Whale Carcass Stranded near Taipo

 

The bloated carcass of a whale the length of a bus has been found at a remote beach in the New Territories’ northeastern tip.

The 10.8-metre-long animal, found beached in an inner bay off Hung Shek Mun, in Plover Cove Country Park, was thought to be a female Bryde’s whale.

20140331-084803.jpg
When marine experts arrived yesterday morning, the rotting carcass was lying partially submerged in the shallow water, giving off a stench. It had a number of cuts on its body.

About 10 government and Ocean Park experts in protective gear were still inspecting the dead whale early yesterday evening. Police said a hiker had reported seeing a “huge fish” floating off Hung Shek Mun on Saturday evening.

“It looks like a Bryde’s whale,” Dolphin Conservation Society chairman Samuel Hung Ka-yiu said after seeing footage and pictures of the animal on the news. “It could have died at sea and then drifted in.”

Hung said it could have been dead for a couple of days since the carcass was bloated.

20140331-084809.jpg

20140331-084755.jpg

The authorities have yet to decide how to dispose of the dead whale. One option would be to cut up its carcass and remove it piece by piece.

Bryde’s whales, which can grow up to about 15 metres and weigh up to 40 tonnes, prefer warmer waters. Males are usually slightly smaller than females.

In 2009, a 10-metre-long humpback whale was spotted in Hong Kong waters. It was believed to be the first sighting of the species in the city. Experts believed the animal accidentally entered Hong Kong harbour after getting lost.

In 2003, a sperm whale was found washed up at Tai Long Wan in Sai Kung. The 10-metre-long creature was about two years old and weighed 15 tonnes.

In 1994, the carcass of a Bryde’s whale was found in Tolo Harbour.

On the 12th of April 1955, a 9m long juvenile male finback whale (Balaenoptera physalus) was found dying in Victoria Harbour. It was subsequently humanely killed and towed to Aberdeen where it was cut into pieces. The meat was given to refugees while the skeleton was stripped of flesh and dried. Later it was put together and mounted at HKU. Because of damage to the skeleton, the mounting was refurbished in the 1990’s and the skeleton is now on display in front of the main building of the Swire Institute of Marine Science at Cape D’Aguilar.

swims
The juvenile finback whale found in Victoria Harbor in 1955 now mounted outsie the SWIMS bulding in Cape D’Aguilar.

Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society has compiled an exhaustive and informative list of cetacean strandings available online.

SCMP article
Standard article

Fish No. 5: Conger (Pike) Eel – Muraenesox cinereus

Scientific Name: Muraenesox cinereus
Common Names: Conger Eel, dagger-tooth pike conger, conger pike, pike eel, 海鰻 or 海鳗 or 海鳗 in Mandarin Chinese, 海鰻 in Taiwanese, hamo in Japanese, Pindanga in Tagolog, .
Origin: China

As the last thing the world needs is another “food blog” I decided to concentrate these fish posts more on the fish themselves, their marine biology and sustainability and fisheries. That said lets turn to the Conger Eel Muraenesox cinereus.

Its a member of the Eel group (which has 600 species!) and lives on soft bottoms down to a depth of about 100 metres where it feeds on small bottom fish and crustaceans. Its also sometimes found in estuaries and can even enter freshwater environments. They commonly reach length of 150 cm, but may grow as long as 200 cm. It occurs in the Red Sea, on the coast of the northern Indian Ocean, and in the East Pacific from Indochina to Japan. It has also invaded the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal. Conger eel is a major commercial species, with annual catches reaching about 350,000 tonnes in recent years. The countries reporting the largest landings were China and Taiwan. It is a traditional food in Japanese cuisine, where it is known as hamo and is wild caught but also cultured. Conger eel meat has been used as an ingredient in creating crab sticks.

20140304-194715.jpg

It is marketed mainly fresh and is also used as bait for shark fishing. In China dried conger eel is apparently popular with eels 1m in length being split down the middle, gutted, washed in saline solution and then air dried – though I have never seen one in Hong Kong (so far). According to the traditional chinese medicine Wiki (TCM Wiki) the spawn – or eggs – (Hai Man Luan) of the Conger Eel is used to strengthen the body by means of tonics which reduce weakness, anemia, cirrhosis, hepatic adipose infiltration, neurasthenia. This is done by baking it to yellow, and then pounding it into powder, then taking 6~12 g of the powder orally. Another source (The Encyclopedic Reference of Traditional Chinese Medicine edited by Yang Xinrong) says it is used to with a detoxifying effect to treat malignant skin boils, scabies, and hemorrhoids with anal fistula (if you’re anything as curious as me when you read “anal fistula” …let me save you the trouble, of searching for it: here is the link to Wikipedia explaining it – enjoy…yuk!). 
For the expats reading this : according to my 1962 book that is the inspiration for the fish posts, ‘Europeans’ (I think this is meant to include Americans) have only ever eaten 3-4 local fish species in Hong Kong. So should you bother expanding your food horizon with conger eel? Is this a good fish to eat? I can tell you it tastes just very nice with firm white flesh, but there are a lot of tiny bones that pretty much spoil the experience – for me anyway. From what I have read a lot of Chinese fish balls contain conger eel – probably along with other fish species – because ground down to paste and kneaded into fish balls the tiny bones are no longer a problem. So if you have ever eaten fish balls (perhaps in soup) , chances are you have had already tried conger eel without knowing it.
But the big question is – should you eat it? Is it sustainable? What does the WWF Seafood Guide say? It says – nothing, a big fat nothing. Conger eel is not mentioned at all. Zip. So now what? I have contacted Park’n’Shop again to get some more details on how they sourced their fish. But while we wait for an answer, I had a look around the internet to see what info is available on conger eel fisheries in China or Southeast Asia in general. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) the catches of conger eel (and most other fish species) in China have skyrocketed in the last 20 years, going from 40,850 tonnes in 1990, to 372,704 in 2011! In Japan, the conger eel is caught by longlines and then transferred to fish farms to mature and they are making attempts to produce spawn so that they can farm this fish in future.  And that’s about all you can find on the internet!
So we will have to wait and see what Park’n’Shop says. If the fish is caught by trawling, its a definitive no-no so AVOID. And if it is farmed or caught by lines, that’s is a bit better, but no guarantee that it is sustainable, so “THINK TWICE”. In the absence of information my verdict for now is a cautionary “AVOID”.

Global Citizen Science – Introducing the Secchi App

Screenshots of the Secchi App
Screenshots of the Secchi App

SecchiApp2Calling all budding marine biologists!
The University of Plymouth has developed an app that let’s you directly contribute to science by recording phytoplankton densities with the aid of a simple device called a Secchi disk – which you can make at home – and their free iPhone or Android app.
Phytoplankton are tiny floating algae that soak up carbon dioxide and nutrients and use sunlight to convert them into carbohydrates, proteins and fats to grow and release oxygen at the same time. Phytoplankton is very important for climate change because when they die they settle down to the sea bed either directly or by being eaten and then pooped out by animals. This process of binding carbon dioxide from the ocean and burying it layer upon layer of sediment on the ocean floor is often called a carbon sink.
Quite apart from this phytoplankton is also the basis of the marine food chain, so almost all other ocean creatures depend on it.
But many researchers have claimed to find a decrease in phytoplankton levels. But now you can help in what may become the worlds biggest phytoplankton study and help find out what is really happening with phytoplankton worldwide.
The app shoes you how to make a simple device called a Secchi disk – basically a flat circular disk lowers into the water by a rope. You then lower thie disk down into the water until it just disappears from view and record this depth – this is the ‘Secchi depth’. So basically you are measuring underwater visability in the vertical dimension.

how a secchi disk works
The Secchi disk measures the visibility of the water column in the vertical plane and this measurement serves as a crude measure of plankton density.

This is a so-called proxy for phytoplankton density in the water – it’s not the actual measurement of phytoplankton density but a measurement that is very strongly correlated to it, because phytoplankton is the main cause of visibility levels. So by measuring the visibility we can indirectly infer how dense the phytoplankton is in the water.
The app has full instructions on how to make a Secchi disk and how to make the measurements. So if you have access to a boat, download the app, and get busy as doing some ‘citizen marine biology’!