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.
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, manta rays 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 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
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)!
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!
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!
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
“The Circus at the End of the Sea” by Lori R. Snyder is a heartwarming, delightful and joy-of-a-book to read. It’s a middle grade fantasy book (ages 8-12 years old) about magic on Venice Beach, California.
Although I read MG books extensively because I write in that genre, I ordinarily wouldn’t pick up a fantasy book about magic. But the main character, Maddy, gains a cephalopod sidekick in the blue octopus with yellow spots named Ophelia. I instantly fell in love with this charming, protective and lovable sidekick who sits on Maddy’s shoulder.
Ophelia is fashioned after the real-life mimic octopus, who “mimics” real animals to escape predators. It can become sea snake, lionfish, or flatfish to name a few. (Search “mimic octopus on YouTube for some fascinating videos!) Ophelia is an octopus living in a magical world, so she can squirt magical ink and turn into words!
The protagonist, Maddy, has seen magic in the ordinary world her entire life. As an orphan shuttled around different group homes, she has learned to keep this ability secret. Until one day she is drawn to the end of a pier in Venice Beach during the beginning of a storm, and she discovers Il Circo delle Strade, the Circus at the End of the Sea.
There she discovers a magical circus which boasts a number of unique characters including a muse and guide named Vanessa that gives her magical leg warmers. She embraces her magical abilities and begins to find out the mystery of the silver bracelet she can’t remove and was given to her by the parents who abandoned her as a newborn. She even learns why she has a heart condition she needs medication for.
Besides Ophelia, her best cephalopod friend, she meets her best human friend Skeeter, who is also a skateboarder. He wants to become a part of the circus but is too young. He too is an orphan. Skeeter and Maddy bond over that and being able to see the magic all around them.
I wasn’t expecting spiritual philosophy in a fantasy children’s book, but there’s a good balance of seeing magic in the ordinary, to finding out your true nature and discovering real friendships.
There is never a dull moment in Circus at the End of the Sea, whether it’s quiet contemplative moments, or a race on a roller coaster through the clouds. There is also the Bridge of Sighs that Maddy must cross and face her fears in order to reach the Heart at the End of the World. Most of all, this book is about about possibilities, and that our destinies are what we make of them.
I won’t give anything else away, but if you are intrigued, check out your local library or independent bookseller.
This is the Amazon link Circus at the End of the Sea. It comes out October 19, 2021.
The end notes are about the real Venice Beach, California, which is a character all onto itself in this book. I haven’t been there before but feel I have thanks to this book!
I know the author of this book, Lori R. Snyder, who is also a marine biologist and writer. She is the founder of the Writer’s Happiness Movement, which does free online writer’s retreats and has free yoga over zoom among many other wonderful things. I do her weekly 5 minute Writer’s Happiness Exercises as often as I can.
Please visit Lori’s website at Writer’s Happiness Movement or on Instagram at @writershappiness or Twitter at @writersHM for more information about the Writer’s Happiness Movement!
Octopus Throw and Target Each Other
I’m Sid, a common Sydney octopus. I live off Australia in an area nicknamed “Octopolis” by humans.
A whole bunch of us octopuses live in this sandy area. There’s this one octopus, let’s call him “George,” who tries to mate with me.
One day he was particularly persistent. My eggs weren’t ready for fertilizing that day, so I resisted his advances. But he wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.
So I threw silt at him using a stream of water from my siphon. My siphon is a wondrous contraption—it helps me move when I shoot a jet of water out of it, helps me excavate my den, get rid of waste (my own and food debris) and also get rid of unwanted males!
I shot water out of my siphon and aimed it towards the silt beneath me and voila! A sand storm was directed towards George.
But he wasn’t getting the picture. I sent more silt flying towards him once the current took away my first try.
I’ve got to hand it to him, he ducked at least four times and was successful at dodging on two. I hurled silt ten times and hit him on 5 occasions. After the tenth time, he finally got that I wasn’t interested.
George threw a shell out into the ocean in frustration. We octopuses don’t retaliate (shh! at least the humans haven’t seen us do that!).
But here’s the exciting news that octopus throw and target things at one another. Only a “handful” of other species, including chimpanzees, actually target individuals of the same species.
Not bad company for a mere invertebrate, huh? We only make up 97% of all animals…
For more information see the New Scientist’s “Female Octopuses throw things at males that are harassing them”
Also see “10 Interesting Octopus Facts”
Narwhal whales–Unicorns of the Sea
I am Tusk, and I’m a young male narwhal whale. I am unique among all the whales because I have a very long horn. It resembles a unicorn horn. But I’m real narwhal whale, and they’re not!
It’s one really long tooth, up to about half my body lengths—we narwhals can grow up to 17 feet long and our tusk can be over 10 feet long! I only have two teeth, but that one tooth is truly magnificent! It is sensitive with nerve endings—up to 10 million of them. I can use it to hit and stun fish, and then eat the fish before they can swim away.
Narwhal whale tusks have many uses, and humans suppose we use them for attracting mates, as a weapon, to open holes in the ice or to sense temperature and pressure. But shh! I’m not one to give away the narwhal whale’s secrets—I’ll let you clever humans figure out what we really use our tusks for!
I loved my life in the icy Arctic waters with my pod of 20 narwhal whales. Life was good as we ate plenty of cod and halibut and I loved seeing all the wildlife around like belugas, walruses and seals.
But one day I wandered too far away from my pod. So far away they couldn’t hear my sounds, and I could no longer hear theirs. They were a noisy bunch, so I must have wandered very far away.
I did the only thing I knew to do, which was to swim. Crying out now and then, I only got silence back. I swam for months before I came to the St. Lawrence River. I could tell by the salinity difference that I wasn’t at home anymore. Estuaries are less salty than the ocean because of freshwater diluting the saltwater.
I was hungry, lonely, and sad. I missed my pod and my old Arctic home. Little did I know, but around a bend was a whole pod of male beluga whales.
My saviors, the Belugas!
Belugas are strange, as they don’t have tusks and are all white. I’m mottled gray in comparison. Belugas are known as the canaries of the sea because they chatter so much more than narwhals!
It was fortunate we all met, or else I wouldn’t have known where or how to catch food in this new area. I swam with them for a few days, just to see if they would accept me as their own. When they let me hunt with them, I knew I was at least temporarily accepted.
I had to learn their clicks and whistles, as they didn’t understand mine. We’ve gotten to know each other well this past year, and I feel like I’m one of the gang. I think some belugas are even jealous of my tusk!
This is a fictional story based on real-life events as seen in the National Geographic documentary, “Secrets of the Whales” streaming on Disney+
Also see 10 Cool Facts About Narwhal Whales
My Octopus Teacher Review
Hello my name is Ollie the Octopus. Unlike my counterpart featured in the Netflix documentary “My Octopus Teacher,” I have a name. I’m male though, and she was female—she laid eggs at the end of her life. While I wouldn’t have minded mating with her, we live halfway around the world from each other—her off of the South Africa coast, and me off of the California coast off of the USA.
We’re not villains!
So what does an octopus think of a documentary? Well, I’ve never watched TV, so I can only speak through my human translator (or is she an octopus translator?). I’m just glad we octopuses are not just thought of as villains (see Ursula in the Little Mermaid), food (octopus bowls in Japanese restaurants) or as slimy, disgusting creatures.
Octopuses are clever and intelligent!
We are now seen as the clever, intelligent and incredible creatures that we are, woo hoo! From what I’m told, some humans were horrified or disappointed that Craig Foster didn’t try and save his octopus teacher from a shark attack. He didn’t want to mess with nature.
Messing with nature?
But he did. He permanently scared her from one den at the beginning of their “friendship,” and continually put her life in possible danger when interacting with her. And especially when taking her to the surface when he took a much-needed breath of fresh air, he was exposing her to possible predators.
Changing natural behaviors?
But that she decided to interact with Craig at all was her decision. She could have stayed hidden and there would have been no documentary. Having her life permanently captured digitally was well worth any risk to her life. Did it change any of her natural behaviors? It did, but the time Craig spent with her was small in comparison to the time she spent being “wild.”
Octopuses love enrichment!
You wouldn’t have empathy for me otherwise, nor would you like to hear about how octopuses in captivity solve puzzles and open jars and boxes for food. Or how we “play” with objects in our tank (placing an object in the stream of water in our tank over and over).
We’re, um, cannibals
But you probably didn’t know that we can be cannibals, which I think makes octopus farming a tricky and controversial venture. Not to mention how it complicates the mating game!
We’re camouflaging machines!
We camouflage out of instinct—we’re color blind—but use our wits not to get eaten. We can change color, texture and shape. After all, we’re just a boneless protein snack to any mouth larger than us!
We octopuses are often compared to alien beings. Why humans continue to search for life in space when 95% of the ocean is unexplored by humans or ROV’s (remotely operated vehicles) is beyond me. Octopuses have been eaten forever, yet true empathy for us took until this documentary. What other wonders do the oceans hold for humans?
You can help!
So what can you do for the ocean? Well, less than one digit % of all donations to nonprofits go to ocean conservation charities. Check Charity Navigator for a reputable nonprofit to donate to. A good one is Craig Foster’s nonprofit Sea Change Project and the Sea Save Foundation (My human volunteered there!)
Thanks for reading My Octopus Teacher review. Do you have any questions for me? I’ll answer them in any future blog posts.
Congratulations to My Octopus Teacher for winning many international awards, including the BAFTA and Academy Award for best documentary!
Also see: Ollie the Octopus and the Definition of Ocean Acidification
Did you know that whales are climate change fighting machines? If saving them for their majesty and beauty wasn’t enough, whales actually help fight climate change. This is due to whale poop, of all things.
Blue Whale Poop
Take the largest animals to roam the Earth, present day or past, the blue whales. Blue whales reach lengths of 100 feet and 190 tons. When they poop, they release the by-products of the krill they eat.
Essentially whale poop is fertilizer for the plants of the ocean, the phytoplankton. The phytoplankton, wherever the blue whale migrates to, are stimulated to grow. They, like terrestrial plants, use carbon dioxide and sunlight to grow. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. The less of it in the air, the better it is for planet Earth and its warming climate.
The phytoplankton take sunlight and carbon dioxide and turn it into food and oxygen. Take a breath and sigh it out. Take another breath and exhale. One of those breaths is thanks to phytoplankton growing in the ocean! Thanks phytoplankton!
Whales are constantly swimming and migrating to new places in search of food. Along the way they poop out nutrients and voila, the phytoplankton begin to grow and nourish the bottom of the food chain there. The phytoplankton grow where they wouldn’t have otherwise without whale poop and the critters in those spots benefit.
Nutrients brought up from depths
Whales also dive in search of food-think of a sperm whale fighting a giant squid for a meal-and bring up nutrients from the ocean depths and deposit them at the surface where phytoplankton live and grow.
Although it’s sad to think about, whales die and sink to the sea floor. One whale body can bring 190,000 tons of carbon (equivalent to the emissions of 80,000 cars in a year) from the surface to the sea floor. This is a part of carbon sequestration, which just means capturing carbon somehow and taking it out of the air. In this case it means taking carbon from the surface (the whale) and depositing it on the sea floor. There many animals benefit from eating and scavenging the whale, and the carbon gets deposited and stays there.
Whale poop and Fisheries
Last, but not least, whales and their poop can help enhance fisheries. There will be higher rates of food productivity in places where whales feed and give birth. The whale poop stimulates the phytoplankton at the bottom of the food chain, and fish at the higher levels of the food chain benefit and grow and reproduce.
So, while being magnificent in their own right, whales and their poop are climate change fighters!
Did you know sea otters also help fight climate change?
Whale poop and climate change: here’s what you need to know by National Marine Sanctuary Foundation
Blue Whale Caught on Camera Having a Poo
Wild Survival: Crocodile Rescue! By Melissa Cristina Márquez is a charming and entertaining middle grade (ages 8-12 years old, 3-7 grade) eco-adventure novel. The protagonist is 12-year-old Adrianna Villalobos, a spunky and intrepid explorer who’s quite clever. Her Afro-Latinx family includes her mother, father and adopted older brother Feye.
The Villalobos family owns a wildlife sanctuary and zoo. They are the new stars of a wildlife rescue TV show Wild Survival! The family is tasked with finding and rehabilitating an injured crocodile in Cuba. The show producer, Mr. Savage is also on the lookout for a fabled mega-croc to sensationalize on the TV show.
Adrianna has to prove to her parents that she’s not too young—or irresponsible—to be on camera. Soon after arriving in Cuba, Adrianna puts her brother’s life in danger while he is tagging a croc. She then has to regain her parents’ trust after being put back behind-the-scenes.
Her impulsiveness gets her into trouble, but she is clever and sometimes wise beyond her years to get herself out of any sticky situations she finds herself in. Readers will identify with her universal insecurities and root for her growing confidence. They might agree with Adrianna that her parents are being overprotective, but understand that it’s just for her own safety.
The relationship between Adrianna and her older brother is very realistic and they have their ups and downs throughout the book. One of the highlights of the book is when they go out on their own on a boat adventure. You’ll find yourself rooting from them to save something important, despite the fact they don’t have their parent’s approval. The parents are stern but understanding when they arrive back at the dock.
The antagonists are the poachers which make a brief appearance in the book, and in a way the show producer, Mr. Savage. He is always going for the sensational shot. This doesn’t sit well with Adrianna’s parents, who are rightly protective of their children as well as their own safety.
This middle grade novel has just the right amount of detail that you feel like you’re in Cuba for the first time with Adrianna and her family. The factual pages scattered throughout the book about animals, plants and habitats are short but sweet, and the back matter very informative. I like how there’s a glossary of Spanish terms spoken in the book in the order that they appear. I learned a lot of new Spanish words and phrases.
I like how Melissa Cristina Márquez’s own adventure with a crocodile made its way into the book, as it adds an air of realism to the story. I felt my heart pound when Adrianna had her fateful nighttime encounter with a croc.
There’s never a dull moment in Crocodile Rescue! Kids who like animals and nature will love the book, and those who think they don’t will be drawn into the Villalobos family’s thrilling adventures in Cuba.
The next book in the series, Wild Survival: Swimming with Sharks comes out July 6, 2021 and I can’t wait to read and review it!
Also see my interview with the author, Melissa Cristina Márquez
More facts on crocodiles from Fact Animal
And more on sharks:
10 Interesting Great White Shark Facts