Penguins Harmed by Tracking Bands

wikipedia imageJanuary 17, 2010 - Putting tags and bands on animals to track their movements and gain understanding of their activities has been a standard practice for half a century. More recently, studies of penguins identified by bands on their flippers have been used by climate scientists to study the effects of global warming in the Southern Ocean ecosystem.  A new study just published in Nature shows that banding of free-ranging king penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) impairs both their survival and reproduction. The bands diminish the penguins ability to swim so they are less efficient at gathering food for themselves and their chicks.

Over the course of a 10-year study, banded birds produced 39% fewer chicks and had a survival rate 16% lower than non-banded birds, demonstrating a massive long-term impact of banding and thus refuting the assumption that birds will ultimately adapt to being banded. Moreover, the flipper-banded penguins behave differently than unbanded penguins, calling into question the methodology of such studies.

But tracking remains critical to understanding. One solution is to use tiny microchips inserted under the penguins’ skin. This method was chosen by the authors of the Nature study.


Volcano Erupts 4000' Under the Sea

December 18, 2009 - Scientists funded by NOAA and the National Science Foundation recorded the deepest erupting volcano yet discovered, describing high-definition video of the undersea eruption as “spectacular.” Eruption of the West Mata volcano, discovered in May, occurred nearly 4,000 feet below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, in an area bounded by Fiji, Tonga and Samoa.

Imagery includes large molten lava bubbles approximately three feet across bursting into cold seawater, glowing red vents explosively ejecting lava into the sea, and the first-observed advance of lava flows across the deep-ocean seafloor. Sounds of the explosive eruption were recorded by a hydrophone and later matched to the video footage.

“We found a type of lava never before seen erupting from an active volcano, and for the first time observed molten lava flowing across the deep-ocean seafloor,” said the mission’s Chief Scientist Joseph Resing, a chemical oceanographer at the University of Washington who collaborates with NOAA through the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean. “Though NOAA and partners discovered a much shallower eruption in 2004 in the Mariana Arc, the deeper we get, the closer the eruption is to those that formed most of the oceanic crust.”

Here's the full story from NOAA

Watery Planet Found Just Beyond Solar System

December 16, 2009 - A mere 42 light years away (that's 2,469,024,600,000,000,000,000 miles) planet GJ 1214b is the most earth-like planet ever discovered outside of our own solar system. “If you want to describe in one sentence what this planet is, it’s a big, hot ocean,” said Harvard University astronomer David Charbonneau. It’s about six times bigger than earth with a surface that's comprised mostly of 370F water. Here's the story from Brandon Keim at Wired Science.

Why the Japanese Attacked Pearl Harbor

December 7, 2009 - Sixty eight years ago today, on a beautiful Sunday morning in Hawaii, the Japanese Navy attacked the US fleet in Pearl Harbor. Most of us learn this and never consider what led up to the attack. James Bradley's father was one of the men in the famous photo of the flag raising at Iwo Jima. Bradley looked deeply into the roots of the attack and found that much of the blame can be laid at the feet of President Theodore Roosevelt and the secret diplomacy he conducted 30 years before. Here's Bradley's piece at NY Times.

Summer Farewell

by Gladys Morton

I feel heavy-hearted as I gaze out of the sliding door that overlooks the beach. Tears of rain spatter on the deck and the ominous heavy clouds overhang the leaden sea. I feel sad as I realize that due to health issues and the difficulty of travel that I may never again visit this little oasis of peace and beauty that they call Cape Cod.

My thoughts meanders back through the 45 summers that we visited this little haven. Far from the madding crowd in the middle of the National Seashore Preservation it is unspoiled by tourists in the summer, free from motels, gift shops and hot dog stands. Miles of pristine clean sand washed by the tides offer up shells and driftwood as their gift to the beachcombers. The Audubon Bird Sanctuary is a little way along the beach and the seagulls wheel around in the cool air swooping down to catch the unsuspecting blue fish that abound in the summers .

This is where the true old Cape Codders live, the true natives whose families have lived here for generations. The oldest windmill on the Cape sits on the village green and nearby in a small churchyard are the graves of three of the original pilgrims who landed in the Mayflower. The lighthouse shines its beacon of light and illuminates the night sky.

We brought our children here when they were babies and each year they anticipated two weeks of freedom and joy on the beach. The sun caressed us with its warmth and the cool breezes kept us comfortable. The spectacular sunsets were an artists delight and the stars at night lit up the sky with their diamond glow.

Now my son owns a house nestled on the top of the dunes overlooking the splendid view of the beach and we have visited this area every month of the year. In winter it is cold and barren, the beach freezes over and one can walk out on the ice floes. Most of the inhabitants go south to warmer climes for the winter but a few hardy natives remain. In spring the villages become bustling and alive as people spruce up their cottages for the summer influx of visitors. Everywhere takes on a new fresh look – picket fences are painted, flowers e are planted in tubs and the fragrant perfume of the delicate salt spray roses fill the air. At the end of the summer the world quiets down and the best month of September comes when all the children are back at school and the land belongs to the owners again. The days are shorter but the beaches have been warmed by the sun all summer and the water is warm and inviting.

Why is the day so over cast. Maybe it is sensing my reluctance to leave and does not want us to go. But I can always visit this beauty spot through my watercolors and my memoirs so it will be part of my life forever.

If you have a Cape Cod story or memory you'd like to share please send it to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Get on the Boat Campaign

Three Bays Preservation works to raise awareness of fragility of Barstable's bays.

by Sam Pearsall
Courtesy of

June 20, 2009 - Despite an ominous forecast for Saturday, Three Bays Preservation got a perfect boat day with calm seas, sunshine, and 70s for its annual “eco-adventure” boat cruise on Barnstable’s Three Bays. Four tours were sold out on the Coast Guards’ Freedom that took 30 passengers each on a 90-minute cruise through Cotuit Bay, North Bay, and West Bay. These waterways on the Cape’s south side are interconnected by inlets and open up to the greater Nantucket Sound.

Three Bays Preservation Project Manager, Judy Heller, offered history and background about the area while Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s biologist of over forty years, George Hampson, provided details about the fragility of these threatened waterways, known as “the fabric of our community.”

“Our purpose today is to raise awareness of how fragile and beautiful these bays are,” said Heller as Freedom departed from the Cotuit Town Landing with two-dozen community members, some year-round residents and others seasonal vacationers.

Hampson has been collecting water quality data for 11 years for Three Bays Preservation and found the water quality has gone down like a sinking ship. A root cause is an overabundance of nitrogen in the bays. The main sources are septic systems, sewage disposal, and lawn fertilizer.

“You fertilize your lawn to make the grass grow, but it does the same here in the bay except with algae,” said Hampson. “You’re just fertilizing the bay.” Over the years a variety of algae have built up in the bays, including sea lettuce and codium, which is an invasive species from China. In some areas of Three Bays, like Warren’s Cove and Prince’s Cove, algal mats are so dense that instead of swimming, ducks and other birds actually walk through the water on the algae. People cannot swim or kayak in these areas either.

Hampson pointed out a nearby waterside home where native rosa rugosa grew up the embankment between the residents’ lawn and the shore. He explained this is an environmentally friendly way to “intercept the nitrogen” that seeps from septic systems and from non-organic lawn fertilizers into the ocean. Another way to combat algal blooms that occur when waters are flooded with nitrogen is growing oysters and other shellfish, which work to filter the system. Some passengers commented on how tasty the oysters are that are grown in such nitrogen-rich waters.

The oxygen content in the bays is one of the main problems caused by algal blooms, and a main focus of Three Bays Preservation. Using three different instruments, Hampson collected water samples from various depths in Cotuit Bay and found the surface and near-surface oxygen levels to be much higher than deeper depths of up to 20 feet. Low oxygen levels impair the mobility of fish and other marine life to the point that they will wash up on shore and die.

Such low levels are caused because “the water is encapsulated [by the algae]; there’s no movement,” said Hampson. In addition, the decaying algal mats are “scavenging” the little oxygen there is below the surface. Hot, muggy, or overcast days and rainstorms all contribute significantly to algae explosions because photosynthesis is then not working sufficiently.

As the tour winded down, Heller pointed out the bird sanctuary on Dead Neck Island, which Three Bays Preservation owns. Currently there are dozens of species of birds living there, including piping plovers, terns, sandpipers, seagulls, and a pair of rare oyster catcher birds. Parts of the island are fenced off in an effort to keep out the coyotes that swim from the mainland hoping for an avian feast.

The successful day of eco-adventure tours ended at 5:30 p.m. and Jim Power, of J. Power & Company, who was responsible for promoting the event, said there was such an interest in the event and since all four cruises sold out he is planning several more days of cruises for July. For more information about Three Bays Preservation visit

Some states and countries require you to pass a boating exam to operate in their waters. (9-1-11)