The Scuttlefish

Love the Ocean. Wish you were here.

Category: myth

Wish You Were Here: The Birthplace of Aotearoa and the Māori People – Hokianga Harbor, New Zealand

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After what is now New Zealand’s discovery, the islands were named ‘Aotearoa’ which means ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’; seen here in the entrance to the Hokianga Harbor from the Tasman Sea. Photo by Carolyn Sotka.

With the ancient Kauri forest shrinking in our rear mirror, my family set off for the west coast of New Zealand with a calm, revered silence from being in the presence of the giant 2000 year old trees. As we slowly lumbered through the woods, thick trees thinned and gave way to rolling hills. A final corner turned and we were met with one of the most magnificent vistas I have ever seen.

Ahead lay the Hokianga Harbor, with bright, golden sand dunes, contrasted against turquoise waters and cliffs peppered with bushes and flowers. Everything about our trip to New Zealand was unexpected, especially this moment. Reminiscent of Big Sur, California with a mix of Vermont and Ireland and pinch of the Swiss Alps in summer, this place was so unique, yet so familiar.

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The Kauri coast leading to the Hokianga Harbor. Photo by Carolyn Sotka.

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More (Mis)Adventures in #Vanlife: No More Bananas Permitted Aboard Raw Paua.

Scuttlefish writer Owen James Burke is currently rambling around New Zealand in a camper van 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


Photo: Owen James Burke.

The first time I was old enough to begin my quasi-annual fly fishing trips with my Uncle Thom, I pulled a banana from my boat bag about an hour into our day’s outing. Within what felt like the blink of an eye, the once-bitten banana was out of my hand and drifting downstream past the boat.

I wish I could have seen the confusion smeared across face. I have no doubt that my uncle got a kick out of it.

He later brought to my attention the old angler’s adage: never take bananas aboard a boat. Why?


. . . Here’s why. Photo: Owen James Burke.

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The Japanese Mini-Subs of the Pearl Harbor. Terry Kerby on a Discovery that Rewrote History. A Scuttlefish Feature.


Terry Kerby at the viewing port of the deep sea sub, Pisces V. He was looking through this view port when he found a tiny Japanese submarine that rewrote the history of World War II.
Photo: Chris Dixon

Last week, The New York Times published a story I wrote that posed a question: Do Humans Have a Future in Deep Sea Exploration? The story focused on a pioneering deep sea submersible pilot named Terry Kerby and the laboratory he oversees on Oahu’s windward coast. The laboratory, part of the University of Hawaii and better known as HURL, has been the most important United States deep-sea research outpost in the mid-Pacific since the 1980s. As HURL’s chief pilot, Kerby is perhaps the most experienced submersible navigator alive. With a crew of five, Mr. Kerby and his twin Pisces submarines have discovered more than 140 wrecks and artifacts, recovered tens of millions of dollars in lost scientific equipment, and surveyed atolls and seamounts whose hydrothermal vents and volcanoes were unknown.



Kerby’s discoveries, made alongside the likes of Dr. Robert Ballard and Dr. Sylvia Earle, have rewritten the history of World War II and changed our very understanding of the deep ocean. But in 2013, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced it would be cutting off the meager funding that helped keep HURL and its subs afloat. Today, Kerby faces the possible mothballing of his fleet – and the world faces the loss of ¼ of the planet’s human-piloted deep subs. The forces at play are the same as in many other realms of science — dwindling budgets – NOAA’s deep sea exploration budget is $26 million per year, while NASA’s space exploration budget is on the order of $4 billion. Then, of course, there’s the issue of robots.

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March of the Wind Powered ‘Strandbeests’ on the Blustery Shores of the North Sea


One of the Strandbeests. Photo by Lena Herzog from The New Yorker’s article on artist Theo Jansen.

Since 1990, artist Theo Jansen has been creating ‘Strandbeests’, which translates to beach animals in Dutch. The strandbeests are assembled from stiff plastic tubes and then animated by wind to walk like alien creatures along the shore. 

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Video from the Strandbeest Webshop.

The kinetic beasts were originally designed to throw sand onto degraded dunes to help protect against loss from storm surge or sea level rise. What has occurred since then, are multiple generations of Strandbeests – divided much like geologic eras and each christened with a scientific-like name such as Animaris Duabus Caudis.

According to Jansen’s Web site, he makes these skeletons to walk on the wind, so they don’t have to eat. His vision is to have herds of Strandbeests, that are self sustained to roam and live their own lives.

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Acadian Driftwood: The Legend of Actor Charles Coghlan’s Castaway, Homeward-Bound Metal Coffin

The handsome Charles Francis Coghlan, a 19th century French-born Anglo-Irish actor.
(b. France/Canada (?), 1841, d. Galveston, Texas, 1899.)

Things wash ashore over time. Sometimes they’re derelict fishing vessels, sometimes they’re legos. Sometimes they’re messages in bottles, and sometimes they’re caskets carrying the corpses of famous actors.

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Wish You Were Here: The ‘Devil’s Washboard’, Southern Japan


The ‘Devil’s Washboard’ is not the name of a surf punk band nor is it a haunted road in Kansas where 7 teenagers perished in the 50’s. It is the most geologically unique feature I have ever seen on a coast, and lies on Aoshima Island in the far southeast corner of Japan, an area thought to be the birthplace of the first Emperor Jinmu.

The region has a subtropical feel brought by the Black Current (or Kuroshio Current) that flows up from the southern Pacific. The neat rows upon rows of evenly eroded rock look like a huge washboard that a giant monster would use such as  ‘Oni‘, a Japanese demon or devil and the inspiration behind the name.


The Japanese devil ‘Oni’ is an ogre-humanoid-like creature with wild hair and horns. Painting from 17th century.

I found it difficult to get answers on how the ‘Devil’s Washboard’–or the myth behind it–was formed, in part due to the language barrier that was especially evident in this corner of the country, where very few non-native tourists visit, and very few locals speak English.

When I returned to the States, I asked Dr. Leslie Sautter, a marine geologist and associate professor at the College of Charleston how it was likely formed. Her thoughts were that the formation appears to be the result of hundreds of layers of basalt from individual lava flows. These layers have either been tilted by tectonic activity or they formed atop the slope of a former volcano.

The space between the layers is probably marine sediment, which would point to the feature having been formed either underwater. The middle space is clearly less resistant to weathering and has eroded, yet it’s bracketed by the prominent ridges of stronger basalt layers and uniformly flattened by wave action.

The ‘Devil’s Washboard’ is completely hidden at high tide but at low tide the expanse is hard to capture in a single frame (see video below). The exposed rock, tide pools and rocky shores draw day-trippers and shellfish collectors who harvest a variety of marine invertebrates from the ragged edges.

Also to note: the area is a popular surf destination and just one of over 60 (named) spots along the entirety of Japan.


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The Return of Migaloo, the Albino Humpback Whale and Friends to Waters off Australia


Migaloo. Photo from My Modern Net

Excitement is building along the eastern coast of Australia as whale watchers anxiously await the return of Migaloo, the all white humpback whale, made famous in 2004 when he was first spotted off Byron Bay.

Migaloo, thought to be the only albino humpback in the world, was joined by a white humpback calf spotted swimming alongside his/her mother in 2011. Given that albinism is an inherited trait, the calf is speculated to be Migaloo’s offspring and aptly named Migaloo Junior or MJ.


Mother with normal pigmentation with MJ an albino calf. Photo credit: White Whale Research Centre.

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Behold the Elusive Feegee Mermaid. “The Very Perfection of Art, Imitating Nature.”


Throughout the mid to late 1800’s, P.T. Barnum’s traveling sideshows grew notorious through the showcase of ‘freaks’ of nature, curiosities and other oddities. Some of the human ‘live’ exhibits like Siamese twins, Tom Thumb, the bearded lady and the human skeleton were indeed caused by real mutations and deformities. Most though, were completely fabricated, constructed in imagination and held together by glue, smoke and mirrors.

One exhibit that drew thousands to the sideshow was the Feegee Mermaid, a grotesque mummified skeleton of a supposed half mammal and half fish version of a mermaid. Nothing like beautiful sirens in typically portrayed in ocean folklore, this thing looked like a mini monster that would happily eat your face.


P.T. Barnum’s feegee mermaid from 1842. Originally published in: The New York Herald

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