This is an island of mystery and awe. A few weeks ago an 8-10 foot long, cylindrical animal was reported washed up near the breakwater. Investigation revealed that it was in fact not one organism, but three, American eels, above the tide line situated in such a way that they looked like one continuous serpent. How did this happen? The eels’ heads were buried in the loose rock where a freshwater drainage runs down from the art barn ponds. The last full moon was almost two weeks before and the eels were pretty dried up. It had been a wet spring with high fresh water levels.
If eels were an anadromous species like salmon, spawned in fresh water and spending their youth and adulthood in saltwater only to return when the mating frenzy was upon them, then this would be a relatively easy mystery to solve. These eels had found a source of freshwater and were trying to swim upstream to spawn. But that would be fake news!
The American eel is a catadromous species. It migrates from saltwater to fresh, only returning to its breeding grounds in the Sargasso Sea when it is adult and ready to mate. Rachel Carson described their incredible migration in her first book Under the Sea Wind.
So the mystery remains. Why would three adult American eels wiggle themselves up on the rocks on the night of a full moon in May? What watery scent drove them to their deaths? Is there some elixir in the pond water that drives eels mad with desire? Are they the succubi of the white lady who walks these shores? Only the Vaughan Cottage curator can answer that question.
I’m Alex, one of the two Nick Mahoney interns sharing time between Appledore and Star Island, I thought I’d tell you a bit of what I do. I’ve been out on the Isles of Shoals since June 14th, and I know I’ll miss it once I leave this Monday. Since June I’ve been learning a lot about the culture, history, and natural science of the Isles of Shoals, and I use this knowledge to help give tours on both Star and Appledore Island. On Appledore I participate in the UNH Marine Docent program, and on Star I help out Arthur in the Lyman V. Rutledge Marine Lab. In addition, Ana (my co-intern) and I have also been working on our own project. During the month of July we surveyed children and adults on their opinions on Gulls. This information helped us create a Gull education program, and if you return to the Isles of Shoals next year, you will see the fruits of our labor in the form of informational posters, signs, and pamphlets around the island. Ana and I find the Gulls to be fascinating, charismatic, and at times, humorous birds. We hope you can learn to feel the same way. I’ve learned a lot and really enjoyed my time on Star this year, and I am truly grateful to have been one of your Nick Mahoney interns this year.
By Linnea Huston
This week in the lab, we got to see two of our Atlantic rock crabs (Cancer irroratus) in the process of mating. To some, it looked like they were fighting, or like one was eating the other alive. In fact, they were in the “doubler” position, which looks as though the two are hugging each other.
In the pictures, the male crab is the larger of the two and the female is the smaller. Female crabs will molt right before or during mating, and this one did just that—an object came away from the pair that looked like a second crab. We realized that that was her shedded outer shell and that she
was now darker in color (Which you can see
in the second picture).
These two were in the doubler position only a few hours, but mating crabs can stay like this from five hours to three days. The female will store the male’s sperm under her abdomen, which will later attach to her eggs. She’ll then carry the fertilized eggs under her abdomen for about two weeks until they hatch.
Always something interesting to see in the Marine Lab!
I may be anthropomorphizing but it is hard not to think the whales are responding to the music. Although I don’t recollect sound traveling so well from the atmosphere to the hydrosphere. Still, this is entertaining and inspiring…even if for unsound reasons.
Just finished one of our weekly discussions about sustainability and Star Island. It went quite well. I’m always inspired by the hard work it takes to navigate organizations and regulatory agencies to actually create change on the ground. Star Island is in the midst of trying to go off diesel as an energy source and onto a mixed system of solar, propane, and conservation. Most of the skeptics have been won over but the devil is in the details…and the details aren’t finished yet. Jack Farrell has done an impressive job of navigating the issues and keeping the community informed.
I’m presuming that this initiative will be successful and lay a foundation for Star Island’s immediate future but deeper specters haunt my dreams. Sustainability as it is usually applied looks at systems and energy flows (sometimes fiscal flows are used as a proxy) within a specified domain. As we increase this to a broader universe externalities become internal. Star is an island in many ways. It stands apart from many cultural norms and tries to sustain certain values in the modern world. Nonetheless it is a part of the modern world and will be swept along with it. This is not the Isle of Iona where some say Christianity survived the collapse of European civilization. Although perhaps in some ways it is. We who have been touched by this place can carry its message into the world.
The big question is what is the message we bring. I don’t think it’s anything specific. There are threads of learning that run through all the conferences. Lessons that are learned through sharing in community, cooperatively working together to create a shared experience. For a week we live on an island and create magic together. How do we bring that magic home? How do we make it last a year? What is in the secret sauce that we can bring back to our communities? I know there’s something there but wouldn’t want to define the what (I think it’s different for everyone), I’m more interested in the how.
Because in the long run of our children’s or grandchildren’s lives we will probably have to give up this island. If sea levels rise too much, no amount of capital spending will preserve us. To make Star truly sustainable we need to make it portable. I do believe that is the task of the next generation of Shoalers.
Please comment with your own ideas of how we might do this.