Bula from Fiji!

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Hello from Suva, Fiji! It’s so crazy to actually be here, after months of talking and planning and prepping. The entire Drew Crew (which we dubbed ourselves this morning for an 8k fun run) arrived in Suva in a state of near disbelief, stunned that we had actually reached our destination with every single bag and piece of equipment fully intact. We landed in Nadi (pronounced “nandi”), crammed all of our things into a flower print, velvet-covered minivan, piled onto the plastic-covered seats (think grandmother's house) and shot straight over to Suva, the capitol of Fiji, where we’ve been for the last 3 days. And from there it’s been an absolute whirlwind! Buying gear for the field, checking up on permits, giving talks, unpacking equipment, playing with cameras (two waterproof GoPros lent to us by some colleagues - woohoo!), and planning our week of sample collection. And in between all the important things we have been doing, there are the gems of cultural experience that inevitably occur when halfway across the globe. We stumbled across a music festival last night, where we got to watch a bunch of adorable children do adorable dances and listen to some great music by a few local Fijian bands. We have been eating amazing food as well, lots of Indian curries and coconut dishes, although we have yet to eat any traditional Fijian food here in the capitol. The fish market in Suva is amazing, so many colorful reef fish alongside large offshore species, and whenever we walk through it’s kind of like a collective ichthyology nerdgasm. There is a beautiful flower market as well, and a very interesting kava/tobacco market where we’ll be getting our kava roots to present to the village officials for our sevu sevu (kava ceremony). We’re heading to the village of Nagigi on the south coast of Vanua Levu (Suva and Nadi are on the island of Viti Levu, Vanua Levu is the island just to the north) on Wednesday, and staying there for about a week.

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More updates and photos later, mothe everybody!!

Salmon Mystery Debunked!

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Super cool breaking news! Researchers at Oregon State University have shown that salmon use MAGNETISM to find their way back to freshwater rivers to spawn! This is really cool for multiple reasons, first because while we know that salmon return to the exact streambed they were originally hatched from via chemical cues (odors), we never knew how they found the general location of the river on a larger scale. When they are born they imprint on the unique smell signature of their specific little nook of the freshwater world in order to find it within short distances (which is cool enough on its own), but the recent study has found that they also imprint upon the magnetic signature of that spot as well! This basically refers to (from my understanding) the fact that each spot on Earth is uniquely situated in relation to our planet's magnetic poles. Many other animals have been shown to use the Earth's magnetic fields for general orientation (many migratory birds, sea turtles, salamanders, frogs, even bacteria!), but this is the first evidence that salmon use it, AND the first evidence that magnetic signatures can be learned, or "imprinted". This magnetic signature is how they locate one infinitesimally small rivermouth along the relatively vast expanse of ocean and coastline, and begin the journey back to their spawning grounds - where the females release thousands of eggs, the males release lots of sperm, and they all promptly kick the bucket. Literally going out with a bang!!

Here's the link to NSF's press release about the study if you want to read more. Hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

Beautiful Weekend

tumblr_m37o1fBTR31qzd9bao1_500 One of my goals for 2013 is to let go of my reservations and DO the things I really want to do. I've always been more on the conservative side with spending money (probably because I've never really had a steady income haha), and as a result I've saved quite a bit through living at home and watching my expenses. But, that conservative mindset has ALSO prevented me from doing a lot of the fun potential activities and trips that have cropped up over the last few months/years! So now it's time to change that - it's time to have some adventures!! This year, I'm going to work more on making my dreams a reality, enjoy the things I love to do without feeling guilty, and live my life to its fullest :) Especially in this first half of the year, because come fall 2013 I'll be toiling away in grad school, presumably with little time to dedicate to things other than fish and science (and ahh, I'm even MORE excited for that!).

So, on that note, here are some photos from an incredible weekend activity with my boyfriend and friends, wine tasting in Malibu for a friend's birthday. I've also just booked a beach campsite for a weekend in March, bought flights for visiting my friends in SF, and have started planning my visit to NYC to check out Columbia University!! Big plans for 2013, perfect for this big life I'm planning on living :)

© Chris Battaglia

© Chris Battaglia

© Chris Battaglia

© Chris Battaglia

What do you want to do more of in 2013?

The Future of Food (I Hope)

Fish farmed from Veta la Palma, a sustainable fish farm in Southern Spain that maintains a natural food web in order to feed their fish - purifying a major river and boosting bird populations while they're at it.  

I was just looking through proposed projects from a graduate program I applied to recently, and stumbled across this amazing TED talk in one of the project's resource webpage. This chef, Dan Barber, was in search of the perfect fish: delicious, fresh-tasting, sustainable. The "sustainable" part is becoming more and more important for restaurants these days, as not only are many types of fish growing increasingly toxic but some of the most palatable and well-liked fish stocks are in danger of (if not already) collapsing - Red Snapper, Chilean Sea Bass, Orange RoughyFreshwater Eel or Unagi (one of my own favorite sushi items), and Pacific Bluefin Tuna, which was actually just revealed to have dropped 96.4% in population, ahhh! So this TED talk is the story of how he stumbled across this ASTOUNDING fish farm in Southern Spain, you absolutely have to watch it:

[ted id=790]

It's extremely depressing to hear about the extent of the destruction of the oceans to date, and to imagine them as just barren, toxic expanses of water in the future. A few years ago I would have told you I thought too many people focus on the dire-straights predictions and let it scare them into hopelessness, rather than rising to a challenge and actually trying to do something about it (I was a bit of a pessimist when it came to humanity, haha). But over the last few years, that's all changed. Through many of my own life experiences, like helping with marine management programs in Fiji and working with fellow LA divers to restore kelp forests off our coastline, and reading the news, learning about how many people and organizations are out there trying to deal with this stuff, how many people actually CARE, man I have developed some serious faith in the world!

So this is what struck me while watching the TED talk: that the innovative human mind, combined with the resiliency of biological systems when given a chance, can restore and repair so much of the damage we've done to our planet. This guy points out some really awesome solutions to the decline of our food industries (because let's be real, it's nearly impossible these days to get your hands on some truly natural, unprocessed food in America unless you grow it/raise it yourself). If more people and businesses recognized the VALUE of intact ecosystems, in the sense that nature has developed these things for millions of years until they are literally almost PERFECT self-sustaining entities - why not use ecosystems themselves more efficiently to produce the things we need? I believe I read recently that the state of New York is looking into installing oyster beds offshore for storm mitigation, because they act as a natural barrier for surges - that is exactly what I'm talking about. It's not a new idea. The project at UCSB's Bren School of Environmental Management that I was checking out earlier is about mimicking natural food webs to create more sustainable fisheries options, this is another example. It could probably be applied to a ton of different agricultural models as well. And this fish farm in the TED talk pretty much perfectly exemplifies this idea.

The more people we can get to learn about these things, realize how perfectly nature's tools have been honed to deal with the problems we're facing over vast amounts of time, we could really make some great moves towards cleaning up our planet. I'm choosing to be optimistic about this whole mess, and choosing to become a proponent of finding solutions!

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(PS - the links I provided for the fish above are all from this amazing resource from the Monterey Bay Aquarium called SeafoodWatch, it's a list of sustainable vs. unsustainable fish options for anyone to check out. They have an app, too!)

Merry Christmas!

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I have a friend whose family heads down to the beach every Christmas morning for a communal surf session. Sometimes all they do is sit there on their boards, hanging out in the brisk but bright December sun, but other times there is actual surf to enjoy and they spend hours riding the waves. I think it is so cool that a family can have such a long-standing tradition based solely upon enjoying each other and the Pacific. That is one of the main reasons I love living in Los Angeles - our beaches aren't pristine, our waters chilly at best, but the people who live here LOVE this ocean.

And following that thought, GREAT news - California just completed its Marine Reserve Network, after 12 years of hard work determining where to set up protected areas and how to manage them (article can be found here)! 848 square miles of protected water, stretching from the Oregon state line to the Mexican border. That's 16% of California's coastline protected! There were a TON of heated debates about these reserves - many people had conflicting ideas about how best to protect coastal waters and how to manage them (main group of people opposing the reserves were recreational and commercial fisherman, because many of the best and most productive waters are now complete no-take zones) but I like to believe that all of the fire in those debates comes from a common ground of loving the sea. There's no doubt that putting key areas (rocky reefs, nurseries, etc) aside, either as limited use areas or no-take zones, will help to maintain the health of our state's fisheries and marine wildlife, and I think everyone agrees that we want these ecosystems to be around in 50 years. Maybe my next post will be about the exact benefits of marine reserves, since that's what so much of my work focuses on and it's important to know how this network will protect and preserve marine ecosystems.

It is interesting to note that one of the main arguments dissenting fisherman raised were against the incredible size of the reserve network, as it would not only prevent them from fishing in the best areas, but would also cram them all together in the areas they CAN fish. It's not like the number of fisherman will be decreasing alongside this network's implementation. There are a lot of technicalities to recreational fishing that I'm not super well-versed in - permits, zoning, fluctuating market demand of certain fish and seasonality issues - but the general idea of a shrinking space for the fisherman to utilize does seem to be a problem to me. Will that make the areas that are open to fishing more barren, more overfished? Will this raise the (already high) prices of locally-caught, sustainable California fish? Will this cause even more tension between environmentalists and fisherman, something that I think only hinders the process of finding effective solutions?

Buttttt, despite these issues, I'm going to go ahead and shout a great big WOOHOO! to my great state of California. Budget cuts, angry fisherman, and the fact that we have a ridiculously large amount coastline to manage didn't get in the way of reaching this goal. It's not perfect, it's in no way an end to our fight to protect our oceans, but it's a huge step and will help ensure that there are still fish for our children to catch! Very very happy camper over here.

......also, on a completely unrelated note, has anyone else noticed that people seem to be MUCH more happy, friendly, and cooperative this holiday season? Haha, I've been braving the crowds to finish up all my Christmas shopping and have been so pleasantly surprised - a random elderly man helped me decide between three sparkling wines I was buying for my mom, I've been striking up conversations with strangers right and left, and the other day the entire first floor of this little coffee shop I sometimes do work at had a group conversation about the pros and cons of online shopping. Hah! Oh, and the other day a man stopped me while walking across the street to tell me I had ink on my face! (I fervently wish there were more people willing to do this haha, one time in undergrad I walked around campus with methyl red stains on my forehead and cheek from doing gram staining in microbiology and no one told me all day!!! I finally looked in a mirror around 8pm and absolutely died laughing/cringing)

I hope you all have a lovely holiday season, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

On Grad School and Saving our Reefs!

It has been a tragically lengthy amount of time since I've posted, but not without good reason. I've been applying to graduate programs! :) Well, technically I haven't applied to a single school yet haha BUT I've been writing a ridiculous amount of essays for grant proposals! There are two huge pre-doctoral grants that I've applied to, one from NSF and one from NOAA, and they both involved long and torturous application processes. SO cross yo fingaaaas! I find out in May whether I'll be a funded grad student or not ;)

But one SUPER cool thing I wanted to share with you all has to do with the research I'm planning to conduct in the next few years. (Hopefully) we all know that our oceans are IMMENSELY important to the health of our planet, not only environmentally (providing climate stability, storing excess CO2, full of a ton of unique ecosystems and crazy cool critters), but also economically. Last year, CORAL REEFS ALONE were estimated to provide over US$ 30 billion in goods and services to world economies, through fisheries, tourism, and coastal protection (uhh, Hurricane Sandy, anyone?? We could definitely have used a nice litte coral reef off the Jersey shore to break up all that wave action...) So if coral reefs alone provide all that, what about the high seas, the Arctic circle, the mangrove forests, the deep ocean? That's a lottt of money coming into the global economy. Couple that with the massive importance of oceans to our planet's general health, and it's pretty obvious. We need to start taking care of our oceans better, and inspiring people everywhere to care! There are actually a ton of amazng NGO's and non-profits out there doing just that, reaching out and connecting science to the public to raise awareness for the plight of our oceans, it's extremely inspiring and uplifting. I try to take an optimistic approach to the whole climate change/end of the world projections, because I'd like to believe that we won't let our planet die without putting up a good fight!

SOO, as a major ocean advocate myself, I'm hoping to pursue a graduate degree in Marine Conservation. I will hopefully end up at Columbia University in the fall, where I'll be working with Dr. Josh Drew to investigate the phylogeography of certain coral reef fish. Ahh, big word! Basically it means I'll be checking out how genetically related fish from one area of the ocean are to fish from a different area. This actually has a whole slew of conservation applications, because it's really important to know how connected two populations are if you're going to try to make management decisions about a specific area. The idea is, whatever you do to one area could very well be affecting another area down the road, or even across the fricken ocean on a different island! So I'm looking to get into that crazy world of genetics and use my findings to help make effective, informed management decisions. I'm pretty excited!

Here's a little video by Dr. Drew introducing some local, traditional forms of management already in place in Fiji! (Fijians are pretty on top of it with preserving their reefs)

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Have a great day everyone! More later!

TED I <3 you.

No, no, no, I'm not doing this again. I'm not going to start up a new blog, be super stoked on it for a short time, and then let it fall to the wayside, trumped by my long list of seemingly more important responsibilities! I love writing, it's one of the only things I do for myself these days, and I'm not going to stop doing this. It's happened before, many a time, but not this time, not this blog! Haha so here I am, digging eastofthewoods out of its shallow, short-lived grave before the dirt gets too firm for me to sink my shovel into it (too far? Yup, too far)

Maybe someday I'll post the rest of the photos from my epic August adventures (such an amazing month), but it's not a priority. Right nowww, I want to post this TED talk I just watched (life goal: be invited to do one of those things) that had an inspiring and interesting message: A super rad social psychologist named Amy Cuddy shared her findings concerning the effects of "power poses" (standing with your legs apart, hands on your hips; sitting with arms draped across other chairs, confidently taking up lots of space; etc etc). She investigated not how they affect other people's opinions about you, but how they can affect how you perceive YOURSELF. Apparently, simply standing or sitting in one of these power positions for 2 minutes can alter the levels of testosterone and cortisol in your brain, and can actually make you FEEL more confident and powerful! Fascinating. You guys should watch the video, there's a lot more in there that I don't have the time to summarize.

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We always have known that our brains affect our bodies, but this is one example among a lot more cropping up recently that provides evidence that it can go the other way around. Our brains are proving to be much more plastic than we ever thought, which I think has really cool implications for people who want/need to change negative thought and/or behavioral patterns. I know a lot of amazing young women who don't think they're good enough, or smart enough, or brave enough, but studies like this show that you really can change those thought patterns for the better! 

So why don't you give it a try today?? Stand in a power position for 2 minutes before you have to do something you're nervous or unconfident about - see if it changes any outcomes!

Epic August Adventure, Part 1

I am now 23 years old.

WHAT.

While I shove my shock and outrage concerning the lightning paced passage of time into the back left corner of my mind, let me tell you a little bit about the fan-fricken-tastic 2 week period I just experienced.

1) Morro Bay with the boy. You know you've found a good one when a month into "dating" (or whatever) he asks what you're doing for your birthday, you tell him you're planning on going to SF to be with old friends, and he looks at you and says "Great, I'll buy my flight tomorrow". Ummm, okay, YOU ROCK. Soo he voluntarily got sucked into my vacation planning frenzy, and before we knew it the plan had morphed into a 2-day road trip in which we spent a night in Morro Bay before getting to SF to hang with friends. And let me tell you, Morro Bay is awesome! Such a tiny little beach town, really chill and laid back vibe, great food annnd, the best part, wait for it... A SHELL SHOP WITH LITERALLY THOUSANDS OF SUPER COOL SHELLS! I definitely was wayyy too excited for this part of the trip, I made Will stay in that shop with me for about an hour too long and I purchased about 4 shells too many haha. But I've actually been actively looking for a specific shell for a while, after my friend Julie found a near-perfect Nautilus shell on Lizard Island in Australia (where I spent 2 of the happiest months of my life hehe), I have been absolutely fiendinnng for one. I almost broke down and bought one for $50 USD when I was in Fiji (what! rip off!) and thank GOD I didn't because this epic Morro Bay shell shop had some for $12!!! Wahooo, I am now the proud owner of a perfect little Nautilus shell, and am trying not to think about what happened to the animal inside! Yay...! Haha in all honesty I actually am very curious about how/where this shell shop acquires its rare and beautiful shell supply...they all come from animals at some point, and some of those animals are verrrry slow-growing and don't reproduce very quickly. Hmm, maybe that's what I'll make my next blog post about, the shell trade...

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Oh dear, I am running out of time to write this post already...seriously, why does it take me AGES to write these things?? (well, maybe it has to do with the fact that my brother and his girlfriend came in while I was writing and I told them almost all of my detailed, highly exciting (and characteristically exaggerated) stories from this vacation haha) *sigh* I guess I'll get better at this over time...

Next post: Parts 2, 3 and 4 of my Epic August Adventure, as well as an investigation into the lucrative (?) trade of the Shell Shop ;)

Hope everyone is having a lovely weekend!

Hi.

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This was where I spent last Friday morning. 

It was utter bliss.

There are many more updates and marine-oriented photos to be posted since my last blog post and they'll just have to wait a wee bit longer, but this is the one thing I really want to put out into the world right now - just this one photo :) It's not even that great (*cough* awkwardly tilted horizon haha) but tide pooling just brings me such joy, I really hope that each person out there has at least one thing that can bring them pure, invogorating happiness no matter what.

Alrighty, have a great Thursday everyone. Epic blog post coming in the near future, get readyyy!

Blanket Octopus, Weekend Photos

Happy Thursday everyone! Almost the end of the week, ahhhh feels so good. I have had a particularly excellent week so far, which is awesome - lots of productive lab work, diving, gym time, good food and hanging with friends :) What more can you ask for in a typical week? Last night I hung out with my madre and my neighbor Lily (it's really cool having neighbors you're not only friendly with, but are like besst friends with - even our dogs are super close!), we cuddled up on our amazing couch and watched Disney's Oceans. And let me tell you, I was BLOWN AWAY by some of this footage, it was bee-ootyful! One of the more fantastic things we got to see was footage of the elusive and ethereal Blanket Octopus - here's the clip! (yes, that is Pierce Brosnan, and yes, he sounds extremely silly )

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_TVPYf9Rlhw]

Also in my list of favorites was the footage of the cuttlefish, I have a special place in my heart for the little guys. They remind me of that golden month I spent on Lizard Island in the Great Barrier Reef, full of sunshine and laughter and cuttlefish chases (always involving one cuttlefish, two 20-year old girls, three minutes of crazed, erratic swimming all over the reef trying to remain inconspicuous and also not drown from laughing so hard). Also, the boy (man? boy-man.) I'm dating calls me cuttlefish occasionally so...they've got that going for them too. Haha

Some photos from my awesome weekend/week:

That's all for now, ta ta sweet blogger friends! Have an absolutely marvelous weekend, and if that embedded video up there doesn't work, I WILL vanquish these technological trials of mine...someday! Soon! Probably not until Monday! But soon!

EDIT: Blast! Didn't work, stupid hyperlink...*gnashing teeth*

Solemn Thoughts on Life, Luck and Snails

Fun fact subject of the day: Corallivorous snails! (corallivorous = eats coral)

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We're about to start up a pretty interesting experiment with these little dudes in the lab I work in, and I've learned some really cool things about them as a result! One species' feeding mechanism was particularly interesting to me. All corallivorous snails make these little feeding scars (white spot to the left of the snail in the photo) whenever they eat coral tissue, and most snails will feed at night and then retreat to a less-exposed nook or cranny during the day. However, one species stays in its feeding scar 24/7 - burrowing so deeply in the skeleton that it can't even turn around - and it will feed on all the nutrients and materials the coral sends to the area in its attempt to heal the wound! (Another completely different but still awesome fact, corals actually have immune responses! Not like our insanely complex immune responses, but gah still so cool!) Sneaky little snailies. It's almost a parasitic relationship, the corals will continue pumping defensive organic material to the site until it gives up and leaves the tissue for dead - and our little snails get a nice, extended meal before moving on to another spot and doing it all over again. I have no idea how common these snails are, but I could imagine that having a lot of them in one area could do some serious damage to a reef! Hmm, I wonder...

On a completely unrelated note, one of the blogs/websites I frequent is full of witty and creative writings usually poking fun at the condition of being in your 20's, and today came across a great article outlining one person's interesting experiment posting a fake Craigslist job ad - said person was underemployed and looking for a good full-time job (what a concept) and wanted to see what it was like from the perspective of the people they were sending their resumes to. The article is here if you're curious, but the main thing that struck home for me was that the simple ad for a moderately-paid, full-time administrative position got over 600 responses within TWENTY-FOUR HOURS. Holy mackerel, I knew the job market was bad (hellooo, I have 2 part-time jobs and 2 more that don't pay me anything), but that is just an INSANE number! And as I went from shock over this number, to feeling pissed off about the state of the economy, to feeling depressed about my own future, I eventually came to the obvious (but sometimes elusive) realization that I AM SO FRICKEN LUCKY. Yes, I am completely underemployed and yes, I live with my parents because I am nowhere near being financially stable, annnnd yes I get extremely frustrated with the seeming lack of opportunity on the job front, but I have AMAZING parents that are willing to support me through all this "figuring stuff out" BS, and I've been able to slowly but surely add relevant experience to my resume despite the lack of payment. I'm in a much better place than a lot of people, and I need to remember that more often. Too often we compare our own lives to that of others and feel that we're "behind" or not up to par, but life is bizarre and complex and leads people down different, winding paths! Progress cannot be measured by a universal scale. I think I need to put the focus back on my own personal scale.. and count my lucky stars every single day!

K that's enough of me being a cheeseball, the next few posts will be more interesting and fun I promise ;)

Friday the 13th

It's Friday the 13th!! Possibly the most auspicious day for embarking on a trip to Vegas (which I'm doing in T-minus 2.5 hours) because bad things like stealing cop cars and finding abandoned babies in your hotel room are worth like 1000 points there. Bring it on, unlucky calendar day! Whatever you throw in my path I will spin into gold, with the help of tequila and my high-heels-made-for-walking, and my amazing friends who are flying in from various places to make this weekend absolutely EPIC! So stoked :) In other news, I had an awesome experience today with one of those awkward situations we all know and love - the one where you're sitting in a crowded public place where you're supposed to be quiet and keep to yourself (ie library, airplane, dentist waiting room, basically any waiting room) and you inevitable experience the most hilarious thing in your entire life and have to try super super hard not to laugh out loud and embarrass yourself. Well, today, I was at my favorite coffee shop reading posts from this fantastic writer's blog, shoulders shaking, nearly in tears, amidst 4 very silent and very studious adults, when one of them finally looked up and asked me what was so funny. After about 10 seconds of trying to get my shit together, I shared, and they asked for the link, so I gave it to them, and over the next 10 minutes we all independently and not-so-silently laughed at the same thing. It was AWESOME.

Have a great weekend everyone!! I will leave you with this awesome video of a HUGE pod of dolphins swimming with our boat in Malibu. Please ignore my ridiculously happy voice saying very redundant things in the background.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VVaJLDv7MDQ&feature=g-upl]

(not sure how to embed the video into the post...anyone?)

Altruism is a Good Thing

Yesterday I learned two of the COOLEST things related to the whelks we're working with. 1) They are apparently highly venomous, and their venom contains neurotoxins that have the capacity to kill human beings (my reaction upon hearing this: slowly and carefully put the whelk down...) BUT, the reason I am here typing this instead of living out a slow painful death-by-sea snail scenario, is that they only use their venom when hunting and never in self-defense. Silly snails. Plus, even if they did get the idea to inject their neurotoxins into a person, the little drill that they use would take like 2 days to burrow through the skin and into the bloodstream. Hah! Still super cool though :)

2) These whelks eat mussels, and the mussels have evolved a pretty neat defense mechanism against them. Mussels live in huuuge beds so when a whelk finds a mussel it could pretty much be set for a lifetime of meals, just moving from one mussel to the next. BUT, these little mussels do an awesome job of being selfless little martyrs - when a whelk is in the process of eating one, the mussel's last act is to secure a bunch of byssal attachments (the strong threads that attach them to the rocks) to the whelk's shell - so when the whelk has devoured its meal and moves on to the next, it's completely stuck to the first mussel it ate! And the rest of the mussels in the bed are saved, yayyy!

Aka altruism rocks. :)

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Just wanted to share some fun facts. I'm off to make dinner with my mom and maybe do some painting (I've been loving that have time these days to dabble in art every once in a while), and then spend a little with my "beau" (as my mother likes to call him) haha. Hope you guys are having a great week! Hump Day, almost the weekend!!

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