Tag Archives: gulf of mexico

Sea Horse Catch Brings Perspective on Gulf

Crystal Beach, TX—When nine-year-old Reese Dearing noticed something floating in the water at the Sandy Shores edition at Crystal Beach, TX. he thought it was a small clump of sargassum (seaweed).

He simply followed childhood curiosity and picked it up.

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What he found however blew his mind and this wildlife journalist’s as well.

Instead of seaweed, it was a tiny seahorse, an adult dwarf seahorse to be exact, a creature he (and I) have never seen alive in the wild.

He brought the tiny creature up to show his parents who quickly shot these photos and video clips and put the intricate little creature back into the sandy green waters of the Gulf to live a full life.

I learned of the discovery gassing up for a shark fishing trip as his mother Dana proudly showed me the images. Reese beamed with pride at his unique discovery.

This event reminded me of times spent beach combing with my parents searching out shells and sand dollars.

There was something beautiful about those times and there is something beautiful about Reese’s discovery.

For his entire life he will now view the Gulf of Mexico as a place of possibilities. Not only does he now know it is full of common Texas beach finds like hardhead catfish, jellyfish and crabs. But now he nows he most iconic small ocean creature-the seahorse-also dwells there.

I hope it instills in him a deep appreciation for the grand work God did in the Gulf. Seeing the whole family light up when relating the story further strengthened my resolve to write about what I call the “forgotten sea”.

The Gulf of Mexico and all of its wonders get little attention from the corporate wildlife media but encounters like this can do what dozens of television programs cannot.

I appreciate Dana and her husband Brent for allowing me to share these images with you and I especially appreciate Reese being curious enough to explore what he found at the beach.

That’s how a lifelong love and appreciation of the ocean and its inhabitants is born.

Chester Moore, Jr.

(To subscribe to this blog enter your email address in the box on the top right of this page. To contact Chester Moore e-mail chester@chestermoore.com.)

Texas: 8 Foot Bull Shark Tag & Release (Video)-Sabine-Bolivar Peninsula Area

Shark Week?

How about Shark Life?

That’s what it feels like during the summer when Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) officials run longlines in the nearshore Gulf to tag and monitor sharks.

Today TPWD’s Derek York messaged me from offshore with these clips and photos showing an eight foot long, 383-pound male bull shark caught, tagged and release 30 miles west of the Sabine Jetties. That’s somewhere along the Bolivar Peninsula.

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The huge bull shark is sitting calmly (at least by bull shark standards) on a specially designed platform on the TPWD vessel. (Photo courtesy Derek York/TPWD)
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That’s a big bull shark folks! (Photo courtesy Derek York/TPWD)

Sharks are an extremely important part of the Gulf ecosystem and many species have suffered major declines due to overfishing from commercial longliners as well as some pressure from the recreational fishery.

Work like TPWD is doing this summer with their tagging will help gain a better understanding of sharks in Texas waters and give them a better idea on how to manage these predators. Shark regulations have changed several times in recent years as new research has come to light.

In the past some have questioned the wisdom of releasing big sharks like this but the fact is they are always at the beach during peak tourist season and there are very few attacks-even from the notorious bull shark.

I am in fact preparing a defense of the bull shark article coming later this week. These photos and the video attached inspired me to speak up for a species that gets little love.

I salute York and all of the TPWD crew out working hard to monitor our shark fishery and I think it’s kind of cool this big boy was caught right in the middle of Shark Week.

Chester Moore, Jr.

(To subscribe to this blog enter your email address in the box on the top right of this page. To contact Chester Moore e-mail chester@chestermoore.com.)

Another Sea Snake Report Comes From Gulf of Mexico

Sea snakes are some of the most unusual and mysterious reptiles on the planet and their known range is limited to the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

I have however uncovered a series of interesting reports in the Gulf of Mexico along the Texas/Louisiana border.

In response to an earlier entry here at The Wildlife Journalist® another report came in-this time from Florida.

Last year in August (2017) we were on a family vacation. We went down to the beach and got I’m in the water and not two minutes later my 11-year-old started yelling snake. I still couldn’t see it. So he pointed at it and followed it out the water. It went down the beach 20 or 30 yards and back in the water. It was only a baby but definitely a banded sea krait. I have watched many nature shows with this snake on it. This was at Holmes Beach on Anna Maria Island, Fla. We will be there again this August and I will be keeping a look out for another one.

This location is on the Gulf Coast of Florida and is the first report we are aware of in the region.

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Banded sea krait. Photo courtesy NOAA

In the first article on the subject we note there are eel species in the Gulf that could be mistaken for a sea snake, however the behavior mentioned in the report above does not match up with eel behavior.

Is it really possible that banded sea kraits entered the Gulf of Mexico through ship ballasts?

An article at thoughtco.com explains ballast systems purpose and how they work.

A ballast water system allows a ship to pump water in and out of very large tanks to compensate for a change in cargo load, shallow draft conditions, or weather.

  • The capacity of ballast water tanks might be millions of gallons on a large vessel. This allows vessels to carry a light or heavy load while maintaining ideal buoyancy and handling conditions in all situations.

More than 7,000 species move around in ship ballots daily according to officials with the World Wildlife Fund in an article in The Telegraph and while ships are supposed to change their ballast water in the open ocean to lessen the chance of invaders making it inland, this would have little impact on sea snakes. They could easily catch a ride on a mat of Sargassum and be just fine.

The Chinese Mitten crab has taken up residence in the Thames and other English river systems after being brought in by ballasts. It’s within the realm of possibility for sea snakes to hitch a ride into the Gulf.

An interesting side-note is the most likely sea snake hitchhiker would be the yellow-bellied sea snake as it is found along the Pacific Coast of Panama and is the most widely distributed species. All of the reports I have gathered are of banded sea kraits which live much further away from the United States.

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Yellowbelly sea snake. Photo courtesy NOAA

We will talk more about this in another post and dig more into some other possible cases of mistaken identity besides the aforementioned eels.

If you have seen any sea snake in the Gulf of Mexico or had a sighting of something snake-like you cannot explain email chester@chestermoore.com.

This story is getting more interesting by the week and we will continue coverage here at The Wildlife Journalist®.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

 

 

Is Common Blacktip Shark 4th Most Likely To Attack?

Blacktip Shark

The common blacktip shark is never listed in Internet and television lists of the most dangerous sharks.

Yet if you look at the raw numbers from the International Shark Attack File (ISAF), you will see they should be.

While blacktips were only positively identified in one unprovoked fatality they were responsible for 29 total attacks.

That puts only the great white, tiger and bull-the three species everyone recognizes as potentially dangerous above them. We wrote about this last year here but have some new insight.

The blacktip shark can easily be confused with other species. (Photo courtesy NOAA)

ISAF has a category for requiem and lamniforems-attacks linked to thosebranches but not to exact species and those are both higher than the blacktip. But when it comes to identified sharks biting people blacktips rank fourth.

Period.

This is not to implicate the blacktip as a creature to be feared. It is however to question some of the shark attacks identified as bull and to  lesser extent spinner sharks (which have 16 attacks attribute to them.)

Spinner sharks are nearly identical to blacktips and bull sharks and big blacktips can appear similar especially in murky water.

The identification issue is noted by ISAF.

 This list must be used with caution because attacks involving easily identified species, such as white, tiger, sandtiger, hammerhead and nurse sharks, nearly always identify the attacking species, while cases involving difficult to identify species, such as requiem sharks of the genus Carcharhinus, seldom correctly identify the attacker.

Blacktips are the most common large shark to be found in the Gulf of Mexico. They are highly abundant along many beaches and probably come into contact with people more than any other large shark.

The author in 1999 with a blacktip shark he was about to tag with Mote Marine biologist John Tyminski.

While the bull shark is common and sort of jacked up on testosterone, blacktips are even more abundant and frequently prey on schools of mullet, menhaden, pompano and other fish on the beachfront.

In my opinion some of the “bull shark” attacks on fishermen in particular are probably blacktips. Wade fishermen routinely carry belts with fish stringers and I have personally witnessed numerous blacktips hitting stringers. I have seen bulls circle anglers and have heard of one attacking a stringer but blacktips are far more often the culprit here.

Bulls have a bad reputation so they might be getting a little more blame on some of the attacks that do not involve fatalities and outright brutal attacks.

An interesting note from ISAF is that blacktips have been known to attack surfers in Florida.

Is it possible they are experiencing the same kind of phenomenon great whites do in seal-rich waters of the Pacific but instead of pinnipeds they relate it to the silhouette of sea turtles?

Blacktip sharks are amazing creatures that have the respect of anglers due to their incredible acrobatics when hooked. Most anglers catch-and-release them these days respecting their role in the ecosystem.

Perhaps with this knowledge they might respect them a little more-and be a little more cautious when toting around a stringer of speckled trout or pompano in the surf.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

 

Have sea snakes entered the Gulf of Mexico?

It emerged from a weedline that covered the edges of the 18 Mile Light (Sabine Bank Lighthouse) out of Sabine Pass, TX on the Texas-Louisiana border.

“It had white/bluish and black bands and came from under the weeds and then swam to the surface. It was a sea snake and I have no doubts about what I saw,” said one angler I interviewed in person who wishes to remain anonymous.

The angler said the “snake” had a paddle-like tail and he and his fishing partner observed it for several minutes.

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Banded Sea Krait (Photo courtesy NOAA Photo)

The problem is there are not supposed to be any sea snakes in Gulf waters. They dwell the Pacific although in the past there has been some banter about whether or not they would make it through the Panama Canal.

I got that report a couple of years back and then sort of filed in the “X” category for review later on down the road.

Then I spoke with someone who told me about catching a big diamondback rattlesnake near High Island, TX.. He said this as he brought me a king snake for my collection and we spent an hour talking about serpents. And just as he was done relating the story of the rattler, he dropped a bombshell.

“The craziest thing I ever saw was a  banded sea krait at one of the rigs off of the Bolivar Peninsula,” he said.

He reported seeing the snake swimming around a rig that he had paddled his kayak to on a calm day.

A couple of things happened when I got this report. First, he called it a “banded sea krait” which is a specific type of sea snake. There are numerous species.

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This is what two separate eyewitnesses reported seeing in close proximity in the Gulf of Mexico.

Then I realized this was only about 25 miles from where the other sighting came from which described a banded sea krait. These two individuals did not know each other and the reports were unsolicited. In other words there was no collusion.

Once again there are supposed to be no sea snakes in Texas.

A possible candidate for the sightings is the snake eel which is present in the Gulf of Mexico and has similar markings to a banded sea krait. They are established in the Gulf and would be a species found around an oil rig or a structure like the 18 Mile Light although I have never spoken with anyone who has ever reported seeing one and that includes divers-including myself.

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Snake Eel (Photo courtesy NOAA)

There are several reports of beaded sea snake that allegedly washed up in Florida after a red tide event. There are also a few stories of sea snakes reportedly being found in different areas of the Caribbean.

Bloggers blame ship ballasts for carrying snakes from the Pacific and then unintentionally releasing them into the Gulf. It is unlikely but the fact is you just never know.

A recent video shows a snake that appears to be a sea snake in the Gulf of Maine-far from their range.

If you think you might have seen a sea snake in the Gulf of Mexico email me at chester@chestermoore.com. I would appreciate any accounts, photos or video.

Sea snakes are fascinating creatures and their presence in the Gulf although unlikely is not impossible.

Chester Moore, Jr.

(To contact Chester Moore e-mail chester@chestermoore.com. To subscribe to this blog enter your email address in the box on the top right of this page.)

Moody Gardens upgrades aquarium pyramid

“People protect what they love.”

Those words were originally spoken by legendary ocean explorer Jacques Yves Cousteau, a man who spent much of life beneath the surface of the world’s oceans encountering its diverse inhabitants.

Most of us do not have that opportunity but we still seek an understanding of the ocean and Moody Gardens in Galveston is giving the public a chance to gain that knowledge in an up close and personal setting.

Sat. May 27 the facility will debut $37 million in upgrades that have turned the Moody Gardens Aquarium Pyramid into a true word-class educational experience.

I got a sneak peek and here is what stood out.

Gulf of Mexico Rig Exhibit: See the balance of technology and nature through this impressive 30,000 gallon, two-story, 23-foot scale model oil production platform aquarium. These manmade islands provide valuable attachment surfaces for a variety of encrusting organisms to create an entire reef ecosystem found throughout the Gulf of Mexico.  This new exhibit includes diver communication for presentations and interaction, further engaging guests in their underwater experience.

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Ever wonder what the part of an oil rig beneath the surface looks like? Now you know thanks to the new display at Moody Gardens (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

Flower Gardens Tribute: With help from the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, guests experience the East Flower Garden Bank, West Flower Garden Bank and Stetson Bank up close and personal. The exhibit includes examples of Brain, Star and Elkhorn coral, to name a few, all of which can be seen on the banks. The Flower Garden Banks reef system is one of the healthiest in the Gulf and Caribbean regions.

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For the first time a specific exhibit explaining the Flower Gardens will be part of the facility. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

Caribbean Display Upgrades: New to the exhibit is The Pride, a 19th century rum-runner shipwreck replica, loosely based on the vessel sailed by famed Galveston pirate Jean Lafitte. Divers spent a total of 68.5 hours underwater putting together the ship, which arrived in about 75 individual pieces. A new mangrove lagoon greets visitors at the Caribbean entrance where they get to touch cownose rays and see southern stingrays and spiny lobsters.

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Visitors can touch cow nose rays in a beautiful, realistic mangrove swamp setting. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

Humboldt Penguins: These unique warm-climate penguins hail from Southern Hemisphere waters from the Antarctic to the Equator. This is the second penguin exhibit at Moody Gardens and the Humboldts are right next door to the South Atlantic Penguin Habitat, home to the King, Gentoo, Chinstrap, Rockhopper and Macaroni penguins. As part of the recent renovations, the South Atlantic Penguin Habitat is newly enhanced to better benefit guests and the health and livelihood of the penguins within.

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Humboldt Penguins are a warm climate species that will be used as outreach animals at both the park and as ambassadors on the outside. (Photo courtesy Moody Gardens)

Jellyfish Gallery: The room wasn’t quite finished when I visited but what I saw of the jellyfish gallery was stunning. See some of the most beautifully designed creatures in nature in a perfectly lit environment. The highlight for visitors will no doubt be the touch tank-the world’s first opportunity to touch jellyfish in an aquarium-a non stinging variety of course.

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Jellyfish are the subject of a natural art gallery at Moody Gardens. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

There is much more including improvements to virtually every display, numerous new educational display and an impressive computer table display that shows full-scale giant squid size, explains ocean depth and other interesting facts.

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See a full-scale giant squid along with other mysterious ocean dwellers. (Photo by ChesterMoore, Jr.)

If someone already loves the ocean a visit here will help build that into a full-blown passion but any kid (or kid at heart) who pays a visit will walk away with enough information and inspiration to want to help conserve our ocean resources.

Jacques Cousteau would be proud.

Chester Moore, Jr.

To visit Moody Garden’s website click here.

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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.

Manta Ray found just off TX beach (Video)

Last week readers Andy Allen and Reggie Begelton captured this video of a large manta ray swimming a mile west of the Sabine Jetties, just off the beach at Sea Rim State Park out of Sabine Pass, TX.

Manta rays are present in the Gulf of Mexico but sightings are rare and sightings with a mile of the beach are virtually unheard of in Texas.

According to Wikipedia, swimming behavior in mantas differs across habitats: when travelling over deep water, they swim at a constant rate in a straight line, while further inshore they usually bask or swim idly around. Mantas may travel alone or in groups of up to 50. They may associate with other fish species as well as sea birds and marine mammals. Mantas sometimes breach, leaping partially or entirely out of the water. Individuals in a group may make aerial jumps one after the other. These leaps come in three forms: forward leaps where the fish lands head first, similar jumps with a tail first re-entry or somersault. The reason for breaching is not known; possible explanations include mating rituals, birthing, communication, or the removal of parasites and remora.

“Manta rays have broad heads, triangular pectoral fins, and horn-shaped cephalic fins located on either side of their mouths. They have horizontally flattened bodies with eyes on the sides of their heads behind the cephalic fins, and gill slits on their ventral surfaces. Their tails lack skeletal support and are shorter than their disc-like bodies.  The dorsal fins are small and at the base of the tail.”

“The largest mantas can reach 1,350 kg (2,980 lb). In both species the width is approximately 2.2 times the length of the body; M. birostris reaches at least 7 m (23 ft) in width while M. alfredi reaches about 5.5 m (18 ft). Dorsally, mantas are typically black or dark in color with pale markings on their “shoulders”. Ventrally, they are usually white or pale with distinctive dark markings by which individual mantas can be recognized. All-black color morphs are known to exist. The skin is covered in mucus which protects it from infection.”

Chester Moore, Jr.