Mid-July Observations

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Last week was a hot one! For those in bare feet, the temperature of the surface of the beach sand required some quick footwork getting to the water-cooled sand. Most unusual were the lack of cooling sea breezes. Most of our strong winds came straight down the beach and offered little relief, and then there were the light northerlies that brought another form of discomfort: those nimble and quick biting flies.Still, the ocean beach was the place to be, recording temperatures noticeably cooler than even a quarter mile inland.

Speaking of recording temperatures, last Wednesday the ocean temp registered 70°F at 10 am at Main Beach, East Hampton and by 5 pm, perhaps aided by a light southerly breeze pushing in a warmer mass of water, I measured a temperature change of +7°. A seventy-seven degree ocean temperature in mid-July seems unusually warm in my recollections. Will it surpass the 80°F mark in August?

We also had a couple of days of unusually clear ocean water. Swimming with goggles in six to eight feet of water revealed many sting rays cruising just above the sandy bottom. These were not the more common skates (members of the Rajidae family) that occasionally wash ashore, and whose dry, black, rectangular egg cases are ubiquitous on our bay and ocean beaches. The stingrays’ thin, whip-like tails were quite distinctive.

Based on the ranges of our Atlantic coast stingrays, these could be one or more of the five species most likely to be encountered here. The slender tail looks quite harmless, and these animals normally flee when approached, but if grabbed, speared or hooked they will lash vigorously with their whip-like tail, which is armored with a barbed, venomous spine. The resulting wound is painful, and can be dangerous if left untreated since the spine often break off and can lead to a serious secondary infection.

These bottom dwellers feed on a wide variety of burrowing organisms—crabs, clams, worms—that they expose by jetting water into the sediment. They also prey on scup and sand lance by submerging in the sand with only their eyes protruding.

Unlike their egg-laying relatives the skates, stingrays bear two to six live young. They have been observed leaping out of the water, a behavior attributed to freeing themselves of parasites and possibly a territorial display.

A bit farther offshore, I ran into a band of what appeared to be comb jellyfish (Ctenophores). These grow to the size and shape of a walnut and, unlike true jellyfish (Cnidarians), they are not armed with stinging nematocysts but have a sticky substance that very small prey, mostly tiny zooplankton, fish larva and fish eggs, adhere to. Swimming through a thick mass of comb jellies is not enjoyable, but you don’t have to worry about getting stung.

I did get a few painful bites from the ¾-inch-long, green-colored isopods, but those were only inflicted whenever I stopped swimming. These are the culprits that will get trapped in your bathing suit, and their bites are often attributed to jellyfish stings.

Participants on last week’s paddle tour of Accabonac Harbor noted many moon jellies (Aurelia aurita). These were much larger in size than the comb jellies, some specimens were 6-8 inches in diameter, and although they are armed with stingers and venom, the barbs are too short to penetrate human skin.

We also watched an adult osprey bring a small fish to its quite large but as yet unfledged young perched on the nest platform. Without the aid of binoculars it was impossible to distinguish the nearly two-month-old juvenile from the adults. With binoculars, the checkered white and brown pattern on the young bird’s back and winds could be seen.

Dr. Artie Kopelman reports excellent whale watching out of Montauk this season, with a total of 50 whales sighted on the three trips so far this July. In addition to the whales, they are seeing sea turtles, dolphins and pelagic birds. Artie is a very knowledgeable and seasoned marine biologist. Whale watches depart from Montauk at the Viking Ferry terminal every Sunday at 9:30 am sharp. For more information visit http://www.cresli.org/cresli/wwinfo_inshore.html

Also consider registering for the Montauk open water swim this Saturday (July 27). This is the second of the series of open water swim events hosted by East Hampton Volunteer Ocean Rescue, and perhaps the best open water swim event on Long Island. The course follows Montauk’s ocean shoreline between Kirk Park and Ditch Plains, passing under the spectacular hoodoo formations along the Shadmoor Preserve bluffs. Half mile, one mile and two mile distances. For more information and to register, visit: http://beta.active.com/montauk-ny/water-sports/swimming/montauk-ocean-swim-challenge-2013.

Finally, the week ended with a spectacular nearly full moon on Sunday night. Calm wind conditions made for a perfect evening to be on the water: paddling, sailing, fishing, surfing or just going for a walk on the beach. I hope you were able to enjoy it.

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