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January 2016    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 42, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Flotsam & Jetsam

from the January, 2016 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Your Toothpaste May Be Killing Marine Life. The minuscule plastic "microbeads" often found in soap and toothpaste are harmful to sea life. That's because each day, consumers wash these minuscule bits down the drain by the ton, where they travel into the oceans and end up in the gullets of fish, turtles, marine mammals and sea birds. Microbeads are found in many top brands, including Crest toothpaste, Axe shower gels, Neutrogena skin care products, and face and body scrubs made for The Body Shop, Rite Aid and Estee Lauder. Now both countries and companies are cracking down on microbeads. Unilever and Colgate- Palmolive have stopped using microbeads; Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson say they will follow in 2017. And last month, both houses of Congress passed the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, which will prohibit the manufacture of "rinse-off" cosmetics with microbeads as of 2016, ban their use in cosmetics starting in 2018, and prohibit their use in over-the-counter drugs from 2019.

What's This Poisonous Tropical Snake Doing in California? Venomous yellow-bellied sea snakes are rarely spotted in California's cold waters, but a dead one was found last month at Bolsa Chica State Beach in Southern California during a beach cleanup. The species, which can stay underwater up to three hours and can reach lengths of 35 inches, has only been seen in California two other times: once in October and once in the 1970s. Because these sea snakes normally inhabit tropical swaths of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, this rare sighting "could obviously be weather- related," Harvey Lillywhite, a sea snake expert at the University of Florida, told National Geographic News. They occasionally drift up to colder latitudes on warm currents, particularly during strong El NiŮo years, like this one. Still, California waters remain too cold for the animals to breed there, so they can't become established, says Lillywhite, and there's no reason to panic. "When these animals are in their natural habitat, they don't tend to be aggressive, they'll just swim away."

Shark Attack in UNESCO Dive Site. Fernando de Noronha, a protected marine reserve off Brazil's northeastern coast, saw its first shark attack. A shark ripped off the forearm of a 33-year-old man while on a dive trip in the UNESCO world heritage site on December 22. Luckily, he was in stable condition and quickly underwent surgery on the mainland. The news portal GL said a marine biologist and a shark expert were authorized to carry out a dive to try to establish which species of shark attacked the diver. The Brazilian state of Pernambuco, where Fernando de Noronha is, has seen 60 shark attacks since 1992, including 24 deadly ones, according to Brazil's Shark Attack Monitoring Center.

Let's Hope Not. Captain Larry Salkin of the Tampa Bay Water Taxi Co. has been offering dolphin tours for nearly eight years, and he has discovered that dolphins in Tampa Bay are most excited by the album Yanni from the Acropolis and swing music. "For some reason, they seem to be attracted to it," he says. "When I play other music, they don't pay attention." A writer who went with Salkin on a dolphin tour confirmed it, stating, "Sure enough, more than a dozen dolphins began circling the boat when Yanni began playing on the stereo." Salkin says, "First time it happened, I said, 'no big deal.' Second time, it caught my curiosity. The third time kind of confirmed it." We're embarrassed for the dolphins.

Congratulations, Maurine Shimlock. The veteran underwater photographer -- and frequent Undercurrent contributor -- now has a fish named after her. Marine biologists Gerald Allen and Mark Erdmann, authors of the prolific Reef Fish of the East Indies, have named a lovely yellow and blue damselfish recently discovered in Indonesia's West Papua region Chrysiptera maurinae in Shimlock's honor because she has "zealously promoted marine conservation of Cenderwasih Bay and the surrounding Bird's Head region by means of her excellent journalism and photography."

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