Amphibious Soul by Craig Foster

Amphibious Soul is written by Craig Foster, the human star in the Academy award-winning documentary, “My Octopus Teacher.”

“For many of us, the pain of living lives so removed from our animal kin has manifested as a hunger for an emotional connection to nature. Our psyches are adrift, seeking their kin because that’s what humans have always done, what we’ve always known.”

In Amphibious Soul, Craig Foster deplores us to reconnect to our ancestor’s ties to the land, ocean and the Earth’s animals. He is a documentary filmmaker and for many decades made documentaries on the San trackers (of animals) of the Kalahari in Africa. There he learned not only how trackers can see the physical signs that animals leave behind, like tracks and scat, but many times can go into a trance and become the animal and see the world from their eyes. They then can track and in most cases kill the animal. Those experiences are probably why there are so many ancient paintings and artifacts that depict half humans, half animals.

Craig Foster argues that we need to become one again with our wild nature. He learned to track animals, wildlife and the weather in the African plains. He applied those tracking methods to the Great African Seaforest (kelp forest) off South Africa. It was there he met his “octopus teacher!”

Craig adapted the idea of tracking when he took his daily free dives into the frigid waters off of South Africa.  He mentions his octopus buddy briefly, but this book is mainly a memoir and a call-to-action to become one again with nature and the wildness within us. By ancestors, he means the humans thousands of years ago that roamed as hunters and gatherers across Africa.

Craig became one with the wildness in himself and that of our ancestors, and even made tools from scraps of metal and wood like they did. He talks about how those ancestors became divers and hunters in the ocean.

In “My Octopus Teacher,” Craig briefly touches on how he doesn’t wear a wetsuit while diving. He can free dive in 50 degrees Fahrenheit waters without a wetsuit. In comparison, I wear a wetsuit in 78 degrees Fahrenheit waters and still get cold! He even trained himself by sitting in an icy water filled icebox for increasing amounts of time. It’s a metaphor for getting over your fears physiologically and then mentally.

We go along with Craig as he follows, through murky water, a crocodile (one of the most dangerous animals on Earth) to its lair and track a Cape clawless otter that leaves inky footprints after eating a cuttlefish (a relative of octopus and squid). The last chapter suggests we find a wild place (even if it’s just your backyard) and just observe. Over time you’ll get animal clues as to what they did, where they went and other exciting tracking activities.

Although I would’ve liked to hear more about his journey with the octopus featured in his documentary, I still found myself riveted to the pages of Amphibious Soul as Craig has had some harrowing adventures. I am inspired to become a “tracker,”(observer of nature) but just in my own backyard and beyond (and in the rare instances I’m in the ocean!). I recommend this book to anyone who wants to hear about Craig’s exciting adventures beyond the brief moments of life he shared with an octopus.

Read Ollie the Octopus’ review of the documentary “My Octopus Teacher”

Buy Amphibious Soul from Bookshop.org (and support your local bookstore!)

Ollie the Octopus Meets the Giant Pacific Octopus at Steinhart Aquarium

Hello, my name is Ollie the Octopus. Today I’m interviewing the “new” giant pacific octopus  (GPO) at Steinhart Aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, California.

I say “new” because he’s new to the aquarium but already a few months old. Here’s my interview:

Ollie: Hello my octopus friend! How are you?

Giant Pacific Octopus: I’m doing fine. I’m enjoying my new digs.

Ollie: Where are you from?

GPO: I’m from the cold waters off the Pacific Northwest (of the U.S.)

Ollie: What was your journey like getting from your old home to your new home?

GPO: It was quite exciting. I meet human divers every now and then. But this time I got caught in a net by one of them. One second I’m playing with the diver’s hand, and the next I was feeling the sunlight at the surface. 

I was placed in a dark container. It felt like forever, but forever to an octopus is much different than to a human.  Most octopuses live only a year but GPO’s in captivity can live 3-5 years. So forever for me might only be a human day.

In my dark container, I was in a plastic bag. The water sloshed around a lot. I tried to sleep but couldn’t tell if it was night (when I’m usually awake) or day (when I’m asleep as I’m nocturnal). 

In any case, eventually I saw light again. I was placed in my new home, a tank full of cold water. I love and need the many rocks to hide in. Though I prefer my favorite corner near the window and water outlet.

Ollie: How is it getting used to your new home?

GPO: I hid at first. But once a day I would get to feel and taste a human hand and arm. It’s so much fun. My 2000 suckers not only feel but also taste! Each sucker has more taste receptors than a human tongue. And each human tastes different. Not enough mucus on them though in my opinion.

The kelp (a type of seaweed) in my tank tastes different than back home in the wild. Wonder why?

Ollie: Oh, I think it’s plastic and not real.

GPO: Makes sense.

Ollie: What do you get fed?

GPO: I get fish, squid and my favorite, blue crabs. I get food every other day. I don’t have to hunt, it’s quite the luxury. 

Ollie: Do you get bored?

GPO: No, I get toys.  My favorites are a plastic airplane and helicopter. I grab them and put them in front of the jets of water and watch them move around the tank. I also get closed containers with food inside. I rip off the lid in seconds and sometimes there’s a capelin (a small type of fish) inside.

Ollie: Do you miss the ocean?

GPO: It’s weird but I don’t have the whole ocean to explore anymore. I’ve explored every nook and cranny of my new tank. The only thing that changes is which human brings me food, plays with me and gives me toys.

I can see outside my tank—more humans, but I can’t touch them. 

Ollie: Do you think about escaping? Octopuses in aquariums are known to do that…

GPO: Around the edges of my tank there’s bumpy stuff my suckers can’t hold onto (astroturf). Although most animals live in the present moment, octopuses have a great memory. We can navigate to new areas of the ocean floor and still find our way back to our den. 

And we remember which humans bring us food!

Ollie: Thanks for meeting with me today!

GPO: My pleasure! Come back anytime to visit me.

Note from Ollie the Octopus on his second visit to Steinhart Aquarium: The giant pacific octopus is now almost a year old and has gone from 8 pounds to approximately 19 pounds! We octopuses grow really quickly, from plankton-sized to 20 pounds in the span of a year.

More from Ollie the Octopus:

My Octopus Teacher Review by Ollie the Octopus

Ollie the Octopus on International Cephalopod Awareness Days

Steinhart Aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, CA

Mother of Sharks: Book Review

Mother of Sharks by Melissa Cristina Márquez is a picture book (for ages 5-8, but appropriate for all ages!) that takes readers on a fantastical journey through the ocean. A little talking hermit crab named Jaiba is the main character’s (and our) tour guide. Major ocean conservation issues are briefly mentioned. This book also showcases the diversity of sharks.

The ocean conservation issues touched upon include coral bleaching, ghost nets and marine animals as bycatch in fishing nets. Sharks introduced include nurse sharks, sixgill sharks, and mako sharks.

The author Melissa is a shark scientist which is cool in itself. But she is also a science communicator who teaches that sharks are not scary, necessary and need to be conserved.

Where Mother of Sharks truly shines is that the author herself is a Latina scientist in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). She advocates to the main character, a little girl, that she too can become a shark scientist (or any scientist for that matter). The sciences now have women in most/all fields, which historically hasn’t been true. But persons of color, and especially women persons of color, are growing in numbers in STEM.

I loved the illustrator’s, Devin Elle Kurtz, drawings. I especially liked the variety of cartoon-like sharks depicted on the front and end pages. The illustrations really add to the text. They also take you seamlessly to different parts of the ocean with realistic animal illustrations.

Melissa is from La Playita del Condado in Puerto Rico. There are Spanish phrases throughout the text. As a student of Spanish I knew some words and could figure out the rest in context. For those of you who don’t know Spanish, there are translations in the back matter.

A very encouraging letter to children is from the author at the end of Mother of Sharks. There are web resources, Spanish translations, and a brief list of sharks mentioned.

All in all, I highly recommend checking this book for a young girl in your life out either from the library (request it if you don’t see it on the shelf) or from your local bookstore through Bookshop.org I was excited to see Mother of Sharks available at my local Target!

Book Review: The Wind Riders #1-Rescue on Turtle Beach

Wind Riders #1 by Jen Marlin, illustrated by Izzy Burton

The Wind Riders #1: Rescue on Turtle Beach by Jen Marlin and illustrated by Izzy Burton

This is a chapter book for ages 6-10 years old. The series’ premise is that Max and Sofia come across a magical boat that takes them places where they can help animals.

In this book, Max and Sofia end up in Hawaii. They help newly hatched baby sea turtles make their way to the ocean. They do this during the day. After helping one hatchling make it to the ocean, Max, Sofia and their new friend Laila figure out the best way to help the babies is to turn on the lighthouse light. 

That’s because baby sea turtles usually hatch at night to avoid predators. They use the moonlight shining off the ocean to figure out which way to go. But the hotel on the beach is having a party that will confuse the baby turtles.  Will Max, Sophia and Laila make it on time to help the hatchlings? Read Wind Riders #1 to find out!

I really liked the premise of this chapter book series. I liked having a magical boat to take them on adventures around the world. No time passed back home, just like the Magic Treehouse series. But this book has an animal and ocean theme. The characters are likable and believable. The story is well-paced and includes accurate scientific facts in the text and backwater.

Fans of the Magic Treehouse, Magic Schoolbus, and Zoey & Sassafras books will like this science adventure series, currently at 4 books. They’ll be eager to read Wind Riders #2: Search for the Scarlet Macaws, Wind Riders #3: Shipwreck in Seal Bay and Wind Riders #4: Whale Song of Puffin Cliff. I encourage you to buy through your favorite independent bookstore at bookshop.org and here is a list of all the books I’ve reviewed: https://bookshop.org/lists/ocean-of-hope-blog-books-reviewed/            

Seaweed Farming-Environmental Impact

Seaweed farming, like this kelp, can have an environmental impact Photo by: Monterey Bay Aquarium

Benefits of Seaweed Farming

Seaweed can store carbon

Seaweed farming and upwelling

Renewable wave energy and seaweed farming

Upwelling can help reverse coral bleaching

Turtles of the Midnight Moon: Book Review

“Turtles of the Midnight Moon” by Maria José Fitzgerald is an enchanting middle grade eco-mystery about two 12-year-old girls who form a friendship despite being from different countries and cultures. Sea turtle lovers will rejoice to see their beloved animals take center stage. Those who know nothing about sea turtles will come away with a boatload of information about the largest of the 7 species of sea turtles, the leatherback sea turtle.

Abby, from the U.S., and her doctor father go visit his homeland in Honduras. Abby is still grieving after her best friend moved away, and she doesn’t fit in at school. But she loves taking pictures and that keeps her involved in school.

Her counterpart in Honduras, Barana, has a moon-shaped scar that perfectly matches the scar on the shell of Luna, a leatherback sea turtle. She shares a special bond with this turtle, and her scar hurts when Luna is nearby (i.e. laying eggs on the beach near where she lives).

Barana loves the sea turtles and helps an adult in charge of them, Maria, patrol the nesting beach and guard nests. Both girls are wary of each other at first-Barana just wants to protect the sea turtles and get out of her chores, and Abby want to explore on her own with her camera. But they bond over their shared creativity-Barana draws and writes poetry while Abby is a photographer.

Abby and Barana also bond over concern for the sea turtles. One of Luna’s nests survives a storm, but her other nests are no match for poachers. The girls need solve the mystery of who the poachers are and bring them to justice if they’re going to save any of Luna’s eggs.

“Turtles of the Midnight Moon” is written from a dual point-of-view. It is engaging and kept my interest. I’m a marine biologist and I found it to be scientifically accurate. I’m glad I’m studying Spanish but there were phrases here and there that weren’t translated fully in the context of the story. The gist of the Spanish is there, but footnotes or a glossary would be nice. But there’s always google translate (though that takes away from the flow of the story).

Otherwise, it’s well-paced with the right amount of mystery and magic to keep you reading. Besides being an eco-mystery, it’s also a book about friendship and family as well as the complications that those relationships bring.

Budding conservationists will love this book, and those who aren’t (yet!) will come away with an appreciation of our ancient sea turtles.

For more on sea turtles, see https://oceanofhope.net/10-fabulous-facts-about-sea-turtles/

10 Starfish (or Sea Star) Facts

starfish, sea star, orange starfish
Starfish/Sea Star photo from Wikimedia Commons by EsMynt

10 Starfish (or Sea Star) Facts

1. Starfish aren’t fish! They are echinoderms, invertebrates, and are related to sea urchins and sand dollars.

2. If an arm of a starfish becomes detached, it can grow a new one (though it might take up to a year to grow)!

3. To eat, a starfish spits out its stomach and digests whatever it’s eating (like a mussel or snail) on the outside of its body. Then it sucks back in its stomach to finish digesting. Yum!

4. There are 1,600 kinds of starfish in the ocean. They range in color from red, orange, brown (there’s a chocolate chip sea star), purple, yellow and more!

5. The tube feet of a starfish are amazing. They create suction by sucking in seawater. The tube feet help the sea star move, and manipulate its prey.

6. A starfish can live up to 35 years.

7. Starfish are eaten by other sea stars, fish, sea otters and sharks.

8. Not all starfish have 5 arms, some have up to 24 arms, like the sunflower sea star!

9. The crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS) is found in the Indo-Pacific and outbreaks of them cause damage to coral reefs. COTS eat exclusively coral polyps and cause the coral to turn white and die. The COTS cause almost as much damage as coral bleaching, like on the Great Barrier Reef off Australia.

10. Starfish have no brain, no blood and no central nervous system. They can “see” with eyes on the end of their arms. These eyes sense light and dark.

For more starfish facts, visit Nat Geo Kids Starfish Facts
For more on the sunflower sea star, visit Monterey Bay Aquarium Animals A-Z

Ever wonder what kind of sea star Peach from Finding Nemo is? Visit The Real Fish of Finding Nemo

Snorkeling with Humpback Whales

humpback whale calf
Humpback Whale Calf off of the Silver Bank, Atlantic Ocean

My Experience Snorkeling with Humpback Whales off the Silver Bank, Atlantic Ocean

I slid into the Atlantic Ocean off the small boat like a seal sliding off a rock and into the water. I heard my breathing through my snorkel and blinked while focusing on the deep blue beyond.

Suddenly, there they were, a 40 foot (12.2m) long mother humpback whale with her 15 foot (4.6m) long calf circling her. It was an astonishing sight. I have seen humpback whales and their antics above the water off of Hawaii and California, but here was the gentle giant in her own watery environment.

They swam around us and our boat, eyeing us. No doubt they were curious about the ungainly creatures who had literally came out of the blue. The mother and calf swam next to us, under us and so close that I knew with flick of her tail, it could be the end of me.

It was like a dream, one that would be long lost if it weren’t for the pictures my small point and shoot underwater camera took. There were full body shots of the mother and calf, and body parts like flukes or the long pectoral fins filling the entire frame.

The largest animal I had snorkeled with before was the ocean’s largest fish, a whale shark, and it was only as long as the calf! I remember counting the seconds as the whale shark would slowly swim by, head-body-tail, gulping down water through its gills to filter out plankton to eat.

The calf needed to come up for air every few minutes, with mother in tow even though she could average 20 minutes per breath. The calf swam close to its mother the whole time they were with us, a good 30 minutes. They circled our boat many times. Our 25 foot long boat paled in comparison to the mother. Female humpbacks can grow up to 50 feet (15m) long and 35 tons (31.8 tonnes)!

humpback whale pectoral fins
Humpback whale mother’s pectoral fins

Out of the water the pair put on quite a show, tail lobbing (slapping their flukes on the surface of the water), pectoral fin slapping and breaching their whole bodies out of the water!

Intentions are powerful. The previous night while introducing ourselves (our group had all previously snorkeled with wild dolphins in the Bahamas with Wildquest over the years) and why we were there, I shared that I wanted to see a mother and calf pair underwater as well as write a blog post, a children’s book and article. I’m not saying I’m solely responsible for the long and memorable encounter—the humpback whales made that happen—but considering we only got into the water once more during the week (we heard a male humpback singing underwater!), it made this encounter even more special.

Aquatic Adventures specializes in “Passive-in-Water Whale Encounters” or PIWEE (pee-wee) on the Silver Bank Marine Sanctuary, which is halfway between the Dominican Republic (where we flew in to) and the Turks and Caicos islands in the Atlantic Ocean (the Caribbean borders the other sides of the Dominican Republic).

From Aquatic Adventure’s website, “Research indicates that the Silver Bank contains the largest seasonal population humpbacks in the North Atlantic Ocean, if not the world. The sanctuary is only 40 square miles but 5000-7000 humpback whales pass through each winter.”

The Silver Bank is a calving and mating ground for humpback whales. The calves grow quickly on their mother’s milk of 70% fat (whole cow’s milk is only 4% fat in comparison!). They are born 10-15 feet long and 1-2 tons in weight. The mother will not feed again until she reaches somewhere north like Stellwagen Bank off of Massachusetts, USA.

I want to thank everyone on the boat, guests and crew alike, for an amazing experience in and out of the water. For more on snorkeling with humpback whales in the Silver Bank, visit Aquatic Adventure’s website.

Feel free to comment or email with any questions!

Who Was Rachel Carson?

Rachel Carson
Rachel Carson, marine biologist and author

This International Women’s Day (March 8) I wanted to write about one of my role models, Rachel Carson. So who was Rachel Carson? Well, she single-handedly started the modern environmental movement with her seminal book, Silent Spring. She, along with Jane Goodall, are my role models. As such, you would’ve thought that I would have dove into and finished all of her books, but alas I haven’t. Part of it is jealousy because she became so famous and I write similarly to her. But I’m following in her footsteps as a science communicator, which is someone who takes complex scientific concepts and makes them easy to understand to the general public.

I’ve delved more deeply into her life and who she was as a person. She was shy, introverted and deeply invested in nature. She loved the ocean, but spent precious little time in it. Though she spent a lot of time on its shores by her house in Maine. She bought that house with the proceeds from her books. Authors can make a living from writing 😉

She wrote mainly about the east coast where she lived (her book, Under the Sea Wind, was about the animals that lived on the shoreline there), and especially near Silver Spring, Maryland where she worked for the government (US Fish and Wildlife Service) as a writer and editor. Rachel actually visited my neck of the woods, San Francisco once. She loved Muir Woods and wished she had more time to explore San Francisco.


I like reading her old letters to her friends and colleagues, especially to the love of her life, Dorothy Freeman. It’s a shame she had to hide her love, though she did express herself through her letters. In this day and age two women loving each other is acceptable, but Rachel couldn’t even talk straight to her doctor when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Doctors didn’t like the fact she wasn’t married and didn’t speak frankly with her about treatment because there wasn’t a male intermediary.

Rachel ultimately decided to hide her cancer from the public, and wrote about the dangers of the pesticide, DDT, in Silent Spring while having cancer. She also testified in front of Congress, weak from radiation treatments but still eloquent and convincing. The chemical industry didn’t slur her findings, but in desperation used personal slurs. They tried to mar her character by saying she was unmarried old maid, a communist and a cat lady (!)

The Environmental Protection Agency in the USA was formed after her death and continues to protect the environment to this day. The National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, was passed by Congress. We celebrate Earth Day each April to thanks to her. So now you know who was Rachel Carson!

Rachel Carson’s legacy lives on, and I would encourage anyone interested to read at least one of her best-selling and award-winning ocean book trilogy, Under the Sea Wind (my favorite because she named the animals, and the inspiration for my writing, including this blog), The Sea Around Us, and To the Edge of the Sea. Silent Spring is important to read but harder to get into.

Be sure and let me know which book of Rachel Carson’s is your favorite!

For more information on Rachel Carson, see Rachel Carson: Her Life and Legacy
See my tribute to Jane Goodall after meeting her!

Meet Bumpy the Leatherback Sea Turtle

leatherback sea turtle
Bumpy the Leatherback Sea Turtle was re-caught!

Hello, I’m Bumpy, a Western Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtle. The largest of all the 7 species of sea turtles, I migrate across the Pacific Ocean (from Asia to California, USA, over 6,000 miles!!) feasting on jellies.

Recently I had a strange adventure. I was happily swimming along looking for jellies to eat when bam! I couldn’t swim any longer. Something was tied behind my shoulders. Soon I was pulled out of the water. I hadn’t been out of the water since I was a hatchling racing towards the ocean after busting out of my egg shell! The water usually buoys me up, but man have I put on some weight (1,419 pounds to be exact).

Then again, maybe I have been out of the water since. Scientists recognized me from when they pulled me out of the water in 2016 to weigh and measure me. They named me Bumpy for the marks on my carapace (soft-shelled back) that I got from some ship strikes. Now that’s a story for another time.
I’m probably 20-25 years old, but who’s counting? I’m only halfway through my life, assuming I survive the perils ahead of me. Ships can strike leatherback sea turtles at the surface because we’re hard to see (I’m case in point).

We can get tangled in fishing gear, be illegally poached (our eggs especially) or have reduced nesting sites in places such as Indonesia, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.
Don’t get me started on all the plastic in the ocean, especially because I can’t tell the difference from a plastic bag full of water or a jelly full of water.

Like most large animals in the ocean, we can be by-catch from different fisheries. Gill nets are very thin nets made of almost transparent monofilaments that are stretched out for miles. Big fish, like swordfish are targeted but any animal that runs into the net including sea turtles, sharks, dolphins and seabirds get caught. They drown because they can’t get to the surface for air (like me) or because they can’t swim anymore to breathe (like sharks).

After taking biological samples from me (ow!) the scientists fitted me with new acoustic and satellite tags. They’re a drag, so to speak, but worth it to my kind if scientists can learn enough about us to help save our remaining population.

Unfortunately I’m endangered and our Western Pacific population has declined by 80% in the last 30 years. Scientists estimate that only 55 leatherback sea turtles return to the coast of California now.

My ancestors are 100 million years old—older than the dinosaurs but alas, we cannot contend with all the problems humans throw our way.

Fortunately in California (but not the rest of the world) there are rules that protect us from getting potentially entangled in fishing gear. The Dungeness crab fishery is “delayed indefinitely” due to our presence. Sorry to all you crab-eating humans out there, but I appreciate your patience as we feast on jellies in the area!

This post was inspired by this San Francisco Chronicle article, “Researchers encountered a 1,419 pound leatherback sea turtle off California coast. Turns out they’ve met him before.”

For more on sea turtles, check out 10 Fabulous Facts about Sea Turtles