Learn from The Florida Aquarium offsite link about lobsters and how they fare during underwater storms like the one featured in this episode of The Octonauts.
MUSIC: [Octonauts theme music] Octonauts, to your stations! Barnacles! Kwazii! Peso!
HOST: You’re listening to "NOAA & the Octonauts" — an episode-by-episode discussion of the children’s TV show The Octonauts, which features a crew of quirky and courageous undersea adventurers. Their mission: to explore the world’s ocean, rescue the creatures who live there, and protect their habitats.
MUSIC: [Octonauts theme music] Explore! Rescue! Protect! Octonauts!
HOST: This podcast is hosted by NOAA’s Office of Education and the Coastal Ecosystem Learning Center Network. Today, I’m your host, Maggie Allen.
Today, we’re talking about Episode 2: The Octonauts and the Undersea Storm. When Kwazii's Gup-B breaks down in a storm, not even brave Captain Barnacles can save him alone. [Kwazii crashing] Fortunately, a chain of reef lobsters lends a hand - and some claws.
KWAZII: If it weren’t for this little lobster’s big grip—yow!
CAPTAIN BARNACLES: We wouldn’t have made it back
HOST: Before we begin our chat, let’s set the stage for today’s deep dive. The episode starts when the Octonauts identify a big storm in the sea. According to Jennifer Moore, who works for NOAA Fisheries in Florida, “Major storms can cause severe damage to shallow water coral reefs. For example, strong waves from Hurricanes Irma and Maria dislodged and destroyed thousands of corals. After these storms, NOAA assessed the damage and reattached broken corals back to the reef so they can continue to grow and thrive.”
This episode also features lobsters, and these guys are built to be tough. Like their other crustacean relatives, they have a hard outer shell, or exoskeleton, that protects them from hungry predators. They also protect themselves by living in narrow openings on the seafloor. When hiding doesn’t work, they can use their muscular tail to scoot away from danger.
The lobsters we saw on the Octonauts show this week were most likely reef lobsters. These creatures live in shallow coral reefs and are small, nocturnal, and colorful, with one pair of claws on their front legs.
But the lobsters you would find at The Florida Aquarium don’t have claws at all. These spiny lobsters are decapods, which means that they have ten legs, and they range in color from white to red-orange. The razor sharp spines along their antennae protect against the predators that live with them in the Caribbean, Mediterranean Sea, and off the west coast of Australia.
While it’s hard to know exactly how many spiny lobsters are out there, disease, climate change, and overfishing do pose threats. The Florida Aquarium, located on the Gulf of Mexico, is working to better understand these lobsters and their habitats.
Our guests today are Eric Hovland and Debbi Stone of The Florida Aquarium. Eric, The Florida Aquarium’s associate curator, is an all-around Shark Guy who helped start up the Aquarium nearly 25 years ago and who has been helping Florida wildlife ever since. And as the Aquarium’s Vice President of Education, Debbi Stone oversees education programs for the littlest PreK future scientists to active retirees who haven’t lost their love of learning and who want to make a positive difference for our One Ocean. Thank you, Eric and Debbi, for joining us today.
DEBBI STONE: Great, our pleasure
ERIC HOVLAND: Looking forward to a great conversation
HOST: All right, let’s start off with asking a really important question. Which Octonauts’ job would you say is most like yours?
DEBBI STONE: I personally...I would say I’m probably the most like Barnacles, but my favorite Octonaut is the tunip. I love the Vegimals so much. I’m not quite sure why; I think they’re just these amazing little cheerleaders that support all the people around them, and I think cheerleading is an important thing for all of us and everybody we work with. But I’d have to say technically probably more like Barnacles.
ERIC HOVLAND: Kwazii, I related to him right from the beginning. He’s an explorer, an adventurer; he’s into the what, where, what’s down there in cryptozoology, so I can really relate to that sense of adventure. Plus, I have an orange cat named after a Norwegian pirate, so it was kind of spot on for me. He’s quite the adventurer.
HOST: That’s awesome. So diving into the episode, we have some questions for you to clear things up, and we want to know if undersea storms are really dangerous for lobsters and other coral reef critters, and would animals actually need help during these storms?
ERIC HOVLAND: Well, I think yeah, sure. These storms generate a lot of agitation near the surface and then that can have surge effects, especially on these shallow coastal reefs where we find the home for lobsters and all kinds of other sea creatures. That reef is their home, like literally their house, so finding shelter under a ledge is probably fine during normal wave action, tidal action, but when it really gets churning, you can feel that effect. As a diver, I’ve been underwater when storms are starting to roll up. You can feel that 10, 20, 30 feet, 10 meters down, so it’s probably good for the lobsters themselves to start moving to deeper water. And if you can’t move fast like a shark or a large fish,then you gotta hunker down and find some safety. Yeah, and as far as what we can do to protect them is kind of bigger picture and continuing to protect our ocean.
DEBBI STONE: Absolutely, what I loved the most about this episode was no matter what critter we were looking at they all had their own adaptation for responding to what was going on around them, whether it was going to deeper water or hunkering down. I think the one great thing about our One Ocean is all of its inhabitants have these amazing adaptations, things that they do innately or that they’ve learned to do to protect themselves. Sometimes the best thing we can do is kind of leave them alone, let nature do what nature does the best, but I do think the episode touched on several things that ocean animals innately know to do when they’re facing any kind of danger, whether it be a storm or predator or whatever may actually happen.
ERIC HOVLAND: They really teamed up, those lobsters. It’s like, “Follow me. We’re going to safety together” because if you get split up, there’s no future for you.
HOST: Right, and it did seem like the Octonauts needed more help than the lobsters themselves.
ERIC HOVLAND: Well they got themselves in a little trouble, that’s for sure.
HOST: Right, and if you were in that situation themselves, could lobsters really fix a tow line and have that strong of a grip?
ERIC HOVLAND: I wish they could be that helpful. You touched on something that is important. They have a really strong grip, and the lobsters we are looking at have two chela, or claws. Well, it’s interesting to note is that those claws are not the same. One of them is really good for crushing, so that one’s got quite a solid grip. The other one is a little bit more of a slicer, so that might not help grabbing that line. Now, if they had two big crushers, maybe so. But yeah, I’d say get a stronger rope next time, guys.
HOST: Yeah, definitely. So why would you say lobsters are important, both to ecosystems and to humans?
ERIC HOVLAND: Speaking to the coral reef ecosystem, we often hear of food chains. It’s really a food web. All these animals are interacting on this reef, and this reef is home; it’s so splendid with life, and it’s so important to our environment too. Just the fact that reefs produce somewhere around half the oxygen we breathe comes from healthy coral reef systems and healthy oceans. So that’s a really important need for people, because I don’t know about you, but I’m a big fan of oxygen. I love breathing; I do it everyday. Now the rest of that is also this ecosystem...lobsters are kind of right in the middle of it. They eat small sea creatures like maybe shellfish, like molluscs, clams, and mussels and oysters. They can grip them and crunch them up with their mouthparts. Also they are a food source for animals like goliath grouper, like octopuses and eels. So having that balance of kind of just the right amount of everybody ensures that everybody has a home to live in and enough food to eat, enough prey to hunt if they’re a predator, and if we remove lobsters from that, you’re kind of pulling out some of the balance, and then suddenly the octopuses...what are they going to eat? Then there are more molluscs. They help maintain a healthy reef too. Debbi, you can certainly speak to some of the ways that lobsters are really important to us as a resource as well.
DEBBI STONE: Yeah, absolutely, I think it does come down to balance as you mentioned. A lot of times we’ve seen over time if one specific species or type of animal starts to disappear from an ecosystem, there are all kinds of unintended consequences for the other animals, which you might not even have expected, so sometimes I worry about the things we don’t know, frankly. We know a lot about how they’re important, but if they suddenly started to disappear, we’d probably start to see a lot of really weird predator-prey things happening, in other parts of the food web that we just didn’t expect or anticipate. You bring up the octopus here—what are they going to eat? They are probably going to start preying on something else more regularly, and that particular species may not have the ability to bounce back as rapidly as it would right now, when it is only one piece of the puzzle. So I think it’s really important, and any time we are looking at any ecosystem, whether it’s a reef system or mangroves or whatever it might be, that you realize each one of those animals in that ecosystem, and plants for that matter, have a role, have a function, and it’s critical for the healthy wellbeing of that entire ecosystem, even if we can’t readily tell exactly what it might be.
HOST: Yeah, definitely, it is all about that balance. What do you all do at the aquarium to help conserve these lobsters and their habitat?
DEBBI STONE: So I think for me, I thought about lobsters in particular, and I keep coming back to the One Ocean concept of: “protect the home and protect the animals”. Everything that we do, we’re looking at the big picture of the healthy habitat. If we really want to help lobsters or goliath grouper or octopuses or whatever it may be, protecting where they live is the most important thing. On a specific level, like lobsters, for example, the work that Eric and the folks that he works with on a regular basis, that is really important because it’s contributing to the scientific knowledge of these animals. Any time we are working with animals that we have here at The Florida Aquarium, we’re participating in research; we’re participating in conservation, understanding the needs of these animals so we can better protect them in the wild, because that’s ultimately what is going to help keep our One Ocean healthy, is protecting where the animals live. So that’s always my message to people: if you have an animal that you love, whether it’s a dolphin or a manatee or a lobster or a grouper or, my favorite, yellowhead jawfish, the best thing you can do is keep the ecosystems healthy, keep the habitats healthy, and then you’re going to do a really good job at protecting the species that you love so much.
HOST: Yeah, that’s a really great message. So what can all of us—our listeners, people at home—do in our day-to-day lives to make sure that those animals we love and those ecosystems are around for future generations? What can we do to protect them?
DEBBI STONE: When you think about the three R’s—reduce, reuse, recycle—it blew my mind the first time it was pointed out to me that that’s actually in that order for a reason. Really, the most important that we as humans can do to protect the one ocean and protect the environment is to reduce what we need to begin with. Everything takes energy to produce and make and then we have extra waste and so forth, so if you absolutely must have something, try to reuse it. So if you can’t reduce, then at least reuse what you’ve done, and if you can’t reuse it, then at least try to recycle. I think that is the most important thing is to think about the behaviors that we employ every day. Do we really need that? If not, maybe skip it, and if we really do, think about other things that we can do. Reducing our plastic use is really important because a lot of that is ending up in our one ocean, but more than anything, just trying to be conscious of how much energy we are using and the products that we buy and all that kind of stuff. Of course we need things to survive, but really being intentional about being as earth-friendly as possible is by far the biggest thing we can do. We can’t do it all, just pick and choose the things that you think you can do to reduce your energy, and you’re already a step ahead.
ERIC HOVLAND: That’s absolutely true, and there are some great tools out there to help you too. The same kind of things that you might do to improve your health a little bit with an app on your phone, like take a walk or take a bike ride. If you make that your choice to get to work even like once a week...start at once a month...you’re on the right track. And then if you inspire your friends by telling them those good stories and how it makes you feel better and you had a great ride home, then you’re making, again, even more of a mindful impact than just your choice. You’re affecting and growing others too.
HOST: Very true. Well, thank you so much, Debbi and Eric. We really appreciate your time and help on our show and spreading the word and love of lobsters.
DEBBI STONE: Great.
ERIC HOVLAND: It’s a lobster love fest!
DEBBI STONE: It is!
MUSIC: [Captain Barnacles’ theme] [Octoalert]
HOST: That’s the Octo-Alert. It’s time to reveal the answer (and winner) of last month’s fan trivia question. So the question was: “What is the new gadget that Tweak puts on Kwazii's Gup-B?” The answer: Turbo button! The randomly selected winner is Jillian N. Congrats Jillian! You won an Octonauts toy set. And for those of you didn’t win this month, don’t worry, we’ll have a new fan trivia question our website and social media soon. And until then, we want to hear your questions. What would you want to ask an expert about lobsters and undersea storm? We’ll make sure to pass these questions along to our NOAA scientists and aquarium educators and post their answers on our social media sites.
MUSIC: [Captain Barnacles’ theme]
HOST: Well, that’s it for today’s show! To learn more about lobsters and other marine critters at The Florida Aquarium, check out their website at flaquarium.org offsite link. NOAA Fisheries also has many facts about the Caribbean spiny lobster. Just use the search bar at fisheries.noaa.gov. And lastly, head down to the beautiful Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary to see many spiny lobsters hiding in the coral.
HOST: I’m Maggie Allen, and this has been "NOAA and the Octonauts." See you next month!
MUSIC: [Creature Report]
Kwazii, activate creature report!
Creature report, creature report, creature report!
Reef lobsters live on the ground. They don’t swim, they crawl around. They’re kind of small, can’t call them long. They’re not big but their claws are strong. They don’t get scared in bad weather. They head down deep and always stick together.
Go lobsters! Reef lobsters! Reef lobsters!
Creature report, creature report, creature report!
We’re done with our mission. Octonauts, at ease. Until the next adventure!
To learn more about lobsters and other marine critters at The Florida Aquarium, check out their website offsite link.
Read more about Caribbean spiny lobsters on the NOAA Fisheries website.
To try to find spiny lobsters in person, head down to the beautiful Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.