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.


  1. This is such an interesting blog. New discoveries, threatened species and seagrass older than man. Fascinating!

  2. Organized content is the best way to display or post an article, thank you for making it easy to digest your post.

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