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Project Lab 

November 24, 2013

Typhoon impacts on coral reefs

I am sure most of you reading this have heard about the devastating typhoon that hit the central Philippines (Typhoon Haiyan). For me, this typhoon is extremely personal since it has destroyed many of the areas in Bohol I conducted field work with Project Seahorse this past March and April. The biologists I worked with are now helping with relief efforts. It is the strongest typhoon on record (sustained winds of 195 mph, gusts at 235 mph) and is a perfect example of the Earth’s weather becoming more extreme due to climate change. The deadly tornadoes that ripped through the Midwest this month also testify to this.

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The effects of Typhoon Haiyan on land have made me curious about its effects on the coral reefs surrounding the islands most hard hit. Research has not been done on this yet since the typhoon struck less than two weeks ago, but the damage to the reefs are most certainly going to be significant. We know this, based on what previous typhoons have done to reefs. Typhoon Caloy, which hit Apo Reef in the Philippines in 2006, decreased the coral cover to 18% from 51%. Strong waves and currents created by typhoons can break apart reefs and smother them in sand and debris. This reef damage in turn causes the populations of fish to decrease, affecting those who depend on the reefs for livelihood and food. The population in the Philippines is burgeoning and so now more than ever, it is vital there is enough fish and shellfish to sustain it.

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Coral reefs are a buffer to the land when typhoons strike. With more frequent and violent typhoons, coral reefs will struggle to re-grow, and as a result, the buffer they create will be weakened severely when future storms make landfall. This is why now more than ever coastal management of coral reef resources is important. The Academy is working with the Philippine Province of Batangas to strengthen their coastal management and conservation practices, so in the event that another violent typhoon strikes, their oceans and communities will be prepared.

There is still hope for our fragile planet and humanity. You can do your part by decreasing your carbon footprint and helping those who have lost everything in the Philippines. In the words of my graduate advisor, Dean of Science, here at the Academy, “Filipinos, like the biodiversity rich ecosystems that abound here, are also strong and resilient and will rebound. It is in the nature of the Filipino spirit.” This is so true and reflects my love for the Filipino people, their culture, and their bio-diverse ocean.


Carissa Shipman

Graduate Assistant in Public Programs

Department of Invertebrate Zoology and Geology

Filed under: Uncategorized — project_lab @ 11:37 am

November 3, 2013

Specimen of the Day: the American White Pelican

I recently prepared a study skin of an American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) that we received this month, the largest bird that I have ever worked on! Previously, I’ve written about a group of birds called Boobies that live mostly in tropical areas that we don’t get in our collection very often. Pelicans, while much more common in this area than Boobies, also are not found as salvageable carcasses often, so they’re just as welcome in our collection. Pelicans are seabirds seen on all continents except Antarctica. There are 8 living species: the Brown Pelican, the Peruvian Pelican, the Spot-billed Pelican, the Pink-backed Pelican, the American White Pelican, the Great White Pelican, the Dalmatian Pelican, and the Australian Pelican. We see two species in North America: the Brown Pelican and the American White Pelican.

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While many people are familiar with the Brown Pelican (commonly seen soaring over waves or diving for fish), the American White Pelican is a larger relative that we rarely receive carcasses of and is almost never seen in or around San Francisco. They breed inland as opposed to on coastal areas, but you can see them in on the coast in the winter. They’re larger than Brown Pelicans not only in bill and body size, but also have the second largest wingspan of all North American birds (second to the California Condor), ranging from about 7.8 to 9.8 feet! They don’t catch fish like you might see Brown Pelicans do, diving from great heights; instead, they can do very short dives or simply dip their head underwater to scoop up food in their pouch (called a gular pouch).

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One of the coolest features that sets the American White Pelican apart from all other pelican species is the fact that adults grown a “horn” on top of their bill during the breeding season. This horn is likely grown to attract a mate and is shed when the breeding season is over, then grown again the next year. It’s one of those bizarre-looking features that we may not find attractive, but has its purpose in nature.

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I was excited to get the chance to work on such a large bird – I always love a challenge. It took me the better part of a day, probably 6 hours total, to skin, clean, and stuff this pelican. The remaining skeleton will be cleaned in one of our maceration tanks and will be available for researchers to study. This is one of the things I love about my job – seeing species up close that I don’t often get a chance to see in nature!


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If you want to see some American White Pelicans this time of year, look for them in the coastal areas of Marin, the East Bay, and San Mateo.


Laura Wilkinson

Curatorial Assistant / Specimen Preparator

Ornithology & Mammalogy

Filed under: Uncategorized — project_lab @ 12:00 pm

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