Monday, January 14, 2013

'Citizen scientists' explain mysterious die-offs, trace oil spills back to surprising culprits

Sol Katzman and Stew Perlman are spending a sunny Saturday morning on Scott Creek Beach leaning over a rotting sea lion carcass.

The body has lost its moisture and begun to flatten into the sand. The two men manage not to grimace as they measure the pungent heap from nose to tail and tie green twine around the rear flipper to show it's been counted.

Katzman, 60, and Perlman, 64, are "citizen scientists," part of a volunteer project that collects information about beach-cast marine mammals, birds and turtles along 40 miles of Monterey Bay coastline, from Davenport to Carmel.

The BeachCOMBERS project, which turned 15 this year, has explained mysterious die-offs, exposed harmful fishing practices and traced oil spills back to surprising culprits. The project's goal is to determine how much animal mortality is normal on various beaches, enabling year-to-year comparisons.

Project Manager Hannah Nevins, a seabird biologist with Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, said marine mammals and birds reflect the health of the whole environment they live in. Their population numbers mirror those of the species they eat, including forage fish such as anchovies and sardines, which are hard to count or monitor directly. -
03 Jan 2013
K Servick