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Thursday, December 22, 2016

Sea Creatures Part 1— Marine Life

Since the ocean and its inhabitants were my main inspirations for this novel, I thought I’d take the time to highlight the marine life you read about inside it. A few of the animals were included simply because you can’t write a novel about the ocean and not include dolphins and sharks, right? Others I featured to raise awareness of conservation issues surrounding them. Some of the animals are included because of my own personal experiences. I’ll never forget the time I saw a blue whale off the coast of California on a whale watching tour. It was an amazing experience and I wanted Allie to have that experience as well—but underwater instead of at the surface. I also found myself in awe of a juvenile leopard shark as I watched it weave through hundreds of people at a beach in LA without a care, simply minding its own business. In a world so full of hatred and misunderstandings at creatures so different from them, I wanted to envision a future that was different.

To adequately cover all the marine species featured in my novel, this blog post will be split into a three-part special. This one will cover continental and pelagic marine life, the second one will cover intertidal species, and the third one will include deep-sea creatures. Each one will be posted a week after the previous one. Afterward, each blog post will be bi-weekly.

Marine Life
* Due to the popularity of bottlenose dolphins and great white sharks, I’m only going to briefly highlight them.
The common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) is found worldwide in both temperate and tropical oceans. They are typically 1.8 to 3.8m (6-12.5ft) in length, weigh between 135-635kg (300-1,400lbs), and live for 40-50 years in the wild. Their diet consists of fishes and invertebrates. Something you may not know about them is that the calves are born with hair(1).

The great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) can grow up to 6.4m (21ft) and weigh as much as 3,400 kg (7,496lbs). They favor colder waters but are also found worldwide. Their diet consists of fish, marine mammals, sea turtles, and invertebrates like mollusks and crustaceans(2).

California sea lion  
By Ltshears - Trisha M Shears (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The California sea lion (Zalophus californianus) ranges from Southeast Canada to Baja California in Mexico. The males and females differ in size from up to 2.1m (6.9ft) long and 350kg (772lbs) for the males and 1.8m (5.9ft) long and 100kg (220lbs) for the females. Males are a dark brown color and the females are more of a tan color. The young are born with a dark brown to blackish looking coat.

California sea lions are highly social and tend to stick together in large groups, sometimes piling on top of one another if there isn’t enough room. They often go out for food in groups to reduce predation and feed on fish and cephalopods. When diving underwater, they can hold their breath for two to ten minutes, diving as deep as 26-98m (86-322ft). Some have been recorded to dive deeper than 200m (656ft)(3).

As for conservation, they were hunted aggressively during the 19th and 20th centuries, but since the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, they have made a great comeback to where they are now listed as least concern by the IUCN(3)(4).

Blue Whale
By NOAA Photo Library - anim1754, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17942391

The blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) is the largest single organism to ever live, reaching lengths of 24-27m (79-89ft) and weighing 100-120 metric tons (110-132 tons). The largest ever on record was 33.5m (110ft). With hearts the size of a small car, some of their arteries are large enough that a human being could swim through them. Unlike sea lions, the females tend to be longer than the males. In a sense, their common name is a misnomer. The dorsal coloration on a blue whale is more gray than blue with a ventral coloration that is a yellowish white(5). However, their color does lean more towards blue underwater(6).

The blue whale can live 80 to 90 years, making them one of the longest living animals(6).They spend most of their time in the open ocean and are found worldwide except for the Arctic Ocean. Most are migratory, constantly moving to areas with a higher abundance of food. They can dive to over 100m (328ft) in their search for food. Often solitary, they will commune in groups of around 60 individuals in areas where food is plentiful. Its main food source is krill, which they use their baleen plates to filter-feed(5). Like other baleen whales, they feed via overlapping baleen plates made of material similar to human fingernails. They gulp mouthfuls of krill and expel the water through the small gaps in their baleen plates. The water is then removed, leaving the shrimp-like krill behind(6). During the summer months, blue whales can consume 3.6 metric tons (4 tons) of krill in a single day. According to the IUCN Red List, the blue whale is endangered, so seeing one is a rare treat(5).

An interesting fact about the blue whale is that they have the highest water spout of any whale. It can jettison up to nine meters (30ft) into the air(5)! When suckling, baby blue whales can gain 91kg (200lbs) every single day until it’s a year old(6).

 To see another photo of a blue whale from Arkive.org, click here. To see a video on YouTube of one, click here

Short-beaked Common Dolphins
By Gregory "Slobirdr" Smith (Short-beaked Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis)) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

As their name suggests, common dolphins (Delphinus delphis) are the most common species of dolphin on the planet, ranging worldwide in both temperate and tropical seas. The sexes differ in length with the females at 1.5m (4.92ft) and the males at 1.7-2.2m (5.6-7.2ft) with an average weight of about 200kg (441lbs) (18). In the wild, they have a lifespan of around 35 years. Energetic, they can be seen jumping (breaching), flipping at the surface, and riding on the waves created by ships, a behavior called bowriding(19). Social animals, they congregate in groups of 10-500 individuals. In search for food such as fish, squid, and other cephalopods, they can dive between two to eight minutes long. The IUCN classifies them as least concern. The highest threats to them are pollution (noise and chemical), human disturbance, and fishing nets(18).

If you would like to see another picture of one, click here to go to Arkive.org.

Leatherback Sea Turtle
By Bernard DUPONT from FRANCE (Leatherback Sea Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacae) is the largest sea turtle in the world. They weigh up to 907kg (2,000lbs) and grow up to 2m (7ft)(20), but are only about 40-50g when they first hatch. They are also the only sea turtles that have a leathery shell instead of a bony one(12). In the wild, they are thought to live 45 years(20). With worldwide distribution from as high as British Columbia in the north all the way down to Australia in the south(12), they can tolerate colder temperatures than other sea turtles. A migratory species, they have been known to travel upwards of 7,000km (4,350mi). The males stay in the open ocean, never returning to land, while the females return only to lay their eggs. Little is known about the juvenile stage, but as adults, they eat jellyfish. Sadly, leatherbacks are listed as critically endangered by the IUCN and although conservation efforts are in place, their species is still very much in danger(11). The biggest threats to their conservation are bycatch and harvesting of the eggs and adults(12).

To see a photo that shows the size of a leatherback sea turtle in relation to several human beings, check out this photo from NOAA. 

Green Sea Turtle
By Frank Schulenburg (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) got its name from the color of its fat—not its shell. They weigh from 65-136kg (143-300lb) and are 80-150cm (31-59in) long. They can swim up to 24kph (15mph) and as far as 4,282km (2,661mi).  Like all sea turtles, they cannot retract their heads or limbs into their shells(14). Like the leatherback, they make long migrations, some traveling 2,250km (1,398mi) from Brazil to the Ascension Islands. They are found in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans as well as in the Mediterranean Sea and Arabian Gulf. As adults, their diet consists of algae and sea grass, but the hatchlings and juveniles feed on jellyfish, mollusks, sponges, and plants. The IUCN lists them as endangered due to threats such as bycatch, habitat degradation, harvesting for their meat and eggs, light pollution, and the disease fibropapillomas which causes tumors to grow all over their body(13).

Arkive.org has several awesome photos and videos of green sea turtles. If you want to see more, click here.

Leopard Shark
By Mfield, Matthew Field, www.photography.mattfield.com (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

The leopard shark (Triakis semifasciata) is common off the coast of California and prefer kelp forests, estuaries, and bays. They are especially common in the San Francisco Bay region(15). They live in the eastern Pacific, ranging from Oregon down to the Gulf of California in Mexico(l6). As they age, their leopard-like spots fade. Females are larger than the males, with the length for the species being between 4-7ft (1.2-2.1m) long (15). They lurk on the bottom, which is where they tend to feed(16). Their diet consists of clams, crustaceans like crabs and shrimp, octopuses, fat innkeeper worms, and fish (including fish eggs)(15)(16). They usually don’t dive more than 20m (65ft), but can be found as deep as 91m (300ft). Off of California, they are fished for their meat and on average 127 metric tons (140 tons) are caught every year(15). The IUCN lists them as least concern, which means that for now, they are okay(17). However, they are vulnerable to overfishing due to their ten-year age of maturity(15).

For an even better photo of a leopard shark, click here

Giant Pacific Octopus
By Karen from Los Angeles, USA (Giant Pacific Octopus) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The North Pacific giant octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini) varies in length from 3-5m (10-16ft) and weighs between 10-50kg (22-110lbs)(7). In the wild, their lifespan is between 3-5 years. They occur in mainly coastal waters from Alaska all the way down to California on the eastern Pacific coast and along Japan to New Zealand on the western Pacific coast (8)(7). The octopus’ main habitat is along rocky substrates (bottom), where there are enough large rocky areas to make its den. They can live at depths anywhere from 5–1,500m (16-4,921ft). Their diet consists of fish, crustaceans such as crabs and lobsters, mollusks, and even other octopuses(7).

The giant pacific octopus’ coloration is that of a reddish-brown that is darker in males than in the females. Like other cephalopods, they have the ability to change color due to chromophores (light-emitting pigment cells) in their skin. The color can be used for camouflage and is often activated when they are frightened(7). And of course, they can secrete an “inky” substance into the water to use as camouflage in order to escape. Known to be quite intelligent, octopuses can assess their situations and figure out clever ways to solve problems. One exhibit of this is how they obtain the soft bodies of their mollusk prey. They will either bite open their shells, rip them apart, or secrete a toxin into the shell to liquefy the insides of the mollusk so they can then suck out the contents(8).

To see a cool photo of an octopus eating a shark from Arkive.org, click here. If you want to see a cool video of one, click here to go to YouTube. 

Crystal Jellyfish
By Jim G from Silicon Valley, CA, USA [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The crystal jellyfish (Aequorea Victoria) is the random jellyfish Allie sees in the first chapter of the novel. These jellyfish live in open water from central California all the way to British Columbia, Canada. They feed on copepods and other jellyfish (yes, they can be cannibalistic). Small in size, they range from 8-25cm (3.2-9.8in). A cool fact about them is that they can stretch their mouths to engulf prey larger than them(9). When they are disturbed, they emit a bioluminescent blue-green color(10). Due to their bioluminescent proteins, they are used in science experiments to reveal calcium in living organisms(9).

For now, that is all. Stay tuned (or subscribe to the blog) to be notified of next week’s post, which will feature the intertidal species from the novel.

References and Further Reading

1 comment:

  1. Interesting facts about marine life and I especially like the species that are referenced in the book. It helps me get a real sense of what Allie could have been experiencing, since I'm a land lover. It may get me interested in snorkeling.