There’s no denying that seahorses are mesmerizing little creatures. They sport a head that resembles that of a horse. Have eyes like a chameleon, a pouch like a kangaroo and a prehensile tail like a monkey. Ready for their most unusual trait? A seahorse is the only the male who gets pregnant and gives birth in the animal kingdom.
Unique among fish for having bent necks and long-snouted heads, they mirror horses. They swim vertically, bony plates reinforce their entire body and they have no teeth, a rare feature in fish. Seahorses (genus Hippocampus erectus) move their fins very quickly similar to a hummingbird, but are notorious as one of the slowest swimmers on the planet. On the other hand, they are quite maneuverable and able to move up, down, forward and backward.
Those extraordinary looks and surprising social behavior have earned seahorses a mythic stature along the lines of unicorns. The aquatic creatures have been lionized in popular culture starring in cartoons and Disney movies such as The Little Mermaid and Finding Nemo. However, their universal appeal has worked against them. About 25 million seahorses are plucked from the wild each year for display or medicinal purposes.
Tiny in size and coming in a rainbow of colors, lined seahorses have been consistently listed as one of the most popular exhibit animals in zoos and public aquaria. Members of the pipefish family, seahorses boast specialized structures in their skin cells which allow them to change color to mimic their surroundings. The thumbnail-size pygmy seahorses are masters of camouflage and survive by attaching to vibrant corals where they become nearly invisible to both predators and researchers.
A thin sliver of land nestled between the turquoise waters of Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, Longboat Key (LBK) is both simple and opulent offering a scenic and delightful destination. Less than 11 miles in length, it boasts the rare combination of beautiful beaches and a bevy of cultural gems in Sarasota just to the south. One of the more refreshing finds is LBK's natural side.
My wife and I arrived on the barrier island for a holiday stay at the Zota Beach Resort. Uber-modern and sleek, it's surrounded by tropical blooms, lush foliage and swaying palm trees. Great egrets and great blue herons fish at the water's edge, while cormorants, ospreys and pelicans wheel overhead then swoop down into the Gulf in search of a meal.
A five minute drive south brings visitors to Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium. From its humble beginnings in a tiny one-room building in 1955, Mote has evolved into a world-class research center that conducts ocean research on six of the world's seven continents.
All the exhibits are beautifully executed to reflect the natural habitat of its inhabitants. First up you see a fresh water stingray, a scary 27-foot Moray Eel, and the black and white striped Convict Fish who spend their adult lives hidden in coral tunnels. Then you enter the area called "Grass Flats, Reef Fish & Jellies," a bonanza of all sorts of beautiful reef dwellers. A favorite are the upside down jellyfish that produce algae with their tentacles.
Sports fans know all about the "Curse of the Billy Goat." It was placed on the Chicago Cubs when local tavern owner William "Billy Goat" Sianis cursed the Cubs when he was not allowed to bring his pet goat, Murphy, into Wrigley Field to watch a 1945 World Series game. The curse was finally snapped when the team won the 2016 World Series.
But what about the "Curse of Apollo?" It now stands at 136 years-- the oldest curse in American sports. No unraced 2-year old has gone on to win the Kentucky Derby since Apollo in 1882.
Since 1937, sixty one horses have entered the Derby without a race at two. Their record, a collective "0 for 61." Most recently Bodemeister came the closest to ending the famed Apollo streak in the 2012 Derby. The Bob Baffert trainee tried to wire the field, opening a clear lead at the top of the stretch, only to be worn down by I'll Have Another in the final sixteenth of a mile.
This year a pair of budding superstars, Justify and Magnum Moon, head to Kentucky both undefeated looking to sack the so-called Apollo curse in the 144th renewal of the "Run for the Roses" on May 5.
Into an early evening perfect crystal blue sky, a Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral on a planet-hunting mission which is expected to identify thousands of planets in our cosmic backyard.
Departing on April 18, the rocket carried with it the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) that is adding to the bounty provided over the past decade by NASA's Kepler Space Telescope.
“The search for worlds beyond our solar system continues today with the launch of our @NASA_TESS spacecraft,” tweeted NASA after the launch.
The spacecraft is expected to peer at hundreds of thousands of bright neighboring stars, seeking planets that might support life. Scientists found the planets discovered by Kepler are too distant and too faint for practical study. But those found by TESS should be close enough for mega telescopes of the future to detect any atmospheric signs of life.
As a youngster growing up in Springfield, Ohio, Don Ray spent time hiking through the ancient hardwoods, rolling terrain and peaceful creeks. Summer mornings would find Ray and his grandfather fishing Honey or Donald Creeks, regularly pulling in small mouth bass. Those fish became some of the Vero Beach artist's earliest subjects.
A resident of Indian River County since 1992, Ray is regarded as one of the country's premier game fish artists who photographs, interacts and paints many species in their natural environment. He and his wife Lorraine live on a secluded four-acre property that comprises a cottage home with an artist studio out back, a lovely gazebo, and landscape waterfall along with a half-acre aquifer-fed pond with floating plants that sports a surprising collection of fish.
Ray's detailed images of popular game fish are enjoyed and collected by fishermen around the world and have appeared on scores of publication covers including Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, Marlin and Saltwater Sportsman Magazine. An airborne shark doing its thing busting a school of bluefish (Leap of Faith), the stop-action shot of a single sailfish moving in and striking the bait (Set Sail), or swimming among a school of big tarpon (The Gathering). These are the scenes Ray recreates with oil and canvas.
A self-taught artist, early on he studied the works of masters from "The Golden Age of Illustration" who produced some of the strongest examples of narrative figurative work in the history of American painting. As a struggling artist in the mid-1980s Ray received a phone from esteemed underwater marine artist Stanley Meltzoff. It was a pivotal moment in his life. Meltzoff shared his knowledge and time, and would later become a mentor. Recognized as the founder and father of the genre of painting game fish in their habitat, Meltzoff elevated sporting art to the level of fine art.
The Montana wilderness is not the typical spot you would expect to find a $630,000 yearling colt learning the ropes of the racing game.
Studded with 25 alpine lakes and endless wildflower meadows, the foothills of the Jewel Basin offer expansive views of Flathead Valley to the west and Hungry Horse Reservoir to the east. It's also the location of the Ruis Ranch where the breaking and the daily exercising routines of young thoroughbred prospects takes place.
When owner/trainer Mick Ruis placed the winning bid at the 2016 Saratoga Yearling Sale, his prized dark bay colt was sent straightaway to Ruis' 80-acre ranch on the outskirts of Bigfork where he would spend the next five months in Big Sky country. Galloping one day in a pasture, the colt's exceptional athleticism was on full view from a picture window in ranch manager Ike Green's home. At the same time Green was watching the 2016 Summer Olympics, in particular Usain Bolt, the all-time great Jamaican sprinter.
A native of Wyoming, Green picked out the colt at the Saratoga Sale.
Last September there was one word that dominated life here in the Sunshine State: Irma. After roaring through the Caribbean, the hurricane caused historic damage and destruction in Florida. The Cat-4 storm flooded streets, snapped construction cranes and left 5.8 million (nearly 60 percent) of Florida electricity customers without power.
When Hurricane Irma marched toward the Florida Keys, it passed over the Aquarius Reef Base that sits on a sandy patch near a deep coral reef named Conch Reef. It's about six miles south off the coast of Key Largo. Irma ripped the laboratory’s 94,000 pound life support buoy from its moorings and blew it about 14 miles away to Lignum Vitae Channel where it became wedged under a bridge. It also bent the underwater laboratory's living quarters sitting on the ocean floor in water 60 feet deep.
“She was beaten up, shaken, but not broken," said Jim Fourqurean, Florida International University (FIU) Aquarius Base Reef business development director and biology professor.
"The buoy is being repaired at a Miami boatyard and should be ready by March. The mooring lines should be put out around the same time. We're expecting our missions to begin in May. There is a Navy mission, a NASA engineering and saturation mission, and a private foundation who's interested in it for educational purposes. Others will follow."
For the past fifteen years I’ve been a contributing writer to a variety of national & regional magazines, prominent daily news-papers and websites. I have written about an array of topics such as arts & culture, chefs, food & drink, business entrepreneurs, travel, history, thoroughbred racing, and the animal and natural world.
I'm currently a regular arts & culture contributor to WFIT's website (the NPR radio station in Melbourne.), Vero Beach Magazine and Florida Today newspaper on a number of topics. Over recent years my work has been published regularly in Blood-Horse, Long Island Boating World and The Hunt and PA Equestrian magazines.
I am a regular contributor to the websites JustLuxe.com and SeeTheSouth.com. JustLuxe is an online magazine featuring the best of luxury lifestyle and travel, while SeeTheSouth features truly unique southern destinations. My travel articles also regularly appear in Florida Today, Long Island Boating world and the Delaware County Times, a major daily newspaper just outside Philly.
I've also contributed a variety of articles to the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, the Delaware County Times, and the Montgomery County Newspapers. I have been an Arts & Culture correspondent for Newsworks, the website for WHYY-TV (PBS in Philadelphia). I have been a correspondent to ESPN.com, America's Best Racing, the Paulick Report and Thoroughbred Racing Commentary.
After spending the past two decades in Wilmington, Delaware, my wife Jane, our Toller retriever Smarty and I have moved to Melbourne Beach, Fla. Located on a barrier island between the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian River, Melbourne Beach sits on the southern end of Florida's "Space Coast." The famed coastal highway A1A runs directly along the Atlantic. Melbourne Beach (pop. 3,000) offers unspoiled beaches with sparkling blue-green waters and thousands of beautiful seabirds and long-legged shorebirds.
Head north 35 miles on A1A and you arrive at Cape Canaveral, for decades our nation's gateway to exploring and understanding our universe. Today, Cape Canaveral is a hub for many of the most exciting new private space projects such as SpaceX, the rocket and spacecraft company founded by Elon Musk (manufacturer of Tesla vehicles). Upwards of 30 launches are planned in 2017.
Back down to earth traveling on two-lane A1A south from Melbourne Beach's compact business area brings you to a series of secluded and undeveloped natural beaches. Bonsteel Park's two-acre beach provides an excellent vantage point to catch glimpses of passing dolphins, while the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge is recognized as the most important nesting area for loggerhead turtles in the western hemisphere. It's also home to the gigantic leatherback turtles.
Nearby is Sebastian Inlet State Park which connects the Indian River Lagoon with the Atlantic Ocean. Its jetty break is recognized as one of the surf world's high-performance hot spots. Three generations of world-class surfers have surfed here, including 11-time world champion Kelly Slater. The 600-acre park is also celebrated for world-class fishing, and plenty of seabirds and wildlife.
Through my writing over the past decade I have traveled to spectacular destinations such as Lake Tahoe, Calif./Nev. and Sun Valley, Idaho; Cody, Wyoming/Yellowstone Park; Saratoga Springs, the Adirondacks, Saratoga Springs and Rhinebeck, New York; Port Clyde and Monheghan Island, Maine; Avalon and Stone Harbor, New Jersey; Middleburg, Charlottesville and Richmond, Virginia.
Other travel adventures have included Tampa and St. Petersburg, Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key, Florida; and St. Simons and Jekyll Island, Georgia. My travel articles thoughtfully explore the history of the region along with museums, music and the arts, chefs and restaurateurs, wineries and craft breweries, outdoor and sporting adventures as well as profiling intriguing personalities of those regions.
In addition to my writing career I owned a marketing company where I represented a diversified list of clients in the areas of publicity, marketing and business development-- such as the famed Baldwin's Book Barn, Thoroughbred Charities of America and the Kahunaville restaurant chain. In another life I was the founder, publisher and editor of Life Sports Magazine.
Along with Jane and Smarty I look forward to writing about new adventures in Melbourne Beach, the "Space Coast" and other Florida destinations. That's Smarty below with his pals Willie and Nelson.