carpetman, hamptons, flooring

Sports Center

Nov 11, 2019 12:00 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

November Sightings

Hopefully this recently hatched Eastern box turtle photographed in Springs last week is now in a hibernation site protected from this week’s freezing temps.  RENEE MEIER RENEE MEIER
Nov 12, 2019 1:12 PM

“What happened to our local scallops?” was the most talked about nature topic this past weekend. Unlike in previous years when scallops were scarce due to the brown tide phenomenon — a huge bloom of an algal species that the filter feeding scallops cannot derive nourishment from, and perish — this year’s scarcity was not associated with a brown tide.

Dr. Stephen Tettelbach of Long Island University has been studying scallops here for some three decades, and in a joint program with Cornell Cooperative Extension, has been involved in restoring and monitoring the scallop population in the Peconic Estuary. His spring 2019 survey found a very good set of scallops, one of the best in years, which would be ready to harvest this fall after they recovered from the rigors of their late spring and early summer spawn. However, his follow up survey in October revealed a very disappointing and unusual sight: thousands of mature scallops on the bay bottom with their shells open and meat partially decomposed.

On the other hand, Tettelbach found a healthy and very abundant set of juvenile scallops, the product of the early summer 2019 spawn. This fact prompted him to rule out a disease, as that most likely would have impacted both mature and juvenile scallops.

His current hypothesis is that several spikes in water temperature to above 80 degrees during the early summer spawning season, combined with the stress and energy demands associated with spawning, may have been the cause of the die-offs of adult scallops. Proving this will require some time and research.

There are three recognized subspecies of the bay scallop (Argopecten irradians) found along the Eastern Seaboard: One is found in the coastal states bordering the Gulf of Mexico; another ranges from Florida north to South Carolina; and the third, the Northern bay scallop (Argopecten irradians irradians), ranges from North Carolina to Massachusetts.

The bay scallop is not considered a cold water species and, according to the research literature, can tolerate temperatures in the high 80s. In fact, 95 degrees is listed as the lethal temperature for this species. However, Tettelbach points out that high bay water temperatures are associated with low levels of dissolved oxygen and the latter, combined with the energy demands of spawning, may have pushed the adult scallops over the brink.

Another interesting story last week involved the results of a necropsy performed on a right whale back in September. Reports of a very decomposed whale carcass located 4 miles south of Fire Island Inlet were relayed to Dr. Rob DiGiovanni of the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society. Photos revealed it to be a federally endangered North Atlantic right whale, the first known right whale mortality observed in U.S. waters for 2019.

The North Atlantic right whale population is so low (400 individuals) that scientists were able to identify this individual as “Snake Eyes,” a 40-year-old male last seen entangled in fishing gear in the Gulf of St. Lawrence on August 6, 2019. It was also sighted three weeks earlier (July 16) in the same area and not entangled.

The necropsy findings revealed that the multiple wounds were consistent with those documented in the August entanglement. There was no evidence of disease or blunt trauma that would indicate a vessel strike. The conclusion was that the likeliest cause of death was entanglement.

Sighting of the week goes to Renee Meier of Springs, who found a hatchling Eastern box turtle in her backyard during our unseasonably warm early November weather. This species is very adaptable to our suburban landscape, and does quite well inhabiting residential backyards. Please leave the leaves in your “non-lawn” areas. The leaf litter serves as nature’s long underwear, insulating residents of the soil community — plants and animals — from the cold temps and desiccating winds of winter.

Let’s hope the hatchling was able to find a suitable hibernating site before our first subfreezing temperatures rolled in on the heels of a cold front last Friday night.

You've read 1 of 7 free articles this month.

Already a subscriber? Sign in