Tag Archives: Marine Debris

Gooney Birds? Mollymawks? Albatross!

A recent spate of Black-footed Albatross finds along the north outer coast of Washington in May and June got us wondering about these majestic birds.

With a wingspan of two meters (!) or longer, albatross are the largest members of the Tubenose Foot-type Family (Procellariidae). In the North Pacific there are three species: the dark-bodied, dark-billed Black-footed Albatross; the light-bodied, Laysan Albatross with a “smokey eye”; and the larger, Short-tailed Albatross, distinguished from Laysan and Black-foots by an over-sized bubblegum pink bill (plumage of Short-tails varies with age).

What else might a COASSTer mistake an albatross for? Bald Eagles, Brown Pelicans, Great-blue Herons and Sandhill Cranes are all COASST finds with overlapping wingspans. But each of these birds can easily be distinguished by foot-type, and bill size and shape.

All of these large-bodied COASST finds have distinctively different feet.

A long-lived, monogamous bird, albatross begin breeding at age 5-10, and it takes two parents to raise a single chick. New pairs may require a few years of practice to “get it right.  After that, mates meet annually for a long breeding season: courtship and “re-acquaintance time” starts in November, eggs appear before the turn of the year, and chicks don’t fledge until mid-summer!

Like all members of the family, albatross have a keen sense of smell and can literally smell their prey from tens of kilometers away, a talent that suits these open ocean birds. Dinner for an albatross?  Neon flying squid, flying fish eggs (tobiko in sushi restaurants), and a range of small fish and shrimp-like organisms that come to the surface of the ocean at night.

Unfortunately, smelling their way to food puts albatross in harm’s way. Fishing vessels smell like floating restaurants, attracting albatross and their smaller relatives – shearwaters and Northern Fulmars – some of which become entangled or hooked in gear. Marine debris can also be deceptively appealing, as some plastics, after floating in the marine environment, adsorb and emit the same chemical (dimethyl sulfide) used by procellariiforms as a cue to identify prey. Not only that, floating debris can look like albatross prey (could you tell the difference between a squid mantle and a red lighter floating at the surface?). Young birds are especially susceptible. Dependent on their misled parents for food, chicks ingest plastics, filling their stomachs with indigestible objects they cannot regurgitate.

Photo: Claude Gascon. One theory to explain why albatross consume marine debris is prey mimicry. Oblong, ~5cm floating objects in the yellow to red color spectrum are squid mantle look-alikes.

Populations of Black-foots and Laysans number in the hundreds of thousands.  In contrast, Short-tails number less than ten thousand and are listed as “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List (International Union for Conservation of Nature).

With a body that mimics a glider, albatross have the ability to soar tremendous distances.  Even while breeding on islands in the Hawaiian Island chain (Laysan and Black-foots) or southern Japan (Short-tails), breeding adults regularly visit North American waters.  Laysan’s appear to prefer coastal Alaska, whereas Black-foots fly due west to the Lower 48.

Breeding so far from our shores, and preferring the open ocean, you might think COASSTers would never find an albatross.  Not so!  In fact, Black-foots are among our top 30 species.  Peak Black-foot deposition is in the summer: May through August, just when adults are finishing breeding and chicks are coming off the colonies.  But the annual pattern is “irruptive.”  That is, in some years COASSTers are much more apt to find an albatross than in others.  In northern Washington, 2012 and 2017 were break-out years; in southern Washington, 2003, 2007 and 2012 were big.  The good news is that there doesn’t seem to be any trend towards higher numbers.

Although you’d have to walk pretty far, on average, to find an albatross on the beach, they do wash up regularly. Along the West Coast, Black-foots are about three times more prevalent on Washington outer coast beaches than along beaches to the south in Oregon and California. And Laysans are a truly rare find (photos are scaled to encounter rate). On the Aleutian Islands, the opposite is true.

Across the COASST dataset, albatross species wash up exactly where you would expect them to given at-sea sightings: Black-foots along the West Coast, and Laysan along the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. Although the total body count favors the lower 48 (note only 3 Laysan have been found in Alaska), it’s actually the encounter rate (carcasses per kilometer) that is important.  Remember, there are many more COASSTers along the outer coast of Washington, Oregon and California than there are in the Aleutian Islands!  The photographs in the figure above are scaled to species-specific encounter rate the—the chance of finding an albatross in the Aleutians is about the same as along the outer coast of Washington.

A closer look at Black-foot deposition pattern on the West Coast reveals two distinct aggregations: one associated with the entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca (we’re guessing these birds are associated with the Juan de Fuca eddy – an oceanographic feature south of the Strait), and a second larger aggregation surrounding the Columbia River.  Both the eddy and the “plume” of river water exiting the Columbia River into the Pacific Ocean are highly productive locations where a hungry chick or exhausted post-breeding adult can hunt pelagic prey.

When Black-foot encounter rates are broken down into smaller lengths of coastline (half a degree of latitude, or about 55 kilometers), it’s clear that some locations attract many more.

Moral of this story? If you hope to see an albatross on a COASST survey, head to the south outer coast of Washington during the summer and take a stroll along the sand.

What’s Washed In – June 15, 2015

Hi COASSTers,

Hope you’re all having a great month so far! It’s been a fun few weeks, with volunteer socials in Port Angeles (WA) and Cape Meares (OR) and trainings in Florence (OR) and Gold Beach (OR). A big thanks to all of you who attended and welcome to our new volunteers.

This week Julia is headed to Fort Bragg (CA) to give a community presentation on “The Natural History of Dead Birds.” We’ll also have weekend trainings in Fort Bragg and Fortuna (CA). California COASSTers, we hope you can join us!

Let’s take a look at what’s washed in recently:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Samoa Bay Street South (CA) 3/14/15 found by Sharon

Wing: 27 cm
Tarsus: 50 mm

Alaska Foot Key – page 34
West Coast Foot Key – page 22
Choose webbed (go to Q2), choose completely webbed (go to Q3), choose 4 toes: 3 webbed, 4th free (go to Q5), choose tarsus less than 12mm across (go to Q6), choose 4th toe lobed, with flap extending to end of nail – WATERFOWL: DIVING DUCKS.

Alaska Guide
On WF1, we’re stuck – need a bill. You can return to the wing key, or look through the WF options that have white in the secondaries: White-winged Scoter (WF5), Greater Scaup (WF15), Bufflehead (WF29), goldeneyes (WF31, WF33) and mergansers (WF35, WF37). Based on measurements, we can eliminate all these except mergansers and White-winged Scoter. Only one of these has dark plumage on the side of the neck and upper breast: White-winged Scoter.

West Coast Guide
On WF1, we’re stuck – need a bill. You can return to the wing key/wing table, or look through the WF options that have white in the secondaries: White-winged Scoter (WF3), Greater Scaup (WF13), Bufflehead (WF15). Of these, measurements fit only one: White-winged Scoter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roads End South (OR) 6/2/15 found by Mark and photos sent by Chuck
Bill: 27 mm
Wing: 25 cm
Tarsus: 36 mm

Alaska Foot Key – page 34
West Coast Foot Key – page 22
Choose webbed (go to Q2), choose completely webbed (go to Q3), choose 4 toes: 3 webbed, 4th free (go to Q5), choose tarsus not more than 12mm across (go to Q6), choose thin toe or nail only (go to Q7), choose heel flat (go to Q8), choose tarsus less than 65mm – TUBENOSES: PETRELS.

Alaska Guide
On TN1, select wing chord more than 20cm, True Petrels. Bill color is dark, underwing is white, with dark stripe from wrist towards wingpit: Mottled Petrel.

West Coast Guide
On TN1, select wing chord more than 20cm, True Petrels. Bill is thick and short, bill color is black: Gadfly Petrels (Mottled Petrel is one).

The saga of this piece of debris is quite interesting. This container lid was found by beach cleaner extraordinaire Russ in Longbeach, WA.

One of our COASST students, Devin (or shall we call her Sherlock Holmes), who is fluent in Japanese, saw this photo and recognized 有栄七屋商店 as Kanji (Chinese characters that have been adopted in Japan). She did some sleuthing and discovered the lid is from a local Japanese grocery store (and nailed it down to the address of 5-8 Honcho Otsuchi, Kamihei District, Iwate Prefecture 028-1116 Japan).

Along with discovering the source of the lid, Devin found something truly intriguing via Google Street View: the entire location was flattened and washed away by the Tohoku tsunami. The map shows the epicenter of the Tohoku earthquake in red, and the store location that the lid was from in green.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take a look at what Paul and Louise found at Bishop’s Beach West earlier this year. COASST intern Mallory refers to this as an “Octopopsicle” – a Giant Pacific Octopus washed ashore and frozen in the ice. According to NOAA, there are at least seven species of octopus in the Gulf of Alaska, but the Giant Pacific Octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini) is by far the most common. The Giant Pacific Octopus is able to change the color and texture of its skin at will, making it an adept hunter and challenging opponent when playing Hide-and-go-Seek.

Seen something on the beach you’ve always wondered about? Send us a photo!

Cheers,
Erika, Julia, Jane, Hillary, Charlie, Heidi, Jenn, and the COASST Interns
 

What’s Washed In – March 31, 2015

Hi COASSTers,

Hope you’re all enjoying the start of Spring! It’s been a busy month at COASST, with national and regional media attention. Executive Director Julia Parrish was recently featured on the March 20 edition of Science Friday, COASST data were featured in the recent Pacific States Fisheries Management Council Meeting, as #9 of the 12 main highlights in the California Current Integrated Ecosystem Assessment (CCIEA), State of the California Current Report, 2015, and a number of COASSTers were featured in recent news coverage. A big thanks for all of your hard work! Check out the latest on our website in the COASSTal News section. We’re so proud to have all of you representing COASST!

Let’s take a look at what’s washed in recently:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anchor River Recreation Area (AK) 03/14/15 found by Lisa

Bill: 45
Wing: 20
Tarsus: 39

Alaska Foot Key – page 34
West Coast Foot Key – page 22
Choose webbed (go to Q2), choose completely webbed (go to Q3), choose three toes: all webbed (go to Q4), choose foot not huge – STOP: Alcids.

Alaska Guide
On AL1, veer left – wing chord is more than 15cm. Bill is dark, slender and featureless, upperwing is dark –check out these four species:
Common Murre (AL3)
Thick-billed Murre (AL5)
Pigeon Guillemot (AL7)
Black Guillemot (AL7)
Look carefully – the face has a dark eyeline, or “tearline” – (see key character 2 on the AL3). The Thick-billed Murre has a dark face with a white chin. Non-breeding guillemots with white underparts lack this eyeline; the bill, wing and tarsus measurements for this bird do not fit for the PIGU or BLGU. Common Murre – correct!

West Coast Guide
On AL1, veer left – wing chord is more than 15cm. Bill is dark, smooth/slender and featureless, investigate these two options:
Common Murre (AL2)
Pigeon Guillemot (AL10)
The bill, wing and tarsus measurements do not fit for Pigeon Guillemot and the underwing is white – Common Murre – great work!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ruby South (WA) 1/20/15 found by Janis and Jody

Bill: 17 mm
Wing: 13.5 cm
Tarsus: 18 mm

Alaska Foot Key – page 34
West Coast Foot Key – page 22
Choose webbed (go to Q2), choose completely webbed (go to Q3), choose three toes: all webbed (go to Q4), choose foot not huge – STOP: Alcids.

Alaska Guide
On AL1, veer right – wing chord is less than 15cm. Bill is dark, without a spot – one of the murrelets:
Marbled Murrelet (AL17)
Kittlitz’s Murrelet (AL19)
Bill is too long for a KIMU and the eye is within the dark part of the face – Marbled Murrelet – nice!

West Coast Guide
On AL1, veer right – wing chord is more than 15cm. Bill is dark, so we’re left with a few options:
Common Murre-juvenile/chick (AL4)
Marbled Murrelet (AL14)
* Ancient Murrelet (AL16)
* Kittlitz’s Murrelet (AL20)
* Least Auklet (AL24)
* Whiskered Auklet (AL26)
(* = rare, included in the 2002 version only)
Not a Common Murre chick – it’s January! And besides, this bird has white shoulder patches and dark secondaries and no dark eyeline. Measurements fit for Marbled Murrelet, but let’s examine the rarities:
Ancient Murrelet – nope, dark shoulder
Kittlitz’s Murrelet – nope, bill too small
Least Auklet and Whiskered Auklet – nope, bil and wing too small
Yep, it is a Marbled Murrelet.

  

Mike and Chiggers’ marine debris surveys at Norwegian Memorial (WA) tell an interesting story. Their beach consistently catches  A LOT of bottles and bottle fragments, many with Asian writing. Seen here is the haul from a single zone in a single transect. A well weathered Puma shoe also washed up for their December survey. The stitching and lace holes make us think these are “vintage”. Do they remind anyone else of basketball practice in the 70s?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Washington COASSTers Lee and Sue were lucky enough to come across this Humboldt squid during their February survey of Three Crabs Beach.

Also referred to as Jumbo squid, these giants are able to swim with speeds of up to 15 miles per hour and are known to eject themselves from the water to escape predators. While the coloring of this squid is mostly white, these cephalopods are able to change their appearance in shades of purple, red and white.

Seen something on the beach you’ve always wondered about? Send us a photo!

What’s Washed In – January 28, 2015

Hi COASSTers,

Thanks so much for all of your help during this busy time! We’re still seeing lots of “countless Cassin’s” surveys these last two weeks – from the Beached Bird Patterns section of the COASST website, Cassin’s Auklets rose from #11 to #3 in the last two months. This die-off continues to generate widespread media attention, including a recent article in National Geographic online.

COASST volunteers and federal partners at the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration passed along another dead bird story circulating in the media: incidence of Avian Influenza in wild birds from California to Washington. It is important to note that the new strains detected along the West Coast affect the health of wild birds only, and according to the USGS press release, “there has been no evidence for H5 virus-related illness in humans.”  Still, COASST and federal partners recommend the following precautions when handling dead birds:
-Wear disposable or rubber gloves
-Minimize exposure of your hands to your face and nose by not eating, drinking or smoking on your COASST survey
-Wash hands often

For more information on Avian Influenza findings in the Pacific Flyway, see the USDA site.

Let’s take a look a what’s washed in lately:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Steamboat Creek (CA) 11/15/14 found by Keith and Gene
Wing: 31 cm
Tarsus: 55 mm

Alaska Wing Key (page 44)
Choose “gray, some species with dark tips and/or dark stripes on mantle” (go to Q25)
Gray wingtips w/ no windows or fingernails – Northern Fulmar

West Coast Wing Key (page 33)
Choose “gray, some species w/ dark tips and/or dark stripes on mantle” (go to Q10)
Wingtips do not contrast (go to Q11)
Primaries uniformly gray – Northern Fumar (based on wing chord measurement)

West Coast Wing Table (page 32)
Choose row “Large, wing chord 29-32cm”
Choose column “dark upperwing”
It’s one of these four:
Northern Fulmar (TN3) – looking good, but checking the rest:
American Crow (PE2) – black plumage – nope.
Parasitic Jaeger (LA25) – tarsus outside the range for this species – nope.
Pomarine Jaeger (LA27) – wing chord outside the range for this species – nope.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Washburn North (OR) 1/6/15 found by Cindy
Bill:12 mm
Wing: 14.5 cm

Alaska Wing Key (page 44)
Choose “dark, some species w/ white spots or edging” (Go to Q2)
Upperwing simply dark (go to Q5)
Underwing linings are white (go to Q6)
Based on the wing chord, this is an Ancient Murrelet

West Coast Wing Key (page 33)
Choose “primarily dark, some species w/ pale spots or thin stripes” (go to Q2)
Upperwing simply dark (go to Q3)
Underwing lining contains an area of uninterrupted bright white (go to Q4)
Wing chord is consistent w/ the following:
Common Murre – juvenile
Ancient Murrelet
Only one of these has a pale bill – Ancient Murrelet!

West Coast Wing Table (page 32)
Choose row “Tiny, wing chord less than 18cm”
Choose column “Dark upperwing w/ white linings”
We’re left with the following:
Common Murre – juvenile
Ancient Murrelet
Only one of these has a pale bill – Ancient Murrelet!

We’re seeing a few rare Alcids (Ancient Murrelet, Marbled Murrelet) mixed in with the Cassin’s Auklets. Remember: by about November, Common Murres have reached their full adult size, so in January there aren’t any juvenile Common Murres left – they’re all teenagers by now!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sandy found this large piece of debris during her January bird survey at Port William Beach (WA) and noting that it was near a boat ramp, joked that it may be a failed boat launch.  For those of you in the Puget Sound, large debris items, creosote covered logs, and derelict vessels found can be reported to the WA DNR debris removal program. The rely on reports to prioritize removal actions and can be reached at 360-854-2808.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marine debris intern Abby is working on a project using COASSTer marine debris photos. Her interest was piqued by this image taken by Sally at Wa-atch Beach (WA) in 2012. After some sleuthing, we discovered that they are competition throwing knives made by United Cutlery. They’ve made our list of “one of a kind” beach finds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Linda and Bill found this interesting piece of cartilage at Virgin Creek (CA) a few months ago.  Although we aren’t sure what species it is from, according to Mike Etnier at the Burke Museum, it appears to be the pectoral girdle of a large cartilaginous fish – perhaps a shark or a large skate. Since cartilaginous fish don’t have swim bladders to help maintain their buoyancy in the water, they are constantly moving, even when they are sleeping.

Have you seen something on your beach you’ve always wondered about? Send us a photo!

Cheers,
Erika, Julia, Jane, Hillary, Charlie, Heidi, Jenn, and the COASST Interns

What’s Washed In – December 30, 2014

Hi COASSTers,

What a great year! Thanks so much to all of you for your hard work in 2014. We really appreciate it, and hope you all enjoying ringing in the new year with family and friends tomorrow.

It’s been a busy few weeks at COASST with many Cassin’s Auklets washing in to the Pacific coast. We’re in the midst of a once-in-a-decade wreck which started in late October in the south and recently (re)pummeled Oregon and Washington. The full story is featured on our blog. If you have any questions on the wreck protocol, just let us know. A big thank you to all of you who have helped to document this event.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s how Laura and Caren identified these Cassin’s Auklets at Roads End:
Webbed (go to Q2)
Completely webbed (go to Q3)
Three toes all webbed (go to Q4)
Foot not huge, tarsus less than 50 mm – Alcids
On AL1, wing chord is less than 15cm, so Small Alcid AND bill is dark with (pale) spot at base.

Let’s take a look at what else has washed in lately:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lands End (AK) 10/13/14 found by Janet and Carol

Bill: 57 mm
Wing: 40 cm
Tarsus: 77 mm

Alaska foot key (page 34), West Coast foot key (page 22):
Webbed (go to Q2), completely webbed (go to Q3), 4 toes, 3 webbed, 4th free (go to Q5), tarsus not more than 12mm across (go to Q6), thin toe only (go to Q7), swollen heel: Larids (LA1).

Alaska guide (LA1)
Bill hooked (gulls and kittiwakes – flip to LA2), wing with gray-to-white wingtips and primaries with big, central, white spots (aka “windows” – see left wing – the white spots on the ends of the primaries are “fingernails”). Glaucous-winged Gull!

West Coast guide edition 2013 (LA1)
Bill hooked (gulls an kittiwakes – flip to LA2), gray wingtips – Glaucous-winged Gull!

West Coast guide edition 2002 (LA1):
Bill hooked (gulls – flip to LA2), foot color pale (not black), large adult gull. We’ll find it quickly – Glaucous-winged Gull is the only one with gray wingtips.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lamphere Dunes South (CA) 12/15/14 found by Jim

Bill: 53 mm
Wing: 29 cm
Tarsus: 72 mm

Alaska foot key (page 34), West Coast foot key (page 22):
Webbed (go to Q2), completely webbed (go to Q3), 4 toes, 3 webbed, 4th free (go to Q5) tarsus is more than 12mm across: Loons (LO1). Bill is less than 60mm, so small loon: Pacific Loon or Red-throated Loon. Measurements overlap for both, so let’s turn to the “similar species” section of the Pacific Loon (LO2-LO3). Eye is in the dark plumage of the face, back has few spots. Did you notice those white squares at the shoulders? It’s a Pacific Loon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recent storms brought big changes to many beaches, from increased amounts and kinds of marine debris to altered beach zones. Alan and Kathie who survey Graysmarsh noted that the wood zone doubled in size from their November survey and all kinds of stuff was caught – tennis balls, flip-flops, chunks of foam, and bottles.  Following his bird survey at Beverly Beach Campground North, Lloyd sent in this photo, explaining that the 1600m long, recently deposited wrackline was littered with tiny pieces of plastic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take a look at what Valerie found at Trinidad Lighthouse Beach this month. Lovingly referred to as “octopus goo,” this photo shows the underside of the octopus, where we see the mouth or “beak.” This beak is composed of chitin (just like our fingernails and hair) and is the only hard part of their body.  No wonder they can squish though such tiny spaces! Still hung up on whether it’s octopuses, octopi, or octopodes? Check out this fun video from Merriam-Webster.

Have you seen something on your beach you’ve always wondered about? Send us a photo!

Cheers,
Erika, Julia, Jane, Hillary, Charlie, Heidi, Jenn, and the COASST Interns

What’s Washed In – December 15, 2014

Hi COASSTers,

Happy Holidays! Hope that all of you are doing well and enjoying this busy time of year. The COASST office is a bit quiet this month, as most of our fantastic 22 interns are off enjoying winter break.  We’re looking forward to having them back in January!

If you’re on the COASST mailing list, keep an eye out for the 2014 COASST Holiday Card, which should be reaching mailboxes sometime soon! If you aren’t on our mailing list and would like to be, just let us know.

Let’s take a look at What’s Washed In recently:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Naknek Beach (AK) 10/08/14 found by Jodi

Wing: 34 cm

One wing leaves us only one option: the wing key (or table)!

Alaska wing key (page 44):
Choose gray (go to Q25), choose dark wingtips with white windows and fingernails: Mew Gull is the only one that fits!

West Coast wing key (page 33):
Choose gray (go to Q10), wingtips contrast, dark-to-black (go to Q12), solid gray except for wingtip (go to Q13):
Mew Gull (LA17)
Ring-billed Gull (LA11)
California Gull (LA9)
Only one of these has a white “knuckle” band across the primaries (from the feather tip, a white-black-white-gray pattern).

West Coast wing table (page 32):
Choose row = extra large (wing chord 33-43cm) and column “gray mantle w/ white linings and black tips.” We’re left with:
Mew Gull (LA17)
Ring-billed Gull (LA11)
California Gull (LA9)
Western Gull (LA5)
Herring Gull (LA15)
Caspian Tern (LA19)

We can eliminate the WEGU, HEGU and CATE (wing chord too large). Now we’re left with MEGU, RBGU and CAGU – only the MEGU has a white “knuckle” band across the primaries (from the feather tip, a white-black-white-gray pattern).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Port Williams (WA) 11/18/14 found by Sandy

Bill: 63 mm
Wing: 33 cm
Tarsus: 71 mm

Alaska foot key (page 34), West Coast foot key (page 22):
Webbed (go to Q2), completely webbed (go to Q3), 4 toes, all webbed: Pouchbills (PB1).

Alaska PB1:
Wing chord is not more than 45cm, so we’re left with one of four cormorants:
Pelagic Cormorant (PB2)
Red-faced Cormorant (PB4)
Double-crested Cormorant (PB6)
Brandt’s Cormorant (rare)
Only one has yellow-orange facial skin: Double-crested Cormorant (DCCO).

West Coast guide PB1:
Bill is less than 10cm (100mm), so we’re left with one of three cormorants:
Brandt’s Cormorant (PB2)
Pelagic Cormorant (PB4)
Double-crested Cormorant (PB6)
Only one has a yellow-orange bill with similar-colored facial skin and throat pouch: Double-crested Cormorant (DCCO).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For those of you who surveyed following the big storm that affected the lower states last week, was your experience like Mike and Chiggers’ at Mosquito and Goodman beaches on December 14th? They found a “wreck” of foam, rope fragments, and plastic bottles (hundreds!).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have you seen any interesting fish wash in to your beach? Take a look at this one found by Julia at Cowlitz Bay (WA) on December 7. Duane Stevenson, a NOAA Fish Biologist, verified this to be a lingcod, as Julia suspected (Great job, Julia!). Lingcod are sometimes called “bucketheads” because they have a really large head and a large mouth.  They also have 18 sharp needle-like teeth (shown here in Julia’s photo). Lingcod grow very quickly and reach up to 5 feet in length!

Speaking of fish, Lee and Sue who survey Three Crabs Beach (WA), recently mentioned that a few years ago, they encountered a lancetfish that had washed in. A very cool rare find!

Have you seen something on your beach you’ve always wondered about? Send us a photo!

Cheers,
Erika, Julia, Jane, Hillary, Charlie, Heidi, Jenn, and the COASST Interns

What determines the path of marine debris through the ocean?

Physics! A combination of characteristics of the object, and the patterns of wind and ocean currents all play a role in where marine debris moves in the ocean. Why do we care? With two types of information–where debris winds up (on a COASSTER’s beach, for instance) and the influences of the movement of debris–we can determine where the object may have come from. This process can help to determine the sources of what’s washing in on our shores.

If we already know the source of marine debris and its beaching location, it can serve as a sort of “tracking device” or drifter. Following the devastating tsunami that struck Tohoku, Japan in 2011, models have been used to predict the path of the tons of debris that washed out to the ocean. The accuracy of these kinds of predictions depends on real, live information to verify and improve the methods.  COASST’s new marine debris program will collect this kind of data, taking into account the very characteristics of debris that play a part in how the object may move through the water.

Windage

Varying degrees of windage on example floats. Image originally appeared in NOAA Marine Debris documents about Tsunami Debris trajectories. http://marinedebris.noaa.gov/sites/default/files/Japan_Tsunami_Marine_Debris_Report.pdf

So how does it work? Ocean currents are important no matter what, but the influence of wind depends on characteristics like size, hollowness, dimensionality (is it flat?), and material (tells us about density). Obviously, hollow and less dense (buoyant) objects are likely to rest higher in the water than solid or heavy objects. The shape and volume of any hollow cavity influence how a floating object is affected by wind. The area of the object that sticks above the water, or “sail area” determines the degree that wind impacts the object’s movement. This is known as “windage”. High windage– where the majority of the object is above the surface of the water–results in an increase of wind force on the sail area, where wind patterns in addition to ocean currents play a role in the path. Just as it sounds, the sail area acts as a sail and catches the air current. Oppositely, the “drag area” is the part of the object that lies below the surface. For objects that are flat or float just below the surface, windage will be very low.

One outcome of drifting debris

Gyre

North pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone, courtesy of wikimedia commons

You may have heard of the North Pacific Gyre (NPG): a slow-moving spiral of converging ocean currents created by a high-pressure system of air currents. Within this convergence zone lies what is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch; millions of pounds of trash and plastic that extend for miles below and across the surface of the ocean. The massive accumulation of garbage comes from all over and is carried to the NPG by those very currents that converge there. Every piece of plastic that forms the “garbage island” got there by the forces of ocean and air currents. Objects with higher windage, tend not to accumulate in the Garbage Patch, as the wind sends them on their way.

 

What’s Washed In – November 18, 2014

Hi COASSTers,

Hope that all of you are staying warm on your beaches this month! This past weekend, COASST staff conducted trainings in Washington and Oregon, catching up with many current COASSTers and adding some new COASSTers to the team. It was great to see some of you in Long Beach (WA), Charleston (OR), and Port Orford (OR)!

It’s hard to believe that November is more than halfway over.  As you get ready for your next survey, take a quick look at your supply kit and let us know if you need any additional cable ties, chalk, datasheets, etc.  We’d be happy to send more your way. Also, if you have any completed datasheets sitting around, please send them our way! We can’t wait to see them.

Let’s take a look at What’s Washed In:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buldir Island – B (AK) 6/27/14 found by Alaska Maritime NWR staff

Bill: 14 mm
Wing: 14 cm
Tarsus: 27 mm

Dark underwing, dark heel, orange bill. Let’s check out our options using the wing key.

Alaska wing key (page 44):
You’ll have to trust us on the upperwing, but…
Choose dark (go to Q2), simply dark (go to Q5), underwing linings not white (go to Q9), wing chord less than 35cm (go to Q10), none (go to Q11), wing chord less than 16cm (go to Q12), underwing simply dark. We’re left with:
Marbled Murrelet-MAMU (AL17)
Crested Auklet-CRAU (AL25)
Parakeet Auklet-PAAU (AL23)
The tarsus of this mystery bird is too long for MAMU’s Alaska range (16-21mm). Flipping to the Crested Auklet, measurements fit, but plumage is mostly dark. Not in the similar species section – Parakeet Auklet has a white breast, belly and undertail (all dark plumage for the Crested). See that white bit of fluff between the two wings? Bingo – Parakeet Auklet.

West Coast wing key (page 33):
You’ll have to trust us on the upperwing, but…
Choose dark (go to 2), choose upperwing simply dark (go to Q3), underwing gray-to-dark (go to Q6), underwing simply dark (go to Q7), wing chord less than 17cm (go to Q8), and select underwing simply dark. We’re left with:
Marbled Murrelet-MAMU (AL14)
Parakeet Auklet-PAAU (AL18).
The tarsus of this mystery bird is too long for MAMU’s range West Coast (14-18mm), so Parakeet Auklet it is!

West Coast wing table (page 32)
You’ll have to trust us on the upperwing, but…
Choose row = tiny (wing chord less than 18cm) and column “dark upperwing” – no pale underwing linings. We’re left with:
Marbled Murrelet (AL14)
Leach’s Storm Petrel (TN11)
Fork-tailed Storm Petrel (TN9)
Parakeet Auklet (AL18)
Kittlitz’s Murrelet (AL20)
Crested Auklet (AL22)
Whiskered Auklet (AL26)
Four of these don’t fit because of the tarsus measurement Marbled Murrelet, Leach’s Storm-Petrel, Kittlitz’s Murrelet, Whiskered Auklet.  Of the remaining three, only one has some white plumage (see that tuft between the two wings?) and an orange, upturned bill: Parakeet Auklet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ruby South (WA) 10/10/14 found by Janis and Jody

Bill: 44 mm
Wing: 27 cm
Tarsus: 48 mm

Alaska foot key (page 34), West Coast foot key (page 22):
Webbed (go to Q2), complete (go to Q3), 3 webbed toes 4th free (go to Q5), tarsus less than 1mm across (go to Q6), 4th toe has flap extending to tip of nail­­­­–Waterfowl: Diving Ducks.

Alaska: WF1: Bill with knob or feathers on sides: one of the scoters (WF5, WF9, WF7) or eiders (WF 21, 23, 27). Bill too large for any of the eiders except for the Common Eider. Wing too large for any of the scoters besides the White-winged Scoter. Between Common Eider and White-winged Scoter, measurements fit only one perfectly – dark plumage, white speculum and white eye patch – White-winged Scoter.

West Coast (2013): WF1: Bill with knob or feathers on top or sides – one of the three scoters, and only one has a wing chord that large: White-winged Scoter

West Coast (2002): WF1: White in wing! Feathers or knob on bill: White-winged Scoter or one of the eiders. Only the Common Eider is a contender, but its secondaries are dark (vs white in the White-winged Scoter).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keith and Anita find a lot of interesting “large” debris at OR Mile 460. Although marine debris pilot COASSTers are not yet surveying for objects larger than 50cm, but these two couldn’t help but share several examples of “mortise and tenon” joinery, common to Japanese architecture but also used elsewhere and throughout history. This type of joint involves a mortise hole, several shown here, and a tenon tongue on an adjoining piece, that is inserted into the hole and glued, pinned or wedged in place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Albert and Kathie went on their first marine debris survey on November 14th at Graysmarsh. They didn’t find any debris but did turn up an unusual find: an Ocean Sunfish, also known as Mola mola.

The Mola mola is the largest known bony fish in the world. An average adult individual typically weighs over 2,000 lbs, and they can reach up to 5.9 ft. in body length and 8.2 ft. fin to fin. Sunfish are most often found in temperate and tropical waters that are 50°F or warmer. They are often seen swimming on their sides, basking in the sun at the surface of the water to warm themselves after deep dives. Prolonged periods spent in water colder that 50°F can lead to disorientation and death for the sunfish, which most likely happened to this guy found in the Strait!

Seen something on the beach you’ve always wondered about? Send us a photo!

Cheers,
Erika, Julia, Jane, Hillary, Charlie, Heidi, Jenn, and the COASST Interns

What’s Washed In – October 8, 2014

Hi COASSTers,

We’re excited to introduce our new e-newsletter! With this format, you can easily view the images sent in by your fellow COASSTers either in the message itself or in your web browser. You’ll also be able to manage your subscription (see link at the bottom). As this is the very first edition in this format, please let us know if you have any feedback.

In the past few weeks, we’ve had reports of Common Murres in Oregon with signs of avian pox. While rare (perhaps 1-5% of carcasses), this is something to note in the bird comments field if found.

We asked Dr. Julia Burco, Wildlife Veterinarian for Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife some frequently asked questions about avian pox. Let us know if you have any other questions.

Q: What does avian pox look like?
A: Avian pox takes on two forms: 1) dry: wart-like growths around unfeathered areas like the beak, eyes, legs and feet 2) wet: found in the mouth/throat

Q: Is avian pox transmittable to humans?
A: No, this is not a virus that can affect humans.

Q: How do I document avian pox?
A: Take additional photos of the face/legs in cases where pox is suspected, note in the COMMENTS section for that bird.

We hope that you’re all enjoying the start of the fall season!

Let’s take a look at What’s Washed In recently:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bill: 61 mm, Wing: 38 cm, Tarsus: 75 mm

This bird was found on September 3 at Hippy Cove in Alaska by Pat and Susan. The bill is pale and hooked with a dark tip, and we don’t have a good view of the foot – let’s use the wing.

Alaska wing key (page 44): choose mottled mantle (go to Q29), choose mottling throughout (go to Q30). Okay! With this wing chord, we’re left with these choices:
1) Mew Gull (LA12 – but bill and tarsus are too large for this species)
2) Large Immature Gull (LA4 – sounds about right!)
3) Emperor Goose (no species page in guide, but bill is hooked, so let’s take this out of the running). Large Immature Gull – specifically Glaucous-winged Gull, subadult (light brown mottled feathers mixed with gray, wing tips gray).

West coast wing key (page 33): choose mottled mantle (go to Q14), choose mottling throughout (go to Q15), we’re left with:
1) a goose: Snow Goose, Greater White-fronted Goose or Canada Goose (WF19) – but none of these have a hooked bill
2) Large Immature Gull (LA3) –that’s correct. Specifically a Glaucous-winged Gull, subadult  (light brown mottled feathers mixed with gray, wing tips gray).

West coast wing table (page 32): Select “extra large” row and “mottled brown mantle” column, which leaves us with:
1) Large Immature Gull (LA3) – possible…
2) South Polar Skua (LA29) – no, has dark wing with white upperwing patch
3) Pomarine Jaeger (LA27) – no, has dark wing with bright white primary shafts
4) Heermann’s Gull juvenile (LA21) – no, has dark wing with red/orange bill base
Large Immature Gull (LIGU) it is, specifically Glaucous-winged Gull, subadult (light brown mottled feathers mixed with gray, wing tips gray)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wing: 19 cm

This bird was found on September 23 on North Pebble Beach in California by Melissa.

West coast wing key (page 33): choose white patch(es) (go to Q19), check location – it’s on the mantle – Pigeon Guillemot, AL10.

West coast wing table (page 32): select “small” row and “patch/speculum” column, which leaves us with: PIGU (AL10) or GWTE (WF7). Green-winged Teal has a green speculum, no patch, so Pigeon Guillemot it is!

Alaska wing key (page 44): choose “w/ light or dark speculum and/or one of more white patches” (go to Q17), white patch(es), no speculum (go to Q21), underwing linings light gray to dark (go to Q22), one large patch on mantle – Pigeon Guillemot, AL7.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gooseneck barnacles (Lepas spp.) are associated with marine debris that floats in the open ocean. This type of biofouling can indicate how long an object has been in the water and provides clues to where it may have come from. Barnacles also tell us something about the fate of plastic in the ocean. Research by Miriam Goldstein (UC San Diego-Scripps Institution of Oceanography) and Deborah Goodwin (Sea Education Association) found that 33.5% of Gooseneck barnacles on debris found in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre had plastic particles in their digestive tracts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anita was out early on the morning of September 16 at Oregon Mile 286 enjoying a beach walk (just a walk, not a COASST walk), when she saw this carcass washing ashore. Once you’re a COASSTer, you do tend to see things you might have overlooked…

Tiny dorsal (back) fin, mottled skin, white gill rakers (filter-feeding function, like baleen) – turns out this is a basking shark, confirmed by Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network Coordinator Jim Rice.

Seen something on the beach you’ve always wondered about? Send us a photo!

Cheers,
Erika, Julia, Jane, Hillary, Charlie, Heidi, Jenn, and the COASST interns

What’s Washed In – Sept. 19

It’s hard to believe how fast summer has flown by! Here in the COASST office, we’re getting ready for a busy fall season, with upcoming trainings and refreshers in California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska over the next month.  If you’re considering attending a refresher training near you, we highly recommend it – it’s a great way to brush up on your identification skills and meet other COASSTers in your community – and we’d love to see you!

Thanks so much for all of your datasheets, photos, and fun stories over the past few weeks.  Let’s take a look at what’s washed in lately:

A.Bill: 44 mm, Wing:  32 cm, Tarsus: 53 mm

Carl and Terry found not just one, but TWO of these rare birds at Griffith’s Priday State Park in Washington on their July 26 survey.

Foot is webbed (go to Q2), completely webbed (go to Q3), 3 webbed, 4th free (go to Q5), tarsus not more than 12mm across (go to Q6), nail only (go to Q7), flat heel (go to Q8), small foot – Tubenose: Petrels.

Wing chord greater than 20cm – True Petrels.

Alaska guide: select bill color “pale w/ dark tip – Pink-footed Shearwater, rare)

West Coast guide: select bill “thin and long,” tarus “flat” – review TN5, TN7, TN15.

Of these, only the Pink-footed Shearwater (TN15-16) has a pale bill with dark tip and white belly.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Bill: 37 mm, Wing:  18 cm, Tarsus: 32 mm

Charlotte found this bird at North Hartney Bay in Alaska on September 4.

Since the wing is well-profiled here, let’s use it.

Alaska Wing Key (page 44): Choose “w/ light or dark speculum and/or one or more white patches” (go to Q17), dark speculum (go to Q24), “green w/ buffy stripe above and white below” – bingo – Green-winged Teal.

West Coast Wing Key (page 33): Select “secondaries contrasting and dark” (go to Q18), “green w/ tan stripe above and white below” – Green-winged Teal.

West Coast Wing Table (page 32): We’re in the ”small” row. Pan across to “patch/speculum,” aka “like a patch but always found in the secondaries, often iridescent with lighter bordering stripes.” Two species: Pigeon Guillemot (PIGU – AL10-11), or Green-winged Teal (GWTE – WF7-8). The PIGU has a white upperwing patch, green in the upperwing? – Green-winged Teal.

IMG_0397

Hank and Linda found this very small piece of plastic on their trial survey of the marine debris protocol. Fragments like these can wash-up in great numbers but easily overlooked and difficult to remove from the environment.

C2small

C1small

In July, Velella velella hit the shores big time, but for Stone Lagoon beach in California, a different story: Pacific Sand Crab (aka Pacific Mole Crab, or if you’re a bit more geeky, Emerita analoga). These burrowing crustaceans stick their rear into the beach and use their antennae to catch plankton and scrape it into their mouth.

Seen something like this on the beach you’ve always wondered about? Send us a photo!