Thursday, April 22, 2021

Earth Day 2021

Happy Earth Day from all of us at NECWA. Each day we have the opportunity to do something positive for Mother Earth. Some actions are small like using reusable bags at the grocery store and some are big, like purchasing an electric vehicle. No matter how significant the action, each one makes a difference, especially when we combine actions and work together. Lets' work hard to make every day Earth Day. Our survival depends on a healthy and diverse planet as does the survival of all life on Earth.

We are connected, we are One!

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Saying Goodbye to our good friend Dr. John Jahoda


Earlier this month, NECWA was contacted about some very sad news. Our good friend, colleague and biggest supporter, Dr. John Jahoda, died from a long battle with a rare form of liver cancer. You can click HERE to read John's obituary. 



This series of photos are of John when he joined me and Dani on Aucoot Beach in Marion, MA in July of 2017. I had asked John if he would identify the various plants on Aucoot Beach for me in preparation of a vegetation study that I was putting together for the nonprofit. Dani and I had so much fun listening and learning from John that day and still remember how amazed we were with John's ability to know all the names and life histories of each of the plants we found. John was a trained zoologist but knew all about plants, environments and just about everything and anything. He was brilliant but he never made a show of all that he knew. He was a gracious, wonderful and supportive teacher and mentor with me and with all of his students, regardless of who you were, what you knew or what your ambitions were in life. 

This series of photos are of John when he joined me and Dani on Aucoot Beach in Marion, MA in July of 2017. I had asked John if he would identify the various plants on Aucoot Beach for me in preparation of a vegetation study that I was putting together for the nonprofit. Dani and I had so much fun listening and learning from John that day and still remember how amazed we were with John's ability to know all the names and life histories of each of the plants we found. John was a trained zoologist but knew all about plants, environments and just about everything and anything. He was brilliant but he never made a show of all that he knew. He was a gracious, wonderful and supportive teacher and mentor with me and with all of his students, regardless of who you were, what you knew or what your ambitions were in life.


John and I worked closely together at Bridgewater State University (BSU) since 2000. He was one of the few professors who would take on someone like me (a woman, a part-time professor, a professor with only a Masters degree) and collaborate with me and our BSU students on various projects, including those on whales, seals, sea turtles, ocean sunfish and basking sharks. He was the marine connection for students at BSU and he provided real-life learning opportunities, both in and out of the classroom, for his students in his classes. He treated me and others with respect and kindness and focused on a person's potential, not their shortcomings. John collaborated with me and other NECWA staff members and interns on many projects, helping us achieve and often exceed our research and educational outreach goals. No matter what projects we worked on together, he provided the positive can-do attitude as well as the support and know-how that was needed. What an incredible experience for me, my staff and those interns, students and volunteers who had the good fortune of taking a class with John or participating in research under his direction whether through BSU or NECWA.

                               

My heart is aching even though I know that John lived a long, prosperous, and adventurous life. He leaves behind a loving and supportive family and there is no doubt that he lived life to the fullest. Still, I miss him so much and the times spent together. After John retired from BSU, I would often join him for long walks in the woods followed by delicious food at one of our favorite restaurants. What fun we had chit-chatting over mounds of pasta, bowls of steamers and yummy rich desserts. I loved our time together for John was always kind, thoughtful, brilliant, fun, supportive, and willing to put-up with my crazy questions, ideas and projects.
John was my dear and very close friend and I will miss him very much. My world just became a little darker but his memory shines bright in my heart. In loving memory, Krill

An Unusual Stranding on Cape Cod in 2020

During the 2020 stranding season on Cape Cod, NECWA documented the first stranded adult shirttail mola. This is a more tropical species compared to the common mola, the species that typically strands on the shores of Cape Cod each fall and early winter. 

On April 16, 2021, Cory Farrelly, a NECWA volunteer, who recently graduated from UMASS Dartmouth in Marine Biology, presented a poster on this stranding in collaboration with NECWA's President Krill Carson and other researchers also studying these unusual species. 

Click on the poster below to enlarge.


Working with our interns and volunteers on scientific posters and presentations is what NECWA is about. This provides the experience and opportunities that these young professionals need as they grow in the field of marine science. 

Please donate to NECWA to help us continue this important mission. NECWA works with over 60 high school and college interns each year as we train the scientists, journalist, educators, etc. of the future.  

Monday, April 12, 2021

An update on Jessica Bethoney - NECWA Intern in 2014

 Where are our NECWA interns now?


Jessica Bethoney interned and volunteered at NECWA from 2014 to 2015. She was a NECWA whale research intern on the whale watch boats in Plymouth, MA where she was responsible for collecting, identifying and organizing Humpback whale research. In the winter, Jessica volunteered to look for cold-stunned sea turtles along Cape Cod along while also assisting with necropsies of sea turtle and ocean sunfish.


Today, Jessica is a Zebrafish Aquatics Facility Manager at Massachusetts General Hospital in the Smiches Research Building. In this facility, she provides husbandry care for over 1500 zebrafish tanks. Jessica assists the multiple researchers who use zebrafish embryos to identify genetic pathways that are responsible for birth anomalies, regrow ligaments and tendons for people who are missing a limb and cancer research. 


In her spare time, Jessica enjoys scuba diving, hiking, kayaking, drawing but most of all photography. She continues to pursue the interest in photography which she discovered taking whale ID photos during her NECWA internship.



Thursday, January 28, 2021

NECWA Intern Austyn Morin

Hello! My name is Austyn Morin. I am currently a senior at Stonehill College, majoring in Environmental Studies and minoring in Spanish and German. I have always been interested in the outdoors, spending lots of my free time hiking and fishing in Vermont. This has allowed me to gain a deep appreciation for the local wildlife. Those experiences have inspired me to pursue a career in wildlife biology and conservation.

Austyn (on left) and David (right)
with rescued live sea turtle.

So, naturally, I wanted to do something that would allow me to work with the wildlife of Massachusetts.  I first heard of NECWA through Stonehill College and other students that had interned here. The first activities I participated in had to do with NECWA’s Ocean Sunfish Project, which involved responding to stranded Ocean Sunfish reports and returning them to the water if they were still alive. On one chilly November morning in East Sandwich, I had the opportunity to help return an Ocean Sunfish to the water. On other occasions, I have walked beaches looking for stranded Ocean Sunfish, tagging, taking data, and performing necropsies on the carcasses.

Austyn assisting a live Ocean Sunfish
I also had the opportunity to walk beaches looking for other type of stranded marine wildlife on Cape Cod and even managed to find a few live cold-stunned sea turtles. This was a very gratifying experience as I had never seen a sea turtle before outside of the New England Aquarium. Overall, I learned a lot about the local weather patterns and how the Cape's geography affects these animals and causes the strandings every year.

Austyn taking data on a Torpedo Ray

More recently, I have participated in NECWA’s new research project for the Western Atlantic Torpedo. This project is focused on the only electric ray that is native to our New England waters. I was involved with on-site necropsies as well as data analysis back in the lab. Using ArcGIS Pro, I was able to create  maps that show the location of the 63 torpedo ray carcasses NECWA was able to document this stranding season. The most interesting map is the one that shows the mass stranding of torpedo rays that occurred in late December on Long Point Beach in Provincetown. In this location, NECWA was able to document 41 torpedo ray carcasses that stranded along this 1.3 mile stretch of beach that borders Provincetown Harbor. 

Austyn documenting a Torpedo Ray

In the future, I hope to pursue a career in wildlife biology and conservation while implementing my passion for GIS. To learn more about Stonehill's Environmental program, click here.

By Austyn Morin, Senior at Stonehill College

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

NECWA Intern Highlight - Coleman Earner

Coleman with dead Common Dolphin at Linnell Landin, Brewster, MA.

Hello! My name is Coleman Earner and I am in my Junior year at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy (MMA). I am currently studying Marine Science, Safety, and Environmental Protection (MSSEP) with a minor in Marine Biology. From a young age, I was fascinated by the ocean ecosystem and all of its moving parts. Since then, I’ve known for certain that I wanted to pursue the field of Marine Biology. During my time at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, I became especially interested in the phenomenon of stranded marine life. Participating in marine wildlife rescues and field research are activities that I’ve wanted to become involved in for a long time. I first heard about NECWA through one of Mass Maritime’s Career fairs as well as recommendations from various fellow students, which drove me to become more involved with their program through a MMA Winter Co-op Program. 

  

Dead Ocean Sunfish stranded on
Great Island, Wellfleet, MA.

 

My first day of fieldwork at NECWA consisted of walking Great Island in Wellfleet, MA in search of a stranded Ocean Sunfish carcass that was reported to NECWA the day before. The primary goal of this expedition was to report and record any washed-up marine life as well as learn the basics of proper searching and data collection. Along with another intern from MMA, Jack Gerrior, we successfully located the fresh Ocean Sunfish carcass and began collecting the requisite photographs and data. This experience was extremely invigorating and piqued my interest in further field research. I was fortunate enough to be able to work-up a fresh Ocean Sunfish carcass, as this instance would be the last new Ocean Sunfish stranding of the 2020/2021 stranding season.

 

Live Loggerhead Sea Turtle rescued by Coleman Earner
and Jack Gerrior at Beach Point, Truro, MA.

 

Along with various necropsies of Torpedo Rays and Ocean Sunfish, I was lucky to be involved with a number of rescues such as various seabirds and the rescue of a live Loggerhead Sea Turtle. As I was walking from Top Mast Resort south to Cold Storage Beach, I saw this turtle in the surf being pulled back out to sea. I had to wade into the surf to rescue this cold-stunned turtle and contacted Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary in Wellfleet for a pick-up. Being part of rescue efforts directly was an incredible experience and I am very thankful that I was able to make a difference. 

 

Coleman photographing a dead torpedo ray on
Point of Rocks Beach, Brewster, MA.

 

During my time with NECWA, I also appreciated the direct and in-depth instruction provided by my supervisor, Krill Carson regarding the "how-tos" with beach rescues and necropsies. I picked-up a variety of techniques quickly such as how best to survey beaches for stranded animals and proper techniques used for data collection and measurements. My internship experience at NECWA has given me insights into the various elements of marine biology and fieldwork, including necropsies, photo-ID and video documentation. I also learned how to thoroughly document strandings through GPS positions, body measurements and weights. Back in the lab, I participated in tracking weather conditions and being involved in data input and analysis. Rescuing marine animals in need and analyzing stranded marine life data has piqued my interest in marine biology fieldwork even further. 

 

Live Loggerhead rescued from Beach Point, Truro, MA


My hopes for the future would be to find a career in the field of Marine Ecology, Seabird Protection, or general Coastal Conservation efforts. If you would like to learn more about Mass Maritime’s MSSEP Program, click HERE


Article by Coleman Earner, Junior at Mass Maritime Academy

Saturday, January 23, 2021

A Peculiar Looking Fish by Austyn Morin

Stranded dead Gray Triggerfish on Great Island, Wellfleet
 on 11/21/2020 by Holly Kuhn

The Gray Triggerfish (Balistes capriscus), also known as a Leatherjacket or Taly, belongs to the Balistidae or the triggerfish family, containing about 40 species altogether. Their most identifiable feature is their front spiny dorsal fin, which gives the Gray Triggerfish its name because they use their front dorsal fin as a defense mechanism against predators. When threatened, the Gray Triggerfish will move into a rocky crevice and erect their front dorsal fin, locking them into place. The Gray Triggerfish has been known to become stranded on Cape Cod's beaches, so it is important to note other important physical features. Mainly since the physical characteristics of the Gray Triggerfish can change depending on age and sex. That way, if one is identified, you can take photos of it and take note of its location. In general they have large plate-like scales at the front of their body, but they become smoother and smaller towards the back of the fish. Triggerfish are compressed laterally, so they look somewhat like an oblong plate. The eyes of the Triggerfish are also set farther away from their mouth. They have two separate dorsal fins a spiny one in the front for defense and another one behind it. There is also an anal fin which is on the opposite side of the second dorsal fin. They also have a caudal or tail fin that can have elongated lobes in larger adults.


Dead stranded Gray Triggerfish on Cold Storage Beach, Truro, MA. 
Photo by Eric Joransen

Adults tend to be olive-gray and can have blue spots and lines on their upper body and dorsal fins and white spots near their lower body and fins.  In comparison, juveniles are more yellowish and have small violet dots. Gray Triggerfish call the waters of the East Atlantic from Nova Scotia all the way down to Argentina home. Triggerfish prefer areas with hard bottoms or reefs, and they live in bays or lagoons in depths up to 55 meters. Gray Triggerfish can weigh as much as 13 pounds. They can reach upto 28 inches in length and normally live around 11-15 years.

Spawning season for Gray triggerfish occurs between the months of April to August, and during this time, Triggerfish exhibit an exciting ability in their toolset. They change colors. Males become a more charcoal grey color while females become a more contrasting black and white. It is essential to keep in mind if you find a fish on the beach that looks like a Gray Triggerfish, but the colors seem off. After the fish have mated, it typically takes about 44-55 hours for the eggs to hatch. Once they hatch, unlike their adult counterparts who prefer to hang out near the water's bottom, juveniles live at a more shallow depth. These young Triggerfish are very closely connected with Sargassum, which is a type of Algae. In fact, Sargassum is so important to young Gray Triggerfish that juveniles' survival rates are directly correlated to the abundance of the Sargassum. So, future efforts to maintain the populations could be connected to monitoring the quantity of Sargassum.

Gray Triggerfish in open water
Photo posted by SpaceCoastDaily.com

An adult Gray Triggerfishes' favorite foods are Benthic invertebrates like mollusks, crabs, shrimp, sea urchins, and lobsters. In contrast, the juveniles tend to prefer hydroids, which are related to jellyfish, barnacles, and polychaetes, also known as bristle worms. Because of their preferred diet of shelled creatures Gray Triggerfish have very specialized incisor-like teeth to create holes on their shelled prey. Interestingly enough, Gray Triggerfish also show some exciting foraging behaviors while looking for prey. In a study done by Thomas Frazer, Triggerfish would direct a stream of water towards the sand to move the sand and reveal any hiding prey like sand dollars. They will then undulate their anal and dorsal fins to hover above the water to get their prey. As previously stated, Gray Triggerfish change their colors more dramatically during the spawning season. Still, they can also slightly change their color to better blend in with their surroundings. There is more interesting behaviour exhibited by Gray Triggerfish during extreme weather patterns. A recent study found that many fish species living close to the bottom of the ocean floor are actually affected by tropical storms. Researchers noted a change of movement behaviour of Gray Triggerfish during extreme weather conditions. Mainly that there was increased movement oftentimes to deeper water, just before or during the storms.

Live Sand Dollar, Long Point Beach, MA
Photo by Katarina Bingham-Maas

Due to their abundance and comprehensive range, they are a favorite for anglers both commercially and for recreation. There are two main stocks in the Atlantic: in the Gulf of Mexico and the South Atlantic. However, due to their popularity in 2018, the stock in the Gulf of Mexico was overfished. Today it is no longer currently considered to be overfished, and the population is rebuilding to target levels. Despite their popularity, there is no need for alarm because the fishing gear used for Gray Triggerfish has been shown to have a little environmental impact. As well the World Conservation Union does not consider the Gray Triggerfish to be threatened or endangered. There are regulations in place by the US government to make sure Gray Triggerfish populations remain sustainable, and because of this, Gray Triggerfish are an excellent choice for seafood. As an alternative for those who are looking for a more sustainable meat source. Or if you're looking for something new to try. Gray Triggerfish are also notorious among anglers for being bait stealers, especially those fishing for Red Snapper and Grouper.

Gray Triggerfish strandings are a visible event that occurs on Cape Cod. So, by starting the data collection process on where they are stranding. We can begin to better understand the role these peculiar fish play in our waters. For more information about Gray Triggerfish check out these links and Articles below.

This blog post by Austyn Morin, Senior at Stonehill College


Links to learn more about the Gray Triggerfish:

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

NECWA Intern David Madden

Hello! I am an undergraduate student at Bridgewater State University, and am pursuing a Biology major, as well as a Music minor. I discovered NECWA through my University and have been working as a field research intern starting in November. With NECWA, I have had the opportunity of working with various types of marine wildlife that strand along the shores of Cape Cod. On some occasions, I have walked beaches looking to locate and rescue stranded cold stunned sea turtles in collaboration with Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary in Wellfleet, MA. At other times, my walks have focused on finding and necropsying Western Atlantic torpedo rays and ocean sunfish. I have also been involved in a number of sea bird rescues that also occur this time of the year.

David Madden at Paine's Creek, Brewster, MA

A new project that NECWA initiated this stranding season was focused on the Western Atlantic Torpedo, an electric ray found in the waters off of the Cape. Each fall and early winter, torpedo rays, have been found to strand primarily along the northern shores of Cape Cod. This year, NECWA was able to document 41 torpedo ray carcasses washed up along a 1.3 mile stretch of beach on Long Point, Provincetown. The cause of this mass stranding is unknown and currently under investigation.

David on Great Island, 1/16/21 looking for wildlife in need.

NECWA has given me a unique opportunity to experience wildlife that many New England natives may never see, and some may not even known about. Living off Cape makes it difficult to access many of these beaches where strandings occur, but it is important to make the effort to drive down to these areas. I find ocean sunfish to be absolutely fascinating animals. Their strange biology and morphology is incredible to experience up close. Being able to perform necropsies, animal autopsies, and learn first hand about the inner workings of these animals is also a joy.

David documenting a torpedo ray on Long Point, Provincetown.

I adore marine wildlife and have always felt very lucky to live in a place with such a diverse wildlife and a complex ecology. I have spent much of my time on the Cape for recreational purposes with friends and family. I find it a privilege to now to have a purpose for my actions by assisting with marine wildlife rescues and research with NECWA. Thanks to NECWA I have had the opportunity to study these animals up close and to develop skills useful for my career goals in the field of marine science. After graduation I would like to have a career that is focused on conservation biology and the study of marine life in the waters of New England.

David recording data on a torpedo ray

For anyone interested in learning more about Bridgewater State Universities Biology Program, click HERE. To learn more about NECWA's internship program, click HERE.