The Scuttlefish

Love the Ocean. Wish you were here.

Category: mollusks

Join the Russian-based ‘Aquatilis’ Expedition After They Return From Exploring Three Oceans to Learn More About Gelatinous Microorgansims


The focus of the Aquatilis expedition is to learn more about gelatinous plankton. Image from the Aquatilis Web site.

A team of Russian marine biologists just returned from five months at sea, where they traveled over 30,000 miles and through three oceans to learn more about Gelata, a subcategory of zooplankton (microscopic animals). Gelata are soft-bodied and gelatinous zooplankton that have a unifying characteristic of  soft and extremely fragile jelly-like bodies, like jellyfish.


The route of the Aquatilis. Image from the Aquatilis Web site.

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(Mis)Adventures in #Vanlife with Raw Paua. Part III. A Tired Old Truck and a Boatful of Holes.

Scuttlefish writer Owen James Burke is currently rambling around New Zealand, living in a house truck with a camera, surfboard and speargun in search of stories, waves and fish. We’re putting together a waterperson’s guide to the island nation, but meanwhile, we’ll be publishing stories and photographs, short updates along the way from the Yankee in Kiwiland. -CD


Above: Raw Paua, cooked. Queen Charlotte Drive shows no mercy on a tired old truck and a boatful of holes.

Raw Paua and I took a tour down the east coast of the south island last week, and it began swimmingly. She steamed over two mountain passes and hugged the cliffs nicely along mile after mile of winding coast.

We made camp, and although it was nearly freezing, turning on the broiler to heat a lamb roast (as one does in the land of sheep) warmed me up enough to patter away at the keyboard until the wee hours and comfortably turn in.

The next day, we ventured back up the coast, where we surfed, made fires, and met a crazy Valencian who’s in the process cycling around the perimeter of the island nation.

A couple of days of foul weather and Raw Paua and I decided to make for home base back at the top of the South Island. That was when the smoke started.

I pulled over to the side of the road where a splendid, unridden right-hander was reeling along the beach under a soft pastel sky with nary a surfer in sight. The wave looked enticing, but this wasn’t the time. I had a crisis on my hands.


Then again, in retrospect . . . Photo: Owen James Burke.

Lifting the hood, I was met with a face full of smoke and the alarming, nauseating, intoxicating stench of boiling radiator coolant; it wasn’t exactly the afternoon buzz I was hoping to catch.

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Photo: Owen James Burke.

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The Last of the Sea Silk Spinners?


Above: Chiara Vigo with her Sea silk, or bissus, the cloth of pharaohs, kings and queens. Photo: Andrea Pasquali.

Most silk is made from cocoon husks, but for some pharaohs, kings and queens of yore, worm spit simply wouldn’t do. For them, there was another, rarer silk to be coveted, and it came from clams.

Chiara Vigo harvests byssal threads (known collectively as byssus), the hair-like fibers that allow clams and other bivalves to attach to hard surfaces like rocks. Spinning and dying these coarse, drab strands by hand, she may be among the last of her craft, but not if she has anything to say about it.


Photo: Andrea Pasquali.

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Wish You Were Here: Freshly-Dived Scallops, Queen Charlotte Sound, South Island, New Zealand

Scuttlefish writer Owen James Burke is currently rambling around New Zealand, living in a house truck with a camera, surfboard and speargun in search of stories, waves and fish. We’re putting together a waterperson’s guide to the island nation, but meanwhile, we’ll be publishing stories and photographs, short updates along the way from the Yankee in Kiwiland. -CD

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New Zealand’s Marlborough Sounds might just have the best scallops on the planet. Photo: Owen James Burke.

I forgot my dive fins yesterday, so it was a bit of a strain getting down to scallop depth (25-30 feet), especially in my floaty surfing wetsuit, but I managed to pull up a few, and at least I remembered the lemon.

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Abalone Song, A Definitive Tribute to the Queen of the Mollusks


Above: the venerable red abalone (Haliotis rufescens) of the Pacific Northwest. Image: The Lucky Peach.

‘“When you throw up next time, aim away from me,” Steve said as he sized me up through his mask,” Tienlon Ho writes of her preview into the rigors of red abalone diving off Mendocino in Northern California for Lucky Peach.

Through 100 million years of evolution, abalone have changed very little, and until Europeans arrived in the Pacific, they had little reason to do so. Native Americans, writes Ho, found them so plentiful and life-sustaining that they used their shells as currency and even referred to themselves as “Abalone People.”

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The Billion Oyster Project: How Ecologists Are Using Tiny Mollusks to Shore Up New York City’s Waterways


Photo: Edible Brooklyn. (No, these oysters won’t be edible.)

Once upon a time, there were people who called themselves the Lenape occupying modern-day New York City. They tended oyster beds which not only fed them, but kept their waters clean.


Photo: Edible Brooklyn.

Then the Europeans arrived. These new settlers also had a taste for oysters, but as beds became depleted and the concept of “waste management” was yet to be discovered, the craggy mollusks faced a massive die-off. By 1923, New York City had closed the last of its oyster beds.

Today, eating an oyster from New York City waters is probably about as safe as eating one off the floor in the main terminal at Grand Central Station, but just because we’re not eating them doesn’t mean that this once-flush 330-square-mile region of reefs can continue without them.

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Disco Clams, Toxic-Spewing Strobe Lights of the Sea


Photo: Lindsey Dougherty.

The disco clam (Ctenoides ales) is a tiny reef-dwelling bivalve that exists throughout the Indo-Pacific.

This flashy little mollusk uses an array of 40 eyes along its mantle (the gasket-like membrane lining the inner edge of its shell) almost like a scallop. Its eyes reflect ambient light, putting on a colorful show for those within eyeshot.

The dazzling display both attracts and deters other organisms, but when the 6-centimeter clam is unable to get the message across, it can also spew a toxic mucus containing sulfuric acid (yeah, the stuff in car batteries and drano).

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Back in Salt: I Went to Help a Freediving Amputee Get His Gills Back. He Dove Deeper Than I Did.

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Ever wonder what it feels like to lose your favorite thing on the face of the earth at the drop of a dime only to find that a year later, you’ve still got it? Me neither. I couldn’t even envision it, but it might look something like this. Screenshot: Michael McEntee’s YouTube video.

A few weeks ago, a friend, fellow expatriate and US Marine called “Mac” rang me up to see if I wanted to join him on a freediving/spearfishing trip to the Queen Charlotte Sound. It’s one of several embayments that make up the Marlborough Sounds, an emerald maze of deep flooded valleys lying just below the fiercely tormented waters of New Zealand’s Cook Strait.

Mac’s Kiwi friend Brent Bythell was spending the weekend out on “the Sounds” and had planned a freedive for scallops, which were just coming into season.

“Sure,” I said without reservation. I’d never caught a scallop before.

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Still days like these on the Marlborough Sounds are hard to beat–unless you’re sailing, that is. Photo: Owen James Burke.

It turns out that Brent is in recovery after an infection crept up his foot, leg, and eventually into his spine. He showed up at the hospital complaining of a curiously numb right foot, but was shocked to learn that he had developed gangrene. Brent had to undergo an emergency amputation of the lower part of his leg and he’s now nearly paralyzed from the waist down. The simple fact that he’s alive today is nothing short of a miracle. With the help of a crutch and prosthetic limb, Brent actually gets around pretty damn well–on land anyway.

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