A flotilla of sea turtles on Maui beach

I recently had the opportunity to visit Ho’okipa Beach on Maui. A friend had told me that  we might be able to see sea turtles here, a place where they frequently come out of the ocean to rest on the sand. So we went. I was hoping to see a turtle or two, maybe 10, or more if we were really lucky. On the August afternoon we visited there were 53 adult sea turtles crowding the end of the beach. The Turtle Watch volunteer said it was the most he had ever seen. A cord on the sand serves as a reminder to humans to leave the turtles alone as they rest, although people are allowed to walk past them on their way to the ocean. Each of these adults weights approximately 200 pounds. You can find more information on the life cycle of sea turtles here.

Inky’s great escape


It was a daring nighttime escape.

After busting through an enclosure in his tank, the Inky the octopus appears to have quietly crossed the floor, slithered through a narrow drain hole about six inches in diameter and jumped into the sea. Then he disappeared.

Inky is a common New Zealand octopus, about the size of a soccer ball.

The breakout at the National Aquarium of New Zealand, which has made headlines around the world, apparently began when Inky slipped through a small gap in the mesh at the top of his tank.

A trail suggests he then slithered across eight feet of floor and slid down a 164-foot-long drainpipe that dropped him into Hawke’s Bay, according to reports in New Zealand’s news media.

The aquarium’s keepers noticed the escape when they came to work and discovered that Inky was not in his tank. A less independence-minded octopus, Blotchy, remained behind.
The aquarium’s manager said that employees searched the aquarium’s pipes after discovering Inky’s trail, to no avail.

Inky’s escape surprised few in the world of marine biology, where octopuses are known for their strength, dexterity and intelligence.

Octopuses are notorious escape artists. They have no bones, and can squeeze through any space their beak will pass through. Their beak is the only hard part of their body.

Octopuses have also been documented opening jars and sneaking through tiny holes on boats. Some have been seen hauling coconut shells to build underwater shelters. They have a complex brain, excellent eyesight, and research suggests they have an ability to learn and form mental maps.

One octopus at a British aquarium  escaped nightly from his tank, slithered to a nearby tank to snack on fish for dinner, and went home.

Tie a bow tie with Bill Nye

Ever wanted to rock a bow tie, but not sure how to do it? (And no, clipping one on is not a valid response!) Bill Nye shows you how:

Pi Day!

Hey, round it up and today is 3.14.16!

A tribute to David Bowie

In the most fitting tribute ever, Commander Chris Hadfield recorded this version of the late David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” while on board the International Space Station.

Sea Snakes in California?

yellowbelliedsnake-adapt-1190-1Along with the promise of a very stormy winter, the El Niño weather pattern that California is experiencing this year has brought other visitors: highly venomous yellow-bellied sea snakes.

Yellow-bellied sea snakes require warm water and normally inhabit tropical areas of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. They are somewhat common around Australia and Central America, but they occasionally drift up to colder latitudes on warm currents, particularly during strong El Niño years like this one.

Still, the waters off California are generally too cold for the animals to breed,  so they can’t become permanent residents.

The snakes (Pelamis platura) are one of few truly pelagic, or open ocean, sea snakes. They have a bright yellow belly and a paddle-shaped tail, and can stay underwater up to three hours between breaths. They grow to be up to 35 inches in length.

 Although sea snake venom is highly toxic, the animals have small mouths and they rarely bite people unless handled. So if you see a yellow-bellied sea snake, leave it alone.

If the snakes do wash up on a beach, they are at much more risk than beachgoers because they often die. The most recent specimen was discovered at Bolsa Chica State Beach, located just north of Huntington Beach, during a beach cleanup.  The snake was dead at the time it was found.

Intelligent bandages glow with infection

photo credit: Intelligent hydrogel wound dressing by University of Bath, via American Chemical Society

photo credit: Intelligent hydrogel wound dressing by University of Bath, via American Chemical Society

Any time there is a break in our skin from a cut, or scrape, or other injury, there is the possibility of serious infection that can spread within the body to other tissues and organs and even become life-threatening.

To help reduce this risk, scientists have developed a prototype wound dressing that is able to detect the presence of bacteria in the crucial early hours of infection.

Bacteria that colonize wounds tend to  live in a biofilm, a slimy substance created by the bacteria themselves. If  there is biofilm present in a wound, the bandage will turn a bright fluorescent color.

The detection rate for biofilms from pathogenic, or harmful, strains was surprisingly fast. In lab tests, the bandage could reveal the presence of bacteria within four hours of infection, but for an established biofilm, the response was within minutes.

Unfortunately, the intelligent bandage has a long way to go before it will be available to help reduce infection in surgical and other wounds. There needs to be safety testing and a manufacturing plan. Researchers hlpe to conduct a clinical study in about three years.

Bacteria in Mummy had Antibiotic Resistance

This mummy is often considered the best preserved mummy discovered in the Andes mountain range.

This mummy is one of the best preserved discovered in the Andes mountain range in South America

The climate of the Andes mountain range in South America is both incredibly dry and bitterly cold. This makes it perfect for preserving the mummies that were created in the ritualized burials of the ancient people who lived there about a thousand years ago. This preservation means scientists can study everything about these people from  the clothes they wore to the  meals they ate just before they died.

By taking a sample from the gut of a  female mummy found in Peru that dates to between 980 and 1170 C.E., scientists were able to sequence parts of her microbiome, as well as figure out what led to her death. Interestingly, they found that the bacteria in her gut contained genes associated with antibiotic resistance.

This suggests that resistance, as a trait, was already present in these bacteria for a long time before the discovery and use of antibiotics, and while modern use might be increasing the prevalence of resistance, modern use didn’t cause it.

I wonder what this would feel like?

Whale watching, up close and personal