Rare, Bizarre Creatures from the Deep: An Unexpected Nature Study

I grew up on the Oregon Coast in beautiful Bandon by the Sea. I spent many a day on the shoreline investigating the marine invertebrates under the rock crevices and walking the sandy beaches. My brothers and I longed for the minus tides, providing us the rare opportunity to go spelunking in the sea caves just off shore. These rocky islands are now protected areas for marine bird nesting habitat but back in the 70s, it was our playground.

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Dune geology features: foredune and deflation plain

Tracking Marine Debris

In all the years I have spent on the beach, I have found a diverse amount of debris and organisms in varying states of decay. I probably spend an equal amount of time sifting through the wrack on the high tide line as I do in wave zone digging in the sand looking for mole crabs.

I have found marine debris from Japan evidenced by the kanji script. An occasional flip flop or fishing net remnants are not uncommon. While immersing myself in marine biology courses at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology one summer, I even found several squid egg cases that washed ashore after a winter storm, providing my peers and I an opportunity to observe the development up close. Yet, once in a while, I am still surprised at what washes ashore.

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Walking along the ATV trail across the deflation plain

This past holiday weekend, my family and I enjoyed a leisurely walk on the beach near our home. Our goal was to field test a new marine debris app, a joint initiative between the NOAA Marine Debris Program and the Southeast Atlantic Marine Debris Initiative. The tracker app allows you to help make a difference by checking in when you find trash on our coastlines and waterways.*

We drove out to the North Spit and thereafter began our excursion through the deflation plain. We soon discovered, however, that there was too much standing water to stick to the trail that meandered through the wetland area. We thus walked along the ATV road until we reached the small foredune. Just a few feet up and over and we arrived on the sandy beach.

No sooner did we arrive at the shore and we immediately were captivated by the presence of a strange organic material that was strewn across the beach for miles. Upon first glance, it looked like a hard plastic tube resembling a sea cucumber. My first suspicion turned out to be incorrect, however. Upon returning home, I learned that what we had found were actually colonial tunicates. Fascinating!

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Planktonic salps, Pyrosoma atlanticum, strewn across the beach.

What are Tunicates?

This bizarre and rarely-seen creature is called a pyrosome, a species of pelagic colonial tunicates. Their scientific name, Pyrosoma atlanticum, is derived from the Greek words pyro meaning ‘fire’ and soma meaning ‘body’ which refers to the fact that they are known for bright displays of bioluminescence.

Pyrosoma atlanticum are one of the few pyrosomes that make it to the west coast of the U.S. The species found here are less than a foot but can get as long as 24 inches. Largely colorless, they can show up as pink, grayish or purple-green.

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A specimen of the colonial tunicate, Pyrosoma atlanticum 

These massive colonies of cloned creatures are related to a kind of jellyfish called a slap. A tunicate is a marine invertebrate animal, a member of the subphylum Tunicata, which is part of the Chordata, a phylum which includes all animals with dorsal nerve cords and notochords.

Each individual organism is about 1 cm long – less than a third of an inch. They are all connected by tissue and in turn form this colony that looks like a plastic tube. The recent winter storms have caused them to strand on the shores and have been found in all areas of the coast.

Usually found in temperate waters as low as 800 meters. The colony of animals is comprised of thousands of individual zooids and moves through the water column by the means of cilia (an organelle found in eukaryotic cells that project from the much larger cell body).

As they move through the water column, sometimes close to the surface and sometimes as far down as 2600 feet, they filter plankton out of the water for food. As it sucks water in, it then pushes it back out, thereby propelling it through the ocean. It does all this via one opening only, so it moves incredibly slow.

For more images of Pyrosoma, check out Bob Perry’s photographs. Included in his work are a few pseudoconchs (false shells) of the pelagic mollusk Corolla which we similarly found.zoologyIf you are interested in learning more about invertebrates with your students, I encourage you to look into the Amazing Animals curriculum unit I have written to introduce middle level students to zoology. This 10-week unit is full of inquiry-based activities and lesson plans fully outlined for you.

Due to our fascination with these rare creatures, we didn’t spend as much time with the debris tracking app as I had intended. We’ll give it a go another time.

The Gryphon Wifi Router Kickstarter Ends Soon ~ Reserve Yours Today

A few weeks ago, I discussed how our family is struggling with balancing our internet time. As my kids become more independent, the time they spend online – for academics, entertainment, gaming, and social media – has increased dramatically. Not only does it affect their mood, but it pulls them away from activities that they had previously enjoyed.

It isn’t just the kids. In the past, I would curl up on the couch with a cup of tea and a good book and enjoy listening to Jeffrey play the piano as Geneva quietly worked on an art project at the coffee table. I find I do this less often now because I am constantly drawn to my smartphone, specifically to social media. Admittedly, Spider Solitaire pulls me in a great deal as well.publications-for-gryphon-640x337

I have received monetary compensation for my time spent in reviewing this product.  All opinions expressed are true and completely our own. Please see my disclosure policy for more information.

We have had long talks about this during our family meetings and have vowed to make a change. One strategy we have recently decided upon is to turn off our wifi from 7p.m. every evening until 10a.m. the following morning. This is a big adjustment and we are still hearing groans and arguments from both our teens.

Another strategy that we are very excited about is the Gryphon Wifi Router. In just 2 weeks, Gryphon is more than 75% to the funding goal on Kickstarter and has been featured in some awesome publications! Here are a just a few:

San Diego Tribune
Wall Street Journal
9 to 5 Toys
Curbed
Uncrate

If you have not reserved one, it’s not too late. Go grab a Gryphon on Kickstarter now (www.gryphonconnect.com).   They are extending the early bird special for this week only, the deadline is November 6th.  Help us reach our goal and everyone will receive 1 FREE year of intrusion detection and whole house malware filtering ($49 value).

Parental Controls Made Easy with the Gryphon High Performance Wifi Router

Since we moved back to Oregon, I have returned to the public school classroom as a substitute teacher. At 14 and nearly 12 years of age, my kids are old enough to be left home alone for several hours at a time on occasion. I have no fears that they may catch the kitchen on fire while trying to make a grilled cheese sandwich. I am confidant they know what to do in the event that they may injure themselves. Even more so, their grandparents are just a couple miles away and check up on them regularly.

Parental Controls Made Easy with the Gryphon High Performance Wifi Router @EvaVarga.netI have received monetary compensation for my time spent in reviewing this product.  All opinions expressed are true and completely our own. Please see my disclosure policy for more information.

Online Safety

There is an added danger today, however, that my parents did not have to contend with when I was a child and my mother returned to the workforce … the Internet. The digital age brings a wealth of information and conveniences, but we cannot ignore the risks it poses for the family. Most children are exposed to the Internet at the age of 6, and 70% of children see inappropriate content by accident. The average family has 10 Internet-connected devices and counting, creating new security threats and vulnerabilities. However, the existing parental control tools are too complicated to use and expensive with annual subscriptions.

Honestly, the content itself is not the only concern. In our family, the biggest frustration we have is with finding balance. According to a report by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit focused on helping families and educators navigate the world of media and technology, teens in the United States spend about nine hours using media for their enjoyment. The report found that tweens spend about six hours, on average, consuming media.

When my son was younger, he would spend hours playing the piano each day. It was his passion. “I want to become a concert pianist,” he exclaimed regularly. Now that he has discovered YouTube and social media, I have to remind him to practice piano. He now dreams of receiving a silver play button when his subscribers reach 100,000.

gryphon_wifirouterWhile I admire his dedication to his new interest, I am very frustrated. He is sometimes so wrapped up in making his next video or battling against hackers on his Minecraft server that he neglects his other responsibilities. My husband and I have tried numerous strategies to help him find balance and develop better study habits. It is honestly, both time consuming and exhaustive.

Gryphon Wifi Router

When I learned of Gryphon, a powerful yet convenient approach to online safety, I was immediately intrigued. This new WiFi router is just what we have been looking for – an easy to use product that addresses many of our parental concerns about Internet safety and device time management.

Gryphon combines a high-performance WiFi router and a simple-to-use smartphone app, making it easy for parents to manage the connected home from anywhere. Now that I am working part time away from home, this is a huge comfort to us. Using our phones, his father and I can make a few adjustments and limit access to the internet when we are away.

Gryphon Online Safety from Pure Cinema on Vimeo.

 Even more, all the security features are built directly within the router itself, eliminating the need to install additional apps on your connected devices. Setting up the Gryphon router takes just three steps and a simple tap with the Gryphon app. As parents, we may grant access to specific websites, restrict internet access during various times of the day (such as during sleep and homework), and monitor our connected home devices like thermostats or cameras to prevent hacking. This can be done on your smartphone from anywhere.

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There’s a Gryphon App, Too

The app even features a social collaboration tool, so you can work together with fellow homeschooling parents to create a safer Internet for everyone, by recommending and rating specific websites. Wow!

The people behind Gryphon have worked hard over the last year on the design and the software platform and they have launched a Kickstarter campaign today for the final production of Gryphon.   You can go to www.gryphonconnect.com to find out more about the product and the campaign.