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.
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”.
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
Toxic Seaweed Poisons Coral Reefs on Contact
That's it for now - the Marine News Roundup will be back in two weeks.
'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 Liège 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".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.