Saturday, July 20, 2013

Look What I Found On the Beach--Whale Vomit!

It's summer.  You and your family are strolling along a beach.  You find an odd, waxy looking thing that kind of looks like a rock, but it is not a rock.  But it is so cool and weird, you just have to put it in your knapsack and find out what it might be. 

Daily Echo via /
Eight-year-old Charlie Naysmith shows off the piece of ambergris he found on the beach at Hengistbury Head on the coast of southern England.
That happened last summer to an 8-year-old boy in England.  We're sure his mother screeched when research indicated the find was WHALE VOMIT.  Oh the horror.  But "Oh the joy," the family found when they discovered this rare find was worth $15,850 to $63,350 (£10,000 and £40,000). 

The find is also known as ambergris--or floating gold--a product used in expensive French perfumes. 

Here's how NBC Science News describes ambergris:

Ambergris is a waxy, bile-like substance that builds up in the intestines of sperm whales, apparently to ease the passage of hard material such as squid beaks through a whale's digestive tract. It's often characterized as whale vomit, and although that's fine as a family-friendly description, the stuff is more widely thought to come out of the whale's back end rather than its front end.

Fresh ambergris smells like fresh whale poop, but after a long period of seasoning and hardening in the ocean, it takes on a more delicate odor. It's been variously compared to the aroma of tobacco, the scent of an old wooden church, the fragrance of seaweed, or the smell of rubbing alcohol without the pungency.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Fisherman Dives and Rescues Entangled Right Whale

An endangered and rare northern right whale off the coast of Virginia Beach is now free thanks to a brave local fisherman. 
Earlier this week, two fishermen saw the whale struggle in fishing rope wrapped around its flippers.  They decided that they could possibly save the whale by diving in a cutting the fishing ropes.

Northern Right Whale--a Baleen Whale
"It was almost like a submarine coming at me,"  said  the diver. "It was kind of scary at first, but it was real trippy ... as soon the whale passed me and I was parallel to its face and its eye, it kind of stopped and the gave me a little window to get down there and make the cut."

Only about 350 North American right whales exist in the wild, according to the Defenders of Wildlife. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Sand Dollars Are Amazing Critters

Yesterday we collected sand dollars on the beach.  Well, what we collected were dead sand dollars--the
empty shells.

Live sand dollars are animals that are related to sea urchins, sea stars and sea cucumbers.

When sand dollars are alive they can look like a cookie with fuzz all over it.  The fuzz is a sand dollar's many spines that help it move along the shallow sand under water.  This is how it hunts for food like crustacean larvae and algae.

From the Monterey Bay Aquarium:  

Cool Facts

The sand dollar’s mouth has a jaw with five teeth-like sections to grind up tiny plants and animals. Sometimes a sand dollar “chews” its food for fifteen minutes before swallowing. It can take two days for the food to digest.  

Scientists can age a sand dollar by counting the growth rings on the plates of the exoskeleton. Sand dollars usually live six to 10 years.  

California sheepheads, starry flounders and large pink sea stars prey on sand dollars. When threatened by pink sea stars, sand dollars bury themselves under the sand. Observers have seen a pink sea star leave a wide path of buried sand dollars as it moves across a sand dollar bed.