22 May 2019

The role of biodiversity in human health

The United Nations has marked May 22 as The International Day for Biological Diversity to raise awareness and understanding of biodiversity issues. 

This year's theme, "Our Biodiversity, Our Food, Our Health," focuses on the invaluable role of biological diversity in human health and well-being. We can show our appreciation for the resources nature provides us every day by truly understanding (or simply reminding ourselves) where we get our resources for good health—the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breatheBy doing so, we are putting first the species and the ecosystems that keep our health in check and make our lives worthwhile. 

We can be a catalyst of change in small ways, be it by buying local food or using recyclable bags.

Here in SeaLifeBase, we celebrate marine biodiversity, from foraminiferans to cetaceans, from which we depend a lot for our health and well-being. If you're keen to learn more, visit us here.

29 April 2019

Q-quatics welcomes its new researchers!

Two new fresh graduates, Selina De Leon and Fayte Sicnawa, jump on board the Q-quatics team last April 1. They have since been involved in the identification of fishes in partnership with the University of Western Australia and the carry forward of global fisheries catch reconstructions led by the Sea Around Us.

Selina De Leon, a BS Biology graduate, hails from the University of the Philippines Diliman. She took up courses on marine sciences, ichthyology, ecology, biodiversity, and conservation. Selina’s fascination for the ocean started when she saw the iconic BBC documentary series Blue Planet. That made her want to study marine life and experience it up close. Last Aril 2018, she volunteered for the humpback whale research expedition (Balyena.org) in Camiguin Island, Calayan, Cagayan.

Fayte Sicnawa, a member of the Indigenous People of Kalinga, studied BS Biology major in Wildlife Biology at the University of the Philippines Los BaƱos. Upon graduation, she went on to teach Chemistry, Biology and Environmental Science at Trace College for a year. As a wildlife biologist, she’s aware of the decline in the sheer biodiversity of species in the country. She therefore feels strongly about the need for their conservation. She believes that the training she'll get in Q-quatics would leverage this passion. Today, she’s pursuing a master’s degree in Wildlife Biology.

Welcome aboard,  Selena and Fayte!

20 March 2019

Creature feature: Meet the dumbo octopus

Illustration by Maxeen Bayer based on the Disney character Dumbo

Deep in the ocean floor lives an octopus, its common name derived from the Disney character Dumbo who can fly with its big ears. Just as the sky is for the endearing elephant, the dumbo octopus hails from the deep, steering the waters by flapping its ear-like fins [1].

To date, there are 21 known species of dumbo octopus (Grimpoteuthis) [2]. Being bathypelagic animals, they live 13,000 feet below water (or almost 4000 m) and are rarely seen in shallow waters. They live in tropical to temperate latitudes and have been observed in New Zealand, California, Oregon, Philippines, and in other areas [3].

Dumbo octopus comes in different sizes, shapes, and colors. Its average size is 20 to 30 cm (7.9 to 12 inches) in length and its mantle, either U- or V-shaped. Like other families of octopi, their tentacles are umbrella-shaped, characterized by webbing between their tentacles, which help them navigate while swimming and crawling on the surface. Their ear-like lateral fins also help them propel around the water [4].

Grimpoteuthis has large eyes, about a third the diameter of their head, but it has limited use in the eternal darkness of the deep oceans. However, to defend itself against predators, it uses its ability to change color and camouflage against the ocean floor. When it camouflages, the ears emit a different color than the rest of its body [4].

They are carnivorous, eating isopods, amphipods, bristle worms and more. Their mouth is different from their kin, engulfing their prey rather than grinding and ripping [1].

The male octopus has a special protuberance in one of its 8 tentacles used to deliver the sperm to a female octopus, which the octopus stores until conditions are favorable for laying eggs on shells or small rocks on the seafloor. Young dumbo octopi are large when they are born and must survive on their own. They can live for 3 to 5 years [1].

Very little is known about these creatures. If you have more information on dumbo octopus, SeaLifeBase welcomes collaboration. Kindly send us a message at sealifebase(at)q-quatics(dot)org.

Written by Maxeen Danielle Bayer

[1] Helmenstine, A.M. (2018, April 24). All about Grimpoteuthis, the dumbo octopus. ThoughtCo. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2W3CUtP
[2] WoRMS Editorial Board (2019). World Register of Marine Species. Available from http://www.marinespecies.org at VLIZ. Accessed 2019-03-15. doi.10.14284/170
[3] Oceana. Cephalopods, crustaceans and other shellfish: dumbo octopus. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2Jfo2qM
[4] Ocean Conservancy (2018, October 8). Everything you need to know about the dumbo octopus. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2OAYNBg
[5] National Geographic (2018, October 29). Rare dumbo octopus shows off for deep-sea submersible. YouTube. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2u9gcEP

04 March 2019

World Wildlife Day 2019 celebrates marine life

Photo from UNDP

United Nations World Wildlife Day has been celebrating the sheer diversity of plants and animals for six years now by raising awareness on the threats they're facing through a series of events across the globe. 

Inspired by UN's 14th Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs)—life below water—this year marks the first ever World Wildlife Day to celebrate the huge importance of marine life in our everyday lives. It also commemorates the establishment of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), a treaty which underscores the protection of all endangered plants and animals.

This event gives the opportunity to highlight critical issues faced by marine life, commend successful initiatives for their conservation and scale up future endeavors towards sustaining them for future generations.

One of the major concerns that this campaign addresses is plastic pollution, in which 57 countries have already vowed to reduce their use of single-use and non-recoverable plastics.  

It's a step further to know more about the marine species we need to protect. And SeaLifeBase hosts this information. If you're keen to dive deep into the threatened non-fish marine species in the Philippines (and around the world), you may visit SeaLifeBase.

22 February 2019

Who's Got Jellies in their Gut?

Gelatinous zooplankton, loosely termed as jellyfish, can be found throughout world’s oceans, known to cause large blooms. This group includes scyphozoan jellyfish, siphonophores, ctenophores, salps, pyrosomes, and appendicularians [1]. 

If we were asked who dines on these jellies, we might reserve the term ‘belly-full-of jelly’ to charismatic sea turtles (Dermochelys coriacea, Chelonia mydas) and the ocean sunfish (Mola mola). And it's indeed fitting since an adult leatherback turtle, for instance, ingests an average of 330-kg jellyfish wet mass per day or 73% of its body mass [1]. 

With the rise of new technologies in recent years, however, this exclusivity is no longer true: It turns out that not only such massive marine predators get a chunk of their diet from jellyfish. There’s a whole lot on the table, from birds to fishes to worms, joining the feast [1].

New approaches to study the diet of marine animals such as stable isotope analyses or SIA (getting animal tissues to estimate trophic level), animal-borne cameras, remotely operated vehicles or ROVs, and DNA metabarcoding support the finding that a diverse range of marine predators feed on jellies, not incidentally but targeted [1].  

SIA revealed that jellyfish forms a substantial part of the diet of bony fishes Chloroscombrus chrysurus, Thunnus thynnus, Euthynnus alletteratus, Tetrapterus belone, Xiphias gladius and the green sea turtle Chelonia mydas

Animal-borne cameras revealed 42.2% of prey capture for some species of penguins, consuming scyphozoans, salps and ctenophores [1]. 

Metabarcoding showed that jellies make up 20% of food DNA sequences of the two species of albatross, ahead of crustaceans in terms of importance. Meanwhile, next-generation sequencing showed that the endangered European eel Anguilla anguilla has got gelatinous zooplankton in its diet. Seen through powerful ROVs, deep-sea octopus (Haliphron atlanticus) and benthic animals, like echinoderms, crabs, shrimps, amphipods, sea anemones, and worms join the slew of jellyfish predators [1].

Hays et al. 2018 Figure 2A, showing a diverse group of predators worldwide feeding on jellyfish.

Overwhelming evidence of widespread jellyfish consumption throughout the world’s oceans means that jellyfish cannot be simply considered a bycatch, but targeted and opportunistically consumed by many marine predators. However, it's important to note that this shift may be influenced by changing ocean conditions [1]. 

Also, knowing that a growing number of marine life now relies on jellyfish for nutrition signifies their susceptibility to harm, or even death, for mistaking plastic wastes for food [1]. 

These findings are important given that jellyfish holds a huge fraction of the pelagic biomass and have recently increased their abundance worldwide [3]. The study also challenges the common notion that undermines the energetic gain from jellyfish consumption, thus the need to better understand its dietary value [1].

To know more about jellyfishes and other gelatinous zooplankton, visit SeaLifeBase

[1] Hays, G. C., Doyle, T. K., & Houghton, J. D. (2018). A Paradigm Shift in the Trophic Importance of Jellyfish?. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 33(11):874-884. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2DCvaY7
 [2] Lewis, A. (2011, January 5). Leatherback turtle feeding. YouTube. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/1vo1QO8