55 Music Concourse Dr.
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco CA
94118
415.379.8000
Regular Hours:

Daily

9:30 am – 5:00 pm

Sunday

11:00 am – 5:00 pm
Members' Hours:

Tuesday

8:30 – 9:30 am

Sunday

10:00 – 11:00 am
Closures
Notices

The Academy will be closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

The Academy will be closing at 3:00 pm on 4/24. We apologize for any inconvenience.

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.

Photo 2

 

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.

Photo 1

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.

photo1 copy

photo2 copy

 

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).

photo3 copy

 

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.

photo4 copy

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!

 

photo5 copy

 

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

October 16, 2013

There’s Bugs in My Paint, and I’m eating WHAT?!!

Cochineal

Before I became a biologist, I spent about 15 years as a licensed painting contractor. During the warmer months, a constant annoyance was the fact that insects were attracted to the bright colors and strong reflections of fresh paint, and my pristine white living room wall would be full of moths and gnats imbedded in the fresh paint, requiring me to carefully pick them out and touch up the paint, something that really ‘bugged’ me.  I no longer make my living this way, but last month I was helping a friend restore and paint a house that had smoke, water and mildew damage, and I remembered from my contracting days that the best way to solve these problems was to use a shellac-based primer. Then it dawned on me…shellac is a product made from insects! Shellac is produced from the secretions of the female lac bug, (actually a group of similar species of plant juice sucking true bugs). Depending on the host plant, it may be a pale yellow through a dark crimson color, and has been used historically as a dye and medicine.

Lac-1

India is the prime producer of lac, and the insect that produces most commercial lac is known as Kerria lacca, though there are several other species and countries that produce lac.  When it is refined, lac can be dissolved in ethyl alcohol to form shellac, which is used as a wood finish and sealer ingredient, as is also used in some nail polishes.

 

Paratrichardina decorella

 

IMG_0003-19

But wait, there’s more!  As Halloween and Thanksgiving approach, many of us will be looking forward to some of our favorite treats, such as ‘candy corn’ and other candy treats.  An examination of the ingredients in my candy corn showed confectioners glaze listed right after sugar and corn starch. Confectioners glaze is food grade shellac. I’m eating bug secretions!  Many other candies and other food products make use of shellac as an ingredient, coating, or polish (some citrus and apples). Many pharmaceuticals also use shellac as a pill coating.  These revelations got me to thinking about other insects that find their way into our food supply (other than the FDA allowable percentage of insect parts in peanut butter and grains).  I remembered that last year, Starbucks came under fire for using carmine coloring in one of its Frappuccinos®, because carmine is the product of the cochineal bug, a scale insect related to the lac bugs (Carmine, cochineal dye and natural red #4).  This scale insect inhabits Opuntia cactus in Mexico and South America, and produces carminic acid as a deterrent to predators. Though the thought of eating bug secretions might gross you out, these are natural products and are no doubt safer than the coal tar derived red food colorings used in its place. Carmine is also used as a red coloring in cosmetics like lipstick and make-up, and has also been used as a fabric dye.

As an entomologist, I have become aware that one way or another, we are never far from the presence of insects. These are just a few more examples of how insects are pervasive in human affairs.

Until next time,

Vic Smith

Curatorial assistant and imaging specialist


Filed under: Uncategorized — project_lab @ 3:34 pm

October 9, 2013

Attack of the jellyfish- a sign of imbalance in the ocean

The subject of surging jellyfish populations in the ocean came up in discussion this week at a social gathering at the Academy.  I admire the beauty and elegance of jellyfish, but their numbers are disrupting the balance of marine ecological systems. Rising sea temperatures, overfishing, decreases in shark and sea turtle populations, increases in low oxygen levels, and run- off from agricultural fertilizers are just some of the factors, which may be leading to their proliferation. Little historical data documenting their populations has made it difficult to be absolutely certain there are more, which is also leading to greater challenges to devise solutions to tackle the problem. Scientists from the University of British Columbia do have evidence showing 2,000 species of jellyfish have been appearing early than normal each year.

Photo 1

Their large numbers are becoming a nuisance since they are clogging pipes, which bring in water to nuclear power and desalinization plants. If cool water does not make it to the turbines of nuclear plants in a timely fashion it can lead to a devastating fall out, like that of Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Increases in jellyfish may also be exacerbating ocean acidification (increases in the amount of carbon dioxide in the ocean lowers the pH, making it more acidic), since marine bacteria are less able to take in carbon from decaying jellyfish than they are from fish and other marine organisms. Rather than using this carbon to grow, the bacteria are breathing it out as carbon dioxide. Jellyfish are also disrupting marine food webs, since they are consuming larger amounts of plankton, depriving smaller fish of their food. Since fewer organisms feed on jellyfish, nutrients are also not being adequately transferred up the food chain.

Photo 2

 

The box jellyfish, the most toxic jellyfish in the world responsible for over 5,000 deaths since 1954, has turned up in some unlikely places due to increases in ocean temperatures and changes in currents. Some have migrated as far north as North Carolina from the Caribbean. These occurrences have raised concerns about safety along beaches up and down the Eastern coast of the US.

So, you might be thinking, but what can I do about it?   Just a few of the ways you can help with the jellyfish infestation in our ocean include: supporting sustainable fisheries including those that prevent excess by-catch of jellyfish predators, such as sea turtles, and purchasing organic foods, which do not contribute to excess fertilizer input into the ocean.

Stay tuned for my next post on the Fukushima Daiichi plant nuclear fall out and its impact on the ocean.

 

Carissa Shipman

Graduate Assistant in Public Programs

Department of Invertebrate Zoology and Geology


Filed under: Uncategorized — project_lab @ 11:00 am

October 2, 2013

Specimen of the Day: Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)

Today in the Project Lab, I prepared a study skin of a Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia).  Although not as prominent as their other sparrow contemporaries, I often hear Song Sparrows speaking to each other in Golden Gate Park through series of “barks,” saying “here I am” and “where are you?”  These small birds can be identified by their streaked breast with central dark spot and heavy malar stripe.  As I walk to work, I start to wonder what interesting things can be learned from this bird.  What in our collections can help us understand more about Song Sparrows?

Slide2

 

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) currently classifies the Song Sparrow as a species of “least concern.”  Species in this category are seen as stable populations that presently do not fit into the threatened or extinct category.  Although they are a species of “least concern,” it doesn’t mean they don’t face fierce competition from other birds.  Song Sparrows can be victim of brood parasitism, which is when one bird species lays their eggs in other bird species’ nests.  So how does this happen, and why?

Bird nests come in a wide spectrum of shapes, sizes and materials.  Some birds build completely enclosed nests and other birds lay their eggs directly onto the ground.  Song Sparrows are open cup nesters, meaning their nests look like a cup or a bowl.  Eggs are laid at the bottom of the “cup” and the parent provides warmth and cover by sitting inside the nest.  When these nests are left unattended, brood parasites can swoop in and place their own eggs into the exposed nest.

Insert photo of nests.

Slide1

Brown-headed Cowbirds (Molothrus ater) will lay their eggs in nests of Song Sparrows when the moment is right.  Both lay eggs that look very similar, which may be an adaptation that allows brood parasites to deceive the host.  For Song Sparrows, sometimes the egg is noticed right away and the parent will kick the Cowbird egg out of the nest, but other times the parent will unwittingly raise the Cowbird chick, occasionally to the detriment of its own young.  The Cowbird adult is effectively relieved of parental duties and can invest energy into foraging and breeding, rather than nest building and raising young.

Brood parasitism is seen in cuckoos, some ducks, and a few different passerines. There are many theories as to how this strategy has arisen over time.  The relationship between the brood parasite and its host can be complicated, constantly evolving with one trying to outwit the other.  Song Sparrows and Brown-headed Cowbirds are only one example of this fascinating phenomenon.  Eggs and nests here in the Academy’s collection can be used to study brood parasitism and how it evolves over time.  How much of a role does egg mimicry play?  How much of a role does nest shape play?  These are questions that can utilize the amazing egg and nest collection right here in our very own museum.

 

Codie Otte

Curatorial Assistant and Specimen Preparator

Ornithology & Mammalogy Department


Filed under: Uncategorized — project_lab @ 10:00 am

September 25, 2013

Sea Otter Awareness Week

This week happens to be the 11th annual Sea Otter Awareness Week (September 22nd to 28th). To celebrate, I figured I’d take a break from writing about marine invertebrates and write about this very charismatic marine mammal.    This week in the Project Lab we have a display of sea otter specimens including some skulls, pelts and study skins, so if you are at the Academy, stop by and check it out!

Growing up, sea otters were one of my favorite animals.  I remember seeing them at the Seattle Aquarium as a kid and thinking they were just adorable.  I mean, who could resist a face like this??

Sea_otter_cropped.2

Sea otters (Enhydra lutris) belong to the order Carnivora, which includes mostly carnivorous (and some omnivorous) mammals.  Within the carnivorans, sea otters belong to the family Mustelidae, which includes otters, badgers, weasels and others.  In layman’s terms, sea otters are cute marine weasels!  The species is subdivided into three subspecies:  the Southern Sea Otter (Enhydra lutris nereis), the Northern Sea Otter (Enhydra lutris kenyoni), and the Northern Sea Otter (Enhydra lutris lutris).  Each subspecies has its own distribution, as you can see in the figure below.

special_spp_otter_fig1.3

 

Sea otters live in marine habitats and can be found in protected bays, tidal estuaries and outer coasts, usually associated with kelp beds.  They range from 1-1.5m (3ft 3in- 5ft) long with the males larger than the females.  Unlike seals, sea lions, and whales, these marine mammals don’t depend on blubber to keep them warm.  Instead, sea otters rely on their thick fur that has up to one million hairs per square inch— the densest fur of any animal!    As a comparison, humans have a density of roughly 1000 hairs per square inch on their heads.

 

purple urchin

 

As you can imagine, sea otters are big fans of seafood.  They eat over 100 different prey items including a variety of marine invertebrates (turns out I’m writing about them after all!), such as sea urchins, clams, mussels, abalone and crustaceans.  In order to harvest and prepare their meals, they use tools such as stones to pry food off of rocks or to open up shells.  Interestingly, sea otters that specialize on purple sea urchins will have purple teeth and bones.  If you look closely at one of our specimens on display, you can actually see the purple coloration!

 

 

purple teeth

 

Sea otters are important members of kelp forest ecosystems.   Kelp provides a habitat and nutrients to many organisms, and sea otters play an important role keeping kelp healthy by feeding on kelp predators.   Sea otters are often referred to as a “keystone species” because if they are absent, this can have huge effects on these ecosystems, including too many kelp predators and a loss of kelp and kelp forests.

 

Sea Otter threats

Beginning in the late 1700s, Southern sea otters were harvested commercially, reducing the population in California from about 16,000 animals to the verge of extinction.    All of the current California sea otters are descendants of a small colony of 50 animals from the Big Sur Coast in the 1930’s.  Today, the Southern sea otter is listed as Threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and protected by the California Department of Fish and Game.  The biggest threats faced by sea otters today include oil spills and diseases.  Oil can interfere with the ability of the fur to keep these animals warm.  It can also cause harm through ingestion or fumes.  Diseases are another threat to sea otters and can be strongly influenced by human activities on land.  For example, sea otters are susceptible to a parasite (Toxoplasma gondii) that breeds in cats.  This parasite can enter waterways when cat litter is disposed of improperly by flushing down the toilet.

 

If you are interested in helping sea otters, you can help by:

  • supporting efforts to control urban, industrial and agricultural runoff,
  • supporting efforts to minimize bycatch of marine mammals in fishing nets
  • supporting non-profits involved in sea otter recovery and research, such as the Academy.

 

Here at the Academy, we have the world’s largest collection of Southern sea otter research specimens, which are used by researchers to study these charismatic and important animals.   For the duration of Sea Otter Awareness week, you can see some of these specimens on display at the Project Lab.  Also, as a special treat, you can view sea otter skulls being prepared in the Project Lab and talk to biologists at a special sea otter table during NightLife on September 26 between 6:00-10:00 pm (for ages 21 and over).

 

To learn more about sea otters and Sea Otter Awareness Week, visit http://www.seaotterweek.org/.

 

That’s all for now!

Vanessa Knutson

Project Lab Coordinator

 



Filed under: Uncategorized — project_lab @ 4:32 pm

September 18, 2013

A Threatened Species

Codie last wrote about the effects that plastics can have on bird species. As we all know, there are many more ways that we can have negative impacts on animals of all shapes and sizes. I recently prepared a study skin of a Western Snowy Plover (Charadrius nivosus nivosus), a bird you might be familiar with if you frequent the California beaches that they breed on.

 plovers_photo1 copy

The Western Snowy Plover is a small shorebird that nests and raises its young on beaches. Between the months of March and September, beaches along the Pacific Coast become the territory on which these birds find a mate, establish a nesting site, lay and incubate their eggs, and raise their young. Beaches are obviously a very important part of the life cycle of this species. As we all know, beaches are also important to another species: humans! We use beaches for recreation both for ourselves and our dogs. Between human recreation, urbanization, and the introduction of invasive plant species, suitable beach habitat for Snowy Plovers to breed on has diminished.

plovers_photo2 copy

plovers_photo3 copy

 

What does this mean for the plovers? As you might imagine, habitat loss means less area on which to successfully breed. Even in areas where plovers still nest, humans, predators, and other animals scare adult birds away from their nests, leaving eggs and young vulnerable. This inability to breed can lead to endangerment of a species and, in the worst case, extinction. The Western Snowy Plover has been listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act since 1993, meaning that the species is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future (endangered meaning that the species is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range). It’s obvious that we need to find a way to allow these birds to breed while still being able to use beaches ourselves.

There have been and continue to be many restoration projects along the Pacific Coast that focus on removing invasive plant species, restoring native plant species that attract beach-dwelling animals, and setting aside protected areas where humans and dogs can’t impact breeding birds. These kinds of projects are crucial to species’ survival!

 

plovers_photo4 copy

 

Am I suggesting that we all keep ourselves and our dogs off of beaches? Absolutely not! I’ve lived the majority of my life in California and love going to the beach (with my dog, as well). We just all need to make sure that we share the beach with native plants and animals. That may mean paying attention to signs pointing out sensitive areas, keeping our dogs on leash, and keeping our beaches clean. It’s a small price to pay to ensure that Western Snowy Plovers, as well as other species, get a chance to survive.

 

Laura Wilkinson

Curatorial Assistant and Specimen Preparator

Ornithology & Mammalogy


Filed under: Uncategorized — project_lab @ 11:01 am

September 12, 2013

They call me Melo yellow…

Most weeks I write about my research subjects: nudibranchs.  This week I thought I’d learn something new and write about some shelled marine snails.

One of the highlights of my trip to Papua New Guinea last year was finding the largest live snail that I’ve ever seen in my life.  I found the snail on a night dive while looking for nudibranchs.   As I approached a large structure, a coral head or perhaps it was a coral-covered boulder, I remember seeing a snail nearly the size of a football.  It was brown in color and its foot was spread out from under its shell like a thick carpet as it moved up the side of the structure.  I remember being overwhelmed with excitement having come across such a large snail, especially as I was looking over sand grains in search of slugs the length of grains of rice!  I immediately decided to collect this live snail, since I couldn’t recall anyone collecting anything quite like this yet on our biodiversity survey.  I grabbed it by the shell and placed it in my catch bag.  It took up a majority of the space in the bag and added a fair amount of weight!

 

Melo in hand cap

While diving in in the field, our team had an in-house competition on each dive to see who could find the most interesting or beautiful specimen, clearly this time, I had won the “shell of the show.”  When we returned to the lab, everyone was excited to see such a large snail, and I was told that it was a member of the group commonly called “bailer” snails.  Our shelled snail experts identified this particular species as Melo broderipii.

 

Melo is a genus of snails that belongs to the family Volutidae.  Many volutes have large shells and some of the largest shells in this family can be found within the genus Melo.   Some of the shells of certain species can grow to 50 cm (19.7 in) in length!  The common name “bailer” comes from the shape of the shell, which can be used to “bail” out water from boats or canoes.  Members of this group are carnivores and eat other snails and seem to live primarily on a muddy or sandy bottom.  They appear to bury themselves during the day and are active at night.

 

779px-Melo_broderipii_01wcap

An interesting thing I read about Melo snails is that they are capable of producing pearls.  Unlike the pearls that are found in oysters, these pearls are not iridescent because they do not contain nacre, which is what makes other pearls and parts of shells iridescent.  Instead, these pearls are yellow to orange in color and have a sort of “flame” pattern to them. To me, they look very much like marbles!

 

Melo_melo_01_by_Line1wcap1

 

These animals are eaten by humans and the shells sold for a variety of uses.  Apparently, they are sometimes used as horns in ceremonies or as ashtrays.

I never cease to be amazed by the diversity of organisms that live on our planet.  I think I might delve into these snails a bit more…

 

Until next time!

Vanessa Knutson

Project Lab Coordinator

Sources:

http://www.palagems.com/melo_myanmar.htm

http://www.sea-ex.com/fishphotos/baler-shell-commercial-fishery.htm

http://www.sea-ex.com/fishphotos/baler.htm


Filed under: Uncategorized — project_lab @ 12:28 pm

September 4, 2013

Spider Sex!

Why is it that biologists always seem to want to talk about sex?  The answer goes back to our understanding of what a species is, and how biologists can tell if animals are of the same species.  While there is more than one definition for what comprises a species, a general description for animals goes like this: A species is a group of animals normally found together that breed and reproduce, creating offspring the same as the parents, who can also reproduce.  In other words, cows mate with cows and produce more cows that can mate and produce more cows. This generalized biological species concept works well for most animals. For larger and more common animals humans have had plenty of opportunities to see mating take place and watch the resulting birth of offspring. People make babies who grow up to mate and make more baby humans, dogs make dogs, etc.  But here’s the catch… the vast majority of animal life on the planet is generally invisible to us most of the time, because it lives in the ocean, deep underground, or hidden from normal view. In fact, many marine and other organisms have had the males and females described as different species, because they look so different from each other. But most of these animals reproduce sexually, using eggs and sperm, and they must have very specific sperm delivery and fertilization organs. This allows scientists to identify males and females of the same species by carefully examining genitalia, because part “A” has to fit into part “B” for everything to work.  And so it is with spiders.

Aranae of the Hearst Philippines Expedition

Spiders often exhibit sexual dimorphism, where the 2 sexes do not look the same. One example is our California black widow spider, where the female is large with a shiny round black belly with a red hourglass marking, while the male is a tiny brown creature devoid of markings.  While not all spider species have such extreme differences, examining genitalia often provides the final answer in species determination.

 

Salticid_Face.2

All spiders have 8 legs, and in addition they have a pair of pedipalps, small leg-like structures originating close to the mouth.  Male pedipalps are highly modified to act as sperm transfer organs, with a thin tube for containing the sperm, and lots of species-specific spines and projections that allow it to mate only with females of its own species.  Sperm is deposited on a sheet of special silk on the ground, then the male touches the drop, which is sucked up into the tube, and he is ready to find a willing mate.

 

Aranae of the Hearst Philippines Expedition

The female has a sclerotized (hardened) area on her abdomen shaped to allow access only to males of her species. By carefully examining these structures, researchers can often figure out who belongs with whom.

CASENT9031589_Epig2

 (All photos taken by Vic Smith at Project Lab)

Until next time,

Vic Smith

Curatorial assistant and imaging specialist


Filed under: Uncategorized — project_lab @ 10:36 am

August 28, 2013

Faux food

Last week Carissa wrote about the Plastisphere and how it has become a floating habitat for microbes.  But what happens when a larger animal comes into contact with these plastics?  The Laysan Albatross is one species negatively affected by plastics in the oceans.

Laysan Albatross breed on the Hawaiian Islands, with over half breeding on Midway Atoll.  During breeding season it may be hard to walk between all of the nesting seabirds – hundreds of thousands of Laysan Albatross come to Midway Atoll.

Slide1.2

Adults arrive in November to court, mate and lay an egg, and the chick will fledge and leave Midway in July.  This long process means that most birds will only lay one egg per breeding season.  After a few weeks together, the nestling is left alone on the island for the next few months while both parents forage at sea.  Unfortunately an increasing amount of the “food” periodically brought back to these chicks is actually bits of plastic.  The Great Pacific Garbage Patch can be found in the same area that Laysan Albatross forage for food and these plastics are making their way back to land in the stomachs of birds.

Why would a bird intentionally ingest plastic?  Albatross primarily eat invertebrates such as squid and jellyfish and shredded plastic bottles floating on the water can resemble either of these foods.  Plastic of various colors and sizes are mistaken for other marine invertebrates as well, and scooping up the pieces the Albatross fly back to Midway and feed it to their young.  Many nestling Albatross are unable to survive due to malnutrition or punctured stomachs from the plastic they are fed.

Slide2.2

Although not currently considered a threatened species, over time this could

become problematic for the Laysan Albatross population as a whole.  If each pair is only laying one egg a year and that chick dies before leaving the nest the number of chicks replacing older adults could dwindle.

Plastic ingestion is a scary thought, but even when it is not being incidentally eaten, plastic can still affect birds through entanglement.  Plastic entanglement is a problem not only on Midway Atoll, but even closer to home here in San Francisco.

Slide3.2

 

This Common Murre (Uria aalge) was found on Ocean Beach caught up in netting.  The netting has actually wrapped itself around the wings and feet in such a way that the bird would not have been able to fly or walk.  I prepared the bird as a study skin to have a record of the way plastics can negatively impact our avian community.  Many animals can have limbs or even necks caught in plastic bottles, plastic rings that hold soda cans or even plastic bags.

While San Francisco has already banned plastic bags, there are many other items that we throw away or recycle that can accidentally end up in the ocean.  Unless you already have your next arts and crafts project mapped out, it’s always good to pause and think about whether you need that extra packaging or plastic bottle.  Sometimes plastic can be “reused” in ways we had not anticipated!

 

Codie Otte

Curatorial Assistant and Specimen Preparator

Ornithology & Mammalogy Department


Filed under: Uncategorized — project_lab @ 10:25 am
« Previous PageNext Page »

Academy Blogroll