Boston Harbor Striped Bass
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Striped Bass in Boston Harbor

Categories: Creature Features

Ben Carmichael is CLF’s Senior Communications Manager. This post was originally published at his New England fly fishing blog http://www.newenglandonthefly.com/

In a college course on pre-Socratic philosophy, a teacher summed up one of the teachings of Heraclitus by saying: “Through suffering comes beauty.” Tonight, as I saw the first stripers of my year landed around me, that certainly was the case.

The night began promisingly: a good tide, aligning with the end of the work day, and light drizzles throughout the day — conditions which, according to one, had yielded fish in the past at this spot. At lunch, the same friend had walked to the Charles River waterfront and cast a line. The stripers that followed his fly to the shore were all the proof we needed to end speculation: Fish were going to be caught this night.

But then it all seemed to fall apart. In the time it took me to walk from my office at Downtown Crossing to Beacon Hill, I got soaked. My khakis were damp dishcloths and my rain jacket a wet sheet of nylon by the time I got to my friend’s stoop. Lighting and thunder was shaking the sky. And still the rain came, in torrents. It was so heavy one suggested we cast a line into the street; it was, by my estimate, deeper than a flat on which I had hooked a bonefish, and deeper still than some shallows that I’ve seen hold trout.

Sitting on his stoop, beer in hand, it seemed like that would be our fishing — more of the kind we had done all winter: banter fishing, in jokes to delay the gratification of finally feeling a pull. As my guide the weekend before in Boca Grande had said, “the tug is the drug,” and I hadn’t felt the tug of a fish in months. I was on hard times, and the rain wasn’t helping.

But after only a short drive we cleared the bad weather and found clear skies and calm air over an incoming tide. The water was clear, and the temperature good. It was as though the weather had never marked this spot. I felt buoyed. Fish were going to be caught this night.

And so it was. The beautiful striper above was caught on the second cast. Another was landed. And yet another. For me, even though I went fishless, a night like this starts the unquestionable start to the season. And proof that a little suffering goes a long way to making the tug more pleasant, the beer colder, and the scenery more beautiful.

Here are some shots from the night. I’ll be sharing more throughout the season.

striped bass boston harbor

Landing what would be the world’s smallest striped bass, at around 8″.

 

 

striped bass boston harbor fly fishing

Fighting a striped bass around Boston Harbor. Photo by Ben Carmichael.

Blue Shark, Rhode Island
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Announcing Our April Photo Contest Winner!

Categories: Photo Contest

Look at that cute face! We are thrilled to announce that sharks have finally made it into our photo contest winner’s circle. Congratulations to Michel Labrecque for this wonderful picture of a charismatic blue shark, taken off the Rhode Island coast. If you’ve been reading our blog over the past year you know we love to celebrate the really big fish in our ocean, and Michel has captured this inquisitive shark with grace and beauty.

According to Brian Skerry, blue sharks are especially cooperative subjects, and will often come peer into his camera lens. He says, for the most part, they have always been very polite (unlike the “hyper and jacked up” makos – who he loves diving with nonetheless).

The blue shark in this picture does seem very curious. And I know you are all curious, too, about when there will be more sharks! Wonder no more – according to the Shark Week 2013 Countdown Clock, we only have 95 days to go!

Do you have a great photo of New England’s oceans to share?  Enter our photo contest! Each month, Brian Skerry will lead our team of judges to select a winner, who will receive a copy of Brian’s book Ocean Soul.

Entering is easy! Explore New England’s oceans, take some photographs and then share them with our online community on Flickr™. All you need to do is add your photos to the New England Ocean Odyssey group and tag them “PhotoContestNEOO”. Find out more here.

Be sure to check our our New England Ocean Odyssey Facebook page where we’ll be posting the honorable mentions from the April photo contest over the next few days.

We look forward to seeing your photos!

NEFSC researcher Larry Alade holds a tagged monkfish
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Monkfish Look Like They Could Bite Your Foot Off

This fish looks like it was designed by Stephen King, with its angular gaping mouth, needle-like teeth, and beady eyes. Imagine your reaction if you were enjoying a refreshing dip in the ocean then you looked down and saw that face staring up at you. I pride myself on surfing with the sharks in the bracing New England ocean, but seeing that crazy face by my feet might just leave me unhinged for a minute. These fish range throughout the North Atlantic, and as far south as Florida, so I know they’re around.

Really, though, your odds of encountering a monkfish are very low and if you did, they probably wouldn’t attack you. They usually hang out on the ocean floor, where they lie in wait, lure in prey with a filament-like “esca” that sprouts from between their eyes, and snatch up whatever unfortunate little fish happens to show interest.

As effective as this strategy seems to be, this bottom-dweller does get up near the surface every now and then – to eat birds. Researchers have recently discovered little puffins in the bellies of monkfish that were caught between 275 and 495 feet down, off the coast of Chatham, MA. Monkfish fish get around! And, I will confess, I didn’t even know we had puffins in New England.

I would really love to see some Crittercam  footage of a monkfish swimming up from the dark, cold depths and rushing a cute little unsuspecting puffin. Pow! Like a shark attack, but smaller and uglier. I’m going to be thinking about this the next time my feet are dangling off my surfboard (although researchers think the puffins were diving down 10 or 20 feet when the monkfish nabbed them). Still – as if the shark anxiety wasn’t bad enough.

Here are some other interesting monkfish facts (these and more can be found in this fact sheet from World Wildlife Fund).

  • Monkfish are also called goosefish, bellyfish, allmouth, and lawyer (that last one seems a little harsh).
  • These fish have been found almost 3,000 feet down.
  • They can eat things larger than they are, and are not very picky. Cod, lobster, and birds are all fair game.
  • Monkfish was not considered marketable in the U.S., until a government funded marketing campaign convinced people they were missing out on something that Europeans had been onto for a while.

Julia Child and a large monkfish. © copyright 2000-2007 Getty Images, Inc. [Steve Hansen/TimePix]

Julia Child and a large monkfish. Copyright 2000-2007 Getty Images, Inc. [Steve Hansen/TimePix]

 While monkfish have yet to show any interest in eating us, we do seem to enjoy eating them. In New England alone, commercial landings have averaged 35 million pounds a year since 1990. Hopefully this important and unique Gulf of Maine dweller will be able to withstand the  fishing pressure that is now upon them. Given the state of collapse of our cod fishery, healthier bottom dwelling fish stocks are being increasingly targeted to help sustain the fleet. This sort of action might backfire if populations of monkfish and other groundfish begin to plummet as the cod have, leaving fishermen with less and less. Worse, there are pressures on groundfish other than fishing, like warming seas and ocean acidification, which make it important that we set some habitat aside for our ocean ecosystems to adapt and build resiliency to our changing environment.

As odd looking and voracious as monkfish are, they are an important part of our New England ocean ecosystem. I hope that our fisheries managers and researches keep tabs on monkfish populations so we don’t imperil this true ocean oddity. Especially since I haven’t seen that Crittercam footage yet.

Mola Mola
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Holy Mola!

Categories: Creature Features

If you’ve been following New England Ocean Odyssey over the last several months, we’ve introduced you to some pretty remarkable fish found in the Gulf of Maine—from color-changing flounder to vivid sea ravens to reclusive Atlantic wolffish. But the ocean sunfish can definitely compete with any of these creatures for the title of strangest-looking fish in New England.

Ocean sunfish are known scientifically as Mola mola. This name comes from the Latin for millstone, which reflects this fish’s striking appearance. Mola mola are white or light grey in color and can reach up to 10 feet in length. With a maximum weight of a whopping 5,000 lbs, they’re the heaviest bony fish in the world.

Even aside from their huge size, these fish look unusual. Their extended dorsal and pectoral fins mean they can be even taller than they are long. Their tail fin is folded in on itself to create a bulky appendage called a clavus, creating a stubby, round shape that has led German speakers to call them Schwimmender Kopf, or “swimming head.” Mola mola also share some features with sharks, like the dentricles that cover their skin instead of scales and their protruding dorsal fins that can scare swimmers and boaters. They swim slowly and awkwardly by gently moving these fins back and forth.

As unusual as adult ocean sunfish are, juveniles are even stranger. Baby sunfish are iridescent and covered in protruding spikes that disappear as the fish mature (ocean sunfish are closely related to puffer fish).

Sightings of Mola mola are relatively common in the Gulf of Maine in the summer months. Part of the reason they’re so easy to spot is that they spend a lot of their time lying sideways on the surface, basking in the sun.

Unfortunately, the time ocean sunfish spend near the surface also means they are vulnerable to certain types of fishing gear, like gillnets. They also frequently suffer from eating plastic bags they mistake for jellyfish, one of their favorite foods. Despite these problems, Mola mola populations appear to be stable, and hopefully these strange fish will be a common sight in New England’s waters for many years to come.

For more information on ocean sunfish, check out this great TED Talk!

 

Epaulette Shark Egg
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Gifts from the Sea on Earth Day

Categories: Uncategorized

This is not what I planned to talk about on Earth Day this week. But last week was tough. The tragic events at the Boston Marathon last Monday turned into a long and difficult week here in the Boston area. My family and friends are taking this hard.

Yesterday my husband and I were struggling to fill the last day of our kids’ spring break with something resembling a vacation. An errand to drop something off at my office in downtown Boston turned into a last minute trip to the New England Aquarium (which is one of the 6 million reasons why I love living here, by the way). My husband and I followed the kids to the entrance in a fog, then found ourselves getting drawn in to the sea life exhibits all around us.

We watched our children become totally engaged with the shark and ray touch tank. We saw a bamboo shark laying eggs, wrapping the large egg cases around a pole. When we found out there was a display with live shark eggs, and you could see the baby shark moving around inside, we forgot everything else for a while. You can see one of the eggs, an epaulette shark, above. It is so beautiful.

These egg cases are sometimes called “mermaid purses.” I have seen them on the beach before, but I’d never seen one with a shark in it. It seemed like a miracle to see that tiny little shark just getting its start in the world.

 

A giant Pacific Octopus at the New England Aquarium.

A giant Pacific Octopus at the New England Aquarium.

 

We also saw the giant Pacific octopus playing with a big green ball (I know the picture is blurry, but it’s still pretty cool). It looked like it had been chewing green gum and blew a huge bubble. We watched the sea turtles in their temporary home in the penguin exhibit, and saw the sea lions sporting and frolicking like puppies in their pool.

 

A close encounter with a New England Aquarium mascot gets a smile.

A close encounter with a New England Aquarium mascot gets a smile.

 

I’m not going to say we feel completely better, but for a couple of hours we forgot everything except for the cool stuff we got to see. My youngest son even got to hug a giant sea turtle. Since it was the last day of spring break and we’d had a tough week, we decided to have ice cream for dinner. In celebration of Earth Day, mine was green.

Earth Day is not just about terra firma. The ocean provides way more habitable space on the planet than the land does. It should be called Planet Ocean (as one of my ocean heroes, I can’t remember which one, has said). It provides us with around half of the air we breathe, regulates our climate, and gives so many of us the food on our plates. And yesterday, for my family, the ocean provided a welcome distraction from a very sad time.

As we move on with our lives, let’s all try and remember what special things we have to love, to take care of, and to enjoy. And make sure to take some time to check out a live shark egg if you have the chance. It might make you feel better about the world.