Thursday, 29 December 2011

Marine News Roundup

I hope you have all had a good Christmas and are looking forward to a Happy New Year. Here is the latest Respect Our Seas Marine News Roundup.

Scientists Discover Astounding Deep-Sea Sponges With Carnivorous Ways, 'Jaws Of A Great White Shark'
Scientists have recently discovered and described three "previously unknown species" of carnivorous sponges from the family Cladorhizidae. The scientists say that one resembles a "tiny shrub", another has tiny bones that resemble the "jaws of a great white shark", and the third like "crochet-hooks". They were discovered in the deep waters off New Zealand and Macquarie Island, an Australian sub-Antarctic territory.

Worldwide marine mammal consumption rises - but Alaska practices lauded
Killing marine mammals for food has increased over the past few decades worldwide - often by tropical zone fishermen netting animals in situations without controls to avoid overharvests - according to a new study that examined 900 sources of information across the globe.

Cairns shark researcher to test new tool
Conserving shark species in the deep waters of the Great Barrier Reef is a challenge for shark researcher Cassandra Rigby. The James Cook University PhD student said information on the age, growth and reproduction of deep water sharks was limited – despite half of the world’s 1200 species of sharks and rays living in deep water. This information was crucial in conserving populations, but a new tool being developed may be a breakthrough.

Russian aircraft carrier caught dumping rubbish into sea off Scottish coast
Russian sailors tipped rubbish into the Moray Firth as they sheltered from stormy weather. The crew of the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov were spotted chucking bin bags into the sea – a sanctuary for seals and bottlenose dolphins. The 65,000-ton ship was one of several Russian navy vessels sheltering from the the weather in international waters.

Crab pot limits will change the rules for California fishers
Legislation that sets crab pot limits may soon help fishers in California. The legislation will lighten competition from large boats and ease the chaos of the season's opening weeks by limiting fishing. Fishers catch most of the Dungeness crab for the entire season during the early days and the season ends in June and the crab pot limit would reduce fishing at the beginning and instead stretch it out throughout the season. Fishers and experts believe this could help protect the local fishery.

Giant cannibal shrimp worry Gulf Coast watchers
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the Gulf of Mexico, a new menace, this one striped like a big cat, is preying on aquatic life: The black tiger shrimp. The biggest saltwater shrimp in the world, black tigers, are cannibalistic as are other shrimp but it’s larger so it can consume the others. Because of the threat of disease, the predatory intruder poses a problem for the native shrimp and oyster population of the Gulf.

Those festive balloon releases that take place around the holidays aren't that festive if you're a sea turtle. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission warns people planning parties around New Year's or football games that balloons usually end up in the ocean or other water body. Sea turtles mistake balloons for food, and the strings can entangle birds and other animals. State law prohibits the release of more than nine lighter-than-air balloons within a 24-hour period.

Dutch unveil plan in war against the sea: a sandbar
In its age-old war to keep back the sea, low-lying Netherlands has dumped sand onto a surface larger than 200 football fields just off the coast - and will wait for nature to do the rest. The Dutch authorities hope that the sand will be driven landward to form a natural barrier against the North Sea's relentless onslaught.

New Zealand sea lion slides towards extinction
In a submission to the Ministry of Fisheries, the Environmental Defence Society (EDS) has called on the government to reconsider proposals for the Auckland Islands squid fishery. The New Zealand sea lion is an endemic species, found principally in the Auckland Islands. The population has been declining for a number of years, and in 2010 the Department of Conservation reclassified the species as 'nationally critical', the most endangered category available in the classification system. Research shows that squid fishing is probably a key cause of the population decline.

Earthquake Sensors Track Rare Whales
Underwater earthquake recordings could help track the endangered and poorly understood fin whale, according to research presented here last week at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union. Most quake researchers cull the whale’s booming calls from their seafloor recordings. But one group of seismologists has flipped things around to harvest an extensive repertoire of fin whale songs.

Seal stranded on Mablethorpe beach saved by RNLI crewman
The RNLI came to the rescue when a seal became stranded on Mablethorpe beach. The female adult grey seal was found on the beach by a member of the public who reported it to the Mablethorpe Seal Sanctuary. When the Seal Sanctuary were unable to move it the RNLI stepped in to help. Lifeboatman Paul Hills was able to lift the injured seal to the sanctuary.

Sea snails help scientists explore a possible way to enhance memory
Efforts to help people with learning impairments are being aided by a species of sea snail known as Aplysia californica. The mollusk, which is used by researchers to study the brain, has much in common with other species including humans. Research involving the snail has contributed to the understanding of learning and memory.

UN launches Decade of Biodiversity
The United Nations has launched the Decade on Biodiversity with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon encouraging humanity to live harmoniously with nature and to respectfully manage its assets for generations ahead. The General Assembly previously declared the period 2011-2020 as United Nations Decade on Biodiversity to promote the implementation of a strategic plan on biodiversity and its overall vision of living in harmony with nature.

Scientists test sick Alaska seals for radiation
Scientists in Alaska are investigating whether local seals are being sickened by radiation from Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear plant. Scores of ring seals have washed up on Alaska's Arctic coastline since July, suffering or killed by a mysterious disease marked by bleeding lesions on the hind flippers, irritated skin around the nose and eyes and patchy hair loss on the animals' fur coats. Biologists at first thought the seals were suffering from a virus, but they have so far been unable to identify one, and tests are now underway to find out if radiation is a factor.

Woman rolls stranded 5ft shark down beach and into sea
Jeanette Longley took the plunge when she saw a stranded shark on the beach at West Bay. She became soaked as she wrestled with the creature to drag it back into the sea after it was swept ashore near the seafront chalets. The 56-year-old rolled the 5ft fish down the shingle and was buffeted by waves as she made several attempts to pull it back out to safety. Coastguards said they understood why Jeannette tried to save the shark but warned people against taking risks. A spokesman urged people to call them in such situations as officers are specially trained and have such equipment as dry suits, life jackets and lines. A spokesman for the SeaLife Centre in Weymouth said it was unsure what type of fish it was.

That's it for 2011 - we will be back in 2012 with the next Marine News Roundup!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Marine News Roundup

I hope you enjoy this week's Marine News Roundup - leave a comment below and let me know what you think!

Life without light [video]
The latest blog from BBC Earth takes  a look into the diverse life forms that not only survive, but thrive in the darkest depths of our planet. Without sunlight, life on Earth would not exist. Every organism that has evolved on the surface of our planet has received energy either directly or indirectly from the sun. Even creatures that lie at the depths of our oceans and have never felt the sun’s rays, not only survive but can actually flourish thanks to solar energy. 120 kilometres off of the Californian coast at a depth of 1,250m a diverse ecosystem is thriving in the darkness. Rising up 2280 metres from the seafloor, the Davidson Seamount, an underwater mountain, is an ‘oasis in the deep’.

Thought to have formed between 9 and 15 million years ago from volcanic eruptions, the ancient seamount is home to some of the slowest growing communities in the ocean. For example Paragorgia arborea more commonly known as pink bubblegum coral, grows to over three metres in height and is over 100 years old. But how has this seamount managed to sustain more biodiversity with a higher species count than that of the neighbouring seafloor? Its elevated position creates complex current patterns which influences what can live there. The mountain provides a place for species, such as coral, to attach to it which in turn provide food and shelter for other species. Due to these unique conditions seamounts demonstrate a high degree of endemism. Much of the deep sea is fed by the "compost" or “marine snow” from the upper sunlit portions of the sea. As plants and animals at the surface die and decay, they fall toward the sea floor. This snow provides carbon and nitrogen to feed many of the scavengers in the deep sea; testament to the fact that the sun’s rays touch far beyond where they can be seen. But what happens when there are no nutrient-rich currents to feed from? No organic material falling down from above? Or when the extreme conditions make life almost impossible? Over the last 30 years, researchers have discovered deep sea-ecosystems that live independently of the sun’s energy. These communities survive by utilising chemical rather than solar energy. Deep-sea organisms such as mussels, shrimps and squat lobsters host methane fixing bacteria, which convert the chemical energy from methane bubbling out of the sea bed into nutrients.

In this remarkable video from BBC Earth’s Life series, David Attenborough shows us exactly how an assumed barren seabed, became an abundant source of food and life.

These extremophiles have found a way to survive by utilising the energy source which is most abundant to them, begging the question: If life has been found to flourish in even the darkest, saltiest, most inhospitable places where might we find it next? The search continues…

U.S., 3 other countries oppose commercial whaling
The United States, Australia, the Netherlands and New Zealand have voiced their opposition to commercial whaling, expressing disappointment about the recent departure of a Japanese whaling fleet for the Southern Ocean and denouncing any actions that imperil human life. In a joint statement, the governments of the four countries said they "jointly condemn any actions that imperil human life in the Southern Ocean," as they are "deeply concerned that confrontations in the Southern Ocean will eventually lead to injury or loss of life among protesters, many of whom are nationals of our countries, and whaling crews. We remain resolute in our opposition to commercial whaling, including so-called 'scientific whaling,' in particular in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary established by the International Whaling Commission, and are disappointed about the recent departure of the Japanese whaling fleet for the Southern Ocean," they added. Japan's whaling fleet has set sail for the country's annual hunt in Antarctica, with security beefed up amid international protests.

Damaged Florida Keys coral reefs make amazing recovery
A coral reef damaged when a boat ran aground in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in 2002 has made an encouraging recovery after a nearly decade-long restoration effort. Hundreds of groundings happen in the sanctuary each year, and conservationists are hoping that this reef-restoration and monitoring effort will help inform future endeavours.

Ribbon seals on track for Endangered Species Act listing, agency says
The National Marine Fisheries Service has renewed plans that may lead to a listing of the ribbon seals under the Endangered Species Act, bringing to three the number of ice-dependent seals in Alaska that could be protected by the act.

Rare sighting of humpback whale off Shetland
Crowds gathered to catch a rare glimpse of a humpback whale spotted off the coast of Shetland. The 50ft whale could be seen swimming within 200m of the shore of the south coast and are a rare sight off Shetland. The last to be spotted, in September 2010, became trapped in creel ropes, freeing itself just as a major operation was being organised.

Supermarket Seafood Survey 2011
The MCS supermarket survey is the benchmark for seafood sustainability in UK supermarkets. Consumers put their faith in supermarkets to source sustainable seafood, and their survey is putting that trust to the test. They sent supermarkets a questionnaire to assess and score them in four key areas: their policy, seafood sales, labelling and consumer information, and sustainability initiatives.
The results have revealed that some retailers are moving in the right direction towards sustainable sourcing, whilst others have made considerably less effort. Marks & Spencer and the Co-operative come out on top with a "Gold" medal standard, with Sainsbury’s and Waitrose picking up "Silver". None of the other major supermarkets reached a level that merited an award, and some refused to take part in the research at all.

Shock as retreat of Arctic sea ice releases deadly greenhouse gas
Dramatic and unprecedented plumes of methane – a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide – have been seen bubbling to the surface of the Arctic Ocean by scientists undertaking an extensive survey of the region.

Fish of 'Finding Nemo' Fame May Soon be Found No More
Pixar's wildly popular animated film 'Finding Nemo' gained near universal praise from fans and critics, earned numerous awards and accolades for its stars, and netted parent company Walt Disney Pictures over $860 million in box office revenue - the real losers, it turns out, are the real-life fish it portrayed. According to a new study which examined the extinction risk of the marine animals of 'Nemo' found that one in six species depicted in the film's animated aquatic setting run the risk of meeting a most un-Disney sort of end. Researchers from Simon Fraser University and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) report that while the health of Earth's ocean ecosystems are in decline, even the most charismatic, memorable marine species are feeling the pinch - and partially because they're popular. As species rise to public awareness through media, like the fish-rich 'Finding Nemo', it's often a boon to conservation efforts. But sometimes, say researchers, it has the opposite effect.

Elephant seal is back - after 18,000-mile jaunt at sea
Satellite tags have tracked a southern elephant seal nicknamed Jackson travelling for a whopping 18,000 miles (29,000 kilometres), the equivalent of going from New York to Sydney and back again. The Wildlife Conservation Society tracked the male seal from December 2010 until last month after conservationists with the group fitted Jackson with a small satellite transmitter on the beach of Admiralty Sound in Tierra del Fuego in southern Chile. The transmitter sends a signal every time the animal surfaces to breathe. Jackson then swam 1,000 miles (1,610 km) north, 400 miles (644 km) west, and 100 miles (160 km) south from the original tagging location, meandering through fjords and venturing past the continental shelf as he foraged for fish and squid. WCS reports that Jackson has returned to Admiralty Sound, the site of the original tagging. Each year, elephant seals haul ashore in colonies to molt and find mates. The satellite transmitter is expected to work until early next year, when it will eventually fall off.

Japanese Whalers Sue Sea Shepherd Activists
Whaling authorities of Japan are taking new measures to combat the militant U.S. environmentalist anti-whaling group, Sea Shepherd - they are taking the group to court.  The Institute of Cetacean Research, along with masters of whaling vessels, have filed suit against the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and their leader, Paul Watson, in an attempt to stop the sometimes violent interference in Japan’s annual whale hunt. This is the first time Japan has pursued legal action against anti-whaling campaigners. The Institute and Kyodo Senpaku, ship-owner, are seeking to obtain court orders from a District Court in Seattle, Washington, that would prevent the Sea Shepherd from engaging in all activities at sea that can cause harm to the crew, and vessels of whaling operations.

Moray Eels Grab Prey With "Alien" Jaws
Much like the fearsome star of the Alien movies, moray eels have a second set of toothed jaws that drag prey into their throats, a new study has found. In a series of experiments, scientists at the University of California, Davis, recently discovered that moray eels possess an extremely mobile set of jaws in their throat that they can project forward into their mouth to aid in feeding. However, unlike the fictitious alien's second mandible, which it menacingly extended toward its prey, the eel's jaws are much more practical.

Acidic oceans threaten fish
Ocean acidification - caused by climate change - looks likely to damage crucial fish stocks. Two studies published today in Nature Climate Change reveal that high carbon dioxide concentrations can cause death and organ damage in very young fish. The work challenges the belief that fish, unlike organisms with shells or exoskeletons made of calcium carbonate, will be safe as marine CO2 levels rise.

Santa Claws! Winter white albino lobster is catch of the day in Dorset
A pure white albino lobster has been caught off the coast of Dorset. The snow-coloured beast was pulled from the sea by a fisherman who couldn't bring himself to eat it and instead handed it to an aquarium. Santa Claws - as he's been named - is now at home at the Sea Life centre in Weymouth, Dorset, where he has turned into a popular attraction. Santa is a one-in-a-million find and has been fortunate to be able to survive into adulthood. He was discovered in a lobster pot and is thought to be about 30-years-old.

Jellyfish swarm shuts down St. Lucie nuclear power plant
A massive influx of jellyfish shut down the St. Lucie nuclear power plant in late August, but it is only now that nuclear regulators, wildlife officials and marine researchers are learning that the event also killed several tons of protected goliath grouper. Jellyfish invasions of this magnitude are rare. Biologists at the plant could recall only three other similar events in the past 30 years.

Tsunami fund 'used for whaling'
Japan has used funds from its tsunami recovery budget to subsidise its controversial annual whaling programme, environmental activists say. Greenpeace says 2.3bn yen ($30m; £19m) from a budget of 12.1 trillion yen is being used to fund extra security. Japanese officials argued when they applied for extra funding that whaling helped coastal communities. The whaling fleet reportedly headed for Antarctic waters this week, though Tokyo has not confirmed the reports. There has been a ban on commercial whaling for 25 years, but Japan catches about 1,000 whales each year in what it says is a scientific research programme.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Great News for Sharks

From Project AWARE:

Your Shark Protection Efforts are Making a Difference!

Two important steps for sharks have been taken in the past week as a result of all your hard work, spreading the word, shouting for sharks and petition signing!

On November 22nd, the European Commission announced the long awaited proposal for closing the loopholes in the European Union’s ban on shark finning. And the European Union has become a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for Sharks.

These are important steps forward in Project AWARE’s work to protect threatened and vulnerable shark species. To learn more you can check out the full stories at:

Big Day in European Shark Conservation
Sharks Given a Fighting Chance as EU Inches Toward Closing Loopholes

European fishing fleets play a major role in shark fishing worldwide with a number of loopholes in legislation which have long threatened sharks not just in European waters but globally too. Project AWARE have been battling this issue for the past few years and you’ve made your voice heard to help them get there. Thank you!

In 2012, they’ll be pushing EU Member States to agree to the proposal for a strong, loophole-free EU finning ban. And they’ll be pushing harder for their goal to protect vulnerable shark species from trade under the Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) at the next CITES meeting in Thailand in 2013. There’s much to be done between now and then.

For now, thank you for supporting shark protection alongside Project AWARE.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Marine News Roundup

Welcome to this week's Marine News Roundup. We hope you enjoy these marine-related stories - leave us a comment below and let us know what you think!

Arctic sea ice [Infographic]
Facts, numbers, data, letters on a page; they're not always so easy to understand. Over the past few years data visualisation has become increasingly popular; it's a way to help explain complex data. Here, BBC Earth demonstrate two alternative ways to show how the extent of Arctic sea ice has changed over the past 20 years.

Eating fish reduces risk of Alzheimer's disease
People who eat baked or broiled fish on a weekly basis may be improving their brain health and reducing their risk of developing mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and Alzheimer's disease, according to a study presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

How Sharks Go Fast
Researchers have discovered what makes the shark almost impossible to outswim. By using an engineering imaging technique, researchers have discovered that as a shark’s tail swings from side to side, it creates twice as many jets of water as other fishes’ tails, smoothing out the thrust and likely making swimming more efficient. Sharks do this by stiffening the tail midswing, a strategy that might one day be applied to underwater vehicles to improve their performance.

Turtle embryos tune in to heartbeats
Turtle embryos tune into each others' heartbeats so they are able to hatch at roughly the same time, say Australian researchers.

Marine reserves get public support
More than 50,000 people are calling on the government today to create a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) for wildlife.

New facilities around the Island  of Man for marine wildlife enthusiasts
Wildlife enthusiasts are to be given access to binoculars and information panels to identify their favourite marine animals and birds at a number of vantage points around the Isle of Man. The project, which involves five different sites around the coastline, has been planned for some time but has now been given a kickstart with a donation from Barclays Wealth.

Sustainable Seafood Coalition
Major seafood businesses who are frustrated with the lack of progress to overturn the practice of discarding edible fish at sea have joined the Sustainable Seafood Coalition. Sustainable Seafood Coalition members have voluntarily decided to sell seafood that is currently underutilised or discarded and to encourage consumers to eat a wider variety of sustainable seafood.

'Monogamy' and 'pair bonding' practiced among certain fish species
Recent research on the mating behaviour of fish has proved that certain species practice the "one husband one wife" rule even when in a school, researchers have recently announced.

Stop badmouthing sharks that bite people
The phrase "shark attack" is sensationalist and damaging – bites by sharks are often investigatory or defensive.  To suggest that shark-on-human encounters should be called predations would be wrong. The way sharks encounter seals is fundamentally different from how they treat humans. The time is right for science to reconsider its use of the phrase "shark attack" on humans. Such language creates a one-dimensional perception of these events and makes protecting threatened shark species more difficult. After all, why care about an animal that wants to eat us?

Killer whale washes up on Point Reyes beach
Wildlife officials are trying to determine the cause of death of a killer whale that washed ashore on a Point Reyes beach. The orca was a male juvenile, about 18 feet long, that had washed up in an isolated area along Driftwood Beach, just north of McClure's Beach. Early necropsy results indicated blood in the blowhole and a blood clot in the head. No determination as to cause of death has been made yet.

Albino ginger seal rejected by family now star attraction at Russian zoo
An albino seal that was rejected by his family for 'being ginger' has become a huge hit with tourists at her new home in Russia.

We're Running Out Of Cod
Cod has played a central role in the cultural history and economic development of New England fishing communities for more than 400 years. In recent decades, however, the story of the humble cod has shifted to one of destruction. Modernised technologies and more efficient fishing methods along with increased competition and toothless regulations have guided the cod industry to the brink of collapse.

Early Humans Were Skilled Deep-Sea Fishermen
Prehistoric humans living more than 40,000 years ago had mastered the skills needed to catch fast-moving, deep ocean fish such as tuna, a remarkable new archaeological find has revealed.

Hong Kong's shark fin traders feel pressure to change
The owner of Shark's Fin City, a dried fin wholesaler in Hong Kong's quarter for all things shrivelled, says there are only a few people who know the truth about sharks, and he's one of them. Like many Hong Kong businessmen who trade in shark fins, Kwong Hung-kwan believes his industry is being targeted by an anti-Chinese conspiracy led by "Western" environmental groups like Greenpeace. Talk of a dramatic decline in shark populations around the world is rubbish, he says, dismissing research showing an eight-fold jump in threatened shark species since 2000.

Seal pup rescued after sheltering in oil boat
A two-week-old grey seal pup returned to the oil supply boat after he was put back in the sea. The pup is being treated at the Highland Seal Hospital near John O'Groats after surviving a marathon 100-mile journey. Named Viking, he was rescued after crew on the Subsea Viking found him sheltering on the boat, 120 miles north-west of Shetland, last week. The seal, which still had his fluffy yellow coat grey seals are born with, had clambered aboard and made himself at home on the platform used to launch remote-controlled vehicles.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Marine News Roundup

Welcome to the Marine News Roundup. We hope you enjoy the fortnight's highlights - please feel free to comment below and let us know what you think!

Survival against all odds: Animals of the Arctic
Adaptation is fundamental for a species to survive, especially in hostile environments like the Arctic. When faced with six months of perpetual darkness where snow and ice lays claim to every inch of the land. What kind of extraordinary animals survive in such harsh terrain, and more importantly, how do they do it? During winter in the Arctic, temperatures can drop to a bone-chilling −50°C (−58 °F). Rather than going into hibernation however, some animals will stick out the winter and use their cold-conquering adaptations to survive. This BBC Earth blog takes a look at the Arctic Fox, and the Walrus - a master at retaining body heat.

Walrus are covered with short coarse hair that becomes less dense as they get older. Their skin which is folded and wrinkled can be up to 4 cm thick serving as a great insulator. This tough skin is the thickest on the neck and shoulders of adult males where it also serves as a defensive purpose – when these bulls spar the thick skin is intended to resist tusk penetration. They have a deposit of fatty tissue that is up to an astounding 15 centimetres (6 inches) thick - in winter it may make up to a third of their body mass. As well as being an excellent insulator it also streamlines the body and is used as an energy reserve. Their outer defences serve as a pretty hardy armoury but even this thickest of ‘winter coats’ is not sufficient when diving to depths of over 180 meters for nearly half an hour at a time, so the walrus has another trick up its sleeve. When they enter the cold arctic water they become paler because they have a mechanism that restricts blood flow to the skin in order to reduce heat loss. Conversely, when walruses are warm their skin is flushed with blood and they appear to be very red. The adaptations that allow animals to live in such a hostile environment are incredible; join us again when we check out some even more incredible adaptations – those of the animals who inhabit the coldest place on earth, the Antarctic.

BBC... How we tell intimate stories

Our world may be very big, but sometimes it is the smallest stories that teach us the most. BBC Earth brings you three incredible videos where an innovative use of technology has captured the true magic of nature. Click the link above the view all three videos.

Developing technology to capture the minuscule and the marvelous is one thing, but what happens when what you’re trying to film is located underneath eight feet of solid ice? Producer Neil Lucas gives us an insight into the incredibly rewarding, but painstaking task of filming in these challenging conditions.

Armed with a passion for the natural world and the desire to communicate its incredible stories, BBC Earth filmmakers will continue to surprise and delight us for years to come.

Experts save dolphin from fishing line entanglement
Animal experts this week have successfully removed tangled fishing line from a dolphin calf off the coast of St. Petersburg, according to NOAA. The calf and its mother were first spotted in late July, but were not seen again until late October. The calf was entangled in fishing line that was cutting deeply into its mouth and dorsal fin. The calf was successfully located this week during the first rescue attempt, within a quarter mile of the Veteran's Park boat ramp just after sunrise. The calf was restrained and it was discovered that the line was running through the calf's mouth, cutting into its jaw, wrapping around its right flipper and cutting several inches into the dorsal fin. Once the line was removed, the calf was given an antibiotic and released.

Fury as minister delays marine protection
The government has been accused of failing the environment after announcing delays to the creation of marine reserves. Conservation groups responded angrily to the announcement by environment minister Richard Benyon that the internationally agreed deadline for creating marine protected areas will be missed. They accused the government of changing the rules at the last minute on how valuable marine habitats should be identified to protect them from destruction by vested interests. In his statement Mr Benyon said that the government wanted more evidence gathered before it made a decision on which locations, and the wildlife in them, should get priority for protection. But conservation groups quickly pointed out that the government had, from the outset of the process of identifying where a network of marine reserves should be created, accepted there was a shortage of detailed scientific evidence of what lies beneath the waves and that suggestions should be assessed on the basis of “the best available evidence”. The fear is that when there is a lack of evidence about a location, vested interests such as fishing, aggregates, oil & gas, and renewable energy schemes, will be allowed to exploit the area when in reality they harbour rare or valuable animal communities. The demand for more evidence means the first marine conservation zones, as part of the Marine and Coastal Access Act, will not be in place until at least 2013. It also means that just a fraction of those initially promised form the first tranche.

WWF: Ban bluefin farming
WWF has released a new study showing current fishing capacity doubling bluefin tuna quotas in the East Atlantic and Mediterranean and points to the need to strengthen the current capacity reduction plan. In addition, WWF urges the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) this year to ban bluefin tuna farming. WWF says it will focus on assessing implementation of the current bluefin tuna recovery plan. In addition the Mediterranean swordfish will be high on the agenda. WWF urges ICCAT to adopt a management plan for this species, the first one ever. Although efforts have been made in the last few years, new reports suggest that IUU fishing remains widespread in the Mediterranean, particularly in Libyan waters but also in Italy. The new WWF study on the fishing capacity of the Mediterranean bluefin tuna fishery points out that huge overcapacity is still prevalent. In the period 2008-2010 estimates of potential annual catches amount to between 31,500-34,000 tonnes, considerably higher than the current TAC, leaving ample room for IUU fishing. According to WWF, sustainable management of the bluefin tuna fishery still needs to be achieved and IUU must be fully eradicated. In particular WWF urges ICCAT to ban fishing in Libyan waters and to turn this area into a BFT Sanctuary. Regarding tuna farming, WWF says a recent scientific study submitted to ICCAT Scientific Committee (SCRS) this year shows that biomass growth in farms is typically much lower than that reported by the farming industry (only 20-30%, compared to given values of over 100%), which raises concern over the potential for laundering bluefin tuna catches in Mediterranean farms. Full traceability in farms continues to be impossible as there is no way to know how much tuna is transferred to the farms. WWF urges ICCAT to ban bluefin tuna farming and to adopt an electronic catch documentation system (BCD) to allow for real time traceability. On swordfish, WWF calls on ICCAT to adopt a science-based recovery plan this year including a mandatory capacity reduction multi-annual plan.

Endangered Sea Turtles Threatened by Delay in Federal Help
San Francisco's federal government missed a court-ordered deadline today to protect habitat for endangered leatherback sea turtles off the U.S. West Coast. Instead of publishing its final rule to protect the turtles, the National Marine Fisheries Service sought a delay from federal court, leaving the increasingly rare leatherbacks vulnerable to threats from fishing, new coastal development, offshore energy and aquaculture. Oceana, TIRN and the Center for Biological Diversity have asked the court to deny this latest attempt by the Fisheries Service to delay protections for the ancient turtles. The request comes after years of repeatedly missed deadlines, lawsuits and a settlement agreement that already gave the Fisheries Service nearly an additional year (until November 15th 2011) to finalize overdue critical habitat protections for the imperiled animals. In order to survive, leatherbacks need safe passage from nesting beaches 6,000 miles away in remote Indonesia to feeding hotspots in Pacific Ocean waters off California, Oregon and Washington. Protection of the key migratory corridors and feeding areas in these waters were elements of the critical habitat designation. Once established, habitat protection could limit activities that harm the leatherbacks’ main prey, jellyfish, or impede their migratory path. The largest of all sea turtles, leatherbacks can grow to be up to nine feet long and weigh up to 1,200 pounds. Pacific leatherback sea turtles have declined more than 95% since the 1980s; as few as 2,300 adult female western Pacific leatherbacks remain. The species has survived for 100 million years virtually unchanged; now it risks disappearing.

Migrating whale numbers hit 50-year high
There has been a rise in the number of migrating whales. They travel on a 5,000km (3,100 miles) round trip to give birth off the coast of Australia before heading back to Antarctica to their main feeding grounds. It is the highest number seen in half a century. Duncan Kennedy reports from Sydney is this BBC video.

Less than 1% of sharks caught in the Atlantic are protected
Only a tiny fraction of sharks caught in the Atlantic – less than 1% – are under protection, even though most shark species are heading towards extinction. Officials from 48 Atlantic fishing countries are meeting in Istanbul this week to try to protect bluefin tuna, swordfish and other large fish. But existing conservation efforts are only saving a tiny proportion of sharks, the report from the Oceana conservation group said. Conservation groups at the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (Iccat) meeting are pushing for a ban on the catch of porbeagle and silky sharks – which are at extreme risk – as well as catch limits on other species such as the shortfin mako shark. Three quarters of the wide ranging shark now being caught in the Atlantic are under threat, the report said. But Iccat countries to date have only limited protection for specific shark species such as the bigeye thresher, hammerhead and oceanic whitetip sharks. There are no limits on the fishing of 15 Atlantic shark species even though some – such as the silky shark – are close to extinction. Conservationist groups hope the Istanbul meeting will build on recent momentum on shark conservation. But it is a race against time. Sharks were not built for reproduction. They can take take years to reach sexual maturity, and produce only a few pups. And highly mobile animals are notoriously difficult to protect. Atlantic fishing countries reported catching more than 68,000 tonnes of shark in 2009, or more than 1.3 million animals. Most were caught inadvertently by vessels targeting tuna and other fish. Populations of some species, such as the porbeagle, which are caught for their meat as well as their fins, have fallen by 99% since the middle of the last century. Scientists estimate it could take up to 34 years for populations to recover – even with the new EU protections. Fishing of porbeagle sharks continue in Canadian waters. Three other shark species are also at high risk: silky sharks, shortfin mako, and blue sharks, the report said.

New underwater model to assess noise impact on marine life
HR Wallingford, the international hydraulic and environmental engineering consultancy, has formed a partnership with Loughborough University to develop a new underwater acoustic propagation and noise-impact model. Designed to work with proven HR Wallingford ecological models, the new model is an important first step in assessing the impact of underwater noise on fish and sea mammal behaviour. It can be applied in marine renewable energy, oil and gas extraction, dredging and other settings. The significant noise generated by marine construction and operation, and its possible effects on marine life, have come under increased scrutiny worldwide. Where activities take place in and near sensitive marine areas, there is particular concern. Within the European Union, sound is now a recognised pollutant at both project and regional seas levels. In the UK, construction has started of ‘Round 3’ windfarms, some of the largest to be built in British waters, and there is an urgent need to understand their impact on marine life. The model uses temporally and spatially varying parameters such as tidal water depth, flow velocity, salinity, temperature and bathymetry from HR Wallingford’s hydrodynamic model simulations. Modelled noise amplitude and frequency are used as inputs, or ‘behavioural cues’. These are then inputted into HR Wallingford’s established and successful dynamic ecological response models, enabling users to assess marine-species responses to human disturbances.

Untangling Grassholm's gannets
Close to forty thousand gannets spend the breeding season on Grassholm each year, making it a raucus, bustling seabird haven. Most of the birds leave in Autumn, but a few stragglers remain. Sadly, some of these remain because they are tethered to the ground by plastic line, strapping bands, nets, and other materials which the birds use for their nests. MCS Communications Manager, Richard Harrington, and Litter Policy Officer, Dr Sue Kinsey, spent the day with Grassholm's RSPB wardens. They saw the entrapment first hand, and helped free some of the ensnared birds. Most trapped birds we found were ensnared by one or both legs. The material would have wound itself many times around as the bird struggled to free itself, giving no chance of escape. It was satisfying to cut this from an otherwise healthy bird, and especially so when one or two of these immediately flew out to sea. Of the other survivors, wings would be snagged and sometimes broken, or bills and necks wrapped in a tight loop of line; these could be freed, but not always saved. Some carcasses on the ground showed signs of having swallowed quantities of line and fabric. In total, twenty seven birds were freed, each with a better chance of survival than before. This was an improvement on the previous year, when more than a hundred chicks had needed assistance. The sheer volume of plastic material on view is striking, but warden Greg Morgan explained that it just isn’t practical to remove it, and would ruin the fabric of the nest sites to do so. He has taken sample sections from a nest, finding decades-worth of accumulation put together by generations of gannets. Anything resembling a colourful bit of seaweed has been used. Balloon ribbons and attachments are commonplace, and lengths of pipe (a little like kelp stipes) stand proud of the floor. They will be there for many generations to come. The birds freed represent only a tiny fraction of the site’s breeding population and so, despite the obvious suffering, it can’t be considered a threat to the species’ continued existence here. It does, however, serve as a graphic reminder of just why MCS needs to keep up the anti-litter message, and to seek to find ways to reduce the sheer volume of waste entering the sea.

Crane lift for eel as 'love congers all' in Macduff
A 6ft conger eel has been released into the wild so he can find love after a lifting operation involving a crane. The conger eel, called Rip, left Macduff Marine Aquarium in Aberdeenshire to swim to the Atlantic. Staff said he had become restless, a typical sign that the time had come for a 2,000-mile migration. The eels are known to congregate in deep water, where they spawn before dying. Operation Rip Tide was carried out on Monday afternoon. Rip has been at the aquarium since 2004. A large bag was used to catch the conger eel and a crane was used to hoist him out, lowering him into sea, where divers opened the bag. Claire Matthews, the aquarium manager, said: "We hope Rip makes it to the Azores, but of course the sad part of the story is that he will die after it all - but at least he'll be happy." In 2001, Chippie the conger eel was released at the aquarium for the same journey in Operation Amour.

Volcano Near El Hierro, Canary Islands Releases Toxic Gases
An underwater volcano near El Hierro in the Canary Islands has begun erupting near the shore, reports Reuters. The eruptions may be spectacular, but officials have also noticed that the volcano is spewing toxic gases into the air around the island. After a worker studying the volcano became ill, several of the island's beaches were closed. In the video, a local explains that the volcano is also making the island's cats act strangely and eat dead fish. The volcano, which is just over 200 feet from the surface, began erupting a week ago and is shooting magma 65 feet into the air. The eruption is the first in the Canaries since 1971 and locals are already speculating that it may create a new island. Despite the beach closures and dead fish near the island, the island's human population is safe.

22 sperm whales die in Australia
Rescuers are racing against the clock to save two huge sperm whales stranded on a Tasmanian sandbank after 22 others died, the Parks and Wildlife Service says. Marine mammal specialists were on site in Macquarie Harbour at Strahan on Tasmania's northwest coast, but it was proving to be a slow process. Twenty-two of the whales weighing two tonnes and up to 12-metres- (40-feet-) long washed ashore on Saturday at Ocean Beach near Strahan and all of them died. Four others came into the harbour and stranded themselves on a sandbank. Two were successfully refloated and swam back out to sea but two remained stuck. Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife incident controller Chris Arthur said sperm whales were so big they could not simply be pulled into deeper water by volunteers. Conditions were worsening with high winds and seas hampering efforts, but Arthur expressed confidence after seven sperm whales were saved in a similar stranding in the harbour in 2007. Whale beachings are relatively common in Australia, and they usually occur in the summer months around December around Tasmania.

Sea Levels to Continue to Rise for 500 Years? Long-Term Climate Calculations Suggest So
Rising sea levels in the coming centuries is perhaps one of the most catastrophic consequences of rising temperatures. Massive economic costs, social consequences and forced migrations could result from global warming. But how frightening of times are we facing? Researchers from the Niels Bohr Institute are part of a team that has calculated the long-term outlook for rising sea levels in relation to the emission of greenhouse gases and pollution of the atmosphere using climate models. The results have been published in the scientific journal Global and Planetary Change. "Based on the current situation we have projected changes in sea level 500 years into the future. We are not looking at what is happening with the climate, but are focusing exclusively on sea levels," explains Aslak Grinsted, a researcher at the Centre for Ice and Climate, the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen. He has developed a model in collaboration with researchers from England and China that is based on what happens with the emission of greenhouse gases and aerosols and the pollution of the atmosphere. Their model has been adjusted backwards to the actual measurements and was then used to predict the outlook for rising sea levels. The research group has made calculations for four scenarios: a pessimistic one, an optimistic one, and two more realistic ones. In the pessimistic scenario, emissions continue to increase. This will mean that sea levels will rise 1.1 meters by the year 2100 and will have risen 5.5 meters by the year 2500. Even in the most optimistic scenario, which requires extremely dramatic climate change goals, major technological advances and strong international cooperation to stop emitting greenhouse gases and polluting the atmosphere, the sea would continue to rise. By the year 2100 it will have risen by 60 cm and by the year 2500 the rise in sea level will be 1.8 meters. For the two more realistic scenarios, calculated based on the emissions and pollution stabilizing, the results show that there will be a sea level rise of about 75 cm by the year 2100 and that by the year 2500 the sea will have risen by 2 meters.

Whale is freed from fishing nets off Dunbar
A 40ft-long whale has been successfully freed from fishing gear off the coast of East Lothian. The humpback was reported trapped in a boat's nets on Tuesday. It escaped but was then trapped again in a line of creels off the Dunbar coast. The whale had suffered serious injuries to its back and dorsal fin but experts believe it will make a full recovery. A team from the British Divers Marine Life Rescue was helped by Dunbar Lifeboat.

That's all for this edition of the Marine News Roundup - there will be another in two week's time.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Save Our Marine Conservation Zones!

From Devon Wildlife Trust:

Urgent - help us stop the back tracking!

An alarming new threat is facing England’s seas. Over the past two years Devon Wildlife Trust has worked with a whole range of groups including fishermen, divers and recreational boat users to agree on areas of our seas that need protection.

Nationally 127 areas - Marine Conservation Zones - have been identified that are absolute musts. These include the north Devon coast and Torbay seagrass beds. In a last minute change of heart the Government is threatening to pull out of three quarters of these havens. We must not let this happen.

Devon Wildlife Trust is telling the Minister for the Natural Environment and Fisheries Richard Benyon that we care about our seas and that all 127 Marine Conservation Zones are urgently needed. This is the best opportunity in a generation to protect the wildlife of our seas. Will you help us by adding your voice today? Click on the link below to help:

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Marine News Roundup

Here is the latest Marine News Roundup, bringing you the best marine news stories of the past two weeks!

A world of sonic wonder
An insightful piece by BBC Earth about the sonic wonders, or rather ‘phenomenon,’ of our planet. From a mighty clap of thunder to the subtle rustling of leaves, everywhere we go it feels as though we are immersed in sound. BBC Earth decided to hunt down some of the planet’s lesser known sonic wonders, including speaking sands, stirring ice and mysterious seas.

Stirring Ice:
The ferocious noise made by popping or cracking ice maybe a worrying sound to the lay ear - particularly if you are stood on top of it at the time. However to researchers working in the field of climate science the groaning of the polar landscapes is music to their ears. Scientists have started to record the sound that the ice makes as it recedes, using hydrophones to measure the amount of glacial melting. Mapping the sea floor using sonar is not a new phenomenon but in this new application instead of sending pulses of sound to the sea floor and timing their return, glaciologists just simply listen. Looking at the interface between ice, ocean, and bedrock it may be possible to use acoustics to measure the glacial melt.

Mysterious Seas:
The familiar sounds of the sea are captured in the incredible soundtracks of natural history documentaries as well as inside seashells when they are held up to our ears. The sound transports us to the blue planet that covers over 70 percent of the Earth’s surface. In the summer of 1997, a number of hydrophones in the Equatorial Pacific Ocean picked up a bizarre new sound phenomenon. The underwater microphones picked up a signal that rose rapidly in frequency for about a minute before disappearing. The sound was picked up repeatedly by US government microphones for the duration of that summer but has not been heard since. It became known as ‘The Bloop’ and was detected by sensors over a range of 5,000 kilometres. Initial tracking suggested that the sound profile of ‘The Bloop’ was comparable to that of a living animal. However it was far louder than any whale song ever recorded. The mystery remains just a drop in the ocean of the hundreds of mysterious sounds that make our planet a sonic wonder.

Life Is Scary
BBC Earth produced a wonderful video for Halloween this year, including some stunning underwater shots of some scary marine life. Enjoy!

Tracking long-distance migration to assess marine pollution impact
Animal tracking provides new means to assess far-reaching environmental impacts. In the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, a long-distance migrant, the northern gannet (Morus bassanus) suffered the highest oiling among beach-wrecked birds recovered. Analysis of bird-borne tracking data indicated that 25% of their North American population from multiple colonies in eastern Canada migrated to the pollution zone. Findings contrasted sharply with available mark-recapture (band recovery) data. The timing of movement into and out of the Gulf indicates that immature birds would have absorbed most oil-induced mortality. Consequently, one of two outcomes is likely: either a lagged (likely difficult to assess) population decrease, or an undetectable population response buffered by age-related life-history adaptations. Tracking research is especially useful when little information on animal distributions in pollution zones is available, as is the case in the Gulf of Mexico. Ongoing research highlights current risks and conservation concerns.

Ohio zoo to release Florida manatee after rehab
The Cincinnati Zoo plans to return a manatee to the wild as part of a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service rescue and release program. A 978-pound Florida manatee named Illusion arrived at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden about a year ago and will be returned on November 9th. She'll remain on exhibit until November 8th. The manatee suffered fractured ribs and vertebrae in March 2010 when a boat propeller cut through it in Palm Beach County. It was taken to the Cincinnati Zoo by the Miami Seaquarium. The zoo says the manatee is the eighth it has rehabilitated and released. There are no scheduled release dates for Illusion's roommates, Wooten and Betsy. Manatees can live up to 60 years, but human activities account for about one-third of known deaths annually.

Whirlwind Whales
They’re rarely seen. Even less often photographed. Bryde’s whales rocket through Pacific shallows to gorge on fish. Here, National Geographic showcase some stunning photographs of these beautiful whales.

Giant Amoebas Discovered in Deepest Ocean Trench
During a July 2011 voyage to the Pacific Ocean chasm, researchers with Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego and National Geographic engineers deployed untethered landers, called dropcams, equipped with digital video and lights to explore the largely mysterious region of the deep sea. The team documented the deepest known existence of xenophyophores, single-celled animals exclusively found in deep-sea environments. Xenophyophores are noteworthy for their size, with individual cells often exceeding 4 inches (10 centimeters), their extreme abundance on the seafloor and their role as hosts for a variety of organisms.

Monster shark found off Bar Beach
The body of a four meter-long great white shark was discovered in shark netting on Newcastle's Bar Beach yesterday morning. The creature was initially towed to the Newcastle Fisherman's Co-Op due to an inability to lift the remains from the water with a commercial vessel. Now, the shark's carcass is now being held at the Port Stephens Fisheries Research Centre, where it will be "analysed as part scientific research purposes". Representatives for the centre said that the shark netting acts as important preventative device. "The nets are not set as a barrier, but rather as a technique that deters dangerous sharks from establishing a territory and reduces the risk to swimmers," said a spokesperson. "This program is very successful."

A peer-reviewed study commissioned by NOAA shows the American people assign an estimated total economic value of $33.57 billion for the coral reefs of the main Hawaiian Islands. The study shows that people from across the United States treasure Hawaii's coral reefs, even though many never get to visit them. It illustrates the economic value of coral reefs to all Americans, and how important it is to conserve these ecosystems for future generations.

The threat to the marine life is growing past the danger mark as a latest research says that the seaweed communities are being killed due to constantly warming oceanic climate. The seaweed is crucial for the existence of many marine species. Given future warming, up to one quarter of species might become extinct, said Thomas Wernberg, assistant professor at the University of Western Australia Oceans Institute, who conducted the study. The researchers studied a database of more than 20,000 herbarium records of macro-algae collected in Australia since the 1940s. They found changes in seaweed communities in both the Indian and the Pacific oceans, consistent with rapid warming over the past decades.

Cullercoats lifeboat launched on Wednesday 26 October to save the life of a 12 year old boy who had been swept into the sea in Brown's Bay, Cullercoats. The conditions were so rough that the child was exhausted in a very few minutes - the prompt call by his friends to the Coastguard for assistance helped save his life. Sea conditions produced a 4m swell, which meant that the boy was unable to help himself. Cullercoats lifeboat crew (Robert Oliver, Grahame Wood and Stephen Potts) launched at 3.58pm. They raced in their inshore lifeboat Hylton Burdon to the scene and plucked the exhausted, hypothermic youngster from the sea while he was in the last stages of consciousness in the extremely cold water. Returning to the lifeboat station in Cullercoats Bay, the boywas given oxygen and warmed up while waiting for the Air Sea Rescue helicopter from RAF Boulmer. He was flown to Wansbeck Hospital in Ashington for further treatment. Later reports indicated that he is recovering from his ordeal.

Fish from European waters will be distributed to the poor as an alternative to throwing them away at sea, the EU fisheries chief told MPs on Thursday, as part of a sweeping reform of marine policy. Maria Damanaki, the European commissioner for fisheries, said that as part of a proposed new deal with fishermen aimed at ending the wasteful practice of discarding edible fish at sea, lower value fish could be distributed to charities and other public organisations. Appearing before the House of Commons select committee on environment, food and rural affairs, she said: "We can use these for charitable purposes, [though] we will have to give fishermen compensation if they give fish to the poor." Damanaki is seeking the most wide-ranging reform of the EU's common fisheries policy since it was formulated more than four decades ago. Key to the reforms will be an end to the practice of discards, by which as much as two-thirds of the catch of some species are abandoned at sea, almost all of them to die. About 1m tonnes are estimated to be thrown back each year into the North Sea alone. Discards are a byproduct of the rules on fishing quotas – when fishermen exceed their allowance, or net species for which they lack a quota, they must throw the excess back. But the commissioner faces stiff opposition from fishing groups and some member states, because forcing fishermen to land all their catch will mean lower incomes. Current practices allow fleets to discard damaged fish, or lower value species, for which they receive less money, in order to maximise their profits.

NOAA finds bacterial infection as cause of death for five northern Gulf dolphins; investigation continues
Pathology experts contracted by NOAA have identified the bacteria Brucella in five bottlenose dolphins that died in the northern Gulf of Mexico. These five are among the 580 dolphins in higher than expected strandings that began in February 2010 and are continuing. NOAA has declared it an “unusual mortality event,” triggering a focused, expert investigation into the cause. Brucella bacteria are commonly found in populations of marine and terrestrial animals throughout the world, but infection in humans is rare in the US, and there are no documented U.S. cases of Brucella in humans originating from marine sources.

Underwater carving competition yields no ordinary pumpkins
On Saturday 29th October, more than 40 divers participated in the third annual Underwater Pumpkin Carving Contest at the Grand Lagoon Yacht Club in Pensacola. MBT Divers and the Grand Lagoon Yacht Club hosted the event, which included more than 25 students from the University of West Florida SCUBA Club. Participants braved the chilly morning wind and slipped into their wet suits and scuba gear as dolphins frolicked about 20 yards away. Divers in teams of two waded into the nippy water with pumpkins and various carving tools in hand and took to the difficult task of underwater carving. The event was as much a spectator sport as it was a dive event: more than 30 people watched from the nearby dock, which provided the perfect viewing spot as divers disappeared underwater with their bright orange pumpkins. Within minutes, the water's surface was dotted with hundreds of pumpkin seeds and entrails - which the gulls and small fish were only too happy to eat.

Killed Trainer's Family Gets Help in OSHA Suit
SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment can intervene in a lawsuit that would shield pictures and videos of a whale trainer being drowned by an orca last year, a federal judge ruled. The video and photographs show animal trainer Dawn Brancheau being dragged by her hair and drowned by Tilikum, a 20-foot-long male orca at SeaWorld's Shamu Stadium in Orlando. Brancheau was killed during a February 24th 2010, "Dine With Shamu" show. Witnesses eating dinner near a subterranean viewing tank said they saw Tilikum playing with the corpse. The US Secretary of Labor and Occupational Safety and Health Administration released at least one video of the drowning to the media. OSHA also has photos taken immediately after the incident showing Dawn's personal effects and clothing, and two surveillance videos showing her death and rescue efforts. The sheriff's office and medical examiner who investigated the death agreed to keep the materials confidential. Apart from using the materials against SeaWorld, which it fined $75,000 for violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, the government is not seeking to release the video. But Brancheau's family has fought to make sure that those with access to the videos never have the chance to release them.

Bangladesh dolphins get Sundarbans sanctuaries
Bangladesh is declaring three areas in the southern Sundarbans mangrove forest as dolphin sanctuaries to protect freshwater dolphins, officials say. Conservationists say the mangrove forest is the only place in the world where the Ganges river dolphins and Irrawaddy dolphins are found. These dolphins are among the world's most endangered mammals. Fishermen normally do not target them, but the animals get entangled in fishing nets and drown. They are also threatened by rising salinity levels and pollution. Environmentalists say the diverse aquatic ecosystem of the Sundarbans support an impressive variety of cetaceans - whales, dolphins and porpoises. While Ganges river dolphins find safe haven in the upper regions of Sundarbans, Irrawaddy dolphins thrive in the southern parts, which are closer to the Bay of Bengal. The decision by the forest department coincided with a new survey by the BCDP which, apart from freshwater dolphins, also reported sightings of the finless porpoises and an Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin in western Sundarbans. These two cetacean species, which are normally found along the coast, migrate upriver in Sundarbans mostly during winter, when the salinity level is high. They go back after fresh water starts flowing into the rivers. The nine-day survey was conducted in the western part of Sundarbans mangrove forests earlier this month. Two years ago, researchers found that there were nearly 6,000 Irrawaddy dolphins - which are related to orcas or killer whales - in the waterways of Sundarbans mangrove forests and the nearby coastal waters of the Bay of Bengal.

Race to the South Pole
And finally, as part of the BBC's Frozen Planet series, BBC Earth have blogged about the race across the Antartic wilderness by two teams 100 years ago. Led by Roald Amundsen from Norway and Captain Robert Scott from Great Britain, the men set out to conquer this vast icy continent and to become the first to reach the South Pole. For one group the adventure would end in triumph, for the other it would end in tragedy. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Scott and Amundsen’s separate attempt to be the first to the South Pole.

Roald Amundsen

The adventure began more than 10 years earlier, in 1897, when a great, global effort to uncover the mysteries of Antarctica began. People knew that a huge, frozen continent lay beyond the wild seas at the southern end of the Earth, but it wasn’t until 1820 that explorers first laid eyes on Antarctica. Before then ships had failed to penetrate far enough through the frozen ocean to carry their passengers within sight of land. During the winter of 1897, a Belgian ship carrying a crew of explorers, called the Belgica, was trapped in the ice off the coast of the continent. The crew became the first people to endure an Antarctic winter and sparked a period of exploration that would last for 25 years. During that time scientists, geographers and adventurers would compete to become the first to explore uncharted territories and claim the credit for their respective nations. But it was the parallel journeys of Scott and Amundsen that would capture the imaginations of people across the world. Scott had been planning his Terra Nova Expedition for years. His aim was to be the first to the South Pole after Ernst Shackleton had narrowly failed during an earlier expedition. Scientific research was also an important part of Scott’s expedition to Antarctica. But when the American adventurers Frederick Cook and Robert Peary laid claim that achievement, Amundsen turned his attention towards the other end of the Earth. Only his brother Leon and second-in-command Thorvald Nilsen knew of Amundsen’s plan until after his ship, the Fram, had set sail. Scott only learnt of this change of direction months later when his ship, the Terra Nova, docked in Melbourne, Australia. There he was handed a telegram from the Norwegian, it read: ‘Beg to inform you Fram proceeding Antarctic – Amundsen.’ Even though Scott publically insisted that this news would change nothing, the reality was that he was now locked in a race to the South Pole.

That's it for now - there will be another Marine News Roundup in two week's time. Please free to comment and let us know what you think!

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Marine News Roundup

Welcome to the fortnightly Marine News Roundup, gathering together the best of the marine news stories from the past two weeks!

Act Now to Save 'the Most Important Fish in the Sea'
Atlantic menhaden, often called “the most important fish in the sea,” have reached a turning point. These fish play a critical role in the marine food web as prey for striped bass, bluefish, tuna, whales, porpoises, seabirds, and other wildlife. But the essential role menhaden play in the marine ecosystem is now at risk. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) has taken a historic first step to restore the menhaden population by laying out a plan that could significantly increase the number left in the ocean, finally taking into account the needs of their predators.

Kraken lair? Paleontologist identifies giant sea monster's bone heap.
Scientists have uncovered the lair of an ancient sea monster similar to the legendary Kraken, which has appeared countless times in myths and stories, notably in the 2010 film, 'Clash of the Titans.' Evidence for the kraken and its gruesome attacks comes from markings on the bones of the remains of nine 45-foot (14 meter) ichthyosaurs of the species Shonisaurus popularis, which lived during the Triassic, a period that lasted from 248 million to 206 million years ago. The beasts were the Triassic version of today's predatory giant squid-eating sperm whales.

Florida's wildlife officials encouraged by sea turtle nest count
The populations of two of the three species of sea turtles that nest in Florida are growing and the number of nests of the third – the iconic loggerhead – seems to have stabilized after a substantial and steady decline since 1998. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission this week released the results of its annual nest count. The survey is not the total number of nests in the state, but only on targeted beaches where turtles are known to nest year after year. The good news for green turtles, which are on the federal endangered species list, is that the survey showed a record high annual nest count in Florida this year. It is the most ever counted since the survey began 22 years ago. Leatherback turtles' nests numbered high as well, with the count falling just shy of the previous high mark two years ago. Leatherbacks also are on the federal endangered list.

Target commits to 100% sustainable, traceable fish by 2015
The second largest discount retailer in the U.S. has announced that it will sell only sustainable, traceable fish by 2015. Minneapolis-based Target Corp. operates 1,762 stores, many of which are converting to incorporate PFresh markets that sell fresh and frozen foods, including fish. In 2010, Target stopped selling farmed salmon, Chilean sea bass and orange roughy due to various sustainability issues. It currently sells 50 different brands of fish certified by either the Marine Stewardship Council or the Global Aquaculture Alliance.

Mysterious outbreak killing Arctic Alaska ringed seals
A mysterious and potentially widespread disease is thought to have contributed to the deaths of dozens of ringed seals along Alaska's Arctic coast. Scores more are sickened, some so ill that skin lesions bleed when touched. The animals are an important subsistence food for Alaska Native hunters and their families, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has proposed listing them as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

Man 'surfs' great white shark
Doug Niblack was trying to catch another wave before going to work when his longboard hit something hard as rock off the Oregon coast and he found himself standing on a thrashing great white shark. Looking down, he could see a dorsal fin in front of his feet as he stood on what he described as 10 feet (three metres) of back as wide as his surfboard and as black as his wetsuit. A tail thrashed back and forth and the water churned around him. Niblack estimated that he was standing on the shark for no more than three or four seconds. The dorsal fin caught his board and dragged him for about a metre by his ankle tether. In six years of surfing, Niblack said he had seen sharks in the water, but never so close. He said he had been dreaming about sharks, but was planning to go back out to surf. When he does he will take a waterproof video camera his roommate gave him. He has also put a sticker on the bottom of his board to ward off sharks – a shark with a red circle and a slash over it.

'Whale war' kicks off as Japan sends strengthened fleet to Antarctica
As the Steve Irwin approached the equator last week, word that Japan would be sending a strengthened whaling fleet to Antarctica next month reached the bridge of the old Aberdeen-built customs vessel. The crew of activists on board cheered, as their veteran leader, Captain Paul Watson, resigned himself to his eighth "whale war" among the icebergs and 100mph winds of the Southern ocean. Watson, on what is nearly his 350th voyage in nearly 40 years defending whales and other marine wildlife at the helm of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, is sending three ships to intercept, chase and harass the Japanese. He promises "aggressive non-violence", while the Japanese, still smarting from last year's humiliation when their fleet took only a fifth of its planned whale catch, say they will heighten security and take an armed government fisheries patrol vessel.

Mississauga bans shark fin products
Mississauga councillors unanimously adopted a bylaw Wednesday that bans the possession and sale of shark fin products in the city. The decision makes Mississauga the largest city in Canada to ban the controversial products, the consumption of which has pushed many of the world’ shark species to the brink of extinction. The move came a day before a Toronto council committee was to address the issue, and following introduction of a ban in Oakville in July. At the municipal level, much of the debate revolves around whether cities have the jurisdiction and the ability to enforce such a ban. Mississauga Councillor Pat Mullin says cities certainly have the jurisdiction but adds there are issues to be worked out regarding enforcement.

Endangered Sea Turtles Drowning In Shrimp Nets, Groups Sue For More Protection
Several wildlife protection groups are suing the federal agency that regulates fishing in U.S. waters, claiming the government isn't doing enough to protect endangered sea turtles from drowning in shrimp nets. The lawsuit filed in Washington claims the National Marine Fisheries Service violates the Endangered Species Act by letting some shrimpers operate without required turtle excluder devices on their nets and exempting some shrimping from the requirement. The gear is required on many shrimp trawls in federal and state waters, but some kinds of trawls and other nets are exempt under certain conditions. A Louisiana law passed in 1987 makes it illegal for state wildlife agents to enforce turtle excluder device regulations in state waters.

Rare dwarf sperm whale sighted off Cornwall coast
A dwarf sperm whale was spotted in Mounts Bay off Penzance, where it was caught on camera swimming just off the shore. It's the first ever recorded sighting of the species off the coast of the UK . A video, posted on YouTube, shows the 3 metre mammal circling the bay in shallow water. There are no official figures for dwarf sperm whale population because they usually stay in deeper waters, feeding off fish and crustaceans on the sea floor.

Amazing animal-inspired inventions!
A BBC Earth blog looking at some of the amazing things animals can do and how we've learnt from nature...

Humpback Whale-inspired Hydroelectric Turbines:

In the search for more renewable sources of energy, scientists have turned to one of nature’s most wonderful creatures for ideas. The Humpback Whale’s amazing agility is down to its slightly odd flippers. The unusual bumps on the leading edge of the whale’s flippers give it incredible manoeuvrability for an animal so big. Scientists over at WhalePower realised the potential of this oddity in a number of different technologies and have applied bumps to hydroelectric turbines, ventilation fans, irrigation pumps and wind turbines. The gains in efficiency are massive. Compared to smooth fins, the bumpy humpback’s fins have 32 per cent less drag and an 8 per cent increased lift in their movement through air and water. The efficiency gains are huge enough, potentially 20 per cent, to make the likes of wind power a source of energy fully competitive with alternatives.
People have always campaigned to save the whales and now they could save us energy!

Friction reducing Sharkskin:

American hero Michael Phelps may just owe a debt of gratitude to sharks. Phelps swam to his record eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics wearing a revolutionary new swimsuit based on a study of sharkskin. The suit increases a swimmer’s speed by reducing drag through water by up to 4 per cent more than the next swimsuit. Sharkskin is covered in tiny ‘teeth’, varying in shape and positioning, that regulate the flow of water around the body. Researchers are now developing ‘sharkskin’ coatings for ship's hulls, submarines, aircraft fuselage, and even swimwear for humans.

With only spines attached, shark fins come ashore
Despite recent measures to crack down on the practice of shark finning, Costa Rican fishermen and environmentalists believe that foreign fleets are once again using methods to evade Costa Rican fishing laws and regulations.  In recent months, three Taiwanese ships landed shark fins attached only to the shark’s spine at the public dock in Puntarenas. The sharks’ flesh was shaved away from the sharks’ spines, leaving only skeletons attached to full fins. Last year, the Costa Rican Agriculture Ministry (MAG) and the Costa Rican Fisheries Institute (Incopesca) barred foreign fleets from unloading at private docks. Instead they must land at public docks, where inspectors can enforce the law. A public backlash begun nearly a decade ago helped ban the practice of shark finning in Costa Rica. However, shark fishing remains legal in the country. Today Costa Rican regulations stipulate that only three authorized cuts can be made when shark fishing: the head, the entrails and a partial cut to allow the bending of the fin. Yet recent cases in Puntarenas have shown that the law has left grey areas that fishermen exploit. The Taiwanese boat Wang Jia Men was the first ship discovered using the new practice of landing only skeletons. According to Incopesca Executive Director Luis Gerardo Dobles, it was the first time that the fisheries institute had seen the new tactic. An Incopesca inspector let the ship unload and reported that 36 sharks had landed without full carcasses. When members of the Pacific Coast Fishermen’s Union found out, the ship had already been allowed to sell the fins. The union, made up of Costa Rican fishermen, strongly opposes the practice.

Global warming: A tipping point for phytoplankton?
An elaborate lab experiment done by a San Francisco State University research team shows that warmer increasingly acidic oceans may fundamentally change the role some phytoplankton have in capturing carbon from the atmosphere. The study published this week in the journal Global Change Biology suggests that at least one species of ubiquitous phytoplankton - Emiliania huxleyi- forms incomplete or hollow coccoliths in high carbon and high ammonium conditions, resulting in less carbon sinking to the ocean floor. The results suggest in the future there will be overall lower amounts of calcification and overall lower amount of transport of carbon to the deep ocean. To measure the impacts of warmer temperatures and increasing acidification, the scientists raised more than 200 generations of Emiliania huxleyi in the lab, adjusting carbon dioxide levels and the type of nitrogen in the phytoplankton’s seawater bath. Changes to this massive carbon sink could have a critical effect on the planet’s future climate, especially as atmospheric carbon dioxide levels continue to rise sharply as a result of fossil fuel burning and other human activities. The shell-building capacity of the phytoplankton could also be inhibited by thickening layers of warm water that prevent upwelling of nitrate-rich water. Emiliania huxleyi typically use nitrates to make proteins, but this form of nitrogen may be in shorter supply as ocean temperatures change. At the same time, the warmer temperatures favor bacteria that turn recycled nitrogen from surface waters and the atmosphere into ammonium, and acidification inhibits the bacteria that turn ammonium into nitrate. The study is the first to look at the intertwined effects of ocean acidification and changes in nitrogen on phytoplankton like Emiliania huxleyi. It’s also one of the first studies to observe these effects continuously over a long time scale, “so the responses of the phytoplankton are likely what we’ll see in the ocean itself”.

Aquaculture, one of the fastest growing sectors of agriculture in the US, combats the global dilemma of depleting wild fish populations. But a new report from the group Food & Water Watch says factory fish farms risk the health of other, stable species swimming in the sea. One of the biggest problems? The fish food. It takes about three pounds of feeder fish to produce one pound of farmed salmon. And we need more fish to keep up with a hungry, growing, human population. But feeding more salmon depletes the ocean's smaller fish. Wild-caught, carnivorous fish like salmon chow down on smaller fish and crustaceans because those delectable treats are high in protein and fat - essential nutrients to a fish. Farmed fish need the same nutrients but get it as a blend of various nutritional ingredients - all targeted to increase the efficiency of a fish's growth and its health. Researchers are looking into new fish feed using renewable sources, such as biofuel co-products, poultry by-products, soybeans and so on. Finding alternative sources of fat and protein to supply aquaculture could help provide fish with the necessary nutrients without depleting the ocean.

On ocean's floor, death is not the end
On the dark, cold floor of the ocean, death is not the end. Dead organic material settles to the bottom, where, like compost in a garden, it is converted into nutrients, including nitrate and phosphate. Coastal winds help complete the circle of life, lifting clear, cold, nutrient-rich water into the sunlit shallows. The upwelling promotes a population explosion of phytoplankton, the microscopic plants that form the base of the marine food web.

Dolphins 'decompress like humans'
Scientists have found tiny bubbles beneath the blubber of dolphins that have beached themselves. The bubbles were discovered by taking ultrasound scans of the animals within minutes of stranding off Cape Cod, US. The team's findings help confirm what many researchers have long suspected: dolphins avoid the bends by taking long, shallow decompression dives after feeding at depth. If human divers ascend too quickly, dissolved nitrogen forms bubbles in the body, causing decompression sickness. But marine mammals such as whales, dolphins, and seals are highly adept at dealing with the pressures of the deep. They slow their hearts, collapse the tiny air-filled chambers in their lungs, and channel blood to essential organs - like the brain - to conserve oxygen, and limit the build-up of nitrogen bubbles in the blood that happens at depth. However, even marine mammals ascending from the deep must rid themselves of the gas that has built up in their tissues, or risk developing the bends. If dolphins come up too quickly, there is evidence that they "grab another gulp of air and go back down again," in much the same way a human diver would "re-tank and re-ascend" to try to prevent the bends. But there's one place they can't do that - "sitting on the beach".

'Criminal' penguin caught on film
A "criminal" stone-stealing Adelie penguin has been captured on camera by a BBC film crew. The team, filming for the documentary Frozen Planet, spent four months with the penguin colony on Ross Island, Antarctica. The footage they captured shows a male penguin stealing stones from its neighbour's nest. The birds build their stone nests to elevate and protect their eggs from run-off when the Antarctic ice melts. Males with the best nests are more likely to attract a mate, so, in a colony of half a million penguins, the best stones are highly prized. Each male adelie penguin builds its nest just out of "pecking distance" of its neighbours. The film crew managed to capture a remarkable sequence, with one penguin repeatedly returning to its nest to add stones, apparently unaware of the fact that his neighbour would steal a stone every time his nest was unattended.

Toxic Seaweed Poisons Coral Reefs on Contact
“Attack of the killer seaweed” may sound like a cheesy horror flick, but for many coral species, murderous multicellular algae have become real-life villains. A new study of reefs in the South Pacific suggests that some algae can poison coral on contact. This chemical warfare may be increasing the pressure on struggling reef communities worldwide, researchers say. Along the reefs dotting Fiji, overfishing has pitted corals against algae in a battle royale. On swaths of coastline where fishing is restricted, corals such as the tall and branching Acropora millepora rule. But where Fijians spear lots of herbivores such as bird-beaked parrotfish, few fish remain to prune back the region’s seaweeds, a blanket term for many types of big algae. These algae then creep in, extending their tendrils over close to 60 percent of the ocean bottom and turning waters a sludgy green. Such “seaweed-covered parking lots” aren’t unique to Fiji either. Recent studies have hinted that this ocean greenery may be carrying out a subtle chemical war on sensitive reefs. To investigate this covert struggle, researchers strung eight different species of Fijian seaweed across growing corals, including A. millepora colonies. True to the researchers’ suspicions, many of these algal species seemed to wield a poison touch. In less than 2 weeks, the test coral often began to discolor and even die where it rubbed against the seaweeds. Faux seaweeds made of plastic had no such effect.
Everyone knows that piranhas have razor-sharp teeth, but they have another distinguishing characteristic: They make noise. Until now, however, scientists have never understood why. Now, using a hydrophone to record underwater sounds, researchers from the University of Li├Ęge in Belgium say they have found an answer. These are sounds made during fighting, charging and frontal display,” said Eric Parmentier, a morphologist at the university and an author of a new study on the noises, published in The Journal of Experimental Biology. It was previously thought that piranhas produced a single barking call. But the researchers also recorded a drumlike sound, made when the fish fought for food, and a croak the fish’s jaws produced when it snapped at another piranha. Dr. Parmentier and his colleagues also discovered that piranhas make the barking and drumming sounds by rapidly contracting a muscle attached to the swim bladder. The contractions occur 100 to 200 times a second and cause the bladder to vibrate. The moment the contractions stop, the vibration stops, as the swim bladder itself is unable to vibrate on its own. Researchers are discovering that many types of fish produce sound because it is a good way to communicate underwater. At least 100 fish families are known to produce sound - "sound travels faster in the water than in the air".

And finally...

Farting Fish
Flatulence might be rude to us humans, but for herring, it's a survival strategy. Herring have a secret, and funny, way of communicating with each other - by farting. They just have to hope neighboring predators aren't listening in...

That's it for now - the Marine News Roundup will be back in two weeks.