Reports of two-headed sharks have increased through the years. Is it due to overfishing which reduces the size of the gene pool and allows for more of these genetic mutations to occur (think inbreeding)? Or is it just easier to report these observations (through scientific papers and social media)? It is a difficult topic to research since most of these sharks never survive. But it is a critical question that needs to be answered. Is it overfishing? Increased reporting? Pollution? Or something else entirely. Global shark populations are not doing well as it is, genetic mutations could be an additional silent threat.
Devil Rays (Modula spp.) are one of the species up for discussion during CITES Conference of the Parties 17 in South Africa. CITES stands for Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. An international agreement between governments to make sure trade of wild animals and plants does not lead to extinction. Rays and sharks are not doing well and a number of species are up for discussion during the conference.
About The Illustration: Acrylic Ink with brush and pen.
Meet Migaloo, an albino humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) that was first spotted off the coast of eastern Australia in the 1990’s. Migaloo is a member of the eastern Australian humpback whale population that migrates from Antarctica to eastern Australia to breed in the spring. Genetic testing determined that Migaloo is a male and definitely an albino although he has brown eyes and not the distinctive pink eyes of albinism. While albinism is rare in marine mammals there are others like Migaloo such as the albino grey whale recently spotted off the coast of Mexico. Her name is Gallon of Milk, I’m not joking. Generally albinism is not very helpful for most wildlife as it makes it that much harder to hide from predators. For these giants of the sea the impact of albinism is yet unknown.
About this Illustration: Micron pen on bristle paper. A whole lot of dots…
Soon to be available for purchase as a 9×12 print.
A curious looking whale that washed up on the shores of St. George Island (one of the Pribilof Islands in the state of Alaska) in 2014 might actually be a new whale species according to a recent study published in the scientific journal Marine Mammal Science. Originally it was thought to be a small Baird’s beaked whale. However, after genetic analysis of the the deceased whale researchers determined that it may in fact be a new species of beaked whale. DNA from the deceased whale was compared to a variety of beaked whale samples from the Pacific (including the skeleton of a whale hanging in a high school gymnasium in the Aleutian Islands). From those samples eight individuals genetically matched the deceased whale and after further genetic analysis the researchers determined that this group was genetically distinctive from the Baird’s beaked whale.
Japanese fishermen have seen this particular species of whale for years and refer to it as the karasu or raven (it is darker than the Baird’s beaked whale) but it was never really considered a separate species until now. Additional genetic analysis and observation of living individuals (aside from fishermen no one has seen one alive) will help scientists determine if this is truly a new species. An official taxonomic name has not been given to this new species but hopefully it will incorporate karasu into the taxonomic or common name. Or the they could call it the Nevermore Whale 🙂
Beaked whales belong to the taxonomic family Ziphiidae and comprise 25% of all cetacean species (whales and dolphins). They are referred to as “beaked” due to their extended rostrum or snout. Little is known of beaked whales and species identification can be difficult due to physical similarities. This may explain why this new species was not identified until modern genetic analysis could be used to separate it from other beaked whales. This new species will belong to the genus Berardius which includes the Baird’s beaked whale from the North Pacific and the Arnoux’s beaked whale from the Southern Hemisphere.
About the Illustration: My interpretation of the “Raven”. Watercolor. Beaked whales are a bit shapeless so it was difficult to create something that did not look like a blob. My sad illustration aside this is a pretty amazing story. To find a new whale species in 2016 is pretty awesome. Let’s hope we do not drive it to extinction before it is officially named.
The future doesn’t look so hot for most citizens of the oceans. Ocean acidification, overfishing, marine debris, and many other stressors are taking a toll on aquatic living. However one group appears to be gaming the system and actually proliferating in these days of algal blooms and coral bleaching. Hail the mighty Cephalopods! According to a recent study by researchers from the Environment Institute at the University of Adelaide in Australia, cephalopod (squid, cuttlefish, and octopus) populations are booming around the globe. In the May 2016 issue of Current Biology, the researchers report on their findings on population health trends for 35 species/ genera and six families of cephalopods through the analysis of six decades of global fisheries data. The researchers believe that short life spans, rapid growth, and high adaptability appear to be the recipe for success for these curious creatures of the sea. In addition, the crash of certain fish stocks appear to reduce predation and competition for cephalopods. While the current situation appears to be rosy, ocean acidification and overfishing of cephalopod stocks loom in the horizon like the clouds of an incoming storm. Boo!!!
About This Illustration: A watercolor painting of three cool cephalopods (from left to right: squid, octopus, and cuttlefish). The song “My Future’s So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades” by Timbuck 3 was the inspiration for this illustration. For those of you who do not know this great little ditty, check this out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8qrriKcwvlY
For More Information: This is actually an open access article! Yippee!!!