Category Archives: Gulf of Mexico

Harvey aftermath: Dioxins, PCBs and other pollutants impacting children and women of child-bearing age

The waters of Galveston Bay south of Houston and Sabine Lake in the Golden Triangle area (Beaumont/Port Arthur/Orange) have had a tremendous amount of water pollution history.

The Houston/Galveston area has numerous superfund sites which are designated major pollution sites that need years and sometimes decades worth of cleanup efforts.

These pollutants have already impacted wildlife and found their way into the human population via fishing which is very popular in the region.

With many superfund sites underwater and flooding into neighborhoods, marshes and into fisheries what will happen in the long run?

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Speckled trout, the most popular sport fish on the Texas coast, absorbs several potentially deadly pollutants.

What are the threats to wildlife and people?

These warnings come from the Texas Department of Health and have been established in the area for years.

Sabine Lake and contiguous Texas waters in Jefferson and Orange counties (Chemical of Concern: Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)

*For gafftopsail catfish, adults should limit consumption to no more than three 8-ounce meals per month.

*Children under 12 and women who are pregnant, nursing or may become pregnant should limit consumption to no more than one 4-ounce meal per month

Houston Ship Channel and all contiguous waters north of the Fred Hartman Bridge, State Highway 146 including the San Jacinto River below the Lake Houston dam (Chemicals of Concern: Dioxins, Organochlorine pesticides, Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)

*For all species of fish and blue crabs, adults should limit consumption to no more than one, 8-ounce meal per month.

*Women of childbearing age and children under 12 should not consume any fish or blue crabs from this area.

Upper Galveston Bay and all contiguous waters north of a line drawn from Red Bluff Point to Five-Mile Cut Marker to Houston Point (Chemicals of Concern: Dioxins and Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)

*For all species of catfish, spotted seatrout and blue crab, adults should limit consumption to no more than one, 8-ounce meal per month.

*Children under 12 and women of childbearing age should not consume spotted seatrout, blue crabs or any catfish species from this area.

Galveston Bay and all contiguous waters including Chocolate Bay, East Bay, Trinity Bay and West Bay (Chemicals of Concern: Dioxins and Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)

*For all species of catfish, adults should limit consumption to no more than one, 8-ounce meal per month.

*Children, and women who are nursing, pregnant or who may become pregnant should not consume catfish from these waters.

This brings a frightening element to the old statement, “You are what you eat”.

Lets pray for these pollutants to not impact people already devastated in the region for much wiser stewardship of our resources.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

Hurricane Harvey might cause snake “migration”

Hurricane Harvey is likely to cause a “migration” of rattlesnakes, cottonmouths and other snakes common to the Texas coastline near Rockport, Port Lavaca and Port Aransas.

There is no question storms move snakes. Floodwaters push up debris that snakes pile on and they get a free ride sometimes dozens of miles inland.

The area being impacted by Hurricane Harvey has a sizable population of rattlesnakes on the islands along the Intracoastal Canal and higher ground in the marshes as well as abundant cottonmouths.

Snake migration via hurricane has happened before.

In fact it happened nine years ago after Hurricane Ike hit the Upper Texas Coast.

In 16 years (as of 2008) of covering every aspect of outdoors and wildlife in Southeast Texas and having looked for snakes in the region since I was nine, I had never heard of a western diamondback rattlesnake east of Galveston Island.

Immediately after Hurricane Ike (2008) I interviewed a man who killed a large diamondback on Pleasure Island on Sabine Lake 50 miles to the east of Galveston.

Then within two years more and more stories of western diamondbacks in the region started to surface.

A capture reported to us by veteran local meteorologist Greg Bostwick gave us photographic evidence of diamondbacks in the area.

“The snake was captured alive about one mile south of my house in Chambers County and was about 4.5 feet long,” Bostwick said.

The snake was found north of Winnie, and that is not typical diamondback territory.

The western diamondback captured by Greg Bostwick.

Shortly before Bostwick’s capture, the late Mike Hoke, at the time director of Shangri-La Botanical Gardens, said a diamondback was found during an expedition a while back at the McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge in Sabine Pass.

It surprised him and his team.

Cottonmouths can deliver a damaging bite.

There is no doubt snakes will be found in larger numbers in some areas after this storm than many would expect.

Here are safety tips to consider.

#Debris piles should be avoided. They can be thick with snakes as can high levees in flooded areas.

#Snakes can remain hidden in impressive fashion. When returning to flooded homes and beach cabins check every nook and cranny before allowing children or pets to come back in.

#In the event of storm surge snakes will be looking for fresh water. Be cautious around any fresh water source including toilets in homes in impacted areas.

The snakes are not out to get anyone but they are as stressed as anyone so be cautious navigating these flooded zones.

Rattlesnakes don’t always rattle and as I can attest cottonmouths often do not show their white mouth to avoid being bitten.

But when they do they are saying “Don’t tread on me!”

Wise people don’t.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

NMFS Sea Turtle Facility

Yesterday our journey through the “Wild Gulf”-our summer long quest to raise awareness to wildlife of the Gulf of Mexico paid a visit to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) sea turtle facility at Galveston, TX.

Since 1978, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has been participating in an international Sea Turtle recovery program. Currently the NMFS Galveston Sea Turtle Facility is participating in a variety of projects including injured and sick turtle rehabilitation, satellite tracking of wild turtles and numerous studies involving Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs).

We will post more on sea turtles later this month but for now here are some photos from yesterday.

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Kingdom Zoo’s Rachel enjoyed seeing the one-year-old loggerheads.
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Loggerheads are the most abundant sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico but that doesn’t mean their populations are healthy. They are down to around three percent of estimated historic levels.
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Erin and Abby learned what to do if they find a sea turtle stranded on a beach and were impressed with the amount of effort that goes into conserving these endangered marine reptiles.

For more information on the facility click here.

Deadly jellyfish found in Texas-Gulf waters!

One of the most dangerous of all sea creatures is the box jellyfish.

They are famously abundant in Australian waters where fatalities are reported on an annual basis.

They are also present in the Gulf of Mexico.

In the Gulf, we have the four-handed box jellyfish, a species I was made aware of by Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) biologist Jerry Mambretti in 2014.

“Our gulf sampling crew caught four-handed box jellyfish, Chiropsalmus quadrumanus, a member of the class Cubozoa, in 3 separate trawl samples about 2 miles off McFaddin NWR beach,” Mambretti said at the time.

“Box jellyfish are known for the extremely potent venom produced by some species, including this species, which is normally found in the west Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Pacific Ocean. Their sting is very venomous and dangerous to humans, especially children.”

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Box jellyfish from the Caribbean. Public Domain Photo

A study by William Guest noted the species has been known to be abundant in the Matagorda Bay system in the 1950s and their presence has a lot to do with salinity levels..

“The development of a large population coincided with drought conditions and high bay salinities along the Texas Gulf coast. When bay salinities dropped considerably in 1957 the jellyfish disappeared. The jellyfish were found to be living on or near the bottom at all times and preferred areas of soft mud.”

TPWD recommends for most jellyfish stings to splash the area with salt water.

“Then apply a paste of unseasoned meat tenderizer. Don’t press the skin. The pain should go away within an hour. Regular vinegar or a solution of one part bleach to 10 parts water also work to alleviate pain.”

If you think you have been stung by a box jellyfish however seek medical attention immediately. Encounters are rare but the potential for serious problems exist if you do happen to bump into one of these tiny creatures.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Pink albino dolphin jumps in front of boat (video)

The Atlantic bottlenose dolphin is the most frequently seen marine mammal in the Gulf of Mexico.

Seeing a pink one however is extremely rare.

That is why we were excited to see this clip provided by Matt Metzler. It shows a pink albino dolphin jumping in front of a boat off the Louisiana coastline. The action begins at about the 17-second mark.

In 2013 we captured footage of a pink albino dolphin in the ship channel near Cameron, La. This particular dolphin with the obvious nickname “Pinky” has been thrilling fishermen who encounter it for at least a decade after Capt. Erik Rue began photographing the creature on his charter trips.

Here’s the clip we captured that day while out with our friend Scott Bandy in his bay boat.

An article in The Guardian back in 2009 reveals some interesting things scientists have observed about this creature.

Regina Asmutis-Silvia, a senior biologist with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, said: “I have never seen a dolphin coloured in this way in all my career.”

“While this animal looks pink, it is an albino which you can notice in the pink eyes. Albinism is a genetic trait and it unclear as to the type of albinism this animal inherited.”

Some believe there are several “Pinkies” in the vicinity but little research has been done on the subject.

I have interviewed two people who claim to have seen pink dolphins from the ferry in Galveston, TX a three hour boat ride (in calm waters) from Cameron, La. The animal could certainly make that trek but there also could be more of them out there.

We will investigate more and let these video clips serve as a reminder of the beauty and mystery contained in the Gulf of Mexico. If you see such a creature by all means shoot photos and video but don’t chase or harass the animal.

This summer The Wildlife Journalist (R) is partnering with our Kingdom Zoo children’s ministry to raise awareness to the wildlife of the Gulf of Mexico. We are calling the program “Wild Gulf”.

 

We’ll be making treks from the Florida Panhandle to Port Isabel to document by photo and video the unique species that inhabit Gulf waters.

“The Gulf of Mexico and its species do not get enough attention in the national and world spotlight,” said Kingdom Zoo’s Lauren Williams, an eighth grade wildlife conservationist.

“We are going to do our best to change that and at the same time let kids in our ‘Wild Wishes’ program take part in these adventures.”

“Wild Wishes” grants exotic animal encounters for children who have a terminal illness or have lost a parent or sibling.

Be on the lookout for much more on from the “Wild Gulf” and for those mysterious pink dolphins along the coastline.

And if you happen to come across a stranded or sick marine mammal call  1-800-9-MAMMAL. The Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network will give you instructions and if the situation is serious they will take action to help the animal.

Chester Moore, Jr.

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Texas Tentacles

A 1972 Robalo sportfishing boat pulls up to an oil platform off the coast of Corpus Christi, TX.

As the waves rise and fall around this giant manmade structure, Capt. Bill Sheka lowers a big hunk of cut bait seeking out snapper, grouper and other sport fish common to the area.

Suddenly he feels tension on the line so he sets the hook.

There is something on the other end but it is not moving.

At all.

“There were some deck hands on the rail of the rig and they were watching me. When I got it up it turned out to be a gallon glass mayonnaise jar, obviously pitched overboard by the rig’s cook,” Sheka said.

The men on the rig laughed at the strange catch and fired off some snide remarks.

“Got some bred for that mayonnaise?”

“Nice catch bud!”

But the jar was not empty.

“Inside was an octopus that took my bait and scurried back to his ‘home”in the jar,” Sheka said.

“I took my small wooden billy club and hit the jar breaking it to reveal the wiggling, twisting octopus. Now the crew was silent and I then asked them if they knew any octopus recipes,” Sheka said.

He had a good laugh at his naysayers before releasing the creature alive and well.

Octopus in the Gulf?

Absolutely.

The Flower Gardens Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FGBNMS) is the the most observed and studied habitat in the Gulf and according to FGBNMS research coordinator Emma Hickerson there are at least four octopus species there.

These include the Caribbean two-spotted octopus, common octopus, white-spotted octopus and mimic octopus.

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Caribbean two-spotted octopus at Flower Gardens Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Photo courtesy NOAA.

“I filmed a Caribbean two-spotted octopus quite a few years ago out and about scooting around the reef during the day,  but otherwise typically they are tucked away in the reef.  You can sometimes find their “middens” which are piles of shells from their meals.  One particular octopus I filmed was big enough to be feasting on large queen conch and slipper lobster at Stetson Bank,” she said.

Kristi Oden encountered caught one while diving off of an oil platform off the Gulf Coast.

“It was a feisty thing,” she said.

“It kept grabbing my dive knife and pulling on it. I got it into my dive bag and took it back up to the boat because I wanted to look at it. It was really neat. When I got it out of the bag and it changed colors to match the floor of the boat. I looked at it for a little while and then put him back in the water.”

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Angler Henry Pongratz caught and released this common octopus at the Port O’Connor Jetties.

Most encounters with octopus off the Texas coast are around oil rigs and at the FGBNMS but some divers reporting seeing them at the jetties in Port O’Connor, Aransas Pass and Port Mansfield.

Finding octopus along the beach jetties and even in the bays is a fairly common occurrence on the Gulf Coast of Florida but in the western Gulf they remain mysterious.

The common octopus can grow to impressive sizes with specimens as large as 4.3 feet and weighing upwards of 20 pounds. And although it is difficult to measure the “intelligence” of animals, octopus are without questions brainiacs of the marine world.

Octopus not only have the largest brains of any invertebrate but they also have an impressive number of neurons which are the measuring stick science uses for thinking potential.

The common octopus has around 130 million.  A human has more than 100 billion but that numbers not bad for something that makes its living in the cracks and crevices of reefs, rigs, jetties and yes, even mayonnaise jars.

The more we understand about the Gulf of Mexico, the more we can appreciate it.

And I can’t imagine someone not being able to appreciate the uniqueness of the octopus and the fact Gulf coastal waters are home to these amazing creatures.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Guy Harvey and the Gulf’s missing shark

A long time ago in the far, far reaches of the Gulf of Mexico...

The contrasting bars of the pilot fish create a striking image in the cobalt blue waters just beyond the continental shelf. Swimming in unison they dart, twist and turn in natural aquatic harmony.

Suddenly, from amongst the motion a strong form emerges.

Swimming with focus and purpose, the white bars on its fins reveal the ocean’s wanderer: the ocean whitetip shark.

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Photo by Johan Lantz/Wiki Commons

It continues its trajectory at a slow but determined pace. Cruising just beneath the surface, it is set to prey on anything it might encounter.

Pickings can be slim in this desolate environment.

Once considered the world’s most common large animal (over 100 pounds) they are now  deemed critically endangered. This is especially true for the Gulf of Mexico.

In a 2004 study, researchers Baum and Myers noted a 99 percent decline of oceanic whitetips in the Gulf since the 1950s.

“Scientists there once considered this species a nuisance because of the prevalence around vessels. Nowadays it is rarely seen,” they noted.

In hundreds of trips in the Gulf out of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi this writer has never seen one. And neither have dozens of veteran Gulf anglers I have interviewed.

And that concerns ocean art icon and conservationist Guy Harvey.

“The oceanic whitetip is a truly remarkable shark and due to the high demand of fins from large shark species they have declined dramatically,” Harvey said.

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Currently the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation (GHOF) and its partners are engaged in a study to track and analyze whitetip populations. They are studying the stock structure of oceanic whitetip sharks on a global scale by using genetic techniques, and migration patterns of this species in the western Atlantic with the aid of satellite tracking technologies.

Information gained on the whitetip’s movements can help create better management strategies to save the species.

When Harvey called the species “remarkable” that is not a generalized statement. He has firsthand knowledge having spent time in the water with the species and producing a documentary about their plight.

“They are bold and have no problems approaching a diver which makes for great interaction and observation,” Harvey said.

Harvey’s works with whitetips has allowed him to create stunning works of art showing the declining species in all of its glory.

Art captures the mood and feel of a natural scene better that photography and Harvey’s instantly recognizable style has resonated with an ocean-loving public in a way that connects them to wildlife.

“Things happen so fast down there and you have limited time. Painting allows to create a way to raise awareness to species that otherwise might not get much attention,” Harvey said.

The oceanic whitetip is one such creature.

If they disappeared tomorrow few anglers would notice.

Beachcombers never see these open water dwellers anyway so that only leaves wildlife journalists like myself, researchers like Harvey and his crew and a handful of shark fanatics who would even notice their demise.

But to the ocean it does matter.

An intricately woven food chain has already been disrupted and if they were to vanish forever, the balance would be upset.

And the world would lose a beautiful, cunning predator.

We should do our best to support research like GHOF are doing and all efforts to ensure shark populations not only survive but perhaps one day thrive like they did so long ago in the Gulf and beyond.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

Pink Albino Dolphin (Video)

Among the most incredible animals I have encountered in my life in the wild is a super rare pink albino bottlenose dolphin appropriately dubbed “Pinky”.

I first encountered it while filming a television program on Louisiana’s Lake Calcasieu in 2010 and returned with a group of children to capture it on video in 2013.

We are planning another expedition to photograph “Pinky” and the other dolphins of the area. We will post our results here.

Until then enjoy this clip.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

 

“Teeth” in the Gulf

“Teeth”!

“That is next movie they need to make. We’ve got one about a killer shark but they need to make one about a killer gar,” said my Dad.

“Wouldn’t that be cool?” he asked as we sat on the side of the road between Bridge City and Port Arthur, TX fishing for alligator garfish.

At eight-years-of age I thought that would be epic to say the least and if any of the producers of such high art as “Sharktopus” are reading this blog, it very well could become the next SyFy Original.

Just sign those royalty checks to “Chester Moore” please.

Dad always liked to make me laugh and that certainly did but there certainly are not a bunch of garfish attacks to report.

There is however something quite interesting.

15240140_10153905413465780_2058860035_nWhile “Jaws” is on the minds of beachgoers in Texas (our variety-bulls, lemons, blacktips) “Teeth” is soaking up some of the same salty waters.

Angler Marcus Heflin caught a sizable alligator garfish while fishing the surf at Sea Rim State Park at Sabine Pass along the Texas-Louisiana border.

This was the first gar I have heard of on the beach anywhere along the Gulf Coast although I have long suspected they are there.

As a child I had a collection of Texas Parks & Wildlife magazines and one of them had a profile of Sea Rim State Park-where Heflin caught the gar pictured above.

It had fishing hotspots and there were several marked for garfish in the surf.

Garfish are considered a freshwater species but do well along the Gulf Coast. I grew up fishing for them in Sabine Lake and surrounding waters, a bay that at its southern end is only seven miles from the surf.

Mobile Bay in Alabama is a hotbed of alligator garfish activity and they are present in numerous salt marshes along the Louisiana coast.

Still, you can find almost no references to garfish in the surf.

The question is just how common they are in Gulf waters and how far out do they go?

These are very mysterious fish with little known about their life cycles or habits in comparison to America fish for comparable size.

So, if you’r ever at the beach and see something that looks kind of like a mutated alligator swim beside you don’t worry.

You just have had an encounter with “Teeth”.

There is no danger to be concerned with except in my eight-year-old imagination where a ravaging gar seemed like an intriguing proposition.

And to be perfectly honest it still does.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Great Whites of the Gulf

The eyes.

Coal black.

Intense.

Ominous.

There is something powerful about the eyes of a great white shark.

In the 1975 blockbuster “Jaws”, obsessed shark hunter Capt. Quint describes them as “lifeless eyes…black eyes…like a doll’s eyes”.

As an 18 footer turned its eye to look at me while on a cage diving expedition to the Farallon Islands I quickly disagreed with Quint. Black they were but lifeless the sharks’ eyes were not.

They were filled with purpose. To kill. To eat. To survive.

Long believed extinct in the Gulf of Mexico or at least an extremely rare visitor, it seems there are survivors.

In 2014, “Katharine” and “Betsy”, two young great whites were verified in Gulf waters.

Public Domain Photo

Both of these sharks were fitted with SPOT transmitters by research/conservation group OCEARCH. These tags communicate with satellites and when the information from those tags if fed back to OCEARCH, it allows the public to view their movements at OCEARCH.org.

When, Katharine, all 2300 pounds of her, staked out the stretch of coastline off of Panama City Beach, Fla., people paid attention. More than four million logged onto the OCEARCH website, crashing the server the week and causing a media firestorm.

“Those two sharks, Katharine in particular, drew an enormous amount of attention to great white sharks in a very positive way and the interactive nature of the site, gave people a way to see great white movements take place in a way never before possible,” said OCEARCH founder Chris Fischer.

“We are solving the life history puzzle of ‘Jaws’ out of the Cape Cod area for the first time in history and it has been interesting to see unfold.”

Cape Cod is one thing but the Gulf of Mexico? That’s the domain of bull sharks and black tips, not great whites. Right?

Wrong.

Great white populations are on the rise due to 20 plus years of gill nets being banned along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. These nets caught and killed many juvenile great whites that are born on the East Coast and migrate into the Gulf to feed.

The shallow, nearshore areas along the eastern seaboard and portions of the Gulf Coast, especially Florida are “nursery” areas where the younger sharks spend their time. Both Katharine and Betsy were tagged off of Cape Cod in August 2013 and covered thousands of miles of water before entering the Gulf.

In 2005 I wrote an article called “Jaws in the Gulf” for Tide magazine recalling historical references and at the time a recent sighting. The article was a bit controversial as great whites in the Gulf seemed too magnificent to believe.

Now it has been vindicated. But that’s not the point. Seeking out the mysterious is a big part of what we do.

The point is the most iconic shark in the planet is proven to inhabit the Gulf and could be on the rise. Fishermen and conservationists need to know so these great predators can be protected.

NOAA has some extremely interesting older data on great whites in the Gulf of Mexico. Their earliest recorded white shark was off the coast of Sarasota, Fla on a set line in the winter of 1937. Another specimen was caught in the same area in 1943.

In February 1965, a female was captured in a net intended for bottlenose dolphins at Mullet Key near St. Petersburg. In addition, National Marine Fisheries Service officials reported 35 great whites as bycatch in the Japanese longline fishery in the Gulf from 1979 through 1982.

Those sharks died but last year the first great white ever known to be caught from the surf was taken by an angler in Panama City Beach, Fla.

Instead of killing it, he fitted it with a tag, photographed and released it.

Knowing about great whites, their rarity and conservation problems is crucial so great whites meet happy endings when encountered by anglers-the user group most likely to see them.

It might seem counterintuitive to save something that can and occasionally does eat humans. But the fact is we need things like great white sharks to keep us humble, to remind us, we are vulnerable and to keep us in a sense of wonder.

That was the state I was in gazing out onto the Gulf of Mexico while fishing the 61st St. Pier in Galveston, TX with my Dad at age 12.

“It’s a shame we don’t have a lot of great whites off our coast,” I told him.

“Maybe we do. We just haven’ found them yet,” Dad replied.

Dad is gone now and I sure would like to tell him, they have been found. Great whites dwell the Gulf of Mexico and you never know. There might have been one cruising the surf just beyond that pier on that night so long ago.

It is entirely possible.

 Chester Moore, Jr.