Manta: Interview with Guy Stevens

With their horn-shaped cephalic fins and large, gaping mouths, manta rays have long been the source of mariners’ myths and legends. Today, we know much more about these curious creatures, although many features of their lives and behaviours remain a mystery.

Marine biologist and co-founder of the Manta Trust Guy Stevens has spent many years researching mantas in an effort to understand their lives and to promote conservation practices that will ensure their continued survival. In Manta he has joined forces with National Geographic photographer Thomas Peschak to create a visually stunning and informative tribute to these animals.

To coincide with the re-release of the book, we recently spoke to Guy about his work with Mantas and the conservation challenges that they face.


Your life as a researcher and CEO of the Manta Trust must be incredibly varied and exciting. I’m curious what a typical day in the life of Guy Stevens looks like. Or, if a ‘typical’ day is unheard of for you, can you describe a recent day for us?

My days tend to be dictated by where I am. When in the field I am usually diving or freediving with manta rays on a daily basis, collecting data or guiding tourist expeditions. However, increasingly the majority of my time is spent on my computer behind a desk responding to emails, having Skype calls, writing papers, applying for grants and managing an ever increasing manta team.

Setting up an NGO must require an immense amount of work and passion. What did you find most challenging about the process and, as an extension of this, what advice would you offer other conservationists who are hoping to travel a similar path?

The most challenging part of the process, which still remains the main challenge today, is ensuring there are funds to enable the charity to carry out its mission. My advice to anyone wishing to follow a similar path would be to ensure you diversify your revenue streams.

Manta: Secret Life of Devil RaysThe work conducted by yourself and other researchers around the world has contributed a huge amount to the body of knowledge about manta rays. What do you think are the next big questions that need to be addressed and how do you think new technologies (e.g. satellite and acoustic tagging / genetic techniques) will contribute to these?

From a conservation perspective one of the next big focus areas is to try and quantify the extent and impact of bycatch fisheries on the high seas (such as purse seine tuna fisheries) to manta rays and their close relatives, the devil rays; how many are being caught, which species, where, when and how many survive release after capture? Using post-release mortality tags can help us to estimate how many of the rays are likely to survive being captured after release, while the implementation of better management practices can hopefully reduce bycatch.

It is clear from your book that the problems facing mantas are incredibly complex and, as such, will require complex solutions. The final message I took from your book, however, appears to be one of hope. What significant changes would you like (or hope!) to see happen within the next five years in the arena of manta ray conservation.

I would like to see a world shifting away from industrial fisheries which employ unsustainable fishing practices; such as drift nets, long-lines, gill nets, etc. The oceans are rapidly being depleted and we need to protect much greater areas of this common resource from fishing if we want to stand any chance of safeguarding the world’s charismatic species like manta rays from extinction in the next few decades.

Finally – and I appreciate that you must have hundreds to choose from – is there a single encounter with a manta ray that really stands out in your memory and that will stay in your heart forever?

Yes, certainly the encounter which stands out the most is the one I describe in the book with the manta Slice, who I rescued from fishing line back in 2008 in Hanifaru Bay….there are lots of detail on this encounter in the book and here’s a link to the story on our website (although it is a bit outdated now); http://www.mantatrust.org/amazing-experiences-entangled-manta-rescue/


Manta: Secret Life of Devil Rays is available from NHBS.

To find out more about the work of the Manta Trust and how you can support them, go to www.mantatrust.org

 

The NHBS Guide to Whale and Dolphin Watching

Public sighting records are important for UK cetacean conservation. Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins by Jo Garbutt is licenced under CC BY 2.0

Catching a glimpse of a whale or dolphin whilst visiting the coast is a uniquely memorable experience and a few hours spent whale and dolphin watching is fun for all age groups. Plus, your sightings can really make a difference and will add to the growing body of survey data collected for the UK coastline.

Keep reading for some tips on when and where to watch whales and dolphins, how to get started and where to report your sightings.

When and where should I watch cetaceans and what am I likely to see?

The best time for spotting cetaceans is between April and October when visitors to our coastal waters are at their highest. Some areas are undoubtedly better than others for catching a glimpse of these elusive animals: Devon, Cornwall and Cardigan Bay in Wales are good places to go, as well as the coasts of northern Scotland.

Twenty-nine species of cetacean have been recorded in UK waters, and some areas of our coastline are home to permanent populations of dolphins. The most commonly reported species are bottlenose dolphins, harbour porpoises and minke whales, although rarer visitors have included killer whales, humpback whales and striped dolphins.

Of course, cetaceans aren’t the only things you will see. Keep your eyes peeled for seals too and enjoy the seabirds and beautiful views at the same time!

How do I get started watching whales and dolphins?

For most people, watching cetaceans from the land (rather than from a boat) will be the most convenient and economical option. Any place where you can sit comfortably with a good view of the sea will suffice, but if you can make your way to a cliff top then this will provide a better vantage point. Calm, overcast days tend to be the best for spotting cetaceans as the combination of swell, choppy waves and surface reflections can make fins all but impossible to see. For the same reason, the hours following dusk and prior to dawn are the best times of day to go.

A watch is conducted by scanning the surface of the water with the naked eye, switching to binoculars periodically or whenever you notice a disturbance at the surface. As soon as you see something that may be a whale or dolphin, concentrate your binoculars in that area, making sure to scan a little way around in case it surfaces again nearby. Another good technique is to look out for seabirds circling or diving as this may indicate cetaceans feeding just below the surface.

Any binoculars (or a scope and tripod) can be used for sea watches. If you are looking for binoculars specifically for this activity, however, make sure to go with a model that has a large objective lens diameter as this will improve the light transmission and will help with viewing in lower light conditions.

For researchers studying marine mammals, items such as thermal imaging scopes and hydrophones are useful additions to the surveying toolbox and will allow them to find and identify cetaceans in a greater range of conditions as well as enabling more detailed investigation of behaviour.

Where do I submit my sightings?

Several organisations in the UK offer online sighting forms where you can submit information about whales, dolphins and porpoises that you have confidently identified during your watch. Take a look at the Sea Watch Foundation, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation, or the Cetacean Research & Rescue Unit websites for sighting forms. Other regional groups such as the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust and Norfolk Cetaceans also collect local sightings so it might be worth finding out if there is an active recording group near to where you live.

Check out the NHBS website for a great range of binoculars and scopes, as well as other handy field kit such as waterproof clipboards and notebooks. Also have a look at these two field guides to help with identifying whales and dolphins.

Guide to the UK Cetaceans and Seals
Guide to the UK Cetaceans and Seals
Whales, Dolphins and Seals: A Field Guide to the Marine Mammals of the World
Whales, Dolphins and Seals: A Field Guide to the Marine Mammals of the World

 

The NHBS buyer’s guide to Plankton Nets

Following the acquisition of EFE & GB Nets earlier this year, NHBS now manufactures a wide range of plankton nets at our workshop in Devon. Nets are available with an opening diameter of 250mm, 300mm or 500mm and with mesh sizes ranging from 10µm to 500µm.

250mm and 300mm diameter nets
184244
250mm diameter plankton nets are available with 10µm to 250µm mesh

250mm and 300mm diameter nets have a stainless steel frame to which a 500mm long bag is attached. They are supplied with a harness and seven metre long towing line which can be used to tow the net behind a boat or from a suitable bank or jetty.

The standard cod end is fitted with a filter in the same mesh size as the main part of the bag. However, various alternatives can be selected at the time of ordering. Options include a clear extension tube, collecting bottle, tap valve or large filter fitted in place of the standard filter. It is also possible to have weight loops added to the end of the net (weights not included) or a stainless steel swivel to be used on the harness in place of the standard nylon ring.

The heavy duty upgrade uses heavy duty nylon for the net collar and cod end collar and also includes fully taped seams.

500mm diameter nets
229185
500mm diameter bags have industrial nylon collars and reinforced seams

500mm diameter nets have a stainless steel frame and 1900mm long bag and a three point harness with swivel connector. All seams are reinforced and the collar is made from industrial nylon for added strength and durability. The cod end of the bag is fitted with a heavy duty screw-on filter in the same mesh size as the bag. This net is not supplied with a towing rope and so users will need to supply their own rope or chain which can be fitted to the harness.

As with the smaller plankton nets, various adaptations are available in order to create a net which is suited to your sampling needs. A flexible cod end extension allows a greater sample volume to be collected and also lets you connect a different filter type. A replacement cod end cap provides a closed ended option and results in a sample size of 700ml and a quick release bag is ideal for collecting fry or elver or for when a rapid changeover of bags is required.

Net bags and the educational plankton net
229094
Educational plankton net

As well as standard plankton nets, we also stock a range of plankton net bags designed to fit onto the professional hand net frame. These fit onto the frame in the same way as the standard hand net bags, and have a detachable screw-on filter in the centre. An educational plankton net with 150µm mesh is also available for school use or for those who require an economical net for trial sampling.

 

 

 

Browse the full range of plankton nets at NHBS

The Week in Review – 12th December

Dragonfly
Dragonfly use neurological calculations which allow them to actually predict the movements of their prey. Photo by John Flannery.

News from outside the nest

This week…we learned why pufferfish build sandcastles and how it has taken us such a long time to observe this particular behaviour.

A study published this week in Nature showed us how dragonflies go beyond mere reflexive responses and actually predict the movements of their prey as they are hunting.

This short guide helped us to address the most common questions posed by “climate change challengers”.

We discovered the OceanAdapt website which lets members of the public search and download geographic data of more than 650 species of fish and invertebrates and track how these have changed over time…a hugely valuable resource for fishermen and scientists.

Camouflage in the natural world is incredibly common and well understood. However, a paper published this week by the Royal Society revealed a new kind of camouflage exhibited by the beautiful harlequin filefish: smell camouflage.

And finally…we were amazed by this extraordinary bird that disguises itself as a caterpillar.

New arrivals at the warehouse

Useful and fun: these cute animal head torches are a great stocking filler for young outdoor enthusiasts.

 

 

The Week in Review – 5th December

Trawler
The Global Fishing Watch Project has made satellite data from fishing vessels freely available online to raise citizen awareness of overfishing. Image by Winky.

 

News from outside the nest

This week…we read a great article about the “Send us your Skeletons” project and learned about the power of citizen science in gathering valuable data.

We also learned about the importance of citizen awareness in the Global Fishing Watch project. This amazing new scheme uses satellite data to make global issues of overfishing much more transparent, as well as making huge quantities of fisheries science data available to researchers.

These beautiful images hosted by Rough Guide showed us some incredible views of forests around the world.

With temperatures in 2014 now reported to be the hottest on record, we took a look at how different places around the world have experienced these heatwaves.

We learned about the feeding behaviour of the aptly named killer whale – and discovered why they are suddenly preying on humpbacks.

And finally…Martin Litton, one of the great pioneers of the environmental movement, sadly died on Sunday. In this article from the National Geographic we read about his life and legacy.

New arrivals at the warehouse

The 5th edition of the Field Guide to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of Great Britain and Ireland contains stunning illustrations and photographs. It also features descriptions, distribution maps and site guides alongside a whole host of other great information.

The Barnacle Goose, the new Poyser Monograph, contains more than 25 years worth of research on these fascinating and sociable birds.

These Haglof Increment Borers are made from high quality Swedish steel – just the job for all your tree core sampling needs.

 

The Week in Review – 28th November

SNOWstorm - a research project monitoring the breeding grounds of snowy owls
Project SNOWstorm has been monitoring breeding snowy owls in the Canadian Arctic since the 1980s. Image by Erin Kohlenberg.

 

News from outside the nest

This week…we were fascinated by the intelligence and dexterity displayed by this octopus gathering and storing a coconut shell to use for protection.

We caught up on project SNOWstorm – a research endeavour which monitors the summer breeding areas of snowy owls in the Canadian Arctic.

We discovered how the flight of hummingbirds is more similar to that of insects than that of other birds.

November was Manatee Awareness Month: This vulnerable species, long time provider of fuel for mermaid myths, now number less than 10,000 in the wild.

The mystery of large numbers of dead porpoises washing up on the Netherlands coast was finally solved, with grey seals proving to be the surprising culprit.

A PhD student at Brunel University, London, created an ingenious DIY microscope to measure cell motility, saving himself hundreds of thousands of pounds.

And finally…a unique way of dealing with invasive species: The first beer made from invasive pond weed and zebra mussels went on sale in Minnosota.

New arrivals at the warehouse

Irish Bats in the 21st Century summarises the considerable body of bat research and surveillance that has been undertaken in Ireland in the 21st century, much of it by citizen scientists.

Mammals of Mexico is the first English language reference on the 500+ species of mammals found in diverse Mexican habitats – from the Sonoran desert to the Chiapas cloud forests.

The Ridgid SeeSnake CA-25 is an affordable endoscope with a 17mm waterproof camera head.

This Ultra High Resolution Nest Box Camera from Gardenature comes with a nestbox designed to BTO and RSPB guidelines and contains everything you need to start watching straight away.

 

The Week in Review – 21st November

Sea turtles
Six of the world’s seven species of sea turtle are now endangered, making rehabilitation of injured individuals extremely important. Image by Dominic Scaglioni.

News from outside the nest

This week we learned all about…

The importance of protected areas for conserving the planet’s diversity. Many of our reserves are failing to live up to their promised potential through poor management

The strange wasting syndrome that is affecting many important species of starfish and the scientists that are working to manage this problem.

Rehabilitation of sea turtles over 400 miles from the ocean. At the Second Chance Program, located in Pittsburgh, injured turtles are prepared for reintroduction to the wild.

A new theory which suggests that life could exist on planets in the absence of water, thriving instead on supercritical carbon dioxide.

Flying under the influence: A drunk tank for birds, situated in the Yukon territory, opens for business.

And finally…the UK’s first number two bus (quite literally). Powered entirely by human sewage and food waste, this bus is now in service between Bristol and Bath.

New arrivals at the warehouse

This new Programmable Heated Bat Box lets you set maximum and minimum daily temperatures for each month of the year, as well as letting you set up and monitor up to four boxes remotely via an online interface.

The Nest Box Camera Starter Kit contains everything you need to start filming birds in your garden. It includes an FSC timber bird box pre-fitted with a camera and 30m cable. Simply plug into your TV and start watching the action.

The long awaited new addition of Docks and Knotweeds of Britain and Ireland features additional hybrids and adventives, new distribution maps and keys, as well as 67 outstanding illustrations by Anne Farrer.

Animal Weapons by Douglas Emlen lets us take a look at the extreme weapons of the natural world: teeth, horns and claws, alongside the weapons developed by humans since battle began.

 

Book of the Week: Field Guide for Sharks of the Genus Carcharhinus

Continuing our selection of the very best titles available through NHBS:

Field Guide for Sharks of the Genus Carcharhinus

by Matthias Voigt & Dietmar Weber

What?

A full-colour identification guide to members of the genus Carcharhinus, notably difficult to distinguish by species.

Why?

We are always really impressed by the books published by Verlag Friedrich Pfeil, and this is no exception. TheField Guide for Sharks of the Genus Carcharhinus jacket image excellent drawings by master technical artist Weber, carefully indicate the relevant anatomical distinctions between the 33 species covered, and the research is immaculate, providing all the facts required for identification. In addition there is plenty of information on the biology and natural history of the genus, plus a glossary of technical terms and many maps, tables and plates.

As well as appealing to marine biologists and shark enthusiasts, this volume has further application in the fields of fisheries, diving and other aquatic sports – in other words for anyone to whom positive species identification would be relevant.

It is hoped that this book will go some way to providing clearer records about threatened shark populations.

Who?

Dr Matthias Voigt studied marine biology at the University of Rostock (2000-2004), received his PhD from the University of Karlsruhe and now works at the University of Konstanz in the Department of Biology, Human Environmental Toxicology Group. He has had many experiences with sharks while diving, and as a member of the German Elasmobranch Society (D.E.G.), he tries to impart his experience, knowledge and fascination with sharks to the general public for increased understanding and protection.

Dietmar Weber is likewise a member of the D.E.G., and has a passion for the lifelike portrayal of animals, an art form which he has perfected over the last forty years. He is currently focused on sharks, skates and rays and his work has been featured in many publications. A graduate professional Technician for Biology i.e. Ecology, he has worked at the Research Institute for Forest Ecology and Forestry of Rhineland-Palatinate in Trippstadt since 1989.

 

Available Now from NHBS

At the EURASLIC Meeting, Lyon – about hard-to-find books in Marine Biology

A few weeks ago, I attended the 14th Biennial EURASLIC Meeting. EURASLIC is the European Association of Aquatic Sciences Libraries and Information Centres. This year’s meeting on the topic Caught in the “fishing net” of information was hosted by Cemagref, in Lyon, France. The weather was lovely, the food excellent, and it was a joy to spend a few days in the company of extremely knowledgeable librarians from many countries.

Among other things, I talked on the topic of hard-to-find books in Marine Biology (here is the Powerpoint Presentation of my talk). At NHBS, we have great experience in identifying and cataloguing specialist titles published by small publishers, and we know how much effort is involved in the process. In passing the information on to libraries through our Monthly Catalogue, our online catalogue, and topical newsletters, we hope to make these publications known to a much wider audience. Every week, we see new books that are not available to buy from mainstream booksellers.

Some examples of titles that should be on the shelves of every marine biology library in Europe, but are not always known to librarians, include:

Coastal PlanktonCoastal Plankton: Published by German publisher Pfeil who specialise in paleontological publications, but have lately published more books related to marine biology. Their latest title is The Field Guide for Sharks of the Genus Carcharhinus.

 

 

Subterranean Fishes of the World: The only book ever published by the International Society for Subterranean Biology, and not very easy to get hold of.

 

Handbook of European Freshwater Fishes: published by the author, this book is an essential reference for any marine biology library.

 

Subscribe to the NHBS Monthly Catalogue to stay up-to-date on all new publications in the natural sciences as they are published.

The meeting in Lyon was very enjoyable, I hope to be able to come to the next EURASLIC meeting in 2013 in Moscow!

The plastic found in a single turtle’s stomach

Floating debris is a real threat to the oceans’ wildlife, as revealed by this study of the stomach contents of a juvenile turtle, living off the coast of Argentina.

Read the full story on the Independent’s website

Related title: Flotsametrics and the Floating World