Been trying to find a few moments to post this, but the pace has been a little high lately. We’ve hit many new sites since I had my first ever encounter with this gorgeous animal, and there were some exciting things to process back at the “lab” (which consists of some tables back at Club Ocellaris). Been making great progress on the sea urchin and sand dollar fronts, but that’s not the subject of this entry.
I was searching for and collecting echinoderms around a tiny, rocky outcrop that came to the surface to make a raft-sized island at a site called Ligpo about a 45 minute boat ride from the aforementioned “lab”. Some movement in a crevice that connected with the surface caught my eye. Turned out to be a “lifer” for me, a sea snake. I’m an echinoderm biologist, so my powers of identification of these things with bilateral symmetry and a backbone are a bit stretched, but I believe this to be Laticauda colubrina, the yellow-lipped sea snake. Forgive me, herps people, if I have that incorrect. Nevertheless, I spent about 10 minutes watching this magnificent animal watching me. I am told that if they have a brood nearby, they can get a little more “interested”, and there were points at which the coiling and aiming behavior of the snake seemed a little bit more than just curiosity, so I couldn’t help but wonder if she(?) had eggs somewhere on that island.
Sea snakes are related to the cobras, and their venom is at least as potent, if not more so. Like all snakes, they breathe air, and need to come to the surface to respire. Their tails are flattened from side to side (hence the genus name: “lati” for compressed from side to side; “cauda” for tail — scientific names always make sense at some level). I am told that these animals are de facto harmless, but should be “treated as venomous”, whatever that might mean in terms of snorkeling in the snake’s native habitat. All the authorities agree that they seldom bite. “Seldom” implies that there are instances, and I didn’t want to add to that small dataset myself, and exercised caution. The movements of the snake were graceful and purposeful as it took a few gulps of air, then quietly and quickly moved down the crevice and across the soft coral masses below me to go hunting for some lunch.
Just had to get this out there in this, the Academy’s summer of slither. Looking forward to my next encounter with one of these fantastic animals. Maybe at the Academy? Wouldn’t it be great to have one in the exhibit?
High-tech communications: Skype and speaker phone
Eleven members of the Academy expedition team are now in the Philippines, busily documenting species – including ones new to science! – attending meetings, and communicating with those of us still at the Academy. While many details on research support, educational outreach, ground transportation, and lodging are now confirmed, many more still remain to be put in the “Done” column. I’m beginning to suspect that planning the royal wedding was nothing compared to planning this expedition! Thank goodness we have such an amazing team of Filipino friends and colleagues helping us on the ground. Skyping has proved to be tremendously helpful, and with the 15-hour time difference between San Francisco and Manila, it makes for some interesting Skype times. The photo shows the “conference call” from my office at the Academy last Friday, April 29, 3:00 pm – Terry Gosliner and Rich Mooi are on the computer screen, participating by Skype at 6:00 am Saturday their time in Anilao, and Mary Lou Salcedo, our logistical liaison extraordinaire, is on the speaker phone, calling in from her home in Alameda, four hours before heading to SFO for her flight to Manila.
Roberta Brett and I are now the next contingent to head to Manila, leaving this Friday evening, May 6. Both of us are more than excited to be able to use our science backgrounds to help people in the Philippines, back here at the Academy and on the web better understand what this expedition is all about. The amount of work that I need to do between now and then is more than a little daunting, but I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the end of my birthday than beginning the long flight to Manila. It will be wonderful to be back in the Philippines and launching into the myriad outreach programs we have planned in Manila and in local communities where the research is being done. Utilizing the expedition’s research findings for educational outreach, to inform conservation management decisions, and to help build research, education and conservation capacity in the Philippines are all part of the major goals for the expedition and will help ensure the long-term legacy of the expedition. Can’t wait to get there and get started!
Director of Teacher and Youth Education
California Academy of Sciences
Getting organized for an expedition takes literally a year of planning. Even when you arrive there are days of checking in with collaborators, securing the final permits that allow you to do research. Part of our team spent most of the day meeting with government officials, arranging final details with our collaborators at the University of the Philippines and securing the final permits necessary. Meanwhile, the rest of the team was at the Philippine National Museum unpacking the supplies we shipped in advance with great facilitation from the U.S. Embassy. The team also met with our other collaborators and with the Director of the Museum. Elliott mentioned that we needed to find a place where we could fill our emergency oxygen tanks for scuba diving. After asking several local divers who have been on trips with us previously, we located a source. Most business is transacted via text message so we texted Nathan who was incredibly helpful and we were trying to arrange how to drop off the oxygen tanks to get filled. We got the following text from Nathan: “Hi, Terry. You can just leave the tanks at our place any time. Just look for Rasty. He sleeps in the warehouse. I will look at the tanks when I get in around 10″. We were hoping to meet Rasty but found another source right where we are going to be diving. Life here is always filled with people bending over backwards to try to help and come up with creative solutions to solving problems. Rich and Terry