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!
Caught by iPhone! Check out the video below, and be sure to watch the upper-center portion of the film in its first five seconds.
Just before this, our volunteer said, the pup stuck his head up near the rock he was sitting on in Star Island’s quarry—a spot just past the breakwaters but before East Rock—and “calmly regarded him before deciding to swim back out to sea.”
Cool video! But not surprising since grey, harbor and ringed seals are often spotted swimming past the summerhouse in the evening. In fact, a group of 12 where spotted just the night before!
But we do have one last video for you, taken by our same intrepid volunteer. This time he captures an angry Spotted Sandpiper trying lead him astray from his nest near the summerhouse. Cheers and be sure you turn up the sound!
Snow-in-summer, by Dennis O’Keefe
Earlier this month, All Star I conferees organized the first Star Island Bioblitz, an inventory of the biological diversity in and around the island conducted by enthusiasts and experts of all ages. Results are still being posted at the iNaturalist project but early estimates are that we saw at least 168 species, including red-backed salamanders, a polyphemus moth, and a surprise visit from a banded Peregrine Falcon who posed for photographs on the chapel!
More than 35 people participated, including 6 team leaders and 10 young people. Activities on July 2 included an Intertidal Biocube and Hula Hoop meadow transects. The Life Under Logs team found spiders and a centipede, and the Rock Pools team brought back samples with water boatmen and copepods.
We couldn’t have done it without the Rutledge Marine Lab’s Arthur Eves and his able volunteers, Chris and George Wilson. Our speaker of the week (Rob Raguso) and his wife (Laurel Hester) provided scientific guidance and inspiration. Stay tuned for final results which may take awhile. And feel free to add your own photos and observations to the iNaturalist project—no reason to stop finding species we missed. For more information, contact Cyndy Parr.
A peregrine falcon on the Star Island chapel steeple, by Bart Bouricius.
Sampling a cubic foot of the beach between high and low tide.
Hula hoop transect
A centipede, ~ 2 centimeters long.