The Extreme Life of the Sea – book review

July 25th, 2014

By Gabriel Thoumi

 

Cover art. Courtesy of Princeton University Press.

The Extreme Life of the Sea, written by father and son team Stephen R. Palumbi and Anthony R. Palumbi, is simply a tour de force, a splendid must read for any natural history enthusiast.

In The Extreme Life of the Sea, we are taken through the challenges of the Earth’s oceans. From its great depths and abysses to extreme pressures and anaerobic environments, and in each location, we learn about the remarkable creatures that live there. The Earth’s oceans teem with creatures that have antifreeze in their blood, that switch sex as they reach maturity, that are little changed for millions and millions of years.

Stephen and Anthony Palumbi bring this undersurface world to us in their personal, engaging, journalistic style that is filled with charm and excitement. As you read each page, another discovery leaps out at you, capturing your imagination and encouraging you to read more.

One such story in The Extreme Life of the Sea is the following. In 1993, an Alaskan Inupiaq Eskimo hunted a Bowhead Whale (balaena mysticetus), as allowed under international treaty. While cleaning the carcass, the individual discovered deep inside an old scar in the whale, a broken off tip from an Eskimo stone harpoon. The stone harpoon tip was estimated to be at least a 100 years old. As a result, scientists began to understand that Bowhead Whales live two to three times longer than previously estimated, well into their hundreds.

The Extreme Life of the Sea is filled with many more remarkable stories like this one. It deserves to be read and reread again obtaining a special place on the bookshelf of any avid naturalist.

How to order:
The Extreme Life of the Sea
Publisher:            Princeton University Press
ISBN:                    9780691149561
Authors:                Stephen R. Palumbi and Anthony R. Palumbi

Gabriel Thoumi, CFA, Certified Ecologist, is a frequent contributor to Mongabay.com. 

Happy world oceans day! (photos)

June 8th, 2011

Coastline in Colombia. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Coastline in Colombia. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Celebrated since 1992, today is World Oceans Day! As apart of the day’s festivities, conservation organization Oceana is asking people to become Ocean Heroes by pledging to recycle, clean up a local waterway, or eat only sustainable seafood for the summer!

Purple-striped jellyfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Purple-striped jellyfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Leopard shark in a kelp forest at Monterey Bay Aquarium. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Leopard shark in a kelp forest at Monterey Bay Aquarium. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Overlooking the ocean at dawn on Bunaken Island in Indonesia. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Overlooking the ocean at dawn on Bunaken Island in Indonesia. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Tufted puffin in Alaska. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Tufted puffin in Alaska. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Mangroves and seagrass in Belize. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler
Mangroves and seagrass in Belize. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Red starfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Red starfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Rain coming in over beach in Suriname. Photo by: Jeremy Hance.
Rain coming in over beach in Suriname. Photo by: Jeremy Hance..

Moon jellyfish (Aurelia labiata) at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Moon jellyfish (Aurelia labiata)at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Critically Endangered leatherback sea turtle returning to the sea in Suriname after laying eggs. Photo by: Jeremy Hance.
Critically Endangered leatherback sea turtle returning to the sea in Suriname after laying eggs. Photo by: Jeremy Hance..

Islands off Bird's Head, northern New Guinea . Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Islands off Bird’s Head, northern New Guinea . Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Humpback breaching in Alaska. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Humpback breaching in Alaska. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Green sea anemone at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Green sea anemone at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Overlooking the ocean at sunset on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Overlooking the ocean at sunset on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Happy world turtle day! (photos)

May 23rd, 2011

Baby marine turtle taking its first step out to sea in Costa Rica. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Baby marine turtle taking its first step out to sea in Costa Rica. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Yes, there is a World Turtle Day created by the American Tortoise Rescue! And today (May 23rd) is that day!

Ancient leopard tortoise in Uganda. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Ancient leopard tortoise in Uganda. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Sumatran freshwater turtle. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Sumatran freshwater turtle. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Leatherback sea turtle returning to the sea after laying eggs in Suriname. Photo by: Jeremy Hance.
Sumatran freshwater turtle. Photo by: Jeremy Hance.

Radiated tortoise in Madagascar. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Radiated tortoise in Madagascar. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Economic worth of living sharks (video)

May 15th, 2011

It turns out that sharks are worth more alive than dead. According to a new study, a single shark is worth $1.9 million over its lifetime as a tourist attraction in the island nation of Palau. Sold for consumption the shark is worth around $108. In this case a shark is worth a stunning 17,000 times more alive than dead. Sharks worldwide are being decimated, largely for the Asian delicacy shark fin soup. Some populations have fallen by over 90%.

The study did not collect data on the shark’s economic worth as providing other ‘ecosystem services’.

For more information:

Left alive and wild, a single shark worth $1.9 million

(05/02/2011) For the Pacific island nation of Palau, sharks are worth much more alive than dead. A new study by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) has found that one reef shark during its full life is worth $1.9 million to Palau in tourism revenue. Sold for consumption the shark is worth around $108. In this case a shark is worth a stunning 17,000 times more alive than dead.

Conservation on the ground: how traditional fishermen saved sharks in Madagascar

April 20th, 2011


Malagasy family helping fisherman take his boat out to sea . Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

Or, Guitarfish a Go-Go- Bribes and barrages in Belo-sur-Mer

By: Brian Jones, Blue Ventures Conservation in Belo-sur-Mer, Menabe, Madagascar.

YOU’VE got to admire the mettle of people who, despite the cards being seemingly insurmountably stacked against them, can still stick to their guns and stand up for what they believe in.

I didn’t give them much of a chance, but nevertheless, there they went, one-by-one, to stand in front of the assembled group of villagers and local authorities who had packed themselves into the sweltering cinderblock and sheet metal town hall. Each to express their exasperation over the arrival and unrelenting progress of the monstrosity that had come to be known simply as “the barrage”- a 4 kilometre long (although by some accounts as much as 8 km long) bottom-set fishing net aimed at catching sharks and guitarfish for their high value fins. Everyone who stood to say their bit that afternoon knew that healthy amounts of money had likely already passed into the hands of various authorities in the interest of a blind-eye being turned. Still, undaunted, there they went, to air their qualms, for better or worse.

“I mean, come on, the name gives it away – a “barrage”… barrages, by definition, block everything that comes their way. Obviously this is not in the interest of us local fishermen!” pleaded an exasperated Franҫois, the president of the local youth association.
Another young fisherman put it more bluntly: “If we allow this to continue, all that our grandchildren will know of sharks is from a picture in a book.”

The response by the representatives sent from the 70 strong team of shark fishermen who mostly hailed from Diego Suarez, a regional city at the northern tip of Madagascar, a few thousand kilometers away, was that all of their paperwork was in order, they all had their cards which proved they were registered traditional fishermen, their nets were of legal mesh size, and they were not breaking any Malagasy fishing laws. In a poverty-stricken country wrought by political turmoil, corruption and inadequate fisheries legislation, it’s quite possible they were right.

Be that as it may, considering the disparity between their 4+ kilometre shark nets and motorised vessels (bankrolled by a Chinese investor who had been denied a fishing permit by the National Fisheries Ministry, as one of them divulged after a few too many beers one evening) and the 100-200m nets cast from traditional dugout canoes by the local fishermen, it seems absurd to suggest that this is fair play.

The debate became more heated, as the “barrage-ists” became agitated, insisting, “There’s nothing you, the villagers, can do to kick us out. We’re going to keep fishing, like it or not!”

I tend to take a back seat in these type of meetings, and let the community take the lead, but I hastily pointed out that not one of the community members had mentioned kicking them out, simply that the size of their nets was unacceptable, and that they were welcome to stay if they used fishing gear more in-line with what the locals use, and more in the interests of promoting local sustainability. I suggested that their haste to mention that they were being kicked out was perhaps a sign of paranoia and indicative of the fact that they knew what they were doing was wrong, regardless of its legality.

As the meeting descended into chaos, and the unlit town hall descended into darkness, it was agreed that the barrage fishermen would produce all of their paperwork the next day (oh no, not the next day, as it’s a Sunday, and everyone needs their day off, but the day after that. . . ) which would then be sent to the regional authorities, and then on to the national authorities for verification, and then back to the blah blah blah. . . An accomplished exercise in buck-passing and stalling, resulting in a bureaucratic marathon that would surely result in the extirpation of the local shark population before anything was decided or actionable.

The meeting having achieved very few tangible results, the community hatched a plan. With the Kirindy-Mite Marine Protected Area (MPA) having recently received official protected status, they would secretly follow the barrage fishermen out the next morning when they checked their net, and verify whether or not the net was placed within the MPA limits. Spies staked out the barrage fishermen’s camp, and as they left just before dawn the next morning, one boat headed south and one headed north to check on their massive nets, the community members sprung into action. Cell phones relayed the trajectory of the two boats, and the one headed south was soon being tailed at a distance by a motorised canoe with angry, GPS and digital camera wielding fishermen and representatives of the National Parks Service.

Despite their repeated claims that their nets were not being placed within the MPA, there it was, clear as day, about one kilometre north of the island of Nosy Andriangory, smack dab in the heart of the protected area. After a brief verbal exchange, the net was hauled in, and within days the Captain of the regional police had been called to the village and the law had been laid down: If they wanted to avoid going to prison, the barrage fishermen were to get all of their nets out of the water immediately and were to leave the village within a week.

Traditional fishermen: 1
Bank-rolled outsiders: 0

Activism: nominate an Ocean Hero!

April 5th, 2011


Green anemone at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Ocean conservation organization, Oceana, is asking for nominations for its 3rd Annual Ocean Heroes Contest.

According to their blog:

“Think of the person you know doing the most for the oceans — and maybe it’s yourself! [...] Past nominees have included educators, scientists, fundraisers, activists, and that’s just a start. And like last year, we have two categories: Adult and Junior (18 years old or younger).”

There’s no question that the ocean needs heroes. The world’s oceans, and its wildlife, face significant pressure from a wide variety of human-caused problems: overfishing, climate change, pollution, acidification among others. From coral reefs to sharks to sea turtles, many species are vanishing at unparalleled rates due to these and other issues.

To nominate an Ocean Hero: Oceana Nomination Form.

For more information: Oceana Blog.

“I hope that I never have to see it again”: oil spill hits penguins on Nightingale Island (video)

March 29th, 2011

Video documents the oil spill on Nightingale Island in the remote Southern Atlantic ocean, which has taken a particular toll on Endangered northern rockhopper penguins

Over a week ago conservation workers have hundreds of oiled northern rockhopper penguins (Eudyptes moseleyi) after a cargo vessel wrecked on Nightingale Island, a part of the remote UK’s Tristan da Cunha archipelago. According to a press release by BirdLife International, the spill threatens nearly half of the world’s northern rockhopper population. Rescue efforts are taking place, but have proven difficult given the remoteness of the island chain.

For more information:

Photos: penguins devastated by oil spill

(03/22/2011) Disturbing photos show northern rockhopper penguins (Eudyptes moseleyi) hit hard by an oil spill from a wrecked cargo ship on Nightingale Island in the Southern Atlantic. Already listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List, the oil spill threatens nearly half of the northern rockhopper population according to BirdLife International. Already conservation workers say ‘hundreds’ of penguins have been oiled. Located the remote Southern Atlantic, Nightingale Island is a part of the UK’s Tristan da Cunha archipelago. The island’s are home to a variety of birdlife, including species that survive no-where else but on the archipelago.

Hundreds of endangered penguins covered in oil after remote spill

(03/21/2011) Conservation workers have found hundreds of oiled northern rockhopper penguins (Eudyptes moseleyi) after a cargo vessel wrecked on Nightingale Island, apart of the UK’s Tristan da Cunha archipelago. Northern rockhopper penguins are listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List. According to a press release by BirdLife International, the spill threatens nearly half of the world’s northern rockhopper population.

Photo: oil spill hits endangered penguins

March 22nd, 2011


Northern rockhopper penguins covered in oil. Photo by: Tristan Conservation Team of Simon Glass, Wayne Swain and Matthew Green. Courtesy of: The Tristan da Cunha Website.

Northern rockhopper penguins (Eudyptes moseleyi) hit hard by an oil spill from a wrecked cargo ship on Nightingale Island in the Southern Atlantic. Already listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List, the oil spill threatens nearly half of the northern rockhopper population according to BirdLife International. Already conservation workers say ‘hundreds’ of penguins have been oiled. The spill threatens sea birds, endemic land birds, and the Tristan da Cunha islands’ main economic source: fishing.

To read more and see more photos:

Photos: penguins devastated by oil spill

(03/22/2011) Disturbing photos show northern rockhopper penguins (Eudyptes moseleyi) hit hard by an oil spill from a wrecked cargo ship on Nightingale Island in the Southern Atlantic. Already listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List, the oil spill threatens nearly half of the northern rockhopper population according to BirdLife International. Already conservation workers say ‘hundreds’ of penguins have been oiled. Located the remote Southern Atlantic, Nightingale Island is a part of the UK’s Tristan da Cunha archipelago. The island’s are home to a variety of birdlife, including species that survive no-where else but on the archipelago.

Hundreds of endangered penguins covered in oil after remote spill

(03/21/2011) Conservation workers have found hundreds of oiled northern rockhopper penguins (Eudyptes moseleyi) after a cargo vessel wrecked on Nightingale Island, apart of the UK’s Tristan da Cunha archipelago. Northern rockhopper penguins are listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List. According to a press release by BirdLife International, the spill threatens nearly half of the world’s northern rockhopper population.

Video: saving cape fur seals from fisheries’ trash

March 3rd, 2011

Innovative program by Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town, South Africa to save wild fur seals from dangerous, and in some cases deadly, trash from local fisheries.

Activism: the great bluefin tuna boycott

December 5th, 2010

Note: mongabay.com does not endorse the action below, but believes its readers may be interested in taking action or discussing the issue in comments.

Bluefin tuna. Photo by: NOAA.



The Center for Biological Diversity has launched a bluefin tuna boycott after the fish’s regulatory body, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT), failed to drastically limit the catch this year. The group has also created a facebook page.

“These magnificent marine creatures, famous for their race car-like speeds, are being severely overfished—in fact, the Atlantic bluefin tuna population has been reduced by more than 80 percent since industrial fishing practices began,” states a message from the CBD. Given its stark population declines, the fish is currently listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List.


To read more about the bluefin tuna:

Thousands pledge to boycott restaurants serving bluefin tuna

History repeats itself: the path to extinction is still paved with greed and waste