Sending in the reinforcements! SEANET gets help!

26 03 2014

Normally, lean, mean SEANET gets by with a skeleton crew of 2 working a total of a few hours a week. We manage to get a lot done, but some of the work does pile up. We are therefore very relieved to have help this semester. Grad student Marissa Jenko has joined us as work study and I, for one, am most grateful for the help reviewing walk data, verifying reports, and hopefully even blogging on occasion for you all. In the meantime, I’ll let Marissa introduce herself:

Lucky for us, Marissa has embraced the work with good cheer!

Lucky for us, Marissa has embraced the work with good cheer!

“Hello! My name is Marissa Jenko and I’m originally from Floral Park, NY. I received my bachelor’s degree in geology from UMass Amherst in 2011 and spent two years working at an environmental consulting firm in Somerville, MA. Though I learned a lot in those two working years, I decided I needed a change and applied for Tuft’s masters in conservation medicine (MCM) program.

Conservation medicine studies the relationships between human, animal, and environmental health and seeks to develop policies, programs, and health management practices that maintain biodiversity and protect the ecosystems that are vital to human and animal health.

Recently, I’ve found myself gravitating back towards my geology roots and have been researching the geologic reasons behind certain human and animal health issues (for example, the prevalence of iodine deficiencies are strongly correlated to the soil characteristics and bedrock composition of the region).
I became interested in SEANET after a lecture from Dr. Julie Ellis about the program. I was intrigued by the idea of using these birds as indicators of an environmental contamination event (like an oil spill) before most people are even aware that something has occurred. I’m looking forward to being a part of the team!
In my spare time I’m an avid skier, crafter (particularly sewing), and reader.”

Take a summer course at Shoals Marine Lab!

19 03 2014
Not a bad looking campus, huh?

Not a bad looking campus, huh?

At this point, readers, I am no longer asking, I am telling you and those you love to take a course at Shoals Marine Lab! Yesterday, marked the close of the application period for the one week research assistantship helping us with gull banding, but there is still time to register for one (or more) of the many amazing courses SML is offering this summer. I want to make a particular plug for two courses: Field Ornithology is in grave peril and will be canceled if the minimum enrollment is not met. The course, run by my friend David Bonter, is a fabulous opportunity to learn about birds and their ecology while in their very midst. I cannot fathom why that course is not at maximum enrollment, so let’s get it there!

I have a couple of my own students at North Shore Community College interested in Field Animal Behavior, another course in need of more students. Check that one out and the rest of the summer course catalog, or pass this information along to anyone you know who might be interested. High school students, college students of all stripes, and life-long learners are all welcome. If the sticker price has you balking, rest assured that generous financial aid (in the form of scholarship) is available, and you need only enter some simple information from your FAFSA in order to apply.

I maintain that no New Englander should live her lifetime here without ever at least visiting the Shoals. Why not immerse yourself entirely (and this is likely to be both a literal and figurative proposition) in our Gulf of Maine ecosystem?

The decimation of ducks

4 03 2014
A sampler pack of scoter wings mostly with attached sternae found in Brewster MA. (photo: Diana Gaumond).

A sampler pack of scoter wings mostly with attached sternae found in Brewster MA. (photo: Diana Gaumond).

Winter is a grand time for viewing sea ducks near shore. Along my SEANET route, I routinely see bufflehead, common eider, scaup, common goldeneye, red-breasted merganser, and a handful of other occasional visitors. Not surprising then, that winter is also the time that we see the peak of duck mortality along the beaches as well. This winter, it looks like we may be seeing an uptick above typuical mortality among white-winged scoters (WWSC) on Cape Cod in particular. A quick glance at our numbers shows somewhere between double and triple the number of WWSC we saw last winter on SEANET beaches (though that number was never very large itself–fewer than a dozen.) Outside SEANET surveys, we have also been getting reports from Doug McNair, who surveys the outer Cape independently, that WWSC mortality seems well above normal.

Rare intact WWSC found by Warren Mumford in Chatham, MA.

Rare intact WWSC found by Warren Mumford in Chatham, MA.

One thing we tend to notice in duck carcasses is their incomplete nature. While other birds are often found intact, most duck species seem to be found in pieces. Doug raised the question of whether this might be anthropogenic; perhaps hunters strip off the breast meat and toss away the rest of the carcass? I can’t know for sure, but having looked at many pictures of carcasses in various states of disarray, it seems, to my mind, more likely that ducks turn up well scavenged in the average way, but that perhaps ducks are tastier than other carcasses?

And here we see a scoter head, spinal column and foot striking out on their own. (Photo by Jack Hooper).

And here we see a scoter head and neck striking out on their own. (Photo by Jack Hooper).

[I don’t have a clear answer on this, but in tracking individual carcasses over time on SEANET beaches, there does tend to be a typical pattern to their gradual dissipation. First, the entrails are dug out (typical gull behavior, that). Then, the pectoral muscles are stripped from the sternum. As the carcass further decomposes, the wings tend to stay with the sternu, the head goes off with the neck vertebrae, and the ribs, united with the lower vertebrae and fused pelvis eventually drop the legs and roll off by themselves. Given enough time, it appears, all carcasses (or most, anyway) will weather down to the most durable parts: bon, and the strong primary flight feathers that anchor into the bone.  This is merely my personal observation at this point, but it does give me yet another little project to delve into when time permits. I welcome your thoughts on what organisms are doing this stripping away of the meat. On my beach, I suspect the gulls. On southern beaches, I ave been impressed with the diligent scavenging of the ghost crabs. But people may be involved in certain cases too. Have any observations, Seanetters and other beach enthusiasts?