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

Isle of Shoals, NH
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Brian Skerry’s Photos from the Isles of Shoals – Part 1

Categories: Guest Posters

We’re very happy to show you the first of Brian Skerry’s pictures from our recent dive expeditions. Brian took these beautiful photographs while diving the Isles of Shoals, a group of small islands and ledges a few miles off the coast of New Hampshire and Maine. These islands have a remarkable history as centers of fishing, trading, research, and tourism, stretching from before European settlement to the present day. They’re remarkable beneath the surface, too—the islands harbor rich communities of kelp, fish, and invertebrates, and also host harbor seals and pods of dolphins and whales. Brian’s photos provide an amazing glimpse into life on the seafloor at the Isles of Shoals.

In the photo at the top of this post, a sculpin peers out through shotgun kelp. Shotgun kelp gets its name from its perforated appearance that makes it look like it’s been shot full of holes. This photograph also shows the dense multicolored communities that encrust the seafloor.

 

Isle of Shoals, NH

A beautiful northern red anemone stands out brilliantly against the seafloor. These anemones prefer rocky habitat like that found at the Isles of Shoals and at Cashes Ledge.

 

Isle of Shoals, NH

A jonah crab lurks among kelp and algae. Jonah crabs are closely related to the Pacific’s famous Dungeness crabs, and have been fished commercially since the 1970s.

 

Isle of Shoals, NH

An American lobster shows off its claws. Lobsters comprise about 80 percent of Maine’s fishing revenues, but they’re sensitive to temperature and may be particularly susceptible to the effects of climate change and acidification.

Stay tuned for more pictures to come!

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Celebrating New England’s Oceans on World Oceans Day

This Sunday is World Oceans Day, an international event to celebrate and honor the ocean. This year, volunteers have organized events in locations around the world, from Massachusetts to Mozambique. The message of the day is simple—our oceans are valuable but at risk, and there are easy steps all of us can take to help.

World Oceans Day is a global event, but we thought we’d bring it back home to New England by celebrating the incredible marine habitat in the Gulf of Maine. For the past two weeks, Conservation Law Foundation’s dive team has been exploring some of the amazing places in the Gulf of Maine, from the inshore Isles of Shoals to the incredible Cashes Ledge, 100 miles off the Maine coast.

Cashes Ledge is an underwater mountain range whose steep ridges mix nutrient- and oxygen-rich water, creating a very productive environment. The ledge harbors the largest and deepest kelp forest off the east coast; our divers tell us the kelp on Cashes is so lush and dense it can be tricky to even see the seafloor and navigate along the bottom. To give you an idea of what diving in the kelp looks like, here’s a video from one of the team’s previous trips to Cashes Ledge, taken by videographer Lu Lamar.

The area around Cashes Ledge has been protected for over a decade, but unfortunately, this incredible habitat is now at risk of being opened to commercial trawling. The current proposal under consideration by NOAA and the New England Fishery Management Council would eliminate protection for three quarters of the area around Cashes Ledge. World Oceans Day is a perfect reminder that healthy oceans need healthy habitat, and the incredible ecosystem on Cashes Ledge is worth protecting for good.

You can join in the World Oceans Day festivities by finding an event on the website—there are lots of events in towns across New England, from 5Ks to surfing meet-ups. You can also take a “selfie for the sea”—a photo of yourself doing something for the ocean or making a promise to protect it—and post it with the hashtag #WorldOceansDay. And if you’d like to help protect marine habitat right here in New England,you can help ask NOAA to maintain full protection for the area surrounding Cashes Ledge by signing our petition here.