Thursday, 23 February 2012

Marine News Roundup

Welcome to the latest edition of the Marine News Roundup - all the best marine news stories from the last two weeks!

Amazon 'backs down' on sale of whale meat
The online retailing giant Amazon appears to have responded to pressure against whale meat sales on its Japanese language website. The Seattle-based business, which wholly owns its Japanese subsidiary, has a stated policy of prohibiting the sale of unlicensed or illegal wildlife products including endangered species, according to the Environmental Investigation Agency. But EIA found 147 different whale products for sale on, including some from listed endangered species, in a December survey. Others came from Japan's legally disputed research whaling program. A check of the site early today using the Japanese symbol for whale meat found dozens of items still listed, but hours afters news of the investigation was published, the same search found no listings.

Rare Bangladesh Olive Ridley turtles 'need protection'
Conservationists in Bangladesh have urged the government to take immediate steps to protect endangered Olive Ridley turtles. Their call comes after at least 25 Olive Ridleys were washed up dead over the last week near the beaches of Cox's Bazaar and on Saint Martin Island. Many of the turtles had been entangled in fishing lines. From October to March, thousands of Olive Ridleys come ashore from the deep sea to lay their eggs. While many turtles die after getting entangled in fishing nets, some are killed by fishermen who say the turtles damage their equipment. Conservationists say that there are five main species of turtle - Green Turtles, Olive Ridleys, Logger Heads, Hawksbills and Leatherbacks - and all are currently found within Bangladesh's maritime boundaries. According to campaign groups, the Olive Ridleys are endangered because of their relatively high mortality rates - they are particularly susceptible to industrial pollution in coastal areas and sometimes stray dogs attack them or eat their eggs. Senior wildlife department officials say that plans are now afoot to declare beaches frequented by turtles as marine protected areas. They say that more guards will be deployed on these beaches.

NOAA to open new world class marine science facility
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are set to open a state-of-the-art Marine Science and Storage Facility. The facility will enable NOAA and its scientific partners to conduct critical marine research, study and monitor data gathered throughout the Pacific Region, and provide a site to rehabilitate endangered Hawaiian Monk Seals and various green sea turtles. In addition to the blessing, NOAA administrator will announce the establishment of a new partnership with the Oahu Visitors Bureau and the Waikiki Aquarium to integrate the Pacific Regional Centre into an Ocean Education Experience program.

Dead Sperm Whale Too Much for Tunisian Municipality to Handle
Disposal of a 12 meter long, 15 ton Sperm Whale carcass has proven to be too large a task for the municipality of El Houaria to handle. The leviathan’s massive body has been lying on the beach of Sidi Daoud for the past five days. The head of the El Houaria Fishing Association complained that the carcass, through the process of decomposition, has been releasing blood onto the beach. Given that sperm whales typically inhabit deeper waters, it is likely that the whale lost it’s way on a migration route. An official at the municipality of El Houaria said that the disposal of the whale will require a coordinated effort between multiple government agencies. While the cause of death of the whale has not been confirmed, marine pollution often impacts the ability for whales to hear, leading them dangerously off course from their regular migration routes. There is also a possibility that the whale suffered from a disease that weakened it, according to the Tunisian National Institute for Marine Science and Technology.

CCW tackles invasive sea squirt in Holyhead harbour
The Countryside Council for Wales has started work to eradicate an invasive sea squirt in Holyhead harbour, which is threatening to smother native marine life in Wales. The carpet sea squirt (Didemnum vexillum), which originates from Japan, has established itself on the marina’s floating pontoons and mooring chains and mooring buoys in the harbour. If left unchecked, it could spread rapidly, colonising natural habitats and threatening the important mussel industry in the Menai Strait. The carpet sea squirt has had devastating impact on marine life in other parts of the world where it has been accidentally introduced, such as New Zealand. There, it has literally carpeted acres of sea bed, making these areas unsuitable for native marine plants and animals. The sea squirt was most likely brought into Holyhead harbour on the hulls of leisure craft. The Countryside Council for Wales made a pilot attempt to clear the seasquirt in the winter 2009. Now, building on this experience, CCW’s marine staff will be working intensively to completely eradicate the creature. The work involves fixing massive bags around the underwater structures of the marina. By stopping clean flows of water from reaching the sea squirts, they will suffocate and die. If eradication techniques are successful here, CCW could advise other affected areas in the UK on how to get rid of the species. The owners of Holyhead Marina are supporting CCW’s efforts. The target is to completely rid the harbour of sea squirt by spring 2012 before it can spread more rapidly in the spring and summer.

Squid Can Fly to Save Energy
Squid can save energy by flying rather than swimming, according to calculations based on high-speed photography. Squid of many species have been seen to 'fly' using the same jet-propulsion mechanisms that they use to swim: squirting water out of their mantles so that they rocket out of the sea and glide through the air. Until now, most researchers have thought that such flight was a way to avoid predators, but a marine biologist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, has calculated that propelling themselves through the air may actually be an efficient way for squid to travel long distances. The creatures are rarely seen flying, so some researchers argue that the mode of travel is not widespread in migration, but over years of study hints have been gathered that suggest the behaviour is more common than was thought.

Sea turtle deaths up in 2011; foreign volunteer numbers down
Four-hundred-and-seventy turtles washed up on Greek shores in 2011, up from 450 the previous year, according to Greek sea turtle protection society Archelon, which cites illegal fishing practices and injuries from speed boat propellers as the main cause of death among the turtle population. Meanwhile, according to the group's annual report, more Greeks offered their time to Archelon's efforts last year, with the number of volunteers working for the environmental protection group reaching 468, though organisers have seen a marked drop in non-Greek volunteers. Archelon's rescue centre in the southern Athenian suburb of Glyfada treated more than 50 injured and sick turtles in 2011, the report added, conducting 20 operations and 34 releases, while the biggest number of deaths was noted in the Ionian island of Zakynthos. The rise in turtle deaths may be linked to an increase in their population. The non-governmental organization also warned against the unchecked development of facilities for beach-goers on sea turtles' traditional nesting sites along the coasts of the Peloponnese and Crete, such as bars that stay open at night, casting light on the beach and playing loud music, and the prevalence of umbrellas and sun loungers.

Some corals like it hot
Corals on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef have fallen on hard times recently. But on the opposite side of the continent, their West Coast brethren have been living the good life for at least a century, a new study finds. Global warming may be helping these creatures out - at least for now. To compare how reefs in different places have been doing, researchers collected samples of Porites coral at six spots off Australia in the southeastern Indian Ocean. Porites build skeletons with layers that, like tree rings, can be used to measure growth from year to year. None of creatures had slowed their growth in the last 110 years. Those at the southernmost sites have even been building reefs faster as surface waters there have warmed markedly. On the Great Barrier Reef, the same type of coral is stressed. Porites grew 13 percent slower in 2005 than in 1990, a 2009 study found. This slowdown has been blamed on both warming waters and increases in ocean acidity caused by carbon dioxide. About a third of all atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions are soaked up by the world’s oceans, where the gas reacts to make carbonic acid. That lowers the water’s pH and the amount of dissolved carbonate, the raw material used by corals to build their skeletons.

Whales and dolphins 'should have legal rights'
Campaigners who believe that dolphins and whales should be granted rights on account of their intelligence are to push for the animals to be protected under international law. A group of scientists and ethicists argues there is sufficient evidence of the marine mammals' intelligence, self-awareness and complex behaviour to enshrine their rights in legislation. Under the declaration of rights for cetaceans, a term that includes dolphins, whales and porpoises, the animals would be protected as "non-human persons" and have a legally enforceable right to life. If incorporated into law, the declaration would bring legal force to bear on whale hunters, and marine parks, aquariums and other entertainment venues would be barred from keeping dolphins, whales or porpoises in captivity.

Shark left in Yoyogi has cops fishing for motive
A dead shark found in Tokyo's Yoyogi Park has sparked an investigation into who brought it there, an officer at Yoyogi Police Station said Monday. A park security guard called the police at 7 a.m. Sunday after finding the shark, which was covered by a blue tarp and measured about 1.5 meters long, the police said. The shark had been gutted and was found near a parking lot for bicycles near one of the entrances leading to JR Shibuya Station. Okano wouldn't disclose any other details because the matter is still under investigation as an illegal dumping case. On Twitter, dozens of posts from February 14th to early on February 15th said a shark was being exhibited in front of a sushi restaurant in Shibuya. The tweets later said someone had taken it away. The sushi restaurant, Daidokoroya, said Monday that it could not rule out the possibility that the shark dumped at the park is a salmon shark it bought at Tsukiji fish market on February 14th. Daidokoroya, which initially bought it for consumption at the outlet, said the 102kg creature was too large to carry into the kitchen. Eventually, at 5am the next day, it was given to a self-styled artist who wanted to use it for art. The restaurant owner said in a statement that the eatery failed to identify the person.

Coasts in peril plan ahead for rising seas
Scientists warn that by the end of this century, the sea level along North America's west coast will rise by about a meter due to global warming and melting arctic glaciers. That presents a scenario that few people in the world's coastal and island communities want to think about - the end of their water's edge way of life, their homes flooded, their farming fields drenched and rendered useless. But one coastal port in British Columbia has begun to plan for this grim future with the help of scientists who created computer images that show exactly what their town will look like when it is inundated with water. Those include building larger sea walls and dykes to hold the water back, crafting barrier islands to absorb some of the tides and reinforce the shores, moving entire towns inland, or building everything higher by raising homes on stilts and elevating roads. The costs of re-crafting modern life along the water's edge are certain to be enormous, with hundreds of millions of people affected by sea-level rise in communities worldwide.

Assessment Could Streamline Great Barrier Reef Coastal Development
The Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, the core of the world's largest reef, will be assessed to ensure future development along Queensland's coast is sustainable and the reef's unique natural values are protected, the Australian and Queensland governments said Saturday. The two governments have signed a new agreement with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority that all three parties say will be the most comprehensive and complex strategic assessment ever carried out in Australia. The assessment is being conducted at the request of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, which designated the 34.8 million hectare (134,633 square mile) World Heritage Site in 1981. On the northeast coast of Australia, the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area contains a huge diversity of species, including 1,500 species of fish, about 360 species of hard coral, 5,000 species of mollusc and more than 175 bird species. It is an important breeding area for humpback and other whale species. The site includes feeding grounds for the endangered dugong and nesting grounds of world significance for two endangered species of marine turtle, the green and the loggerhead, as well as habitat for four other imperilled species of marine turtle. At least four port developments, either being planned or now underway, could put the reef at risk. The World Heritage Committee fears these expansions will mean more shipping through the reef, increasing the likelihood of groundings and oil spills. During the strategic assessment, state and federal environmental planning issues will be covered in a single process that provides a big-picture study under a national environmental law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The outcome of the assessment will be a streamlining of development approvals say Commonwealth and state officials. Once a development program has been endorsed under the EPBC Act, individual projects will not need any further approval under national environmental law if done in accordance with the approved program.

High Definition Polarisation Vision Discovered in Cuttlefish
Cuttlefish have the most acute polarisation vision yet found in any animal, researchers at the University of Bristol have discovered by showing them movies on a modified LCD computer screen to test their eyesight. Cuttlefish and their colourblind cousins, squid and octopus, see aspects of light - including polarised light -- that are invisible to humans, giving them a covert communication channel. The Bristol study, published in Current Biology, found that cuttlefish were much more sensitive to polarisation than previously thought. With collaborators at The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia, the team gave cuttlefish an eye exam; but instead of measuring their acuity they measured the smallest difference in the angle of polarisation the cuttlefish could detect. Since the team could not ask the cuttlefish what they could see, they took advantage of the chameleon-like colour changes that cuttlefish use for camouflage as a way of measuring whether the animals could detect the polarised stimuli. In addition to measuring the limits of polarisation vision in the cuttlefish, the team also modelled how underwater scenes might look to an animal that has such high-resolution polarisation vision. Using colours instead of changes in polarisation angle they created images of the polarised world that humans can see and showed that there is much more information available in the polarisation dimension than was previously known.

Necropsy Finds Parasites in Dolphin That Died in Ocean City
Preliminary results of a necropsy performed on the dolphin found dead in a bayside Ocean City lagoon on February 12th show a, "heavy load of parasites channelling into the brain". Similar parasites were found in a dolphin found dead on a Delaware Bay beach in Lower Township on February 12th and in a dolphin that died shortly after stranding in Stafford Township off Barnegat Bay on February 13th. All three animals were common dolphins, a species that typically travels in groups at least 20 miles off the coast of New Jersey. The necropsies were conducted by the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine's New Bolton Centre in Kennett Square, PA. The parasites occur naturally and can be spread in many ways - from exposure to a pod's own fecal waste to consumption of raw fish. None of the animals had any food in the stomach - a sign of their distress, given they likely had ample food available to them. The Penn veterinarians will continue to compare lab results and collaborate with scientists investigating the stranding of 177 common dolphins on Cape Cod (with 124 dying) in Massachusetts as they work to determine an exact cause of death.

Ocean acidification turns climate change winners into losers
Adding ocean acidification and de-oxygenation into the mix of climate change predictions may turn “winner” regions of fisheries and biodiversity into “losers,” according to research released today by University of British Columbia researchers. Previous projections have suggested the effects of warmer water temperature would result in fish moving pole-ward and deeper towards cooler waters - and an increase of fish catch potential of as much as 30 per cent in the North Atlantic by 2050. Accounting for effects of de-oxygenation and ocean acidification, however, some regions may see a 20-35 per cent reduction in maximum catch potential by 2050 (relative to 2005) – depending on the individual species’ sensitivity to ocean acidification. For example, in the Norwegian Sea, ocean warming by itself may result in a 15 per cent increase in fisheries catch potential. However, accounting for acidification and de-oxygenation, the increase turns to a decrease of 15 per cent, and the region from a “winner” to a “loser.” “Loser” regions in the tropics could become poorer and will require better strategies to mitigate potential food security issues. Climate change and the associated physical and chemical changes in the ocean decrease oxygen in the water in some region. Meanwhile, approximately one-third of the carbon dioxide that humans produce by burning fossil fuels is being absorbed by the ocean, gradually causing the oceans to become more acidic and affecting biological processes of various marine organisms. Rebuilding global fisheries may increase the capacity of marine species to handle the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification.

That's all for this edition - check back in two weeks for the next Marine News Roundup.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Coastguard SOS

From the Coastguard SOS website:

In December 2010 the UK Government announced modernisation consultation proposals for HM Coastguard. At that time the intention was to reduce the UK's eighteen Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centres to just two centres which would operate 24hrs per day. These centres (MOC's) would be supported by only five sub centres that would only be operational throughout "daylight hours only" (see

UK Coastguard Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres (MRCC's) are responsible for the coordination of Search and Rescue (SAR) along the UK coastline, as well as providing shipping information and a number of other essential services along the UK coastline.

The proposals were overwhelmingly rejected by EVERY Coastguard station, campaigners and by the Transport Select Committee who conducted a full investigation and concluded that the modernisation proposals were "seriously flawed".

On 14th July 2011, the then Secretary of State for Transport; Rt.Hon Philip Hammond MP announced that the Government had looked at the responses to the original consultation and had examined the evidence. He then announced new consultation proposals which indicated that eleven named Coastguard stations would to be retained on a 24/7 basis but that eight remaining named stations would close. Those stations are:

Brixham, Portland, Swansea, Liverpool, Thames, Yarmouth, Clyde and Forth

The Coastguard SOS campaign group is open to anyone who understands and agrees with our belief that the issue should not be used as a political football. It is supported by concerned members of the public, Coastguard rescue officers (CRO's), serving and former Coastguard officers, Politicians and also by some famous names too.

We are committed to continuing the effort to seek safer modernisation proposals and we will continue to campaign in a reasoned, dignified and balanced way in order to achieve our aim of securing the long term future of every Coastguard MRCC.


With your help, we may be able to save these Coastguard stations. Please sign the petition, and check the Coastguard SOS website for more ways you can help. You can adopt your local Coastguard station to support, get involved with a local campaign group, share the petition on Twitter, "like" the Facebook group, add an SOS twibbon to your Facebook and Twitter profile, embed the "Save Our Coastguard Stations" image onto your website, take part in a quick poll, download the flyer and email your MP. Don't forget to check the blog for all the latest news and campaign updates, and the links to discussion boards, local campaign web pages and reports.

Please help spread the word as much as you can, and encourage others to sign the petition. Together, we may be able to Save Our Coastguard Stations!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Interview with Andrew West

Interview with Andrew West, Marine Biologist and Discovery Channel Host

Andrew West describes himself as a marine biologist, environmentalist and adventurer. He grew up in the Philippines, South Africa and Australia and finished high-school in Hawaii. Andrew gained his degree in Marine Biology and Zoology in Australia and has spent most of his working life in scientific research. Returning to Hawaii, he completed his PhD in Marine Biology and Environmental Science, with his dissertation focused on the blue marlin. He is one of the world's leading experts in blue marlin and was the first person in the world to capture a baby blue marlin on film.

As a marine biologist and environmental scientist, Andrew wants to use his position to reach out and increase conservation awareness. He loves to promote marine conservation wherever he can. He has recently filmed a new Discovery show called 'Beast Tracker'. The first episode, 'Pacific Predator', is due to be aired this Spring and investigates the Tiger Shark in Hawaii, in an effort to determine whether they really are "oceanic monsters" or just misunderstood creatures essential to the well-being of the planet. We spoke to Andrew about the episode and what he hopes it will achieve, and learnt a little more about his background.

Why did you choose to study Marine Biology? Where does your interest in sharks stem from?
My first job was catching tiger sharks in Kona (quite some years ago!); in one memorable experience a tiger shark almost bit my head off (literally!). I was amazed at this creature and decided I wanted to pursue marine studies when I finished high school, and also learn as much about sharks as possible. I ended up doing my PhD dissertation on blue marlin... Not a shark, but still a really cool marine predator.

How did you get involved with presenting for the Discovery Channel?
After a few years of making DVD's and sending them to various production companies, a YouTube video was spotted by a scout. It was on wild pigs that have become my 'bread & butter' job. I was contacted by Discovery and asked to host this show... And what a dream job! Not only do I work with amazing animals, but I learn more about them from leading scientists.

What do you feel sets this particular show apart from other shark documentaries?
It differs from other shark documentaries because we try to have a very balanced view. These tiger sharks are native and therefore belong. Co-existence between us and them is a must. It is a two way street. As humans we need to give them space and recognise their vital role in our ecosystem.

What did you hope to achieve in filming the show?
I really hope that educating people about these species will help us to reach the end goal of co-existing with all these animals. We are the more "intelligent" species, so the responsibility is ours to make this happen.

What do you hope the audience takes away from having watched this show?
I hope that people can see that tiger sharks, despite being tremendously powerful apex predators, are not brainless killing machines looking to eat humans. In fact, given the opportunity, they will normally still refuse to attach humans. On the show we do perform some recreations of the of attacks on humans. However, the take home message is: "If we were really on their menu, there would be a lot less swimmers and surfers in the waters of Hawaii. These attacks are rare.

How long did filming take?
Each episode take 2-3 weeks to film, then it hits post-production where the editors fix all my mistakes and bloopers!

Did you ever feel at threat from the Tiger sharks whilst in the water with them?
Normally no. But keep in mind most of the time I don't know they are there! I love to surf and dive here in Hawaii. I know the tiger sharks are out there (sharing the same habitat). In the rare moments that I do see them, it would seem that eating me is the last thing they want to do! They just swim by, doing their own thing.

Do you feel that the media's general portrayal of sharks as ruthless killing machines is fair and accurate?
No. In fact it seems to do everything it can to malign them. But fear sells films and makes good ratings. Keep in mind, these are potentially very dangerous animals. But the stats show sharks kill around 8 humans every year on planet Earth... Humans kill around 200 million sharks. You tell me which is the most dangerous species?  'Jaws' was a fictitious movie masterpiece. But unfortunately it has had a huge carry-over effect on the way the public now think about the ocean... And of course sharks, which have been vilified as the human hunting monsters... Which, in all actuality, they are not.

What impact do you feel the loss of these sharks could have on our oceans?
Scientific research has proved time and again that if you remove top order predators, the food chain starts to unwind. The ratio of other species become out of balance.

Can you tell us about any future projects that you're working on?
The next few episodes in the series cover non-native species in America like the Burmese Python and Feral Hogs.

Where can people find out more about your upcoming projects?
Check my website ( or write to or tweet @DrAndrewWest.

You can see a video clip for Beast Tracker on Andrew's website.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Marine News Roundup

Welcome to the latest Marine News Roundup! We hope you enjoy this edition.

Corals inflate to escape being buried alive in sand
Coral might appear solid and inanimate, but surprising new footage of a mushroom coral inflating itself to escape a sandy burial has brought the organism to life. A scientist from the University of Queensland used timelapse photography to capture the footage. It was already known that the species could release itself from the sandy seabed, but it was not clear how. Since corals move so slowly, time-lapse imagery was used to find out. As sandy sediments shift on the seabed, corals need to breathe and prevent themselves from being smothered. To find out how mushroom corals - a particularly mobile family of corals - did this, the researcher brought specimens into the lab and put them in aquaria in order to film the process. Unlike many of the more familiar branching and "staghorn-type" corals, mushroom corals have a relatively thick layer of fleshy tissue on top of their tough calcium carbonate skeleton. To move around, the corals "inflate and deflate" parts of their body. And, as the footage showed, they use a similar technique to free themselves from a covering of sand.

Arctic Oil Drilling Threatens Polar Bear Birthing Grounds
Up in the frozen arctic, where polar bears rule over a biogem world, massive oil drilling plans threaten the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Shell, the oil behemoth that made $4.8 billion in profits last quarter, intends to boost those numbers by drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas off Alaska. Last year Shell was granted approval to conduct exploratory deepwater drilling operations in one of the most fragile ecosystems - and most hazardous environments - on the planet. This month, federal regulators may approve Shell’s cleanup response plan in this remote area that is a thousand miles from modern ports and oil industry infrastructure. If approved, Shell could send its drilling fleet out into the arctic this summer to bore into the seabed, searching for the black gold oil industry execs have been salivating over for decades. The problem is, drilling in these remote, harsh arctic environments involve huge risks and threatens all forms of life, including the arctic's most iconic creature, the polar bear.

Whale Shark Found Dead In Arabian Sea, Reeled Into Harbour In Karachi, Pakistan
A 40-foot whale shark was brought into harbour in Karachi, Pakistan after reportedly being found unconscious in the Arabian Sea about 10 days ago. Fishermen used several cranes to lift the whale shark to dry land, where a crowd of onlookers gathered to see the massive creature. The whale shark carcass was later sold for 1.7 million rupees (nearly $19,000). For many years, whale sharks have been highly sought after by harpoon fisheries in Southeast Asia, where people primarily used the fish for meat and oil. However, it is now illegal to hunt whale sharks in several countries, including India and the Philippines.

Cape Cod Dolphin Stranding: Record Number Of Animals Stranded Along Coast
A record 129 common dolphins have stranded themselves over three weeks along the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. A marine mammal specialist said it was the Northeast's largest "single-species event" of its kind on record. While this isn't a new problem, most strandings end within two days - this time it has carried on for almost a month with no end in sight. The dolphins oddly seem to be healthy. While common dolphins are "known to strand in groups due to their tight social structure," the unusually large numbers have prompted investigation of factors such as tides and weather. The International Fund for Animal Welfare has rescued and released 37 of the dolphins stranded between the 25 miles of beach. The other 92 animals were either dead or euthanized when staff responded. The rescued dolphins are checked, tested and tagged with an identifier before release.

Shipping causes 'chronic stress' to whales
Shipping noise causes chronic stress to whales, scientists have shown for the first time, after using the halt in marine traffic after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to conduct a unique experiment. The effect on whales of propeller noise, military sonar and explosions set off in the search for oil and gas is highly controversial. Environmental campaigners claim the noise interferes with the singing of whales, or even kills the animals, and are currently suing the US government over the navy's use of sonar. This research provides the first evidence of physical harm. The whales studied occupy oceans with high levels of ship noise and have shown a chronic stress response. High levels of stress hormone's were found in the whales' fecal balls, whilst there was a "highly significant" decrease in stress hormones coinciding with the drop in shipping noise. Whales use sound as their primary sense, just as humans use sight, and their singing enables them to find food, mates and to navigate. They are believed to be able to communicate over hundreds of kilometres. But the frequencies they use largely overlap with the frequencies generated by human activities in the oceans, which have increased tenfold in volume since the 1960s, disrupting their ability to communicate. A separate study published in January showed the singing of humpback whales was disrupted by sonar noise caused over 200km away while measuring fish stocks.

World's first animals were Namibian sponges
Scientists digging in a Namibian national park have uncovered sponge-like fossils they say are the first animals. These fossils extend the first appearance of animals on Earth by 100 million years. By comparing DNA from one species to the "next" in the line scientists have determined the "molecular clock" of the older fossils. The tiny vase-shaped creatures' fossils were found in Namibia's Etosha National Park and other sites around the country in rocks between 760 and 550 million years old, a 10-member team of international researchers said in a paper published in the South African Journal of Science. That means animals, previously thought to have emerged 600 million to 650 million years ago, actually appeared 100 million to 150 million years before that. It also means the hollow globs - about the size of a dust speck and covered in holes that allowed fluid to pass in and out of their bodies - were our ancestors.

The sea is rising? Island nations will see you in court
If the globe keeps warming and the seas keep rising, the country of Palau could be wiped off the map. So the Pacific island is teaming up with other small island nations to fight the threat of climate change - in court. The countries want the International Court of Justice to offer an opinion on whether countries that pollute have a responsibility to other countries that get hurt by that pollution. Ecological damage that crosses borders could be seen as a violation of international law, a legal cudgel against climate change.

2011 Shark Attacks Remain Steady, Worldwide Deaths Highest Since 1993; 'Who's Killing Who?'
Shark attacks in the U.S. declined in 2011, but worldwide fatalities reached a two-decade high, according to the University of Florida's International Shark Attack File report released today. While the U.S. and Florida saw a five-year downturn in the number of reported unprovoked attacks, the 12 fatalities - which all occurred outside the U.S. - may show tourists are venturing to more remote places. Seventy-five attacks occurred worldwide, close to the decade average, but the number of fatalities doubled compared with 2010. Fatalities occurred in Australia (3), Reunion (2), the Seychelles (2) and South Africa (2), with one each in Costa Rica, Kenya and New Caledonia. The average global fatality rate for the last decade was just under 7 percent, and it rose to 16 percent last year. Excluding the U.S., which had 29 shark attacks but no deaths, the international fatality rate averaged 25 percent in 2011. Florida led the U.S. with 11 of its 29 attacks. Other countries with multiple attacks include Australia (11), South Africa (5), Reunion (4), Indonesia (3) Mexico (3), Russia (3), Seychelles (2) and Brazil (2). While the higher number of fatalities worldwide came as a surprise, the drop in the number of U.S. attacks follows a 10-year decline. Surfers were the most affected group, accounting for about 60 percent of unprovoked attacks, largely due to the provocative nature of the activity. Swimmers experienced 35 percent of attacks, followed by divers, with about 5 percent. Despite the number of deaths being higher than other years, people should remember how much of a threat humans are to sharks. With worldwide over-fishing, especially to meet demands for flesh and fins used in shark fin soup, an expensive Asian delicacy, humans pose a greater threat to elasmobranchs (sharks, skates and rays) than sharks do to humans.

PETA's SeaWorld Lawsuit Focuses On Constitutional Protection Against Slavery For Animals
A federal judge for the first time in U.S. history heard arguments Monday in a case that could determine whether animals enjoy the same constitutional protection against slavery as human beings. The U.S. District Judge called the hearing in San Diego after Sea World asked the court to dismiss a lawsuit filed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals that names five orcas as plaintiffs in the case. PETA claims the captured killer whales are treated like slaves for being forced to live in tanks and perform daily at its parks in San Diego and Orlando, Florida. The judge raised doubts a court can allow animals to be plaintiffs in a lawsuit, and he questioned how far the implications of a favourable ruling could reach, pointing out the military's use of dolphins and scientists' experiments on whales in the wild. The issue is not about whether the animals have been subjected to abuse, the defence said. If the court were to grant orcas constitutional rights, Shaw warned the ruling would have profound implications that could impact everything from the way the U.S. government uses dogs to sniff out bombs and drugs to how zoos and aquariums operate. PETA said a ruling in its favour would only help to protect the orcas in the entertainment industry and other cases involving animals would have to be decided on their own merits.

Penguins flag changes in Antarctic environment
Antarctica may be a long way from civilisation, but human activity has put its penguins on thin ice. Over-fishing, melting sea ice and pollution are threatening these iconic creatures which have so far managed to thrive in the world's harshest conditions. But one species is faring better than most - and researchers are using them to find out what's changing in this vast and fragile ecosystem.

Concordia Not the First Sunk by Treacherous Reef
Costa Concordia captain Francesco Schettino wasn't the only seaman who drove his ship into the rocks off the Tuscan island of Giglio, ripping a huge gash in the hull that sent the 114,500-ton vessel tumbling onto its side. Before him, other ship commanders had a close encounter with the cursed reefs that jut out off the island's coast. In fact, more than a dozen ancient ships rest in Giglio's treacherous waters. The most common cause of the wrecks has been running aground on reefs, rocks, shoals and even other wrecks. Indeed, it is not at all unusual to find wrecks on top of each other.

Man frees orca entangled in cray pot
A Coromandel father and son team rescued an exhausted and bloody orca after it became entangled in a cray pot. The 20-year-old Hahei man located the orca after his family's diving business received a call from the Department of Conservation informing them the mammal was in distress and needed help. The orca was discovered tangled in rope and cray pots several hundred metres off the Coromandel Coast. The whale, surrounded by a small pod of orca nearby, was exhausted after dragging the cray pot up from the ocean's surface. It was tangled around the tail, which meant it could be cut free, and in a matter of minutes it was freed using knives to cut the rope. It's not the first time a whale has been rescued after becoming entangled in cray buoys and nets in New Zealand waters. A juvenile humpback whale became entangled in rope and cray buoys in the Queen Charlotte Sounds in July last year and a juvenile orca got tangled in cray pot ropes in February last year.

Playing With Beach Sand Might Make You Sick, Warns EPA
Just when you thought it was safe to get out of the water, it turns out that land onshore might be more likely to make you sick. According to a new report from the EPA, beach sand may be home to more dangerous levels of illness-inducing bacteria than the often suspiciously warm, wader-packed ocean itself. Indeed, researchers warn that even folks too cautious to dip a single toe into the sea are often being exposed to dangerous levels of fecal microbial pollution. Researchers from the EPA, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Johns Hopkins University questioned beachgoers and discovered that those who dug or were buried in the sand showed more symptoms of gastrointestinal illness than those who did not. Such symptoms include "diarrhoea, vomiting, nausea, and/or stomach ache" - and they're all associated with exposure to fecal bacteria.

Plan hatched to save UK’s rarest fish
A new plan to save Britain’s rarest fish has been hatched by transplanting around 70,000 eggs into a remote Scottish loch. Vendace, a small freshwater fish that has been an inhabitant of deep lochs and lakes in the UK since the Ice Age, died out in Scotland in the 1960s, leaving them clinging to survival in just two remaining lakes in Cumbria, England. The herring-like fish is thought to have fallen victim to competition from introduced species and also to deterioration in water quality. However, thousands of vendace eggs have now been collected from Derwent Water in the Lake District and put into Loch Valley in Galloway Forest Park in the hope a new population of the critically endangered species will flourish. Experts undertook a hunt for a suitable spot, which had to meet rules on transferring species set by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. They focused on south-west Scotland, assessing all the lochs, but relatively few were deemed to be of high enough quality for vendace. Loch Valley is not considered perfect because it had become very acidic in the past due to pollution, but was thought to have recovered enough to be worth a try. Monitoring will take place in three years to find out whether the fish have become established. The new plan will add to a smaller trial release in the Scotland in the 1990s when eggs and newly spawned fish were introduced to Loch Skeen near Moffat. With initial surveys suggesting the population is doing well, the larger release has now been authorised. The fish released into Loch Skeen had been collected from Bassenthwaite in Cumbria, the only remaining home for the species in the UK apart from Derwent Water.

This seagrass could be a hundred thousand years old
Posidonia oceanica is found throughout the Mediterranean Sea. It forms massive clonal colonies, in which genetically identical specimens form one giant interconnected super-organism that can last for hundreds of thousands of years. Those colonies are older than human history. Posidonia oceancia, popularly known as Neptune grass, is one of a few contenders for the title of longest-lived organisms on Earth. While the individual clones are small and short-lived, the underlying root system binds them together as one organism that is essentially a vast continuation of the original ancestor. Technically speaking, the seagrass is only partially clonal, meaning it can use both asexual and sexual reproduction techniques to propagate itself. It might be that mix of reproductive techniques - the former crucial to preserving the integrity of the original genetic material, the latter essential in adapting to changing environmental conditions - that has allowed these seagrass colonies to endure for tens, if not hundreds of thousands of years.

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