west marin

Have you spotted black oystercatchers when visiting your West Coast national marine sanctuaries? 

Oystercatchers often are heard before they are seen. Their loud whistling wheep-wheep is shrill and carries above the sound of the surf. At low tide, these large shorebirds can be spotted foraging for mussels and other shellfish. These two were photographed in Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.

(Photo: Beach Watch/NOAA) 

Well excuse me, I’m swimming here! 

Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary visitor Patrick Smith spotted this sea lion swimming through the kelp forest off Santa Barbara Island with an attitude. These playful, acrobatic swimmers are often spotted in the Channel Islands and in other West Coast national marine sanctuaries. 

(Photo: Patrick Smith)

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I managed to catch the Marine Corps West Expo today over on main side of Camp Pendleton.

A lot of cool new gear and vehicles were on display for us to check out.

The tacks still look uncomfortable as hell but the JLTVs that Oshkosh is producing look and feel outstanding.

They are 100× more comfortable then HMMWVs and the accessories were great to see. They even have cup holders and working A/C!

‘We’re so oppressed!!1’
(gets job because of being a woman)
(gets into school because of being a woman)
(gets custody of children from divorce because of being a woman)
(woman almost becomes president because of being a woman)

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SERC technician Ruth DiMaria just finished a round of zooplankton sampling here on California’s coast. She spent last week leading SERC’s annual zooplankton survey in San Francisco Bay, and then early this week spent a couple days collecting these teeny marine critters in Bodega Bay and Tomales Bay. Monitoring like this helps SERC scientists keep an eye on the spread of invasive species in our coastal waters! 

SCIENTISTS CONFIRM THE PRESENCE OF LUNGS IN COELACANTHS

Coelacanths are lobe-finned fishes, that look somewhat like limbs. Known from the Devonian to Recent that were long considered extinct, until the discovery of two living species in deep marine waters of the Mozambique Channel and Sulawesi. Despite extensive studies, the pulmonary system of extant coelacanths has not been fully investigated.

Since its rediscovery in 1938, scientists doubted the existence of a lung in the living species West Indian Ocean coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae) when compared with fossil species. 

Now, an international team of researchers confirm the presence of functional lungs at early embryonic stages; these lungs lose function and become vestigial lungs in adulthood. The finding sheds light on how ancient relatives may have lived about 410 million years ago.

Coelcanths is a heavily built fish living in rocky environments between 110 and 400 m deep in the coastal waters of the Mozambique Channel and of Sulawesi. This large animal (up to 2 m long) is ovoviviparous. The young develop in the oviduct of the female, which can give birth to 26 live pups of about 35 cm long. Juvenile coelacanths (below 80 cm long) are rarely observed or caught.  

The presence of a large calcified sheath in the abdominal cavity of fossil coelacanths has been known since the 19th century but was previously regarded as either an ‘internal osseous viscus’ (unknown internal organ), a bladder or swimbladder.  Only recently this organ has been formally described in fossils coelacanths as a pulmonary organ composed of large and rounded calcified plates, positioned ventrally relative to the gut, and with a single anterior opening under the opercle.  The parallel development of a fatty organ for buoyancy control suggests a unique adaptation to deep water. 


Three-dimensional reconstructions of the pulmonary complex of West Indian Ocean coelacanth (L. chalumnae) at different ontogenetic stages.

Northern elephant seals: a conservation success story

These are northern elephant seals:

Each year, they can be seen on the shores of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in areas like Año Nuevo State Park. Though they spend much of their time offshore, northern elephant seals haul out on beaches throughout the sanctuary during pupping and breeding seasons.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, northern elephant seals were hunted almost to extinction, with only approximately 10-30 individuals remaining. But these pinnipeds have made an amazing recovery: now more than 200,000 live along the coast from Central California to Baja Mexico!

If you see an elephant seal resting on the beach, make sure to give it plenty of space. Stay back at least 100 feet!

Learn more about these seals from Nancy Foster Scholar Sarah Kienle in our video:

Culinary History (Part 21): Ovens

Benjamin Thompson (1753-1814, Count Rumford) was a physicist & inventor who worked to improve English kitchens.  He was not pleased at all with their design, both in terms of health and economics.  In the 1790’s, he wrote, “More fuel is frequently consumed in a kitchen range to boil a tea-kettle than, with proper management, would be sufficient to cook a dinner for fifty men.”

He didn’t think it was worth it for the roast meat that England was famous for, and complained that English cooks had neglected the art of making of “nourishing soups and broths”.  The main problem, he said, was that the hearth was open.

At this time, the typical English kitchen had a very long range (because of all the pots that had to be put on the fire).  This meant that a huge, very tall chimney was needed, wasting fuel and making the kitchen extremely hot and constantly smoky.  There were also cold draughts by the chimney.

To solve this problem, Rumford built invented his own custom-built closed range, which he installed in the House of Industry in Munich (i.e. the workhouse).  It used far less fuel.

Rumford’s range had many small enclosed fires, instead of one large fire.  Each pot had its own separate, closed fireplace.  The fireplaces were built with bricks (for good insulation), had a door to shut them, and each had their own individual canal which took the smoke into the chimney.

But while Rumford’s design was a major improvement, it never caught to a wide audience.  Part of the problem was that ironmongers (the main producers of cooking apparatus at the time) didn’t want to sell it, because it was made from bricks and not iron.  (Later on, various “Rumford stoves” would be marketed and sold, but with no connection to the original.)

But it wasn’t just a marketing issue.  People hate change, and they were determined to stick to the old ways.  The English believed that open fires roasted, and bread ovens baked.  You couldn’t mix the two together.  In 1838, Mary Randolph said, “No meat can be well-roasted except on a spit turned by a jack, and before a clear, steady fire – other methods are no better than baking.”

Inventors kept working on spit-jacks for ages.  In 1845, a patent was taken out for an electrically-propelled spit-jack, using two magnets. Even in 1907, the Skinners’ Company in London had a 3.3m-wide roasting range in the Guildhall kitchen.  Progress was not so easily won.

Baking vs. Roasting

In the Middle East, this baking/roasting division did not exist.  The Arabic word khubz means “bread”, and from this comes the verb khabaza, which means “to bake/make khubz”. But it can also mean “to grill” or “to roast”.

Mesopotamian bread ovens have been found dating back to 3000 BC (modern-day Pakistan, Syria, Iran & Iraq).  They are round cylinders, made of clay.  A fire is lit in the bottom of the cylinder; then dough is lowered through a hole in the top and slapped on the inside of the oven.  A few minutes later, it has baked into flatbread, and is lifted out again.

These clay ovens are still used today in the Middle East, Central & South-East Asia, and in many rural areas in African countries.  It is called a tandoor.  Many other things are cooked in it, not just bread.

The tandoor cooks with intense, dry baking heat.  Even poor households used them to bake bread.  In Amarna (an Ancient Egyptian village from 1350 BC), half of the labourers’ houses showed traces of a tandoor.  Unlike in medieval Europe, where it was believed that the only real bread was professionally baked, home-made bread was the preference.  In medieval Baghdad, a marketplace inspector once remarked that “most people avoid eating bread baked in the market.”

Like the portable braziers of Ancient Greece, the tandoor was portable, and far better than building a fire in the hearth.  They were also cheap.  An “eye” at the bottom of the cylinder gave control over the level of heat, by opening & shutting.  For example, a round Iraqi water-bread coated in sesame oil would be cooked in a moderate heat, but other breads needed extreme heat.  The fuel is burned directly inside the tandoor, on the bottom, so temperatures can reach up to 480°C (most domestic ovens can only get up to 220°C).

The tandoor wasn’t just used for baking – it was also used for stewing, and for roasting as well.  In the West, tandoori chicken (chicken marinated in yoghurt & red spices) is well-known, and it is cooked in a tandoor.

In Baghdad in the 900’s AD, the tandoor’s roasting capabilities were mostly used for “fatty whole lamb or kid – mostly stuffed…big chunks of meat, plump poultry or fish.”  These were either laid on flat brick tiles, which were arranged on the fire; or put on metal skewers and lowered in from the top.

There are three different types of cooking heat.  In all of them (as physics requires), heat moves from the hotter area/object to the cooler one.

Radiant heat is used for grilling.  It’s like when you put your hand above a heater, without touching it: the heat blasts out from it and warms your hand without you even needing to touch it.  No contact is needed.  A red-hot fire gives plenty of radiant heat from the flames and embers.

Conduction works through direct touch, from one object to another.  This is like touching the heater, instead of putting your hand above it.  Metals are excellent conductors; brick, wood and clay are poor conductors. For cooking, conduction is the type of heat transfer when you put a piece of meat in a pan.

Convection happens within a gas/liquid.  The hot parts of the gas/liquid are less dense than the cool ones, but gradually it evens out (for density and temperature).  This is like the heat of the heater spreading gradually through the room.  For cooking, convection happens when cooking porridge or boiling water.

While any cooking method will use a combination of these forms of heat transfer, one will usually dominate, and it is this which makes the tandoor unusual – it uses all three at the same time.  Radiant heat from the fire below, and from the hot clay walls; conduction from the clay to the bread, or the metal skewers to the meat; and convection within the hot air circulating in the tandoor. This is what makes this oven so versatile.

The old Western ovens were basically brick boxes.  They used both about 20% radiation and 80% convection.  Instead of the constant intense heat of the tandoor, their fire started off fierce (radiation) but then cooled down gradually, and convection took over.  In fact, the food didn’t even usually get put in until the fire had cooled down.

Over the centuries, cooking methods evolved to make the best use of this type of heat transfer.  Food was cooked in order – bread when the oven was hottest; then stews, pastries and puddings; herbs might be left to dry in it overnight, when the oven was barely warm.

In ancient & medieval times, bread ovens were huge, communal affairs.  A manor/monastery kitchen had massive equipment to match the ovens – wooden spoons as big as oars; massive trestle tables to knead the dough on.

Bundles of fuel (wood/charcoal) were heaved into the back of the oven, taken from stoking sheds outside, and then fired up.  When the oven was hot, the ashes were raked out into the stoking sheds.  Then the dough was shoved in on peels – extremely long wooden spoons.  Bakers worked almost naked because of the heat, like the turnspits.

By the 1700’s, baking equipment included wooden kneading troughs; pastry jaggers; hoops & traps for tarts & pies; peels; patty pans; wafer irons; earthenware dishes.

Baking oven & kneading trough.

Pastry jagger (American, 1800-50).

Peels in a medieval baker shop.

Modern patty pans.

Wafer iron (Italian, 1500′s).

Royal kitchen at St. James’ Palace (1819).  There is an open-grate fire for roasting (back right); a closed oven for baking (front right); and a raised brick hearth for stewing & sauces (front left?)  Each type of cooking was separate.

The Oven

It wasn’t just the baking/roasting division that hindered the adoption of ovens.  A fire is homey and comforting, and people were unsure about centering their home around an enclosed fire instead of an open one.  Stoves were introduced in America during the 1830’s, but people said that they might be fine for heating public places such as bars or courthouses, but not their homes.

But they got used to it eventually.  The “model cookstove” became the new focus of the home, and it was one of the great “consumer status symbols of the industrial age”.

The Victorian stove was a large, unwieldy cast-iron contraption.  It had a hot-water tank for boiling; hotplates to put pots & pans on; a coal-fired oven closed with iron doors; and “complicated arrangements of flues, their temperature controlled by a register and dampers” linking all the parts together.

By the mid-1800’s, the “kitchener” was the essential object in an American or British middle-class kitchen.  And like the home, the kitchen was now centered around the stove, instead of around the fire.

At Britain’s Great Exhibition of 1851, the Improved Leamington Kitchener won first prize of all the kitcheners on display.  It used a single fire to combine roasting and baking.  A wrought-iron roaster with dripping-pan was inside, but by closing the back valves, it could be turned into a baking oven.  And it could provide the household with gallons of boiling water – for a kitchener wasn’t just for cooking, but also for warmth and hot water, and also for heating up irons.

The Leamington range was one of the first pieces of cooking equipment to become a household name in Britain.  It ended up being used to refer to closed ranges in general.  There were many other competing models, such as the Coastal Grand Pacific and the Plantress.

The fancier stoves were as much about fashion as they were about practicality.  But it wasn’t just about “keeping up” with everyone else.  Part of the reason for the stove’s popularity was the Industrial Revolution, which created a coal & iron boom, and flooded the market with cheap cast iron.  Ironmongers loved this type of stove (unlike Rumford’s brick stove) because it was made almost entirely out of iron, and so were its accessories.  And new versions were always coming out, so they were constantly selling new stoves, as people wanted the latest ones.

Back in the mid-1700’s, a new method of cast-iron production had been discovered, which used coal instead of charcoal.  John “Iron-Mad” Wilkinson’s invention of the steam engine pushed production even further.  A generation later, cast iron was everywhere.  And kitcheners also supported the coal industry, because they were almost all coal-fired (rather than wood, peat or turf).

Coal wasn’t a new fuel for kitchens.  The first “coal revolution” happened back in the mid-1500’s because of a wood shortage.  Industry expanded rapidly during the 2nd half of the 1500’s, and timber was essential for the production of glass, iron and lead.  Timber was also required for ship-building (the English were at war with the Spanish at that time).  So there was less wood for kitchens, and many converted to “sea-coal” (called that because it was brought by sea), albeit reluctantly.

In rural areas, the wood fire was still used, and the poorer folk in the city and countryside made do with whatever fuel they could find.

The switch to coal changed the way open hearths were set up.  Previously, the kitchen fire had really been a bonfire, with andirons or brandirons to stop the burning logs from rolling out onto the floor. And that was all.  It was dreadfully dangerous.

A Saxon archbishop in the 600’s AD said that “if a woman place her infant by the hearth, and the man put water in the cauldron, and it boil over and the child be scalded to death, the woman must do penance for her negligence but the man is acquitted of blame.”  The open fire was especially dangerous for toddlers, and also women, because of their clothes.  Medieval coroners’ reports show that women were more at risk for accidental death at home than anywhere else.

Kitchen fires were common, because houses were made of wood.  The Great Fire of London was caused by a kitchen fire at Pudding Lane.  The city was rebuilt with brick, and the new houses had coal-burning grates.

With coal, a container or improved barrier was needed, to stop it going everywhere.  A metal grate was used to solve the problem, called a “chamber grate” or “cole baskett”.  Now the open fires were slightly more enclosed, and a bit safer.

More kitchen equipment was needed.  A cast-iron fireback protected the wall from the fierce heat of the fire.  Fire cranes swung pots over the fire, and off it.

Firebacks (Victorian & 1300′s).

The biggest change was the chimney.  In the 2nd half of the 1500’s, more chimneys were built.  Because of the disgusting coal fumes, wider chimneys were needed to carry away the smoke.  The increased levels of smoke may have contributed to the high incidence of lung disease among the English.  It was certainly terrible for people’s health.

Back to the Victorian kitcheners.  While it was a technological improvement, it wasn’t much of an improvement in terms of practicality.  Many of the early cookstoves were poorly-constructed and gave off terrible coal fumes, unlike Rumford’s ideal stov.  A letter to The Expositor in 1853 called them “poison machines”, and spoke of three people who had recently died from the fumes.

And they were inefficient, too.  American promoters claimed that they saved 50-90% on fuel (compared to an open hearth), but a great deal of heat was wasted.  The problem with stoves being made of iron was that they weren’t insulated (again, unlike Rumford’s stove).  Lots of heat was being radiated out into the kitchen, and the cook had to deal with not only that, but also the soot and ash dust.

The kitchener certainly wasn’t labour-efficient.  In fact, it was often worse than an open hearth in this case.  Getting the fire going was just as difficult, and polishing & cleaning the range took ages. In 1912, the wife of a policeman listed her daily duties for the range (excluding the actual cooking):

  • Remove fender and fire-irons.
  • Rake out all the ashes and cinders; first throw in some damp tea-leaves to keep down the dust.
  • Sift the cinders.
  • Clean the flues.
  • Remove all grease from the stove with newspaper.
  • Polish the steels with bathbrick and paraffin.
  • Blacklead the iron parts and polish.
  • Wash the hearthstone and polish it.

The real improvement would be the gas oven.

The Crustacean Invasion: European green crabs are native to western Europe and northwest Africa, but have invaded ecosystems in every continent but Antarctica. 

Because they disperse over long distances during their larval stage and aren’t exactly picky eaters (these crabs will eat clams, shrimp, and other invertebrates!), European green crabs are quite successful at invading new territories. Where they establish new populations, these crabs threaten shellfish fisheries and ecosystem health. 

For reasons not yet well known, European green crabs have been particularly successful in Seadrift Lagoon, a manmade lagoon near San Francisco that is tidally linked to Bolinas Lagoon. There, they’ve established the largest West Coast concentration in a closed marine ecosystem! But folks at Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary are hard at work removing these invasive crabs. Since 2009, teams have worked to remove tens of thousands of crabs from the lagoon, and their work continues. 

(Photo: Kate Bimrose/NOAA) 

California brown pelicans are permanent residents of the Pacific Coast, with their full range extending all the way from Canada to Mexico! 

These seafood fans follow fish species that migrate along the California current. Our West Coast national marine sanctuaries help provide healthy habitats for brown pelicans as they move throughout their range. 

(Photo: Peter Pearsall/USFWS)