International partnership confirms a new Baja nursery area for white sharks

Conservation & Science

It’s relatively easy to spot when and where a pregnant animal gives birth on land. But in the sea, it’s a whole different story.

Over the past few decades, researchers studying the elusive great white shark have pieced together a picture of their underwater lives: The adults seasonally travel between a remote region of the Pacific Ocean—dubbed the White Shark Café—and their feeding grounds in Central California and Mexico.

But where do females give birth, and where do the offspring grow up?

Researchers in Mexico and the United States, including a team from the Aquarium, have confirmed a new nursery area for white sharks on the Pacific Coast of Baja California.

“We don’t know whether [the sharks] pup in-shore or off-shore,” explains the Aquarium’s Director of Collections John O’Sullivan. “We don’t even know whether they pup in American or Mexican waters.”

But in a paper recently published online…

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The spooky science of shark mummies

Conservation & Science

John O’Sullivan, the Aquarium’s Director of Collections, was in Mexico on a mission. A young white shark equipped with an electronic tag had traveled over 650 nautical miles south from its release point in Monterey Bay, and the tag had popped off somewhere along the central coast of Baja California. The tag contained a complete data set documenting the shark’s movements and physiology since its release, and John aimed to recover it.

Instead his guide, a local fisherman, led John to a shark graveyard.

5-shark-mummies-location-map Location of shark dump site in Baja California, Mexico.

A grisly grimace

Sometimes, commercial and sport fishermen accidentally ensnare juvenile white sharks off the coasts of California and Mexico. But locals in some communities consider it bad luck to discard the unmarketable parts, such as the heads, back into the ocean. Instead, they deposit these shark parts at dump sites in the Mexican desert.

In central Baja…

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Voices for change: Spreading the word on sustainable seafood

Conservation & Science

Twenty food experts—chefs, culinary instructors, media and writers—gathered around a table, brainstorming about what it means to make an impact.

tr16-1171 Blue Ribbon Task Force members swap ideas at Monterey Bay Aquarium.

“Changing minds,” someone called out.

“Inspiring action,” said another.

The 20 are members of the Aquarium’s Blue Ribbon Task Force, a group of 63 culinarians who are actively promoting sustainable seafood nationwide. Each year, a subset of the Task Force meets in Monterey to learn, swap ideas with their peers, and get inspired.

Sheila Bowman, the Aquarium’s Manager of Culinary and Strategic Initiatives, runs the program. “Task Force members come from a variety of culinary fields. They include chefs, educators, food media and others,” she explains.

“What unites them is that they are all the kind of person who speaks out. Rather than just working in their kitchens or at their desks, they’re actually out in public and on social media…

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Food for thought: Exploring sustainable solutions

Conservation & Science

tr16-1196 M. Sanjayan kicks off the Sustainable Foods Institute with a riveting keynote.

When the first groups of early humans stood up and foraged on the plains of East Africa, they solved their food shortages by walking somewhere new. In other words, Dr. M. Sanjayan said, “Humans were never sustainable in one place.”

Sanjayan, a scientist and member of Conservation International’s senior leadership team—whom you may have seen on nature shows like Big Blue Live and Earth: A New Wild—proposed this concept in a keynote address that kicked off the Aquarium’s 11th annual Sustainable Foods Institute in Monterey.

Within a few days’ walk, Sanjayan said, our early ancestors were able to find new, unexploited resources, which they would deplete over time, then migrate again.

Today,  our planet has 7 billion human mouths to feed. And nearly every inch of inhabitable land is already spoken for. “To achieve sustainability, we have…

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Our surrogate-raised sea otters are helping restore a wetland

Conservation & Science

Otter 501 meanders through the tidal creeks near Yampah Island in Elkhorn Slough with a dozing pup on her chest. She massages the pup’s rump and blows air into its fur as she makes her way toward a main channel to feed.

To an observer, 501 might look like any other sea otter going about her business. But she’s thriving in the wild today because of a rather remarkable program at Monterey Bay Aquarium.

According to surprising new research, the same can be said of the majority of Elkhorn Slough’s otters.

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Camera to crack a great white shark mystery

Conservation & Science

The idea seemed like a long shot: Build a video camera that could attach to a great white shark for months at a time, withstand ocean depths of more than 3,000 feet, and sense the shark’s movements to selectively capture footage of its behavior.

But Monterey Bay Aquarium Senior Research Scientist Salvador Jorgensen, a white shark expert, thought it might have a chance if he joined forces with the talented minds at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI).

“Some of the engineering team said it was an impossible job,” MBARI Engineer Thom Maughan recalls with a smile. “But I’m attracted to those opportunities.”

So Thom and Sal teamed up on a high-tech mission: to capture video footage of great white sharks in their most mysterious habitat.

Intrigue in the open ocean

Great white sharks cruise the shorelines of the Central Coast, Southern California and Baja California during fall and winter. But just…

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Sea otters are handy with tools

Conservation & Science

What makes people different from other animals? Scientists used to think the ability to make and use tools was a distinguishing characteristic of being human. That changed in the 1960s, when Jane Goodall observed chimpanzees using sticks to fish termites out of mounds. Now, scientists include crows, dolphins and sea otters on the short list of creatures that use tools.

Sea otters dive in shallow coastal waters to collect hard-shelled prey like sea urchins, mussels, abalones, clams and snails. Some of the shells, like the calcium carbonate armor that protects snails, are harder to crack than others—so otters sometimes use rocks as anvils to help break them open.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Aquarium researcher Jessica Fujii tracks sea otters in Alaska. Photo by Nicole LaRoche

Jessica Fujii,  a senior research biologist with Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sea Otter Program, wanted to learn more. How often do sea otters use rocks and other items? Do some groups of otters use tools more…

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Shark fins, unique as fingerprints

Researchers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium use fins and photography to uniquely identify individual sharks, just like detectives use DNA to uniquely identify people.  Learn more in my recent post for the Aquarium’s Conservation and Science Blog:

Conservation & Science

To most of us, all white sharks look similar: strong, elegant and powerful. But not to Aquarium Senior Research Scientist Dr. Salvador Jorgensen.

“In order to tell them apart, we like to think of something descriptive to call them: Middle-notch, or Split-fin, or Rooster,” Sal says. “There’s one that looks like a profile of Jay Leno. We have a shark called Hitchcock. We have one called Elvis.”

Jay-Leno-Shark When you stare at shark fins all day, you might start to see things – like Jay Leno’s profile.

He pulls up a photo of a  dorsal fin—the characteristic, triangular fin on a white shark’s back that features prominently in movies like Jaws—and compares the negative space at the tip to a profile of Jay Leno. The two are an uncanny match.

Like fingerprints and retinas are unique to each person, a dorsal fin is unique to each white shark. Each…

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