Author Archives: Jack Andrew Guay

Hemp: One of the Best Natural Fibers on the Planet


What if told you that there was a plant on this plant that had some of the strongest naturally accruing fibers and can be made into thousands of different products including clothes, food, plastics, fuel, and even building materials? Before going any further in this blog post it is important to delineate the difference between industrial hemp and recreational and medical marijuana. Medical and recreational marijuana has a chemical in it called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC for short; this is the chemical in marijuana that gets high. While hemp is part of the cannabis family and looks almost exactly like regular marijuana, it is extremely different. Industrial hemp that is used to make a variety of products has little to no THC in it. In fact in America in order to make products out of hemp there has to be less than .03% THC in it (HempBasic.com). Average weed is 3 to 7% THC with the highest percentages being at around 30%. What this means is that you could smoke an entire field of hemp and you would not get high in the slightest. It is for the reason the hemp cannot get you high because it’s lacking of THC that it should not be thrown in with the highly debatable and social topic of recreational and medical marijuana. The legality of Hemp in the United States and across the world is quite complicated because of similarities to THC potent marijuana so I will not be getting into that part of it. I will instead focus on all of the vast industrial uses of hemp. I often feel that in the hot topic of marijuana hemp gets left out and not enough people are aware of its amazing capabilities and potential.

Lets first begin with how hemp matches up to another well known fiber, cotton. According to hempbasics.com compared to cotton “1 acre of hemp will produce as much fiber as 2 to 3 acres of cotton. Hemp fiber is stronger and softer than cotton, lasts twice as long as cotton, and will not mildew” (HempBasic.com). Not only that but the climate in which hemp grows in is much more versatile then cotton, requires less water and unlike cotton requires no pesticides or herbicides (HempBasic.com). What that means that as far as growing hemp goes it is much more environmentally friendly then cotton because harmful chemicals are not needed in the growing process and it require less water. Here is a great diagram from weebly.com that shows some of the differences and benefits of hemp over cotton.

There are literally thousands of items that can be made out of hemp like clothes, paper, food, and much more. I am going to focus however on three different things that can be made out of hemp that I find to be not only the most interesting but the most important. These three items are plastics, fuel, and building materials. These three items alone prove how valuable of material hemp is and why its cultivation should extremely widespread.

Here is a diagram that helps to give you more of sense of things hemp can be made into:

As far as plastics go, there is a common chemical in that used in the process of making most plastics. Plastics like rayon, and cellophane, are made with something that is called cellulose. Cellulose is what makes up plants cell walls, and it can be extracted from plants to make these types of plastic. Hemp contains around 65 to 70% cellulose, which can be extracted and made into plastics (SensiSeeds.com). To put this in comparison to other plants have high cellulose content flax has about 65 to 75%, wood has 40%, and cotton can have up to 90% (SensiSeeds.com). That means that hemp is almost as good as cotton for making plastics, but like I said earlier is more environmentally friendly to grow and has many more benefits. Once plastics are made out of hemp they can then turned into items like DVD cases, shower lining, and even car parts (TreeHuger.com).

Another item that can be made out of hemp is fuel. Just like vegetable oil you can make biofuel out of hemp. By turning hemp into hemp oil it can be used to create biodiesel (TreeHuger.com). Basically what biodiesel is clean and renewable fuel that does not negatively impact the environment when it is burned (BioDiesel.org). Biodiesel is made through a process called “transesterification whereby the glycerin is separated from the fat in a plant. The process leaves behind two products, methyl esters (the chemical name for biodiesel) and glycerin” (BioDiesel.org). Biofuel is extremely important when comes to talking about the future of renewable energies, it’s just one potential way to replace the harmful and nonrenewable gasoline that is used in cars. According to treehuger.com hemp could also be “utilized to make liquid fuels that are chemically identical to petroleum-based gasoline or diesel as well” (TreeHuger.com). The use of hemp for fuel is not only possible but could be a great clean and renewable resource to help fuel the country.

Finally we come to one of the most impressive uses of hemp, that being building materials. Hemp can be made into insulation that is more environmentally friendly as well as a better form of wood and concrete. When you take the fibers of hemp and make them into boards they are stronger and more flexible then wood while being fire and root resistant (TreeHuger.com). These boards can then be taken and made it houses that are must strong and more resistant to extreme conditions then regular houses. Hemp can also be taken and made into an even strong form that is dubbed “hempcrete”. Not only is this hempcrete “stronger and lighter then concrete” (TreeHuger.com), but it is “fireproof and waterproof” (HempBasic.com). According to hemp basics hempcrete is created by “The silica leached from the soil by the plant combined with unslaked lime forms a chemical bond similar to cement” (HempBasic.com). This has a massive impact on the building industry, not only because these hemp products are stronger, more resistant, and better then their counterparts but because they are also environmentally friendly.

So far when talking about hemp, its capabilities to be incredibly environmentally friendly have been a recurring topic when discussing hemp. However the previously mentioned points are not the full extent of hemps abilities to help save our planets ecosystems. By far hemps most important contribution to not only science but the world is its ability to slow and even potentially stop deforestation. Deforestation is an incredibly serious and important topic because it not only destroys the trees we need for oxygen but kills a lot of biodiversity on our planet that is so unique and precious (Weebly.com). According to weebly.com when compared to trees hemp can “produces 4 times the raw material than trees for paper making. Hemp can be planted between 1-3 times a season, depending on location and can be recycled up to 10 times, compared to 3 or 4 for wood pulp paper” (Weebly.com) . Why this is important to deforestation is that hemp can do almost the exact same things as trees like make homes, paper, and other materials but much more renewably and easily. Hemp works just as good as wood and causes way less damage to the environment to produce. It is for those reasons that hemp can help fight the epidemic of deforestation.

Overall hemp is an extremely versatile fiber that has thousand of incredible industrial uses. Unfortunately due to its similarities to THC filled marijuana it is not as widely used as it should be. I think as recreational and medical marijuana becomes increasingly more legal, the unjust and wrong viewpoints of hemp will change and it will become increasingly available and used in the industrial market. Hemp need to be grown and used more frequently not just for all of its uses but mainly because it’s massive environmental impact. Hemp latterly has the power to help stop deforestation and create a cleaner more renewable future.

Here are my sources:

Picture at the top:http://www.nationofchange.org/sites/default/files/HempPassestoHelpFightRadiation021414.jpg

Hemp diagram 1: http://hempethics.weebly.com/what-is-industrial-hemp.html

Hemp diagram 2: https://www.realhemp.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/hemp-chart-2b.png

http://biodiesel.org/what-is-biodiesel/biodiesel-basics

http://sensiseeds.com/en/blog/hemp-plastics-made/

http://hempethics.weebly.com/what-is-industrial-hemp.html

http://www.treehugger.com/environmental-policy/perfect-plant-7-great-uses-for-industrial-hemp.html

http://www.hempbasics.com/shop/hemp-information

Ocean Pollution: We are Killing Our Oceans

It was thought for a very long time that the ocean could handle anything that was put into it. The ocean is so massive that people believed it would dilute any harmful and unnatural substance that was placed in it. However today we know that this is not the case. The ocean’s ecosystem is deteriorating at an alarming rate and is slowly dying. As humans we have been gradually murdering seventy percent of the surface of the earth by throwing just about anything harmful and man-made including radioactive waste, trash, garbage, chemicals, and heavy metals into the ocean for centuries. Now these proverbial tides are turning; since the 1970s there have been worldwide movements to stop the destruction of our oceans. In 1975 the United Nations made it illegal to dump waste and trash into the ocean. To enforce this new world wide law “The International Maritime Organization was given responsibility for this and a protocol was finally adopted in 1996, a major step in the regulation of ocean dumping” (marinebio.org). Now because of this international law the amount of hazardous material dumped into the ocean every year has decreased at a significant rate every year. There are many manmade materials and substances polluting the oceans and they all have a detrimental effect on the oceans and their ecosystems.

There are thousands of different types of hazardous and deadly materials that make their way into the worlds’ oceans every year, but these substances can be divided into several different categories. These categories are radioactive material, sewage, oil, trash and garbage, fertilizers, chemicals, and heavy metals. According to the Marinebio Conservation Society, radioactive material comes from “the nuclear power process, medical use of radioisotope, research use of radioisotopes and industrial uses” (marinebio.org). Sewage consists of wastewater from homes and cities, which contains human excrement and any other materials that are washed into the sewers. A substance that is more deadly than sewage that is polluting the ocean is oil, which comes from tankers and offshore refineries. Out of all the things that are polluting the ocean, trash and garbage makes up a large majority of it. There are “trillions of decomposing plastic items and trash” that is currently floating around in the ocean (NationalGeographic). This trash is basically anything that we use in our daily lives that gets thrown out or disposed of, from reusable plastics to chairs to clothing. Another substance that is damaging the ocean is fertilizers. Fertilizers are used by farmers and in large quantities, they are basically chemicals used to help plants grow. Eventually the fertilizers make their way into the ocean. Another substance that is similar to fertilizers is chemicals, this consists of such things as pesticides, herbicides detergents and basically any other substance that is unnatural and artificially made (NationalGeographic). A final hazardous material that has made its way into the ocean unnaturally is heavy metals. Heavy Metals are such things as arsenic, copper, lead, and zinc that are dug out of the ground and made into things (NationalGeographic). All of these substances are currently in the oceans ecosystem and causing damage.

All of these hazardous substances just don’t magically appear in the ocean, they end up there through many different ways. Three ways that result in almost all ocean pollution are oil spills, agricultural runoff, and dumping. When someone thinks of oil spills they might think that this is something that doesn’t happen that often; however this is not the case. The Environmental Encyclopedia states that “from 2000 to 2008, an average of 24 tons of oil has been spilled annually” (OpposingViewpoints). Also there are major events such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill and Deepwater Horizon drilling rig accident. When a tanker ship for Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska it leaked almost 750,000 barrels of crude oil into the water for several days. The Deepwater Horizon accident occurred when an explosion on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico “triggered an oil leak on the ocean floor, for 87 days oil spewed into the Gulf” (OpposingViewpoints). This incident resulted in over 200 million gallons of crude oil to be released into the ocean.

Another way that hazardous material gets into the ocean is through agricultural runoff. According to Marinebio Conservation Society agricultural runoff is when harmful materials and chemicals such as “pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals used on farms contaminate nearby rivers that flow into the ocean”, which results in these harmful chemicals making their way into the ocean and its ecosystem (marinebio.org). Large amounts of these extremely harmful and deadly chemicals are used on just about every farm and “40 percent of fertilizers used in the United States end up in waterways and coastal marine environments.” (OpposingViewpoints). These chemicals and fertilizers have an immense impact and effect on the oceans ecosystems.

By far the most significant form of ocean pollution is dumping. Dumping results in just about anything that is hazardous being placed in the ocean by the ton every year. Anything from sewage and trash to chemicals and fertilizers to dredged material to industrial and nuclear waste ends up in the ocean as a result of dumping. Up until the 1970s dumping wasn’t illegal. The Marinebio Conservation Society states that “in the 1970s, 17 million tons of industrial waste was legally dumped into the ocean”; now dumping is illegal and it has decreased but it still happens every day all over the world (marinebio.org). There are still dozens of countries that illegally dump raw sewage and other waste into the ocean daily, despite the fact that there is an international ban on ocean dumping. These three different methods are responsible for just about everything that is hazardous and polluting the ocean to be deposited into the ocean and cause further damage.

It is not impossible to figure out all of these hazardous materials and chemicals that are dumped into the ocean have a serious and immensely damaging impact on the ocean and its ecosystem. Every one of these pollutants kills marine life and damages the habits and areas that they live in. Fertilizers and sewage robs water of its oxygen, causing uninhabitable areas and killing marine life. Fertilizers put extra nutrients into the water which cause “massive blooms of algae that rob the water of oxygen, leaving areas where little or no marine life can exist” (NationalGeographic). It is because of these algae blooms that over 400 areas around the world are completely dead and can no longer support life. Sewage and fertilizers that have ended up in the ocean have and will continue to kill entire ecosystems and habitats for marine life. As a result of agricultural runoff from fertilizers “55 percent of the rivers in the United States are, as of 2013 considered in poor health” (OpposingViewpoints). Fertilizers not only kill marine life but they also damage waterways and ocean environments all over the world.

Another leading pollutant that kills hundreds of thousands of animals a year is trash and garbage disposed of into the ocean. There is currently over a trillion pieces of trash and plastic currently floating around in the ocean. According to National Geographic ocean currents have taken much of this trash and pooled it all into one massive area know as the Pacific Trash Vortex, which is estimated to be the size of Texas. Because of all the trash that has been deposited into the ocean over the years, an entire massive island has been created (NationalGeographic). All of this trash is often mistaken for food by fish, seabirds and other marine life. This has resulted in of over one million dead seabirds and 150,000 marine mammals each year. (OpposingViewpoints). When they eat this trash and plastic it results in a slow death due to lack of proper nutrients. Radioactive waste is also very deadly because it can stay radioactive for decades, which can kill animals from radiation poisoning. Many of the hazardous materials that are polluting the ocean “are consumed by small marine organisms and introduced into the global food chain” (NationalGeographic). Not only are these pollutants killing marine life and the habitats that they live in, but they are are also harming us. When marine animals eat these harmful chemicals and substances they stay in their bodies, and when other animals eat those animals the chemicals are again transferred to them. When people consume some marine life there is still sometimes left over traces and amounts of these dangerous substances that humans are then consuming.

Here is a very powerful video that shows what ocean pollution does to marine life:

Overall there are many different man made pollutants that enter the oceans and cause massive amounts of damage. As humans just about everything we create from radioactive material, sewage, oil, trash and garbage, fertilizers, and chemicals ends up into the ocean. These substances are deposited into the ocean through ways such as agricultural runoff, dumping, and oil spills. Once these hazardous materials are in the ocean they can destroy entire ecosystems and kill millions of marine animals that require the ocean to live. Ocean pollution has and will continue to have a great effect on the ocean’s life and ecosystem.

Here are my sources:

 

Picture at the top: http://www.shft.com/thumbs/540×308/files/plastic-pollution-ocean-9725.jpg

Video at the bottom: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l3XGUnjDRUQ

http://ocean.nationalgeographic.com/ocean/explore/pristine-seas/critical-issues-marine-pollution/

http://marinebio.org/oceans/ocean-dumping/

http://ic.galegroup.com.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/ic/ovic/ReferenceDetailsPage/ReferenceDetailsWindow?failOverType=&query=&prodId=OVIC&windowstate=normal&contentModules=&display-query=&mode=view&displayGroupName=Reference&limiter=&u=psucic&currPage=&disableHighlighting=false&displayGroups=&sortBy=&source=&search_within_results=&p=OVIC&action=e&catId=&activityType=&scanId=&documentId=GALE|CV2644150832

 

Turritopsis Nutricula: The Immortal Jellyfish

Turritopsis Nutricula

In this world there are plenty of species that live an extremely long time, from land tortoises that can live up to 150 years, to some species of whale that can live as long as 400-600 years, and even some types of trees live to be several thousand years old. However there is nothing on this planet that Is a living creature that can live forever, or is there? Scientists have discovered a species of jellyfish that has the ability to be technically biologically “immortal”. There may be millions of different species on this planet, but still to think that something has the potential to never die is absurd, it sounds like science fiction. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned though, it’s that in science nothing is impossible.

This species of immortal jellyfish is called turritopsis nutricula and it has the amazing ability to revert itself back to a state before it’s sexually mature when it is injured, sick, or threatened by predators. Let’s begin with some background information about this amazing jellyfish. This jelly fish is about 4.5mm and originates from the Caribbean, turritopsis nutricula tends to be found in warmer waters (ImmortalJellyfish.com). They tend to latch themselves on the bottom of boats which has led to them spreading to many different parts of the world. This has led to turritopsis nutricula to spread “to coastal waters along the United States and even as far north as Europe” (mom). Their diet mainly “consists of plankton, fish eggs and small mollusks” (ImmortalJellyfish.com). An adult jellyfish can have up to 90 tentacles while juveniles only have 8 (ImmortalJellyfish.com). This species was originally discovered in the 1880 but it wasn’t until recently (mid 1990s) that scientists discovered its ability to theoretically live forever (mnn.com). It is also important to note that these jellyfish technically have the ability to live forever but they can and do die quite easily. They are incredibly tiny and can be easily killed by a number of predators that use them as a source of food. However in perfect conditions without threat of predators it is technically possible for this species to live forever.

What allows this species of jellyfish to live forever is the unbelievable ability they have to control their own cells and revert their body back to a state that is sexually immature. Let’s start with the birth of these jellyfish, they start out as eggs and after about two days hatch and begin life in the larva stage. Then they go into the polyp stage or basically when they are juvenile. This larva state is also the stage they revert themselves back to when they in danger of dying (animals). After about two weeks the jellyfish enters the medusa stage and is now mature and has the ability to revert itself back to larva stage. It’s been found that the warmer the water is the quicker this jellyfish develops out of the polyp stage and into its mature form (animals). One way that this jellyfish can die if it is injured or killed during the larva or polyp stage, because in this stage it does not have the ability to revert itself back to the larva stage.

Heres a diagram of turritopsis nutriculas life cycle:

How this jellyfish does this reversion is through something called transdifferentiation, which “is defined as the conversion of one cell type to another” (ncbi.gov). This ability is not to uncommon in nature, it is found in other species such as some lizards and starfish that use it to regrow body parts. It does this by using “tissue from the circulatory canal system as well as the bell surface” (ImmortalJellyfish.com). When turritopsis is injured or sick it starts by latching itself to a surface then it proceeds to do transdifferentiation throughout its entire body. Because it can do this process in its entire body it has the capability to change one cell to a completely different type of cell. For example it can take a muscle cell and change it into a nerve cell (animals). Once it does transdifferentiation throughout its entire body it becomes a blob like creature that is the larva stage. The jellyfish appears to be able to do this as many times as it wants and adult turritopsis nutriculas have been known to do this pretty often when in a lab setting (ImmortalJellyfish.com).

What does this jellyfish mean for science though? While there aren’t many scientists that are working on discovering the secrets that turritopsis nutricula has or the impact it could have on humans. The ones that are however have discovered that there may be a link between this jellyfish’s immortal abilities and cancer. What allows the turritopsis nutricula to turn one type of cell into another and do the process of transdifferentiation is what are called microRNA’s or miRNA for short. MiRNA’s are genetic material that controls a gene found in cells. It acts kind of like a light switch, in that when it is off the cell isn’t defined as anything. However when you turn it on it makes the cell turn into something like nerve, muscle, or skin cells. This relates directly to cancer because it has been found that cancer cells have alterations in the miRNA (NYtimes.com). If you are able to figure out how to control these miRNAs then you might be able to take cancerous cells and turn them into something else like muscles, nerve, or skin cells. Research in this field and the link between turritopsis nutricula and cancer is limited and still in its beginning stages. A lot more research and researchers are needed in order to fully understand miRNAs in this jellyfish and how they could be the key to unlocking the cure to many forms of cancer.

Turritopsis nutricula is not only an extraordinary jellyfish that has almost complete control over its own cells, but could help to cure cancer. This tiny jellyfishes amazing ability to virtually live forever is something that the scientific and medical community needs to recognize more. This one jellyfish has the potential to completely change how we go about curing cancer.

Here are my sources:

Picture at the top: http://www.full-stop.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/turritopsis-nutricula-3.jpeg

Second Picture: http://immortal-jellyfish.com/immortal-jelly-fish-life-cycle/

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/02/magazine/can-a-jellyfish-unlock-the-secret-of-immortality.html?_r=0

http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/stories/immortal-jellyfish-does-it-really-live-forever

http://immortal-jellyfish.com/immortal-jelly-fish-life-cycle/

http://animals.mom.me/can-turritopsis-nutricula-live-forever-3728.htm

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2633984/

 

Killer Whales: The Apex Predator of the Ocean

A killer whale attacking and killing a great white shark

Out of thousands of deadly and massive species that inhabit the world’s oceans there is one that is by far soupier to all and the apex predator of the seas. This species is called the killer whale or orca, a mixture of brute strength, sear size, amazing abilities, teamwork with other orcas, and one of the most intelligent creatures in the animal kingdom makes this animal an unstoppable killing machine. The many attributes that orcas have, they use to hunt an extremely wide variety of animals depending on their location in the world. Orcas have adapted and learned to hunt seals, birds, polar bears, whales and even great white sharks. Not even great white sharks are safe from orcas; there are videos of orcas easily killing great white sharks off the coast of California. In this blog post I will not only discuss how orcas hunt and kill such a variety of animals, but what allows them to do so and makes them so deadly.

Before you can understand how orcas hunt such a variety of species, you must first know what makes them such a deadly predator. Let’s first start with some basic facts about orcas; orcas can grow up to 30ft and weight up to 11 tons. That means that orcas are almost as large as a city bus, they also can swim up to speeds of 56kmh. The average life span for a killer whale in the wild is between 50 and 80 years (NationalGeographic). Killer whales are carnivores, which can easily be seen by the fact that they have between 40-52 three inch teeth. The sear size and speed of an orca makes its deadly; Killer Whales are also pod mammals meaning they live in groups that can be as large as 40 killer orcas (NationalGeographic). Orcas often work together in there pod to hunt prey. Orcas also have the second largest brain among ocean mammals, which makes it incredibly smart (PBS.org). It is also important to note that killer whales can be found almost all over the world and in recent years have started to migrate into colder climates like the arctic. One final attribute that adds onto the orcas impressive array of abilities is the fact that orcas use echolocation to hunt a lot of their pray. Echolocation is used by several other marine species and is done by “making sounds that travel underwater until they encounter objects, then bounce back, revealing their location, size, and shape” (NationalGeographic). Killer whales also use echolocation to communicate with other members of their pod. All of these features could easily make the killer whale the apex predator of the seas, but it’s how orcas utilize these features that really sets them apart from every other predator in the ocean.

Killer whales physical abilities alone make it incredibly deadly, however its intellectual prowess is just as important when it comes to survival and hunting. One way scientists determine how intelligent an animal is, is through the encephalization quotient (EQ). Basically EQ is “the ratio of an animal’s actual brain size compared to the expected brain size for an animal of its mass” (PBS.org). Humans have a score of 7 on this scale while bottlenose dolphins come in at 4 and orcas are a 2.5 (PBS.org). To help put this into perspective an average household cat has a score of 1, this means that Orcas are about 2.5 times smarter than cats (Science20.com).

Also like I said earlier Orcas use echolocation to not only hunt pray but communicate to each other. However just communicating to members of one’s own pod is not the full extent of killer whales language abilities. Much like humans, depending on where a killer whale is found in the world it has its own dialect. This is know because killer whales in different areas make different clicking noises for communicating then killer whales in other areas. Orcas have the ability to learn other orcas dialects if they spend enough time around them (zmeSceince.com). Not only can Killer whales learn other killer whales dialects but they have been observed mimicking the clicks and noises of dolphins they are familiar with (zmeSceince.com). This means that orcas have the incredible capability to not only learn a langue of another species but communicate with it. According to ZmeScience.com orcas “who were familiar with bottlenose dolphins started making similar sounds to the dolphins, with more clicks and fewer longer calls” (zmeSceince.com). This amazing skill has just recently been noticed in orcas and more research is currently being done in this field in order to learn the full extent of orcas communication abilities.

Another fact that shows how incredibly intelligent orcas are is that they are one of only a handful of species that has the cognitive ability to recognize their own reflection in a mirror. Other animals that fall under this category of being able to recognize themselves in mirrors are elephants, some primates, and dolphins (NationalGeographic). Orcas are part of the family of dolphins and like some other species of dolphins have this very rare ability to see themselves. This ability is only found in animals with large brains that highly social like dolphins, elephants, some apes and humans. What this shows about killer whales and these other animals is that they are aware of themselves, and “an animal that’s aware of itself can likely infer the thoughts of others” (SmithsonianMag.com). The above mentioned information really goes to show how unbelievably intelligent Orcas are. Not only do they have a high EQ score, but they possess the capability to communicate with one another and even possibly dolphins. On top of that they have the cognitive abilities to recognize their own reflection and they are self aware.

Now that you properly understand the full extent of a killer whales physical and intellectual abilities you begin to comprehend why they are the apex predator of the ocean. Orcas use all of these amazing capabilities to hunt an extremely diverse range of prey, depending on where the orca lives in the world. Killer whales adapt and learn in any environment they are placed in, in order to hunt whatever prey lives in that area. Out of the many different types of species orcas hunt I will explain how they go about hunting and killing 3 different species, that being seals on land, whales, and great white sharks. The way killer whales hunt these species is by far the most impressive, which is the reason why I will focus on them.

Heres a video of orcas attacking seals on land:

Let’s begin with sea lions and elephant seals on the Atlantic coast of South America in Argentina (PBS.org). Sea lions and elephant seals close to the shore line and the shallows aren’t safe from orcas. By deliberately beaching themselves orcas are able grab these seals from places that they should be safe from predators (PBS.org). How orcas do this, is by using their incredible speed and incoming waves they catch seals in the shallows off guard and grab them before they have a chance to flee. On this particular coast line there are a lot of very smooth rocks in the shallows that allow the orca to slide right back into the water after beaching itself (PBS.org). This really goes to show how clever and adaptable killer whales are, not even seals on land are safe from them.

Killer whales hunt different species of whales all over the world using a variety of methods but this method is by far the most impressive one that has ever been recorded. For a span of about 90 years between 1840 and 1930 Orcas off the coast of Eden Australia worked together with human whalers to hunt whales (zmeSceince.com). How this particular pod of orcas would cooperatively hunt whales with humans, is whenever a pod of whales would appear off the coast the killer whales would “shepherd them into Twofold Bay, and then alert the whalers to their presence and often help to kill the whales” (zmeSceince.com). One whale in particular would alert the whalers by tail slapping or breaching at the mouth of the Kaih River (zmeSceince.com). The whalers would then come out and kill the whales and allow the Orcas to feast on them before bringing them in. It appears the whales where originally the ones to innate this relationship with humans. It’s incredible to think that killer whales would work together with humans in order to successfully hunt and kill whales.

Here is a National Geographic documentary about orcas killing great white sharks:

If all of the previous information was not enough to convince you that killer whales are the apex predator of the ocean then this one final fact should. Killer whales have been seen many times hunting and killing great white sharks. Great white sharks only have one predator, that being Killer whales. There are a few places on earth where both great white sharks and killer whales can be found. One such place is off the coast of California where every year great white sharks and Orcas gather to feed on an abundant food supply, seals. How orcas go about hunting great white sharks is that they use their ability to rapidly accelerate to their advantage. They come up from a side angle and catch the shark off guard, by ramming it has hard as they can on its side (morpa.com). This cause the shark to flip upside down, the orca then proceeds to simply hold the shark upside down in its mouth. For many shark species when you flip them upside down it causes something called “tonic immobility” (zmeSceince.com). Basically tonic immobility causes the shark to become completely still and not move, if the shark isn’t flipped back over it will eventually suffocate to death. So once the shark is flipped over it no longer resists and all the orca has to do is hold it upside down till it suffocates to death. One of the fiercest predators in the ocean can be brought to its knees in a matter of seconds by one single killer whale.

There’s a reason why Orcas are called killer whales, it’s because their ability to find ways to murder just about any species in there realm is unparallel to any other animal in the animal kingdom. With a mixture of superb physical abilities, one of the smartest minds of all species, and amazing teamwork, orcas are able to hunt just about any species in the ocean and even some in the air and on land. Killer whales truly deserve their name, because without a doubt they are the apex predator of the ocean.

My sources:

Link to the picture at the top: http://www.lifeintheknow.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/killer-whale-kills-great-white.jpg

Link to 1st video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AtF3FPyRVIw

Link to 2nd video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ejYC3ymTei4&src_vid=ZnXp-X__E44&feature=iv&annotation_id=annotation_3350564109

http://www.science20.com/stars_planets_life/calculating_animal_intelligence

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/02/150214-animals-behavior-mirrors-dolphins-dogs-self-awareness-science/

http://blog.wwf.ca/blog/2014/02/25/apex-predators-arctic-ocean-can-one/

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/killer-whales-killer-weapon-brain/11352/

http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/killer-whale/

http://www.zmescience.com/science/biology/killer-whale-dolphin-24102014/

http://mpora.com/articles/killer-whales-attack-kill-great-white-shark-australia#0AHz4RCg4JQvigo2.97

 

Pando: “The Trembling Giant”

Fishlake NF_Pando_USFS

If I were to ask you what is the oldest and biggest living organism on this planet, most would probably think that it’s a blue whale or some really old tree, those would all be very good guesses. However none of these organisms comes even remotely close to what is not only the world’s largest living organism, but its oldest. What if I told you that his organism weighted 6,000,000kg and was 80,000 years old? (WikiPando) It’s called Pando or “the trembling giant” and is literally an entire forest of trees. But how can a forest of trees be one singular organism you might wonder?

Before I get into what makes this forest one singular organism, you need to know some background information about Pando. This organism is a type of tree called a quaking aspen, which are trees that look similar to birch trees in that they are white. Pando is located in Utah, and covers an area of about 106 acres. In that area there are approximately 40,000 quaking aspens that make up Pando (Loe.org). An average tree that is a part of Pando lives around 130 years, and grows up to 82ft (WikiPando). It is also important to clarify that Pando is not all of the plant life in this 106 acres, but merely all of the quaking aspens in that area.

There are several key characteristics that Pando possesses that make it one singular living organism. First off is that Pando is what is called a clonal colony, which occurs in plants, fungus and bacteria (WikiClonalColany). A clonal colony is a group of genetically identical individuals. Out of all the clonal colonies on earth, Pando is the biggest and oldest. This basically means that every single tree that makes up Pando is genetically all the same.On top of that all of the trees that make up Pando are connected by one massive underground root system (atlasobscura.com). When a new tree grows, it grows out of this root system, “This new tree has the same genetic makeup and even has genetic markers to say that it actually belongs to the first tree. To all intents and purposes it is the first tree, but in a separate place” (MostlyOdd.com). It is because all of the trees are exactly the same genetically and all connected to one another that they are considered one singular living organism.

How though could such a massive immobile living creature survive and flourish for so long, couldn’t one forest fire completely destroy Pando? These are all viable questions, the reason why Pando has been able to survive for so long is because the trees that make up Pando aren’t what keep it alive; its Pando’s root system that does. Pando’s roots system is so far underground that when a forest fire occurs it cannot burn deep enough to destroy the root system which is crucial in adding new trees to Pando. Instead of hurting Pando forest fires help Pando by killing “off the pesky invading conifers and free up space for many more extensions of Pando to be sent up” (MostlyOdd.com). The protection of Pando’s root system is what has allowed it to survive for so long, but this does not mean that Pando is invincible.

Unfortunately new research has found that Pando may be at risk of dying. One problem that Pando is facing right now is that a large amount of its trees are mature trees around the age of 130 years old. This is problematic because these trees are going to die soon and when they do there won’t be many younger trees to replace them (Loe.org). Another issue that Pando is facing is that there are currently a large number of grazing animals such as elk, deer, and cattle in the area. This is a problem for Pando because these animals tend to eat or kill the stems that will turn into new trees for Pando (Loe.org). This means that newer generations of trees to help keep Pando alive are being killed off before they get a chance to become trees. It is because there are too many mature trees in Pando right now and not enough younger trees to replace them that Pando is at risk of not only vastly shrinking in size but potentially dying.

You might be wondering how can we save Pando from naturally being destroyed? Paul Rogers, Director of the Western Aspen Alliance at Utah State University and Karen Mock, Professor of Conservation Genetics and Molecular Ecology at USU have come up with several solutions that are tricky but may work. One such solution could be to put up a very large fence all around Pando in order to keep such grazing animals like the elk and deer out. However this is problematic because something as simple as a tree falling down on the fence could cause a breach in it which could go unnoticed for a week or two because of how large Pando is. In this time period the “animals get in and they can eat everything. So you could lose essentially a year or more of trying to protect this clone with one or two small breaches and a week or two going by” (Loe.org). This is the major problem that trying to fence of Pando would face. As far as who would pay for and keep watch on this fence, the US Forest Service would. Pando is “in a touristy area near a recreational lake, and it’s also a tourist attraction in and of itself, the Pando clone”, so it is in the Forest Services interest to help protect this splendid feat of nature (Loe.org).

Heres a audio clip of Paul Rogers and Karen Mock talking about Pando:

Another idea to protect Pando could be to introduce more predators like wolves into Pando’s ecosystem or allow more hunting in the area. This would be a more natural way of protecting Pando from the damage that game animals like elk and deer pose. By adding more wolves into the ecosystem it would thin out the number of deer and elk because the wolves would kill and eat them in order to survive, which would give Pando’s stems more protection. However, this could be problematic too because the area around Pando and Pando itself is a big recreation area and tourist attraction. Adding more wolves to the ecosystem could cause unwanted and negative interaction between humans and wolves which would most likely result in less people coming to these areas.

One idea that might work the best out of all the previous ones mentioned would to allow more hunting in the area, but only specifically for the animals that are causing damage to Pando. Like any hunting area you can figure out exactly how many of these animals you can take out of the ecosystem without hurting it. It’s easy to keep track of this by making hunters tag all of their kills and report them. You could run the area in and around Pando just like any other hunting area. This would not only help reduce the numbers of grazing animals that are hurting Pando. There are many solutions that could be enacted to help protect Pando, some better than others, but it defiantly is plausible to save Pando from being destroyed.

There are many impressive and unbelievable living creatures on this planet, but by far Pando has to be one of the most amazing. While it has survived for so long it is not invincible and steps should be made to help protect and save Pando from being murdered. With proper population control for the deer, elk, cattle, and other grazing animals in the area, Pando will survive. Its mind boggling to think that there is a living organism on this planet that is as large and as old as Pando. Pando isn’t just a bunch of trees in Utah, it is an unbelievable feat of nature that has quietly stood and survived for over 80,000 years.

Here are links for all my sources:

http://loe.org/shows/segments.html?programID=13-P13-00005&segmentID=7

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pando_%28tree%29

http://www.mostlyodd.com/pando-the-one-tree-forest/

http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/pando-the-trembling-giant

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clonal_colony

Picture at the top: http://old.nationalforests.org/blog/date/2014/03

Audio Clip of Rogers and Mock: https://soundcloud.com/living-on-earth/the-worlds-oldest-organism-in

Life at the Bottom of the Mariana Trench

In all of the world’s oceans, the Mariana trench holds the record for being the deepest place in the world. The Mariana trench is located at “11″21′ North latitude and 142″ 12′ East longitude” (MarianaTrench.com) off the coast of Japan. From the surface to the bottom of this trench there is 35,802ft of water, which close to 7 miles. After about 1600ft humans can no longer see light under water, so at this depth it is completely pitch black. The pressure at this depth is so immense that its 8 tons per square inch, which is “the equivalent of an average sized women holding up 48 jumbo jets” (Nasa.gov). Also, the water temperature hovers at just above freezing at frigid 39 degrees Fahrenheit. Under such extreme conditions one would think that it would be impossible for life to survive here. However scientist have been learning more and more that not only does life exist at the bottom of Mariana trench but is quite diverse and complex.

Out of all the species that call the Mariana trench home, I am going to focus on one that was found at the deepest depths. This species is a new species of sailfish that has yet to be named. There isn’t much information on this species yet because it was only very recently discovered and has only been seen on video a few times. However this creature is extremely important to science because they are the deepest living known species to ever be found. This species was found at depth of 8,145 meters or 26,722 feet. What makes it remarkable that these animals live at these depths is the amount of pressure there is that deep down, which like I said is up to 8 tons per square inch.

Here is a video of some new species recorded in the Mariana trench, including this new snailfish

Snailfish are “a family of scorpaeniform marine fishes. Widely distributed from the Arctic to Antarctic Oceans including the northern Pacific, the snailfish family contains about 30 genera and 410 species” (WikiSnailFish). Most snailfish have elongated bodies that are scale less and make them look similar to tadpoles. It is also important to note that snailfish species tend to be quite small, between 2inches to 30 inches in length (WikiSnailFish). The particular species of snailfish that I’m focusing on here was found at a depth of 8,145 meters in the Mariana trench. One of the scientists that helped discover this new species described it saying “It is unbelievably fragile, with large wing-like fins and a head resembling a cartoon dog” (EarthSky.org). The fish also has translucent skin, its physical features caused the scientists to nick name it the “ghost fish”.

How can this fish live at such immense depth you may be wondering? Well it appears that there is a chemical that is found in most deep sea fish. This chemical is a piece of the puzzle that allows most species to live at such extraordinary depths. This chemical is known as trimethylamine oxide or (TMAO) and it “keeps the cell walls of the fish and amphipods flexible so they don’t get crushed or infiltrated with saltwater”(NPR.org). Also, according to pubmed.gov in a experimental study done on deep sea fish higher levels of TMAO where find in higher levels in the deeper the fish lived. This experiment was done on deep sea fish that where categorized into 3 groups based on the depth the fish lived at, shallow 150m, moderate 500-700m, and deep 1000-1500m (PubMed.gov). It’s important to note that the highest levels of TMAO where primarily found in the muscle tissue of these deep sea fish. What this study found is that TMAO is found in increasing quantities the deeper the species lives (PubMed.gov). This means that there is a correlation between the amounts of TMAO found in deep sea fish and there’s ability to live at extreme depths. Scientists are still working on figuring out what allows a lot of deep sea species to live at such incredible depths, and TMAO is currently one of the factors that many scientists think is the key to understanding these deep sea species.

Overall this new species of snailfish is incredible and fascinating for its ability to survive at such immense depths. The discovery of this fish and the importance of TMAO are some key pieces in the puzzle of figuring out how deep sea fish have the ability to live at such extreme depths.

Here are links to all of my sources:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12115917

http://earthsky.org/earth/new-video-shows-life-in-the-deepest-ocean

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2014/12/25/372894314/unexpected-life-found-in-the-oceans-deepest-trench

http://seawifs.gsfc.nasa.gov/OCEAN_PLANET/HTML/oceanography_conditions_1.html

http://www.marianatrench.com/mariana_trench-mariana_arc.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snailfish

 

 

Initial Blog Post

Hello everyone, my name Jack Guay and I am a freshman at Penn state. My major is Park, Recreation, and Tourism Management under the college of Health and Human Development. I grew up in a small town in Rhode Island, and my older brother also goes to Penn state. I’ve never been a science or math person, I tend to not understand a lot of it, especially anything math based. It for that reason that I am not a science major, because I would probably would do terrible in it and not enjoy it the slightest. I picked this course because my adviser said it’s a great course for people that aren’t science oriented and it does a good job of getting people that don’t like science to appreciate it a little more. Also the list of topic we cover seemed very interesting and are things that I would like to learn more about. Outside of school I try to spend as much time as possible experiencing life and living it to the fullest. I love the outdoors, nature and animals. I am artist, longboarder, traveler, adventurer, and am always down to experience new things and places. There are many things that make me the person that I am, but two of the biggest would have to be my passion for painting and nature, which I express by doing landscape paintings in acrylics and oils. Below is a painting I did while on a camping and canoeing trip in the Canadian wilderness.