Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Mighty Aphrodite

Believe it or not, the fuzzy creature pictured left is actually a worm, closely related to the earthworm. The great taxonomist Linnaeus named it Aphrodite aculeate. While one might hope he was appreciating the animal’s iridescent beauty, it seems that he was attempting a lame vagina joke.

The common name “Sea Mouse” likely arose because of Aphrodite aculeate’s resemblance to the furry rodent when washed up on shore or in fishermen’s nets. The sea mouse sports a dense mat of deep red or brown hairs on its back, finer iridescent blue-green bristles along its sides, and pink segmented flesh more akin to its earthworm cousin along its belly. (Photos courtesy of Paul Kay, the University of Massachusetts, and The Loop.)

This unassuming marine worm has lately been receiving a flurry of attention from optical engineers. It seems that Aphrodite’s spines are made up of very specialized hexagonal cells that are incredibly efficient at trapping light. In this way, the bottom-dwelling Sea Mouse captures the limited light available on the ocean bottom in her fancy bristles to create send signals to predators that suggest her bristles are poisonous (they are actually harmless). These photonic crystals are the first ever found in a living organism, and researchers hope to copy their structure and revolutionize fibre optic communications.

A further flurry of Sea Mouse attention has recently erupted here at the Ecology Action Centre, all because of the magic of local crochet wizard named Morgan. Not only has she crafted a magnificent specimen for our sea floor, but she has also provided a free, easy-to-read pattern! Click here to see the pattern and more information about the Sea Mouse on the Loop Craft CafĂ©’s great blog.

As the lyrical natural historian Sue Hubbell has pointed out, it is maybe fitting that Aphrodite aculeata, ''an advanced and specialized Polychaete, should echo the name the Greeks gave to the generative and creative principle that had emerged from the sea's depths.'' After all, as she notes, ''Aphrodite, the name, derives from the Greek word for sea foam, aphros.''

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Bubblegum Years

Ahhhh, coral. For most of us, the word conjures a warm breeze, a snorkel, and shallow aquamarine reefs. Tropical corals are some of the most beloved and well-researched ecosystems on a planet - after all, who doesn’t want to conduct research in a speedo?

It may be surprising to many that in the chilly, dark waters off the Atlantic Canadian coast, we host our own variety of coral communities. While scientists have only recently begun to learn about cold-water corals, fishermen along the continental shelf have been aware of their existence for generations. Known to bottom hook-and-line fishermen in Nova Scotia as “trees,” Paragorgia arborea and Primnoa resedaeformis, among other species, have long been regarded as vital fish habitat.

Paragorgia arborea (AKA Bubblegum trees) are considered to be the world's largest seafloor organism. Colonies can reach over seven metres high, and live for hundreds of years. They function as an oceanic treehouse, providing shelter for countless species of fish and invertebrates. Due to their upright nature and slow growth rates, Bubblegum corals are very sensitive to impacts from bottom trawling.

Back in 1996, a group of concerned fishermen on the South Shore of Nova Scotia formed an education and advocacy group called the Canadian Ocean Habitat Protection Society (COHPS). The group created a fantastic mounted display of collected coral specimens, and toured it around local schools, parades, and gatherings on the back of a pick up truck. ((Photos courtesy of the NOAA and Derek Jones.)

The important work of COHPS quickly reached the ears of the Ecology Action Centre and Dr. Martin Willison at Dalhousie University, and lead to the first International Deep Sea Coral Symposium in 2000. Today, there are two fishery closures and a Marine Protected Area designed to protect some of the coral on the Scotian Shelf.

For more about cold-water corals, keep your eyes on the Deep Sea News, as they are posting all kinds of fascinating coral stuff this week- from the latest science to the downright biblical.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Turtle Power

Look who has decided to join us! A gorgeously felted leatherback turtle, courtesy of The Loop.

The majestic leatherback is the largest of living turtles. As the late marine scientist Dr. Ransom Myers (pictured below) has described, they can grow "as big as Volkswagens." They are easily distinguished from other sea turtles by their lack of a hard shell, and long, clawless flippers.

Leatherbacks are major travelers, nesting on warm South and Central American beaches, and swimming north each summer to feed on jellyfish off the coast of Nova Scotia. To brave the cold northern waters, their flippers feature 'countercurrent heat exchangers'. If only we were also bestowed with such practical equipment to warm our feet during the long Maritime winter!

Listed as critically endangered by the IUCN and Canada's Species At Risk Act, these gentle giants can become ensnared in fishing gear, or caught on pelagic long lines. Leatherback turtles are also at risk from marine pollution. They may mistake floating plastic for jellyfish and fill their bellies with our indigestible garbage - eventually choking or starving. They are also sensitive to light and noise disturbances when nesting in the south.

The Canadian Sea Turtle Network (formerly known as the Nova Scotia Leatherback Turtle Working Group) is a collaborative research and conservation initiative that includes fishermen, tour-boat operators, naturalists, coastal community members, and biologists. The team has been tracking the trans-Atlantic voyages of a small number of tagged turtles in the hope of contributing to the recovery of the leatherback turtle.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Ocean's Only Flying Elephant

Allow us to present the darling of unusual marine animal enthusiasts: the Dumbo Octopus. Doesn't she look fantastic?! This little critter was knitted for us using a pattern from Hansigurumi.

Grimpoteuthis, AKA Dumbo Octopus, are a recent scientific discovery, so-named for their delightful ear-like fins. These fins are used in combination with eight pulsing arms and a water funnel to hover elegantly, just above the sea floor. From there they can browse for worms, shellfish and copepods.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans recently caught one on camera during an exploratory voyage into Sable Gully. This deep canyon is located just 200 kilometers off the coast of Nova Scotia, and is home to thousands of amazing species. Dumbo octopi living there should be relatively safe from human impacts, because Sable Gully has been designated as a Marine Protected Area since 2004.

(Knitted dumbo courtesy of Mammals. Photo courtesy of David Shale.)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Even A Small Star Shines in the Darkness

Wondering how to knit a brittle star? Look no further, because the lovely staff at The Loop Craft Cafe have come up with another great pattern, here. What a handsome creature!

Brittle stars are the fastest moving of all echinoderms. They crawl around on the sea floor using all five of their long, slender arms. They like to hide away around coral structures, and emerge at night to feed on plankton.Here is a bit of a gross fact for you: Brittle stars go without an anus, and eliminate their wastes through their mouth!

As their name suggests, brittle stars are pretty breakable. Far from being a handicap, it allows these nimble creatures to shed a limb or two and escape if cornered by a hungry predator like cod or haddock. They regenerate quickly, and can grow a whole new organism from just a small surviving piece. Watch some pretty footage of a crawling brittle star here.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Jelly Dimensions

As Beau Sheil has said, "Those who admire the massive, rigid bone structures of dinosaurs should remember that jellyfish still enjoy their very secure ecological niche.” Indeed, jellyfish have been around for over 650 million years, and- unlike many marine creatures- have an excellent chance of outliving human impacts on ocean ecosystems.

Jellyfish are amazing animals. They are made up of 95% water, and have no bones, heart, or brain. They don’t have eyes, either, but somehow they still manage to detect and react to food, danger, and obstacles.

The Lion’s Mane Jelly is an elegant, fast-moving jellyfish found as small as 20 cm in diameter in warm waters, and up to 2 meters wide off Nova Scotia's cooler coast. Their sticky clusters of tentacles can grow over 30 meters long, and can deliver a powerful sting that lasts for hours. Divers beware!

Local artist Ruth Marsh has lent us a life-sized (72" X 24") caustic-on-wax painting of a very handsome Lion's Mane Jelly. It has startling texture, is emblazoned with gold leaf, and really has to be seen to appreciate its full stinging glory.

We are happy to accept two-dimensional submissions, but for those of you inclined to yarn, check out these patterns for jellies in crochet and knits.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A Creepy Crawly Challenge

Take note, enterprising marine crafters! The swashbucking scientists over at Deep Sea News are offering a bounty of $20 plus postage for mailed sea creature submissions! All you need to do is write out and share a concise, readable pattern and send it along with a finished project. The catch? They are looking for two specific species from the North Atlantic depths.

Behold the Zombie Worm:And the Giant Isopod:
(Photos courtesy of BBC and Coda.) It is worth a few minutes to explore the Deep Sea News site (see a newsfeed of their latest posts to the right). The authors distill the latest haps in deep sea science with a bit of swagger and fun. Best of all, they've also offered to lend one of their Giant Isopod submissions to our seafloor project!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Office Kraken

When we arrived the Ecology Action Centre this morning, there was a big blue squid sitting in the office. We tried to play it cool. But truly, there are few creatures on the planet that command such fear and awe as the Giant Squid.

Seafaring adventure stories are rife with temperamental monsters flailing their multiple grasping limbs around at sailors' peril. As Jules Verne described in the classic novel 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, one "could entangle a ship of five hundred tons and hurry it into abyss of the ocean."

Long assumed to be mythological, scientist have now confirmed the existence of the Giant Squid, or Architeuthis. The world's largest invertebrates, these mysterious giants can grow over 20 meters long and are a nice sized meal for the sperm whale. Rarely observed alive, they sometimes wash up on Maritime beaches or show up in trawler nets.

Squid belong to a large, diverse group of carnivorous molluscs. Relatives of the Architeuthis may be smaller, but they are just as fascinating. They are agile and intelligent creatures with highly complex brains and eyes, and a beautiful skin that can change colours, patterns and even texture. These sassy cephalopods also enjoy a bizarre sex life, which you can learn more about here.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Squiggly Bits

The staggering variety of creature features out there on the North Atlantic sea floor provide unique challenges to crafters, especially knitters and crocheters. But fear not! Experts at The Loop Craft Cafe in Halifax are sharing a series of sea creature tips and patterns on their blog.

As local knitting maven Mimi describes, "From sea spiders and brittlestars to corals, many of the inhabitants of the North Atlantic sea floor have squiggly bits in their anatomy." Her latest post provides an excellent how-to guide for knitting wavy shapes.

Follow her instructions to create your own Iridogorgia. This graceful, curvy octocoral sways in the current like a dancer, as captured by a submersible camera here (check the 50 second mark).

Locals -keep your eye on The Loop's storefront as it is transformed into a lush North Atlantic Seafloor in the days and weeks leading up to World Ocean Day.

(Underwater photo courtesy of NOAA and knitted photo courtesy of The Loop.)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Crochet Colony

Mysterious creatures have begun to sprout up on the Stitchin' Fish sea floor!
Just look at this lush rose-coloured bryzoan. This submission was created using hyperbolic crochet, described here by the Institute For Figuring. (Second photo courtesy of the NOAA.)

Though they look like corals, Bryzoans are actually a unique family of invertebrates, also known as "moss animals." Individual bryzoa group together into colonies, where they share a common digestive and reproductive system. Now that's cooperation!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Flowers of the Sea

Check out these fantastic knitted sea anemones, submitted by Cathy Merriman, owner of the Loop Craft Cafe in Halifax! The Loop will be hosting our seafloor display in their very aquarium-esque shop window on historic Barrington Street. (Check out more photos, some knitting patterns, and her blog entry on the Stitchin Fish project here.)

Known as the "flower of the sea", the seductive anemone is actually a carnivorous animal, using stinging tentacles to capture and kill its prey. They are closely related to jellyfish, and appear in myriad colours and forms across the world's oceans. You can learn more on Wikipedia, and National Geographic.

Keep the creatures coming, folks!

Monday, April 7, 2008


Welcome to the Ecology Action Centre Stitchin' Fish blog spot!

We are seeking submissions for a North Atlantic sea floor display. We'd love to borrow your crocheted, knitted, quilted, sculpted or otherwise crafted marine creatures for World Ocean Day on June 8th. Please send submissions to:

Stitchin' Fish
Ecology Action Centre
2705 Fern Lane, Halifax, Nova Scotia B3K 4L3.

Watch this space for photos of recent submissions, practical crafting advice, and some fascinating facts about local sea floor fauna.

Also, please feel free to comment about what else you might like to see on the blog.

We can't wait to see your creations!