“Wreck” of Common Murres

279-Common Murre

On Wednesday, May 22 of this year, hundreds of dead seabirds suddenly appeared on Mendocino County beaches. What happened? We’ll ask Dr. Julia Parrish, founder and Executive Director of the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team, and Sarah Grimes of the Noyo Center for Marine Science.  They will talk about the mortality event, what might have caused it, why it’s important to count dead seabirds on the beach – and how you can help.

COASST Fact Sheet – Common Murre Mortality Event, May 2019 – Excerpts:


Upwelling Index:


A closer look at upwelling in May:


And a look at Sea Surface Temperatures:

052019 sst

Wave heights – showing the effect of the winter-type storms of mid- to late May:

COMU2019_COASST v1 wave height

More resources and places to volunteer!

COASST – Count dead birds on the beach!

Noyo Center for Marine Science

Beach Watch (south of Mendocino)


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“Insect Apocalypse”

In late 2017, a report containing re-analysis of some long-term insect biomass monitoring in Germany attracted the attention of science reporters around the world. Soon, major news outlets were reporting the story of dramatically declining insect biomass in several apparently unrelated areas of the planet – often calling it an “apocalypse” or “insect Armageddon.”


We reached out to Dr. Arthur Shapiro, a previous guest on The Ecology Hour, for his insights on the phenomenon. Dr. Shapiro is one of the few scientists in the world to have personally conducted a survey of insect populations (in his case, butterflies) over several decades using the same protocols and locations. He was featured in the New York Times reporting on the insect population declines. He brings a refreshing scientific rigour to the discussion, refusing to speculate without evidence, while speaking freely and clearly about what he has documented.

Our interview can be streamed or downloaded. If you have specific questions for Dr. Shapiro, you can reach him by e-mail at: theochila@gmail.com

And if you’d like to start, or participate in, the annual Butterfly Count happening around the 4th of July, the North American Butterfly Association has all the information you need. Let’s get counts started in Mendocino!


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The Ecology Hour Science Edition returns to the airwaves! We took a few months off to conduct some interviews without the pressure of a monthly deadline.


Dr. David Scheel of Alaska Pacific University is a marine biologist specializing in field studies of octopuses, and Giant Pacific Octopus in particular. He founded the Alaska Octopus Project and has discovered a previously unnoticed species (Frilled Giant Pacific octopus, shown above) in Alaska. His research primarily involves tidepooling and diving in the intertidal and subtidal environment, where he observes octopus behavior.

Among the many fascinating things about octopuses is their apparent intelligence. Dr. Scheel and others have studied the way octopuses perceive the world and how their nervous systems process information – which turns out to be very different from most other animals.  Dr. Scheel described several fascinating examples of octopus behavior and the difficulty of understanding the nature of their consciousness.

A short video describes some of the complex behavior Dr. Scheel has documented in a a paper titled “Signal Use by Octopuses in Agonistic Interactions.”

A much longer, and much more melodramatic video from Discovery Channel dwells on the intelligence and behavior of octopuses. It includes the video Bob mentioned of the octopus figuring out how to open a screw-top jar. Bonus: Narrated in a lovely Scottish accent!

Dr. Scheel described an encounter between an octopus and a Moray Eel, shown in this short video.  There are several other moray-vs-octopus videos on YouTube, including this one with three different encounters.

Recommended reading:  Sy Montgomery, “The Soul of an Octopus” explores not only the intelligence of an octopus, but the remarkable connection it can make with humans.

Other Minds” by Peter Godfrey Smith is a widely praised exploration of the origins and development of consciousness and the intelligence of cephalopods.

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Anticoagulant Rodenticides in the Forest Food Web

In 2009, a Pacific Fisher was found dead of rodenticide poisoning, in a remote area where no such poisons should have been used. Dr. Mourad Gabriel  of the Integral Ecology Research Center began investigating, finding more and more animals poisoned by anticoagulant rodenticides.  For years the source of the poisons remained a mystery – until law enforcement personnel took him to trespass marijuana grow sites. Dr Gabriel tells that story and much more about the spread of poisons in areas far from human habitation or agriculture, and how the entire food web is being affected.

Lots more information is available at the IERC Website, including open-access publications and videos. This is an area of emerging research in a rapidly-changing landscape with social, political and economic implications. IERC also has a Facebook page.

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Plastics in the Oceans

On The Ecology Hour tonight, we talk with Dr. Sean Anderson, Chair & Professor in the Environmental Science and Resource Management Program, California State University Channel Islands.  Our topic will be “Plastics in the Oceans,” and we will hear about the sources, extent, and effects of plastics contamination on marine life.

Dr. Anderson is both a teacher and researcher, employing innovative methods to learn about our world and to transmit that learning to the next generation of scientists.  The “Pirate Lab” website includes a great deal of information about the work he and his associates and students are involved with.

He also provided the inspiration for a namesake character in the movies “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island.”  That’s kind of unusual for an ecologist.

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Coastal Geology

Our guest for the September 12 show was Thomas Cochrane, Professional Geologist and author of “Shaping the Sonoma-Mendocino Coast: Exploring the Coastal Geology of Northern California.”   We had a lively and informative discussion, which you can listen to HERE.

Cochrane cover artwork, WEB

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North Pacific Ocean conditions


Tonight we bring back Dr. William Sydeman of The Farallon Institute for an update on ocean conditions in the North Pacific.  Dr. Sydeman was our first interview guest on The Ecology Hour – Science Edition, describing how the ocean currents and upwelling affect the food-chain and nearshore marine productivity.  That was three years ago, when oceanographers were predicting an El Nino event, possibly a powerful one… A lot has happened in the ocean since then, with profound ramifications throughout the ecosystem.  That El Niño exceeded expectations, merging with the unforeseen phenomenon called “The Blob” to produce something called, according to Dr. Sydeman, “El Blobiño!”

We hope you enjoy this conversation as much as we did.  The interview was recorded in July 2017 and can be heard or downloaded HERE.

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