21 December 2016

Cheaper, faster tool may be used to assess risks posed to dolphin populations by dolphin-watching tourism

Many studies have supported the threats imposed by boat-based tourism on whale and dolphins, especially amidst poorly-enforced or lacking regulations. Tourist boats highly impact cetacean behavior, both in short- and long term aspects. Thus, there is a need to understand the ecological effects of boat-based tourism on cetaceans along with economic sustainability of the industry. Since long-term study of ecological indicators may take 15 years or more to detect, it is impractical and costly. A group of researchers then proposes a cheaper and faster approach on this issue.

To complement ecological data, they used human dimension data (which is more readily available) with insights from Driver-Pressure-State-Impact-Response (DPSIR) framework to rapidly assess the ecological impact of dolphin-watching tourism to dolphin populations across six developing Asian countries: Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines. Putting the framework within the context of dolphin-watching  tourism, they identified different indicators: the driver (development potential of dolphin-watching industry) that build pressure (number of tour boats, driving behavior, engine noise, etc.) on the environment, affecting the state (local IUCN status of species), leading to impact (change in population dynamics and habitat use) on ecosystems, hence the need for response (Code of Practice, cap on daily boat trips, alternative livelihoods, etc.).

Since impact can only be measured through large historical data, the indicators of the other four components and relationships among them where used to obtain a proxy, risk, i.e. the risk of a dolphin-watching industry harming, displacing or causing local extinction to a target dolphin population. A relative value of 0 to 5 was assigned for each D-P-S-R indicator: zero risk (0), very low risk (1), low risk (2), medium risk (3), high risk (4) and very high risk (5). Based on the values of pressure, state, and response, they obtained an overall risk indicator of local extinction.

They found high risk to dolphins in India and Indonesia, intermediate risk to Cambodia, and suspected low risk (pending more ecological data) to Thailand, Philippines and Malaysia populations.

Aside from alleviating the main contributing component to the overall risk factor, the study suggests “The introduction of and compliance to a Code of Practice would significantly reduce the pressure on the local dolphin populations.”

The international research team includes scientists from Indonesia (Putu Liza Mustika), Australia (Riccardo Welters, Gerard Edward Ryan - Cambodia, Coralie D’Lima - India), Philippines (Patricia Sorongon-Yap), Thailand (Suwat Jutapruet), and Malaysia (Cindy Peter). 

This paper is now published in the Journal of Sustainable Tourism.

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

11 July 2016

Meet Hank, the east Pacific red octopus

Left photo is is ©Finding Dory's red octopus Hank (Source: movie.disney.co.uk)  and on the right is its real-life counterpart, Octopus rubescens (Photo by Ken Phenicie Jr.).

The octopus is considered as one of the most elusive and intelligent of sea creatures [1]. We sure were fascinated with Hank, the animated counterpart of Octopus rubescens, more commonly known as the east Pacific red octopus. This species is known to inhabit the waters of Bering Strait, Alaska down to Baja California, from low intertidal to a depth of 210 m.  It can reach a total length of 45 cm [2] and lives up to two years [9]. It has a neutral color of red or reddish brown [3]. In the movie Hank wishes to live in captivity permanently, away from all the dangers of the wild. In reality though, juveniles are found among kelps [9] while adults settle on rock and soft bottoms [2]. It is a voracious predator of crabs [4] and also feeds on bony fish [4], mollusks, and euphausiids [6]. It can even drill holes on shells of the bivalve Venerupis philippinarum [5].

What makes them so interesting is beyond what we have encountered in the movie. Sure, they can change into a kaleidoscope of colors before and after capturing a prey. Based on one study, it displayed various colors before detection of a crab, turned light orange to gray during a free-swimming attack, colorless and almost transparent on landing, spotted or mottled upon grabbing the crab, and back to various colors. This series of color change may be associated with locomotor acts and postural adjustments [7]. Below is a video of O. rubescens feeding on a crab [8].

Because of its soft flexible body and small papilla (projections on its skin), O. rubescens can morph into different shapes and textures, an ability that is very useful against predation. At the point of detection, it can rapidly change color, shape or even texture, confusing and alarming its predator altogether [9].

Much like Hank’s crafty moves in Finding Dory, O. rubescens is truly capable of escaping captivity and surviving on land. According to Monterey Bay Aquarium, a juvenile O. rubescens sneaked into an aquarium using a sponge as a cover, and was only caught red handed (after a year in an exhibit) while walking in the middle of the night. Workers also noticed that the crabs in the exhibit were decimated [10].

And yes, this species has three hearts as other octopuses do: one pumps blood through the body, specifically for the organs, while the other two exclusively pump blood through the gills [1]. No doubt Hank, in the end, had the heart (or hearts?) to return and help Dory and her friends go back to their true home, the ocean.

To know more about O. rubsecens and other characters from Finding Dory, visit SeaLifeBase.

Written by:

[1] Nuwer, R. (2013, October 31). Ten curious facts about octopuses. Retrieved from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/ten-curious-facts-about-octopuses-7625828/?no-ist
[2] Gotshall, D. W. (2005). Guide to marine invertebrates: Alaska to Baja California (2nd ed. revised). Sea Challengers.
[3] Biodiversity of the Central Coast (2014). Pacific red octopus – Octopus rubescens. Retrieved from http://www.centralcoastbiodiversity.org/pacific-red-octopus-bull-octopus-rubescens.html
[4] Boletzky, S. V., & Hanlon, R. T. (1983). A review of the laboratory maintenance, rearing and culture of cephalopod molluscs. Memoirs of the National Museum Victoria, 44, 147-187. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Roger_Hanlon/publication/279192347_A_review_of_laboratory_maintenance_rearing_and_culture_of_cephalopod_molluscs/links/56b13e1008ae5ec4ed48808c.pdf
[5] Anderson, R. C., Sinn, D. L., & Mather, J. A. (2008). Drilling localization on bivalve prey by Octopus rubescens Bery, 1953 (Cephalopoda: Octopodidae). The Veliger, 50(4), 326-328. Retrieved from http://eprints.utas.edu.au/8464/
[6] Laidig, T. E., Adams, P. B., Baxter, C. H., & Butler, J. L. (1995).  Feeding on euphausiids by Octopus rubescens. California Fish and Game, 81, 77-79. Retrieved from
[7] Warren, L. R., Scheier, M. F., & Riley, D. A. (1974). Colour changes of Octopus rubescens during attacks on unconditioned and conditioned stimuli. Animal Behaviour, 22(1), 211-219. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0003347274800710
[8] NgomaMom (2014, May 21). East Pacific red octopus in the mood for food [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Wkl3exDmys
[9] Orwick, S. (2005). Crypsis, substrate preference and prey detection in the red octopus, Octopus rubescens (Berry, 1952). Retrieved from Oregon Institute of Marine Biology https://scholarsbank.uoregon.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/1794/8072/Orwick%2005.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
[10] Monterey Bay Aquarium (2016). Red octopus.  Retrieved from  https://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animal-guide/octopuses-and-kin/red-octopus

24 June 2016

Finding Dory: insights from getting lost and being found

Photo from movies.disney.com.au
Warning: spoiler alert!

Disney-Pixar's sequel to 2003's Finding Nemo, is quite a treat for people of all ages who dearly love the ocean, and after watching this movie, those who don't, will soon do. Finding Dory showcases the beauty of the marine environment, from the towering kelps and serene seagrasses, the myriad of majestic corals, cryptic crabs and worms, a fast jetting squid and an agile octopus, to sunbathing Californian sea lionshard-to-resist sea otters, thunderous spotted eagle rays, an adventurous common loon and green sea turtles. As if these marine creatures aren’t fantastic enough, the film delivers an incredibly funny, very poignant story that will tug at everyone’s hearts.

The Pacific regal blue tang, Dory, charmed the audience, chunks of humor aside and her whale-talking-prowess, with a genuine portrayal of what it is like to have an anterograde amnesia, of its limits and quite surprisingly, the strength that it brings forth. We can learn a lot from Dory by looking at the brighter side and asking ourselves the question: “What would Dory do?” instead of saying: “Don’t be such a Dory!”.

Who wouldn’t be in awe with Hank the east Pacific red octopus as he skillfully turns to a house plant, and moments later to a baby feeding on his bottle? Octopuses are probably the most intelligent sea creatures, utilizing every imaginable human litter on the ocean floor to blend in, and yes, even break out from captivity.  Hank was the epitome of such cleverness. More importantly, with Hank getting into trouble inch by inch with Dory, who can match such loyalty? Indeed, when you ask for help, the world conspires in helping you achieve it.

Destiny, the whale shark, although near-sighted and bumps her head all the time, was able to rise above her insecurity (literally and figuratively) and help her pipepal Dory as she launches a rescue operation. Her friend beluga, Bailey was able to regain his ability to echolocate - a ton of help, not to mention super fun - as he and Destiny helped Dory find her way through the pipes. What Dory said was true: “Best things happen by chance.” She happens to have a pipepal who also happens to have the coolest partner. And of course, the world is a better place with people living to their potential and helping each other out.

Our old friends, the orange clownfish Nemo and his father Marlin, resonate a story so familiar – of being lost and then reunited. Marlin knew very well how empty it felt to have lost Nemo and didn't want to go through it all again, that’s why he was hesitant to help Dory, but he was reminded that it was because of Dory and her sometimes thoughtless acts, that helped both Nemo and Marlin muster courage when they needed it most. Sometimes fear can paralyze us, but Dory and many of the characters prove otherwise, and that we won't realize what we’re capable of until we try. So let’s battle against the tempest and just keep swimming!

Join us in the next few weeks as we get to know more about the amazing animals we've met in this story.

Visit SeaLifeBase and FishBase, respectively, or click the designated links.

Written by:

17 June 2016

PSA: Don't make Dory your next pet!

Artwork: Mike Yap

Finding Dory is out in cinemas in the U.S. today, June 17.  It’s all about the journey of an amnesic blue tang Dory (Paracanthurus hepatus) reuniting with her family. This sequel to the Disney-Pixar's "Finding Nemo" brings unrest to researchers and conservationists as its popularity might trigger its increased demand in the aquarium trade, such as in the case of the clownfish species after "Finding Nemo" hit the theaters in 2003 [1].

Despite Disney-Pixar's attempt to raise awareness in wild-caught aquarium organisms in "Finding Nemo", this activity giving cause to the movie's title, the aquarium industry still saw an astounding increase in the demand for it. Every kid wants to have a pet nemo.

National Geographic estimates that the demand for clownfish tripled since the film’s release. More than a million is being harvested annually; 400,000 of which goes to United States. According to Fix.com, clownfish species comprise 43% of the marine ornamental aquarium industry. A slight progress in captive breeding of this species might be seen as a boon since 25% of captive-bred fish now comes from trade; however, the remaining is still caught from the wild. Consequently, localized extinction of this tropical fish has been seen, exacerbated with harvesting of coral reefs. Karen Burke da Silva, an Associate Professor of biodiversity and conservation at  Flinders University in South Australia, reported with certainty that there are now areas of Southeast Asia devoid of this species [2]. Ironically, it seems that the message failed to get across.

As if the problems faced by the clownfish aren’t enough, the blue tang is possibly headed to meet its own challenges. Dory in the film might be ignorantly courageous with her mantra “just keep swimming” but the sad truth is that its kind does not fare well in aquariums [2]. Unlike Nemo’s species, Dory's kind is fragile, requires meticulous care, and is near impossible to breed in captivity [1,2]. In fact, a group of researchers have been trying to breed blue tang in laboratory conditions since 2012, but they have not since been able to get the fish to survive longer than 22 days [1]. Upon the film’s release, the biologist Eric Cassiano said there might be a shortage of blue tangs to buy [1]. This might not be enough to satiate people’s desire for such an adorable animal. That fact alone spells trouble for the regal blue tang population. As of today, 300,000 of blue tangs are traded around the world [2]. An increase in the demand for Dory in aquariums would most definitely lead to its population to decline in the wild [1,2].

Although Dory’s population (P. hepatus) is healthy and of least concern, they only thrive in warm, shallow tropical reefs of the Indian and Pacific Oceans [3]. It is but unacceptable to add more pressure to their natural population as climate change escalates. Instead, let’s heed Desiderius Erasmus' famous quote “Prevention is better than cure”.

Let us all raise awareness in keeping species like Dory and Nemo in the wild and not in tanks. Remember that blue tangs in the wild can live up to 30 years [3]. Also, let us consider giving to resources that can improve the status quo of captive breeding programs. If we truly care enough for these precious marine species, we should not let Dory suffer the same dire fate. Tell and share with your friends “Don’t buy Dory!”.

[1] The Huffington Post (2016).‘FindingNemo’ hurt Clownfish. Will the same happen with Dory?  Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/finding-dory-nemo-pet fish_us_573fb10ae4b00e09e89f2814

[2] Scrine, J. (2016, June 1). Losing Nemo and Dory: how Finding Nemo almost doomed the clownfish – and how Finding Dory could decimate the regal blue tang population, too. Retrieved from https://www.fix.com/blog/the-environmental-impact-of-finding-nemo-and-finding-dory/

[3] Sue, C. (2016, June 20). Finding out about Dory: 5 ½ facts on the blue tang. Retrieved from https://blog.education.nationalgeographic.com/2016/06/20/finding-out-about-dory-5%C2%BD-facts-on-the-blue-tang/

Written by:

08 June 2016

World Oceans Day 2016: Healthy Oceans, Healthy Planet

Artwork: Mike Yap

The ocean provides us with many things, including food and medicine, and is an important reservoir of carbon and oxygen, things that are necessary for our survival. Other than these, it serves as a home to vast numbers of organisms and it also regulates the Earth’s climate. Simply put, oceans since the dawn of time, have been caring for all organisms including the human race, but the question is, do we care for the oceans? Unfortunately, humans have misused its resources and unknowingly put 71 percent of the Earth’s surface at risk. However,  it is never too late for man to change this kind of situation.

Today, the whole world celebrates World Oceans Day, an annual event to celebrate the beauty, the wealth and the promise of the ocean. This was first proposed in 1992 by the Government of Canada at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, and in 2008 during the United Nations General Assembly, it was officially set to be celebrated every 8th day of June. May this celebration remind and unite us all in making plans into actions toward a sustainable management of the world’s oceans. Healthy oceans, healthy planet.


World Oceans Day 8 June. Accessed from http://www.un.org/en/events/oceansday/.
World Oceans Day History. Accessed from http://www.worldoceansday.org/about/history/.

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22 April 2016

Earth Day 2016: Trees for the Earth

Artwork by: Mike Yap

The 22nd of April marks the 46th Earth Day or International Mother Earth Day, where man puts nature on a pedestal and highlights our commitment to be stewards of this planet.

It all started in 1969 when a peace activist, John McConnell, at a UNESCO Conference in San Francisco, requested a special day to celebrate and honor the Earth, and the concept of peace. The proposed date coincided with the first day of Spring in the northern hemisphere, March 21, 1970. Then, US Senator Gaylord Nelson, by only a month later, instigated Earth Day on April 22, 1970. Originally, it was only in the US that this was observed, but in 1990, Denis Hayes and his organization brought forth awareness and extended the celebration of Earth Day in 141 nations. Today, Earth Day Network facilitates its annual celebration in more than 192 countries [1].

"But the big decisions that lie ahead are not just for world leaders and policy-makers..." 
                                                                                   - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [2]

The battle to save the environment is not just for those who are in position, it is a mandate that everybody should take part in. As with the theme of this year’s Earth Day celebration, “Trees for the Earth” [3], let us join in and show our support, even in our very simple ways.


[2] International Mother Earth Day 22 April. www.un.org. [Accessed 04/21/2015].

[3] Earth Day - April 22. www.earthday.org[Accessed 04/22/2016].

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12 January 2016

Fearsome fiddlers?

Photo of a male fiddler crab Uca  from www.arkive.org

Judging a confident male fiddler crab, one can be easily captured by its unique, brightly colored, threatening enlarged claw. Fiddler crabs (Genus Uca) are major inhabitants of mud and sand flats along estuaries and sheltered coasts in the tropics and subtropics [1]. They may be small but their claws appear robust and powerful that you would not even think twice of its combating prowess. Or, should we?

Australian ecologists discovered this “bluff” in a group of fiddler crabs. The crabs use their massively enlarged claws for fighting over turfs as well for attracting females [1].  Once they lose a claw upon battle, they may grow another one, most of the time a replica of the original. The new claw, however, is a far cry to how they physically appear. It is lighter and toothless, rendering them weak and inferior [2].

Fighting ability is measured through major claw size, claw strength and the ability to resist being pulled from a tunnel. Crabs size up each other through their major claws, waving them in the air with surety. This means that physical make-up of the enlarged claw is detrimental in picking fights [2]. 

Now, to advertise one’s sex or to incite fight over territories, a crab will wave its regenerated claw, either up and down, others sideways, during low tide at territories established around their burrows [1]. Now, the wave is done and a fight may ensue. Unfortunately, the potential opponent, which is about to be fooled but is clueless of it, cannot distinguish the regular, powerful authentic claws from the cheap ones. The shining, regenerated claw is unfortunately void of any information on its fighting capacity. The opponent is then deceived and backs off. This remains true unless the crab with the regenerated claw holds territory and is trumped by a stronger opponent, revealing his bluff [2].

Knowing that this kind of dishonesty in the animal kingdom exists may provide an opportunity for ecologists to study dishonest signals. This discovery can also shed light on the individual reproductive success and survival among fiddler crabs by a thorough understanding of dishonesty mechanisms and consequences [2].

To know more about fiddler crabs, visit SeaLifeBase or come be a collaborator!

[1] Castro, P., & Huber, M. E. (2003). Marine Biology (4th ed.). Boston, Massachusetts: McGraw Hill.
[2] British Ecological Society (BES). Fiddler Crabs Reveal Honesty Is Not Always The Best Policy. ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/11/081111203501.htm.

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