The Pacific Ocean

Pacific OceanThe Ocean is really one big mass of salt water that surrounds the continents. However, the ocean has been divided up into four regions—although there is no real separation. Canada is surrounded by three of these oceans.

The Pacific Ocean is the water on the west side of Canada. It is the biggest and deepest of all the oceans. You could fit all the land area of the world into this ocean. It’s name means “mild” because it was thought to not be as stormy as the other oceans.

Did you know that on average ocean water is 3.5% salt by weight? All the rivers that pour into the sea, carry minerals in them including a little bit of salt. When the sun warms up the ocean water and evaporates it up into clouds, the salt is left behind. This is how the oceans recycle our rain water. The rain that falls on the land eventually runs back in the rivers to the ocean, where the warmth of the sun turns some of it back into water vapour or clouds and then the clouds move over the land and rain again.

Ocean water is always moving. The wind pushes it along creating surface currents and waves, the rotation of the earth deflects the currents either clockwise in the northern hemisphere or counterclockwise in the southern hemisphere, cold water sinks and warm water rises creating deep-water currents, and twice a day the pull of the sun and moon makes the ocean surface rise and fall creating tides. During a new moon and full moon, the low tides are lower and the high tides are higher. These are called “spring” tides. The tide is greater on continental shelves and in bays. The Bay of Fundy, between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, has the lowest tides in the world. The difference can be as much 15 metres.

The outgoing tide can uncover pools on rocky shores where ocean life such as seastars, sea urchins, and sculpins are trapped until the tide comes back in and covers them up.

Unfortunately, the oceans can get sick because of things we do. Wherever you live in Canada, the water that is in the little stream down the road, or the lake nearby, or the ditch in front of your house, even the water you wash with, all ends up sooner or later in the ocean. So, no matter where you live, what you put down your drains, or on the lawn or in the trash can have an effect on the health of the oceans.

BOOKS: Water Dance by Thomas Locker, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002.

The saltiness of ocean water varies depending on where you are. Take 500 mL of tap water and add 5 ml salt, stir it around and then taste it. That’s sort of what the ocean tastes like.

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Wild Lupines

Wild Lupines in Nova ScotiaThis time of year you can find lupines in many places across Canada. They are sometimes considered an invasive weed, but they do have some redeeming qualities. First of all they are gorgeous when all out in bloom. Secondly, they fix nitrogen in the soil which means they are tolerant of infertile soil, and gradually improve it. They make good companion plants for those that need nitrogen and are often used in reforestation projects.

Although the foliage is not poisonous and is good forage food for livestock, the seeds can cause poisoning, depressing the heart and nervous system. However, in  other areas of the world, species of lupine seeds such as Lupinus albus, are eaten once the alkyloids are soaked out of them in salt water as they contain the full range of essential amino acids.

According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, there are about 28 species of Lupine growing across Canada. Most grow in Western Canada right up to the Arctic such as Lupinus arcticus, Lupinus nootkatensis, and Lupinus polyphyllus. Lupinus perennis grows in southern Ontario, and Lupinus polyphyllus has also naturalized in Eastern Canada.

Maritime Garter Snake

gartersnakeMy 11-year-old reptile-loving boy discovered a snake in our greenhouse last week. After doing a little research, he decided it was a Maritime Garter Snake. Fortunately, all the species of snake found in the Maritimes are harmless. However, Maritime Garter Snakes will bite if a person tries to capture them.

Maritime Garter Snakes are usually a beautifully patterned cinnamon brown. They are the most often seen snakes in the Maritimes mainly because they are larger than other common species and because they like to bask in the sun during the day. They are also excellent swimmers.

They will put on an convincing display of defense if provoked. They inflate their lungs to puff themselves up, flatten their body until their skin shows between their scales, flick their tongues repeatedly and face their threat with an open mouth and will strike with amazing speed.

They prey on small animals such as earthworms, salamanders, small fish, toads, frogs, and rodents. Their forked tongue takes samples of particles in the air to a part on the roof of their mouth called Jacobson’s organ which helps them to find their prey.

During the winter, all snakes hibernate under boulders or against the foundations of buildings, or other protected places. Quite often several snakes will hibernate together, and then after breeding in the spring will disperse.

A few birds such as herons and hawks will eat snakes. As well, racoons, black bears and foxes are know to occasionally include them in their diet. Strangely enough though, it has been said that the domestic cat is one of the most significant predators of snakes.

Other common species seen in the Maritimes are the Northern Redbelly Snake (takes shelter during the day and eats slugs), the Northern Ribbon Snake (lives near water with aquatic vegetation and eats frogs), Northern Ringneck Snakes (inhabits woodland areas, takes shelter during day, and eats salamanders), and the Eastern Smooth Green Snake (lives in grassy, shrubby areas, shores of ponds, lakes, streams, or roadsides, is active during the day, rarely attempts to bite, will climb vegetation, eats moth larvae, spiders, grasshoppers, leafhoppers, millipedes, and small snails).

More information on snakes in the Maritime Provinces.

P.S. Did you know that up until recently there were NO snakes in Newfoundland? There have been some found by wildlife officials in the last few years. However, there are still no porcupines, skunks or racoons.