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This “bizarre” creature is a massive sunfish spotted near Laguna Beach

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This “bizarre” creature is a massive sunfish spotted near Laguna Beach

A pair of paddlers encountered a massive sunfish just a few hundred yards off Laguna Beach’s shoreline that could rival in size a Guinness World Record set in 1996.

Rich German and friend Matt Wheaton, both of Laguna Beach, set out on Thursday, Dec. 2, to enjoy the clear waters off the coast. They came across a massive mola mola, also known as sunfish, floating on the ocean’s surface.

“We were just paddling and all of a sudden we were like ‘Oh my god.’ That thing was massive,” said German, author of the book “Blue Laguna” and founder of the ocean conservation nonprofit Project O.  “Most of my encounters are with dolphins and whales, but you never know what you’re going to see.”

German, comparing to Wheaton’s 14-foot stand-up paddleboard, guessed the fish was close to 9 feet in length.

Once home, he found a Guinness World Record set in 1996 when a fisherman caught an 8-foot-11 mola mola that weighed 5,070 pounds off the coast of Japan. While that record was for the heaviest fish, which would be tough to compare with the sunfish the pair encountered off Laguna Beach, German said he thinks theirs could be longer in length and is hoping to consult with marine scientists to see if it could be measured based on the size of the board.

Julianne Steers, founding board member of the Beach Ecology Coalition, said the sunfish was larger than most seen here – she’s seen fish about 6- to 7-feet long. But whether it was a record-holder would be tough to tell.

“The only true way to know is if it was out and weighed and officially measured,” she said, noting that there’s some records up in Northern California of sunfish reaching 13-foot long. “But it does look much larger than what we typically see out here.”

She called the mola mola a “lumbering” fish that likes to lazily float on the ocean’s surface to bask in the sun, hence their nickname, eating jellyfish and salps.

The species looks like a mad scientist put them together with spare parts, Steers said. “It’s such an oddball kind of assembly of parts.”

The mola mola is also the largest fish in the world that has a skeleton structure, she said.

Scientists once thought the mola mola drifted with ocean currents, but they’ve been tracked in Southern California swimming 16 miles a day at a top speed of 2 mph, the Monterey Bay Aquarium says on its website.

“With its tank-like body, the mola was clearly not built for life in the fast lane. But it holds its own against faster and flashier fish and is able to live in almost all of the world’s oceans,” the aquarium says. “It’s known to spend time near the surface, but tagging shows that the mola is also a prolific diver and migrates long distances at depth.”

German said he has seen many mola molas through the years, but typically further offshore and about half the size of the one encountered just south of Main Beach.

“The first time I saw one, I didn’t know what it was. I thought it was a mutilated shark,” he said, noting the fish’s fin often stands up above the surface. “They are so bizarre looking. They just lay there.”

Even if it’s not an official record-setter, German is still soaking in the interesting encounter.

“I just know it was really big,” he said. “It was a unique and very cool thing to experience, and another example of why we need to protect the ocean and the amazing life that calls it home.”

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Big voting bill faces defeat as 2 Dems won’t stop filibuster

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Sinema, Manchin slammed as Senate begins voting bill debate

By LISA MASCARO

WASHINGTON (AP) — Voting legislation that’s a top priority for Democrats and civil rights leaders seemed headed for defeat as the Senate opened Tuesday, a devastating setback enabled by President Joe Biden’s own party as two holdout senators refuse to support rule changes to overcome a Republican filibuster.

The Democratic senators, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, face strong criticism from Black leaders and civil rights organizations for failing to take on what the critics call the “Jim Crow filibuster.”

The debate carries echoes of an earlier era when the Senate filibuster was deployed by opponents of civil rights legislation. It comes as Democrats and other voting advocates nationwide warn that Republican-led states are passing laws making it more difficult for Black Americans and others to vote by consolidating polling locations, requiring certain types of identification and ordering other changes.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer acknowledged the current bill’s likely defeat this week. But he said the fight is not over as he heeds advocates’ call to force all senators to go on record with their positions.

“The eyes of the nation will be watching what happens this week,” Schumer said as he opened the session Tuesday.

This is the fifth time the Senate will try to pass voting legislation this Congress.

The Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act combines earlier bills into one package that would make Election Day a national holiday, ensure access to early voting and mail-in ballots — which have become especially popular during the COVID-19 pandemic— and enable the Justice Department to intervene in states with a history of voter interference, among other changes.

Both Manchin and Sinema say they support the package, which has passed the House, but they are unwilling to change the Senate rules to muscle it through that chamber over Republican objections. With a 50-50 split, Democrats have a narrow Senate majority — Vice President Kamala Harris can break a tie — but they lack the 60 votes needed to overcome the GOP filibuster.

Just as they blocked Biden’s broad “Build Back Better” domestic spending package, the two senators are now dashing hopes for the second major part of Biden’s presidential agenda. They are infuriating many of their colleagues and faced a barrage of criticism during Martin Luther King Jr. Day events.

Martin Luther King III, the son of the late civil rights leader, compared Sinema and Manchin to a white moderate his father wrote about during the civil rights battles of the 1950s and 1960s — a person who declared support for the goals of Black voting rights but not the direct actions or demonstrations that ultimately led to passage of landmark legislation.

“History will not remember them kindly,” the younger King said, referring to Sinema and Manchin by name.

Once reluctant to change Senate rules himself, Biden used the King holiday to pressure senators to do just that. But the push from the White House, including Biden’s blistering speech last week in Atlanta comparing opponents to segregationists, is seen as too late, coming as the president ends his first year in office with his popularity sagging.

“It’s time for every elected official in America to make it clear where they stand,” Biden said on the King holiday. “It’s time for every American to stand up. Speak out, be heard. Where do you stand?”

The Senate is launching what could become a weeklong debate, but the outcome is expected to be no different from past failed votes on the legislation. Biden has been unable to persuade Sinema and Manchin to join other Democrats to change the rules to lower the 60-vote threshold. In fact, Sinema upstaged the president last week, reiterating her opposition to the rules changes just before Biden arrived on Capitol Hill to court senators’ votes.

Senators have been working nonstop for weeks on rule changes that could win support from Sinema and Manchin. The two, both moderates, have expressed openness to discussing the ideas, but have not given their backing.

Both Manchin and Sinema have argued that preserving the filibuster rules, requiring a 60-vote majority to pass most legislation, is important for fostering bipartisanship. They also warn of what would happen if Republicans win back majority control, as is distinctly possible this election year.

Critics have also assailed Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who is leading his party against the voting legislation. The Kentucky senator has argued the legislation is a federal overreach into state-run elections, and he harshly criticized Biden’s speech last week as “unpresidential.”

“We cannot think of a time more defining to the American story than the chapter you are presently writing,” NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson wrote in an open letter to the Senate.

“What country will your children and grandchildren be left with, given the relentless assaults on American freedom and democracy?”

Manchin spokeswoman Sam Runyon said in a statement late Monday: “Senator Manchin believes strongly that every American citizen of legal age has not only the right, but also the responsibility to vote and that right must be protected by law. He continues to work on legislation to protect this right.”

Sinema’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

The voting bill was the Democrats’ top priority this Congress, and the House swiftly approved H.R. 1 only to see it languish in the Senate.

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Sunny skies Tuesday with high temps in the low-50s

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Sunny skies Tuesday with high temps in the low-50s

ST. LOUIS- The city of Maryland Heights’ Economic Development Commission meets Tuesday night to discuss a number of local projects, including an update on plans to bring new restaurant life to a former Steak N’ Shake restaurant.

The restaurant, formerly located at 12607 Dorsett, was one of many Steak N’ Shake locations to close in the St. Louis area in 2019, when the company shut down more than half a dozen of them while in search of franchise partners.

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Amid rising customer complaints, The Denver Post wants to hear about your experience at Vail Resorts this season

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Vail opens Pete’s Express in Blue Sky Basin

Several months into the 2021-22 ski season, Vail Resorts is facing increasing customer complaints at several of its ski resorts across the country.

A change.org petition to “Hold Vail Resorts accountable” for alleged ski area mismanagement this season reached 40,000 signatures on Sunday, with some calling for Epic Pass holders not to renew.

The Denver Post wants to hear what your experience has been at Vail Resorts locations so far this season. Fill out the form below if you’re interested in sharing your story to be used in a future story.

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