Saturday, June 16, 2012

Operation Save-the-Seahorse

"How am I going to swim out with a
seahorse in my hand?"
A few days ago, we turned the truck north after nearly 6 months on the Sea of Cortez near the tip of Baja. 6 months! (As a side note, we will be heading south to mainland Mexico in November at the start of the dry, non-buggy season).  We spent the night on the Pacific side at a beach called La Pastora, about 50 miles up the coast from the tip of Baja.

While Scott was taking a dip, I noticed a piece of seaweed washing up on the beach that was moving!  It turns out that it was a female Pacific Seahorse who must have been a long way from home.  I grabbed her from the pounding waves and put her in a bucket, wondering what we were going to do with her. During a lull in the waves, Scott threw her back in the water only to have the eventual pounding waves push her back to shore.  I volunteered Scott to take her out past the waves with his flippers.  We put her in a water bottle and Scott took her out near the edge of the breaking waves.  He lost a flipper in the waves, and in the frenzy, decided to ditch the seahorse hoping that he had gotten far enough out.

The best part was when she would squeeze tighter
around my finger if I moved
A couple hours later, while Scott was fishing from shore, he found her again washed up on the beach, barely moving, covered in sand.  We revived her in a bucket of water and let her rest all night (hoping that she wouldn't die in the bucket).  When I put my finger in the bucket, she would wrap her tail around it, squeezing a little tighter if I moved. Scott submerged a stick with a rock hoping she could do the same to a stick.  It took a while, but she wrapped around the stick and stayed there all night.  I was so worried that she would die overnight.  I told Scott I could never run an animal shelter because I would never sleep, always worried about the sick/injured animals.

Maybe this is when he lost his flipper?
A successful seahorse release
That evening, and the next morning, we went back and forth about what to do with her.  We had seen a "pet store" in Todos Santos, 5 miles south, and wondered if we should drive her back to the pet store with the hope that they had a salt-water aquarium or knew someone that did.  I was skeptical about this approach so I again volunteered Scott to take her out past the breaking waves ("this time farther please").

This time, Scott took her way out past the breakers. When he let her go, she curled up into a ball and stayed at the surface, propelling herself a little, but no match for the wind. Thinking she needed to be deeper, he dove down to the bottom (about 10 feet), and let her go.  He even waited in the cold water for a while to see if she would resurface.  She stayed submerged, so Scott swam in.

I always thought seahorses were something that I would only see in an aquarium.  Despite all of our snorkeling, we've never seen a seahorse in the wild.  I can only hope our efforts made a difference for this one. Scott says if he had written this blog, he would have titled it "Hold Your Horses".

Scott celebrating his seahorse rescue at La Pastora beach 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Portuguese Man o' War Double Whammy in Baja

We figured it would've happened before now.  The Portuguese Man o' War or "Bluebottle (Bluey)" as the Australians call them are very prevalent in Australia and New Zealand.  We lived and surfed in that area for 3 years and never got hit by one. They pile up on beaches during a strong swell or onshore wind and are known to be toxic and painful if you come in contact with one of their sticky, barbed tentacles.

The Portuguese Man o' War live at the surface of the ocean. The gas-filled bladder (really fun to pop when they have washed up on the beach), floats at the surface, while the tentacles extend deep underwater. Since the man o' war has no means of propulsion, it is moved by a combination of winds, currents, and tides.

Had to go back into our 2008 picture archives to
find this bluey washed up on a Sydney beach
We are still on the southern Sea of Cortez in Baja.  A few days ago a bluebottle wrapped around my hand as I paddled onto a wave.  The pain was excruciating, and as I fell off my board, I vigorously rubbed my hand to get the tentacles off.  Blue tentacles remained even after I rubbed and rubbed. I finally got them off by rubbing (even harder) on my wetsuit.  This was mistake number one.  Our subsequent research found this to be the single worst thing you can do -- DO NOT RUB A BLUEBOTTLE STING.  This releases more toxins and pushes them into your skin.  My hand was shaking and after a bit, I started to feel a tightness in my chest.  I paddled in, and doused the sting in vinegar.  Mistake number two.  Jellyfish stings are typically treated with vinegar but blueys are not jellyfish (despite what everyone thinks).  According to the Wikipedia entry for Man o' Wars, "Vinegar is not recommended for treating stings. Vinegar dousing increases toxin delivery and worsens symptoms of stings. Vinegar has also been confirmed to provoke hemorrhaging when used on the less severe stings of smaller species."  Despite this bit of information, everyone we talk to says, "use vinegar".  I am writing to tell anyone who has happened upon our blog -- DO NOT USE VINEGAR with a bluebottle sting.  I didn't recover from the pain until that night.  It was, without a doubt, the worst pain I have ever experienced.

Two days later, Scott went out snorkeling and got hit on the ankle.  Luckily, we had just been into town and done a ton of research on bluebottles.  He did everything right (well almost).  He pulled off the tentacles with tweezers, took a Benedryl, and then put hot packs on the area.  This is the important part -- "the application of hot water (45 °C/113 °F) to the affected area eases the pain of a sting by denaturing the toxins." (Wikipedia)  In true Scott fashion, he might have been a little too tough because he burned the sh** of out his ankle from too much heat.  I think the blisters from the burn were probably preferred over any evidence of a bluey sting.  Both of us agreed that ice was not helpful and in fact was very painful.  This is another piece of advice often given by the uninformed.

While Scott was paddleboarding he lifted a bluebottle out of the water with his paddle.  He lifted the 7 foot paddle as high as he could but still couldn't find the ends of the tentacles.  We learned that the tentacles are typically 10 metres (30 ft) in length but can be up to 50 metres (165 ft).  I think I'd rather swim with great white sharks.