 miles off the coast of Nantucket. The picture below shows the orcas surfacing beside the CGC Campbell.

A pod of orcas seen from the CGC Campbell. Image: USCG

A pod of orcas seen from the CGC Campbell. Image: USCG

Scientists have been both pleased and puzzled by the unexpected appearances. While the sighting of such rare visitors to New England is certainly exciting, there may be an unfortunate reason for these whales’ presence here. Researchers from Mystic Aquarium suspect that both the beluga’s and the orcas’ movements may be an indication of melting Arctic ice and of the impact this environmental change has on the Arctic’s inhabitants—the whales may have been driven south in search of more abundant food. These aren’t the first polar visitors to New England this year, either—a bowhead whale was spotted in April off the coast of Cape Cod.

The verdict is still out, however, on what the connection is between melting ice and wandering whales. In the meantime, we can enjoy the rare sight of these beautiful creatures.

Isle of Shoals, NH

Brian Skerry’s Photos from the Isles of Shoals – Part 2

Categories: Guest Posters

Here’s another batch of Brian Skerry’s pictures from our recent dive expedition. Brian took these beautiful photographs while diving the Isles of Shoals, a group of nine small islands a few miles off the coast of New Hampshire and Maine. Brian dived alongside Brown University professor Jon Witman, a marine ecologist who has been studying the communities of sea life at Isles of Shoals for decades. On these dives, Jon was particularly interested in studying the density of kelp blanketing the rocky seafloor—but as Brian’s photos show, there’s an incredible diversity of fish and invertebrates there, too.

The photo at the top of this post shows a pair of northern red anemones clinging to a rocky outcropping, highlighting the striking variability in color and pattern they can display.

 

Isle of Shoals, NH

This photo shows another type of anemone common in the Gulf of Maine—frilled anemones. These anemones favor areas with a strong current that carries a steady stream of food—copepods, amphipods, and larvae.

 

Isle of Shoals, NH

Sand dollars are familiar to most people as pale white circular shells, but live sand dollars are far more colorful. Along with urchins and sea stars, they’re a type of echinoderm—a name that means “spiny skin.”

 

Isle of Shoals, NH

This colorful sculpin is nestled among equally vibrant kelp and algae. Sculpin feature spines on their heads and notoriously voracious appetites for bait.

CLF's Jen Felt will celebrate International Surfing Day tomorrow with her husband and kids.
CLF's Jen Felt will celebrate International Surfing Day tomorrow with her husband and kids.

International Surfing Day – A holiday my husband can get behind

It’s no secret that my husband is not a huge fan of holidays. The pomp and circumstance confuse and overwhelm him. This is not the case for International Surfing Day—a day that he wholeheartedly embraces and celebrates to the fullest extent every year—a day when it is him, not our children, who rises jittery with the promise of holiday-making swells in the North Atlantic.

International Surfing Day is a global celebration of our oceans and beaches organized by the Surfrider Foundation. Friday, June 20th marks the 10th Annual International Surfing Day, and beachgoers and surfers will host more than 140 events ranging from beach cleanups to surf contests in over 30 countries.

Granted living in New Hampshire does not always mean rideable waves or the warmest of waters, but a day in recognition of the dynamic sport that allows you to interact with the ocean in unique and inspiring ways is enough to celebrate regardless of the conditions. That is why tomorrow afternoon will be particularly sad for my husband—not because our family will be heading to Jenness Beach in Rye, NH to join other local families participating in Surfrider’s beach cleanup and play in the waves, but because he had rotator cuff surgery a month ago and is under strict instructions not to paddle out under any circumstances.

CLF's Jen Felt

CLF’s Jen Felt

We will pack a surfboard anyway, because while he is running around on the beach after our children with his one good arm, I will be out on the water attempting to carve inspiration. Do you want to know why? I love celebrating International Surfing Day too. That’s why I do the work I do as part of CLF’s oceans team—protecting the oceans is vital to ensuring that we can enjoy celebrations like International Surfing Day now and far into the future.