Monthly Archives: April 2009

The Sinister Sea Squirt


Didemnum sp. / Photo courtesy UConn/Avery Point

Didemnum sp. / Photo courtesy UConn/Avery Point




Hartford Courant, July 1, 2006 (draft)

By David Funkhouser

GROTON — The R/V Connecticut bobs in a light chop, floating midway between Mystic and Fisher’s Island. From the bridge, the dark blue waters of Long Island Sound sparkle on a sunny May morning. A fresh breeze blows, the air is clear, and everything looks just fine.

About 70 feet down, the state of the Sound is a lot murkier.

Capt. Dan Nelson shifts his glance from the view outside to the monitor of a computer that controls the 76-foot research vessel’s position and taps the keys to make an adjustment. With a throbbing hum, thrusters in the bow and stern fight a stiff current to hold us at a spot a mile west of Latimer Reef.

This is where we will hunt for Didemnum sp. A dozen students, teachers and crew have joined marine researchers Robert B. Whitlatch and Ivar G. Babb on this voyage to track down one of the most recent foreign invaders in Long Island Sound. The “sp.” stands for the generic “species,” because we are not sure exactly what beast this is, only that it is a sea squirt, of the genus Didemnum, and that its presence might be really bad news.

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How Connecticut Chained Itself to Slavery 

Published Sept. 29, 2002, this special issue of Northeast magazine unlocked a side of slavery, and of Connecticut history, that had never been clearly told. The 80-page edition has been used as a teaching tool in schools throughout the state and turned into a book, and it won the Sigma Delta Chi Public Service Award for magazine journalism in 2002. Editing and writing for this issue was one of the highlights of my career, and changed my way of thinking.

Here’s one example: Tiffany’s, the New York icon of wealth and status, was founded as a dry goods store by two young men from Connecticut. Their fathers staked them to the venture with profits earned in their mills, which took cotton picked by slaves in the South and turned it into coarse “negro cloth,” sold back to slaveowners to clothe their “property.” 

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Lucky For Us: Horseshoe Crabs


Hartford Courant, July 21, 2008


WESTPORTAt the west end of Southport Beach, Doug Grabe hauled a folding table and plastic buckets from his truck and set up on the sand for a couple hours of counting, measuring and tagging horseshoe crabs.
Grabe’s unwitting subjects already were starting to arrive, dozens of them crawling and nudging their way from Long Island Sound up the mouth of Sasco Creek. Their movement was timed to a new moon high tide that flooded the creek’s grassy banks and gravelly bottom and pushed the water up onto the sand.
Horseshoe crabs have been around for 300 million years – older than the dinosaurs. As cumbersome and as homely as they appear in their tank-like brown shells, their light blue blood supplies an ingredient indispensable to human health.

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