10 November 2016

Underwater's Ultimate Weapon

Listen to this audio recording below from Radiolab [1]. Start from 2:00 and end at 3:25.

What did you hear?

Rice pops? Twigs being burned? Frying bacon?

No – they are snapping shrimps, or rightfully called “pistol” shrimps which belong to the family Alpheidae. Do the sound even hint to a deadly weapon?

For starters, a snapping shrimp is a tiny creature, reaching one to two inches – just half of your finger [4]. Now it gets scarier: it has a distinctive large claw which it uses to stun a prey instantaneously! The cracking sound produced is what you hear during low tide in shallow waters. Some species live mutually with gobies in burrows: the shrimp provides a home for the goby, while the fish confers protection to shrimp against predators [2].

Why do these shrimps make an incessant sound? 

In 2000, European scientists discovered that the sound is produced from the formation of cavitation bubble released when the claw rapidly snaps shut [3]. Charged with a speed of up to 100 km an hour [1,3,4], the bubble can go for a swift kill in a matter of 300 microseconds [3]. As the pressure stabilizes, the bubble pops with a loud bang reaching about 220 decibels [1, 5]. That is equivalent to the sound of a jet engine [1], enough to break small jars [4]. And yes, it’s louder than a gun shot which is around 150 decibels [7]. It actually competes with the sperm whale as the loudest animal in the ocean [4].  

It emits not only a ‘deafening’ sound but an ultra-fast light when the bubble collapses. It is thought to exhibit sonoluminiscence - emission of short bursts of light [4] caused by a strong sound field [3]. If it were to be seen at the time of collapse, the temperature inside the bubbles must be a least 5,000 degrees Kelvin, comparable to the surface of the sun at 5,800 degrees Kelvin. The ephemeral flash of light lasts no longer than 300 picoseconds (a picosecond is one trillionth of a second) [3]. 

The violence of it all is lies on the sheer extremes of temperature and pressure before bursting – a truly impressive and deadly weapon. Now that’s intimidating.

Credit: National Geographic

Below is pistol shrimp in action, releasing its deadly, supersonic bubble [6].

Here’s another interesting feat.

Pistol shrimps helped the Americans win World War II. Yes, you read it right. Since the crackling sound they produce is intense enough to disrupt underwater communication, US Navy submarines used the shrimp beds to interfere with the sonar, therefore attacking the Japanese while hiding on their makeshift invisibility cloak [1,2]. They even installed speakers on their ships to mirror the shrimps’ sounds! [1]. 

Awesome, isn't it?

To know more about snapping shrimps or pistol shrimps, visit SeaLifeBase.

Written by:

[1] Iono.fm. (2016, November 10).  Bigger than bacon [Audio file]. Retrieved from https://iono.fm/e/286830
[2] Riley, A. (2016, January 29). This shrimp is carrying a real-life working stun gun. BBC Earth. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20160129-the-shrimp-that-has-turned-bubbles-into-a-lethal-weapon
[3] Roach, J. (2001, October 3). Snapping shrimp stun prey with flashy bang. National Geographic. Retrieved from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2001/10/1003_SnappingShrimp.html
[4] Anirudh (2013, February 13). 7 interesting facts about pistol shrimp or snapping shrimp. Retrieved from https://learnodo-newtonic.com/pistol-shrimp-facts
[5] Ocean Conservation Research (2016). Snapping shrimp. Retrieved from http://ocr.org/sounds/snapping-shrimp/
[6] Nat Geo Wild. (2013, April 11). World’s deadliest – amazing pistol shrimp stun “gun” [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KkY_mSwboMQ
[7] Simon, M. (2014, July 11). Absurd creature of the week: the feisty shrimp that kills with bullets made of bubbles. Wired. Retrieved from http://www.wired.com/2014/07/absurd-creature-of-the-week-pistol-shrimp/

09 September 2016

FishBase and SeaLifeBase: #Timeflies

“It always seems impossible until it’s done” – Nelson Mandela

Each year, around this time, The FishBase Consortium meets to review the achievements of the past year, as well as set new goals for the next 12 months. A symposium is also held alongside these meetings. This meeting is hosted by the different organizations that are part of the FishBase Consortium and last year, it was FIN’s turn to host the said event. The four day event of the 13 th annual FishBase Symposium was a real challenge, but looking back, we say that it was a success! It was held in Los Baños, Philippines home of the FishBase Information and Research Group, Inc. (FIN), to mark the 25th and 10th year anniversaries of FishBase and SealifeBase, respectively. Here are the summary and some photos of the symposium and other anniversary celebration activities.

FishBase Symposium
[Day 1, Sept. 01, 2015]

Presentations by FishBase Consortium members and their associates, invited speakers from Philippine universities and research institutions emphasized on the theme, “FishBase and SeaLifeBase for Teaching and Research in Aquatic Science”. FishBase Consortium members who presented are: Dr. Rainer Froese, FishBase Consortium Coordinator, Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research, Germany; Dr. Nicolas Bailly, Helenic Centre for Marine Research, Greece; Dr. Jos Snoeks, Musée Royal de l'Afrique Centrale, Belgium; Dr. Kostas Stergiou, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece; Dr. Markus Skyttner, Swedish Museum of Natural History, Sweden; Dr. Fumito Muto, Tokai University, Japan; Dr. Mathieu Colléter, University of British Columbia, Canada; and Ms. Regina Bacalso, ECOFISH-USAID. 

Local presentors from distinguished research institutions and state universities include Dr. Reiner Wassmann, International Rice Research Institute; Dr. Rex Montebon, Conservation International-Philippines; Dr. Adelaida Palma, NFRDI-BFAR; Mr. Christian Elloran, ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity; Mr. Patrick Co, World Wildlife Fund Philippines; Dr. Cesar Luna, UP Open University; Dr. Benjamin Vallejo, Jr., UP Diliman; and Dr. Asuncion de Guzman, Mindanao State University Naawan.

Dr. Daniel Pauly, Principal Investigator of the Sea Around Us, SeaLifeBase and co-founder of FishBase gave his keynote address entitled “FishBase: an improbable success, and what it inspired”. Dr. Cornelia Nauen of Mundus Maris and newly elected FishBase Consortium member, led the inspirational talk. Dr. Ma. Lourdes Palomares, Chair of the FishBase Consortium in 2014-2015, delivered the conclusion and challenged everyone not only to make full use of FishBase and SeaLifeBase to train future resource managers but also to create synergies that would lead to long-term collaborations with FIN. Participants have heard full potential of these two “indispensable” knowledge sources [quoted from one of the speakers], to supplement teaching and research activities and might as some would take the lead for future collaborations.

Videos of the conference talks are available here: 13th FishBase Symposium Videos.

Art Competition Awards Ceremony
[Day 1, Sept. 01, 2015]

A poster making and a digital photo competition were conducted from May 15 to August 14 with the SeaLifeBase team as lead. The digital photo contest was opened to all amateur Filipino photographers. Out of 34 entries, a graduate student from the University of the Philippines Los Baños, Alvin Simon won First prize and the People’s choice Award. The poster making contest was opened to all primary and secondary schools in Los Baños, Laguna. Entries for the primary school level came from: Maquiling School Inc. (first place)., South Hill School Inc., The Learning Place International and Joy in Learning Center; for the secondary school level: Christian School International (first place), South Hill School Inc., Los Baños National High School, Batong Malake. Winners went home with cash prizes, free tickets from Manila Ocean Park (MOP) and anniversary freebies. Judges of the digital photo and art competitions include FishBase and SeaLifeBase in-house artists, Rachel Atanacio and Micheal Angleo Yap, well-known Los Baños-based photographer Eric John Azucena and IRRI Mesuem’s Curator and renowned painter Paul Benjamin Hilario.

Poster Exhibit and Hands-on Orientation on the use of FishBase and SeaLifeBase
[Day 1 & 2, Sept. 01-02, 2015]

FIN invited local schools and research institutions to participate in these anniversary activities. These two activities aimed to inform students, teachers and researchers on the use and applications of tools and reports generated from these Global Species Databases (GSDs). Participants from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and over 130 students of South Hill School Inc. and Colegio de Los Baños were oriented about FishBase and SeaLifeBase and on how they can access the vast data collated and maximize their use for acaemic and research purposes.

Orientation/Training on Understanding and Maximizing the use of FishBase and SeaLifeBase, On-Line Global Species Databases
[Day 2 & 4, Sept. 02 & 04, 2015]

A separate and more in-dpeth orientation and training were conducted to strengthen understanding and capability of researchers in maximizing the utility of FishBase and SeaLifeBase for their work, research and publications. The short training focused on the use of the two databases in species identification and validation, taxonomy and nomenclature, species distribution, basic biological information and even related information on conservation. This training course was attended by representatives from BFAR and State Colleges and Universities (September 02) and Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) and other BFAR agencies from different regions of the Philippines (September 04).

Workshop on New Technology for Small Scale Fisheries Data Collection
[Day 4, Sept. 04, 2015]

This workshop was organized by FIN in collaboration with Oceana Philippines and BFAR, with resource person coming from the Smithsonian Institution, Dr. Stephen Box. Due to a hurricane that was poised to hit Dr. Box’s home location at the time, he was not able to travel to the Philippines, but for the love of science and sea, technology prevailed and a video conference was set-up, with Dr. Daniel Pauly of Sea Around Us (GFC-UBC) as facilitator and counterpart resource person inside the session hall. Participants were representatives from BFAR, PSA, Oceana, SEAFDEC, Greenpeace, GreEn, Rare, NGOs for Fisheries Reform, UPLB-SESAM and some members of the FishBase Consortium.

A “Fish Landing App” was introduced by Dr. Box. This was designed for Android devices and according to him, “data which will be collected using these tools will greatly contribute to data analysis and can be a primary basis for any plans related to fisheries management and sustainability”.

Other Anniversary Activities


Total number of books:
Books (156) and journal titles (92) on fisheries, aquaculture, conservation, biodiversity, fisheries management

Information Education and Communication materials:
fish rulers (200), maturity posters (200), bookmarks (200), CDs on FshBase and References on Philippine Fishes and Water Bodies (100)

Philippine library recipients:
Cavite State University in Naic, Cavite,
Cebu Technological University in San Francisco, Camotes, Cebu,
Laguna State Polytechnic University in Los Baños, Laguna
Northern Iloilo Polytechnic State College Barotac Viejo Campus in Iloilo
University of the Philippines Los Baños

FishBase Consortium Annual Meeting
[Day 2 & 3, Sept. 02- 03, 2015]


We would like to extend our sincerest gratitude to all our donors, partners, collaborators and online users for their invaluable help and support throughout the years. The 2015 Anniversary event served as a tribute to all of you. We also take this opportunity to announce this year’s 14th Annual FishBase Symposium which will be held at the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle Paris, France on 9th September 2016 with the theme “Documenting Regional Biodiversity using FishBase and SeaLifeBase”. Pretty sure it will become another remarkable event of the FishBase Consortium.

For more information on the presentations and activities, check the event's book of abstracts available here: 13th FishBase Symposium Book of Abstracts.

16 August 2016

Sea otters beyond utter cuteness

On the left are sea otters from ©Finding Dory and opposite is its real-life counterpart, Enhydra lutris (photo by Michael Gore).

Sea otters or Enhydra lutris are nearshore marine mammals, strongly associated with rocky coastal areas near kelp beds where they forage. Other than for food, they also use these kelp to sometimes entangle themselves with, keeping them afloat [1]. Most of time they are seen in groups called rafts [8], lying on their backs with such a laid-back pose [2], holding on to each other to make sure no one drifts away in their sleep [9]. They currently inhabit the coasts of Japan, Russia, Canada, North America and Mexico [1], but the majority reside in Alaskan waters [4].

True to being so adorable and a favorite in Finding Dory, sea otters are rarely seen fighting or being aggressive with their kin. In fact, they are weakly territorial, where only adult males form turfs [1]. 

Beyond being fuzzballs, what sets them apart from other marine mammals is their unique capacity to use tools. Using their forearms to grab a stone and prey from the ocean floor, they resurface to set a prey, for example, a mussel or clam on its chest, pries it open or smashes it against a stone [2]. Known as voracious feeders, sea otters even have pouches of loose skin under each forearm, where they could easily stash their prey [5]. They also feast on a variety of organisms such as sea urchins, crabs, squids, bony fish [3] and octopuses [6].

Unlike other marine mammals, they don’t have a thick layer of blubber to keep them warm. To compensate for this, they don the thickest and densest of furs, where a square inch of its skin can grow a million hair! [4]. To further keep the warmth, they spend hours grooming their coats until they are covered with natural oils [5]. They also eat to their tummy’s content (approximately 25% of their body weight), and spend most of their time resting afloat [4]. 

Below is a video of an Alaskan sea otter pup floating on its own [7].

It might not be obvious with how sea otters behave and handle themselves, but they are, most importantly, keystone species. That means their existence or absence has a greater effect in the ecosystem relative to other species. That is, sea otters help keep sea urchin population in check, and in turn maintain a healthy kelp forest [4].

Sea otters have been considered endangered since 2000 [1]. Today there are only about 100,000 to 150,000 individuals [2].

To know more about Enhydra lutris and other characters from Finding Dory, visit SeaLifeBase.

Written by:

[1] Doroff, A. & Burdin, A. 2015. Enhydra lutris. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T7750A21939518. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2015-2.RLTS.T7750A21939518.en. Downloaded on 26 July 2016.
[2] National Geographic (2016). Sea otter - Enhydra lutris. Retrieved from http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/sea-otter/
[3] Gaichas, S. K. (2006). Development and application of ecosystem models to support fishery sustainability: A case study for the Gulf of Alaska. Retrieved from Proquest Dissertations and Theses database.
[4] Defenders of Wildlife (2016). Basic facts about sea otters. Retrieved from http://www.defenders.org/sea-otter/basic-facts
[5] Monterey Bay Aquarium (2016). Southern sea otter. Retrieved from https://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animal-guide/marine-mammals/southern-sea-otter
[6] Vincent, T. L. S., Scheel, D., & Hough, K. R. (1998). Some aspects of diet and foraging behavior of Octopus dofleini (Wülker, 1910) in its Northernmost Range. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1439-0485.1998.tb00450.x/abstract
[7] BBC (2015, January 28). Sea otter pup left to float alone - Alaska: Earth's frozen kingdom: episode 1 preview - BBC two [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWJXG2SS6AA
[8] World Wildlife Fund (2016). Ten facts about sea otters. Retrieved from http://www.worldwildlife.org/blogs/good-nature-travel/posts/ten-facts-about-sea-otters
[9] Schweig, S. V. (2016, April 13). Sea otters hold hands while they're sleeping. The Dodo. Retrieved from https://www.thedodo.com/sea-otters-hold-hands-1727255897.html