Up the Beach — August brings shipwrecks, sick starfish, velvet and Velella

August at the beach has not been this hot in years. Seems odd but the sun-worshippers and heat seekers are having a great time this summer.

August shipwrecks

Odd, as well, is the fact that August has a long history of shipwrecks during this month, almost as many that occur on the coastline in March. When one lives along the sea, the loss of a person in the ocean hits home.

The boat found drifting five miles off Ocean Shores recently by the FV Tally Ho minus the owner, Paul Clark from Canada, simply makes the local folks sad. He had been missing since July 11.

But the locals also feel more secure from the rapid and thorough work of the U.S. Coast Guard and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife in their search and boat rescue efforts.

Starfish wasting disease

August also is always the month of the sea with tourists, students and research specialists getting in some hours before the rainy season begins. Steve Green, head docent at the Coastal Interpretive Center, has been keeping an eye on the starfish population destruction by the “wasting” disease and has noticed a huge escalation of sick sea stars on local beaches.

One of the first looks at the disease was by scientists attending the National Marine Sanctuary meeting at Neah Bay more than six years ago when a fisher from the tribe alerted them to a strange phenomenon on a nearby beach.

Today, Ocean Shores is the furthest point south the disease has been found, although a minor outbreak was found earlier in Oregon.

Properly known as sea stars, they are commonly referred to as starfish. Ben Minor, a biologist at Western Washington University, says the syndrome leaves sea stars looking “sick and deflated” until they disintegrate and die. Death can come quickly — in some species, in as little as 24 hours from the time white lesions first appear until they are deflated as a balloon.

“It’s like their tissues just melt away,” Miner said. More than 20 types of starfish are susceptible with six highly vulnerable. An oddity in this disease is that it has spread from North to South, a reversal of other diseases.

Ian Hewson, a biological oceanographer at Cornell University, used samples from both sick and healthy sea stars to amplify DNA from everything present in their tissues. Then he looked for sequences unique to ill sea stars. From this, he came up with a short list of possible bacterial and viral agents. “There was one particular sequence associated with sick individuals — a densovirus,” Miner said. Hewson had previously shown that densoviruses cause a disease similar to wasting in sea urchins, which are close relatives of sea stars. It was the first time a virus affected echinoderms. “We could see whole communities restructured — the effects could be significant,’ said one scientist.

Biologists suspect this is due to seasonal increases in marine water temperatures. Warm water stresses marine organisms, making them more susceptible to disease, and wasting syndrome has taken advantage of this before.

Investigating a small outbreak on Vancouver Island in 2008, Amanda Bates and her colleagues at the University of British Columbia showed that higher water temperatures facilitate the spread of the disease. Sea stars will thus most likely face months of continued pathological assault before winter brings any possibility of relief.

“There’s a prediction of a strong El Niño event developing,” Pete Raimondi, international researcher from the University of California, said, “If that happens, things are going to be bad.”

Velella Velella sail ashore

This has also been a season, unlike any other for a long time, to see windrows of Velella Velella on the North and South Beaches. The Sand Pounders excitedly dig through the smelly mess in hopes of uncovering glass floats that often arrive with the critters.

Makes one remember a diary entry from Capt. Sir Edward Belcher, R.N. Aboard the HMS Sulpher in 1839 when he described passing through a compact body of Velella just north of Point Grenville. He was fascinated that “the sea was a bright green tint on the mass, although the attached mantle is dark blue.”

He thought the sails’ clear substance, like isinglass, might be soluble, so he boiled it for a long time in water, then alcohol and “dilute spirit,” but the sails remained unchanged.

What a curious man — just like so many Beachers.

Antlers in velvet

Something else spotted in abundance lately are many buck deer with monstrous antlers in velvet. The velvety skin that grows on new antlers is correctly called “cartilaginous antlers in a precalcified state.” No wonder we all say “velvet.”

This material is a well-regarded ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine. Each section of the antlers is used for different medical applications. The upper section (wax piece) is used as a child’s growth tonic. The middle section (blood piece) is used to treat adult arthritis and related diseases. The bottom section (bone piece) is used for calcium deficiencies and geriatric therapies.

The tip is the most expensive and sought-after part of the antler.

So why are we seeing the velvet antlers? A rise in testosterone occurs in bucks as daylight lengthens this time of year. As everyone knows, in August, those male deer are in a state of raging hormones and separate from a pack into single animals. It is during this time you see bucks rubbing their shedding velvet onto bushes and small trees to signal territory.

The velvet is filled with blood vessels that feed the antlers the vitamins and minerals needed to build up the bone for growth during the next two to four months. The ring at the base of antlers serves as a shutoff valve that cuts off the blood supply to the antlers.

Perhaps local folks may think they should go into the antler business. New Zealand is the world’s largest producer of deer velvet antler, making 450 tons of deer velvet antler per year; China, 400 tons; Russia, 80 tons annually, with the U.S. and Canada each producing 20 tons annually.

In Asia, the antler is dried and sold as slices that are then boiled in water, usually with other herbs and ingredients and consumed as tea. In the West, antler is dried and powdered and consumed in capsule form as a dietary supplement. The product has been at the center of multiple controversies with famous athletes allegedly using it for performance enhancement purposes.

Fishing rights film

Local folks, familiar with the fishing rights struggles of their Native American friends, may be interested in a new documentary film produced by student, Samhita, who just finished ninth grade at Redmond Junior High School. She capped a busy and high-achieving academic year when she received a gold medal award at the National History Day contest June 16 at the University of Maryland.

She earned first place among 86 entries in the Senior Individual Documentary category and was awarded a $5,000 scholarship from the History Channel, according to the event website and her family.

Samhita produced a 9-minute-50-second documentary about the plight of Native American fishing rights in Washington.

Her entry, “What Was Promised? Northwest Indian Fishing Rights Debated,” explains the fishing-rights controversy between Native American tribes and the state of Washington in the early- to mid-1900s. It covers the historical context — the original fishing treaty — the final outcome of the case and features interviews with former U.S. Senator and Washington Attorney General Slade Gorton, Dr. Barbara Lane, an anthropologist and key witness in the 1974 U.S. v. Washington, as well as Alvin Ziontz, the attorney who represented the Indian tribes in the case.

To view the video and interviews go to:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_ embedded&v= Z7Px39IXGwE

or http://sammamishreview.com/tag/alvin-ziontz

Pick berries first

But, before you do, go pick the blue huckleberries now ripe next to still flourishing red huckleberry bushes and make a good pie. Better remember to get ice cream to top it all off as you get out of the heat and take a break.


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