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News articles on marine animals
Mongabay.com news articles on marine animals in blog format. Updated regularly.
Human impacts are 'decoupling' coral reef ecosystems
(03/09/2015) There is a growing consensus among scientists that we have entered the age of the Anthropocene, or the epoch of humans. In other words, at some point between the 12,000 years separating the beginning of agriculture and the Industrial Revolution, humans became the dominant source of change on the planet, shaping everything from the land to the atmosphere to even the geologic record where we etch our reign.
Last ditch: Mexico finally gets serious about saving the vaquita
(03/04/2015) There are likely less than 100 vaquita on the planet. Found only in the northern pocket of the Sea of Cortez in Mexico, the vaquita is a tiny, shy porpoise that has been brought to the very edge of extinction due to drowning in gillnets used for shrimping. But after years of stalling, Mexico now appears to be making a final effort to save the world's most endangered cetacean.
Scientists uncover new seadragon
(02/18/2015) For 150 years, scientists have known of just two so-called seadragons: the leafy seadragon and the weedy seadragon. But a new paper in the Royal Society Open Science has announced the discovery of a third, dubbed the ruby seadragon for its incredible bright-red coloring. Found only off the southern Australian coastline, seadragons belong to the same family as the more familiar seahorses: the Syngnathidae.
Arctic upheaval: new book outlines challenges at the top of the world
(02/16/2015) For most of us, the Arctic is not at the front of our minds. We view it as cold, stark, and, most importantly, distant. Yet, even in an age of vast ecological upheaval, one could argue that no biome in the world is changing so rapidly or so irrevocably. Two hundred plus years of burning fossil fuels has warmed up the top of our planet more quickly than anywhere else.
Chemical clues in fossil shells may help us understand today's ocean acidification
(02/04/2015) As atmospheric CO2 levels rise, so too do those in the sea, leading to ocean acidification that outpaces that of any other time in tens of millions of years. Some effects of ocean acidification are imminent, like the fact that calcified organisms such as corals and shellfish will have access to less and less of the chemical components they need to build their shells and skeletons.
Scientists discover that fish larvae make sounds
(01/29/2015) For the first time, marine biologists have recorded evidence of fish larvae in the ocean producing sounds. The study focused on the grey snapper (Lutjanus griseus) living in the waters of the northern Florida Keys reef tract. The field of acoustic ecology, which studies animals and their interaction and relationship with sounds in their environment, has often focused on juvenile and adult fish while overlooking fish larvae.
With local help, hawksbill sea turtles make a comeback in Nicaragua
(01/28/2015) Hawksbill sea turtles, a reptile listed as the highest threat level by the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species, are making a momentous local comeback in Nicaragua’s Pearl Cays. This Critically Endangered turtle, although reduced to 85 percent of their historical numbers, has shown a nesting increase of over 200 percent from just 154 nests to 468 nests in the last 14 years.
Suspects acquitted in shocking murder of sea turtle conservationist
(01/27/2015) Yesterday, the seven men accused of brutally murdering Jairo Mora Sandoval on a beach in Costa Rica two years ago were acquitted of the crime. Sandoval's murder shocked the Central American country—long known for the progressive protection of its lush rainforests and sweeping beaches—but the judge who acquitted the accused cited reasonable doubt and a investigation marred by mistakes.
Fishing industry could lose up to $41 billion due to climate change
(01/16/2015) Climate change is already having a severe impact on the atmosphere and oceans around the world. These changes are also impacting specific economic sectors including the fishing and aquaculture industries. According to a recent report by the European Climate Foundation, the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership and the University of Cambridge, the fishing industry is projected to lose tens-of-billions as the world continues to heat up.
Ocean's 15: meet the species that have vanished forever from our seas
(01/15/2015) In the last 500 years, the oceans have suffered far fewer extinctions than on land—at least that we know of. According to a recent study in Science, 15 animals are known to have vanished forever from the oceans while terrestrial ecosystems have seen 514 extinctions. The researchers, however, warn that the number of marine extinctions could rise rapidly as the oceans are industrialized.
Empty seas? Scientists warn of an industrialized ocean
(01/15/2015) This is obvious, but still important: humans are not a marine species. Even as we have colonized most of our planet's terrestrial landscapes, we have not yet colonized the oceans. And for most of our history, we have impacted them only on the periphery. A new review in Science finds that this has saved marine species and ecosystems from large-scale damage—that is, until the last couple centuries.
Casting for another job: will fishers take up a new livelihood?
(01/12/2015) Can alternative income programs save Fiji's reef fish? Many implicate the failure of Fiji's government to prioritize sustainable management over fisheries development projects, or suggest that Fijians' mindsets must dramatically shift first.
Rat eradication needed to save seabird colony
(12/30/2014) Although only a nuisance in your home, on an isolated island chain (archipelago) off the northeastern coast of Brazil, rats pose a threat to the red-billed tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus). The seabird nests in the remote Abrolhos National Park, but two species of invasive rats prey on its eggs and young: the house rat (Rattus rattus) and the brown rat (Rattus norvegicus).
For the first time, Sea Shepherd targets Antarctic toothfish poachers
(12/09/2014) For the first time, marine conservation group, Sea Shepherd, is employing their controversial methods to protect Antarctic and Patagonian toothfish. Dubbed 'Operation Icefish,' Sea Shepherd Australia is sending two ships into Antarctic waters to disrupt illegal vessels targeting the little-known species that are often sold in luxury markets as Chilean seabass.
Nano-tags track baby sea turtles during their first few hours
(12/03/2014) Baby sea turtles vanish after they scamper into the ocean. Years later, juvenile turtles may pop up thousands of kilometers away, but often scientists don't see them again until they return to their birthplaces to nest on the beach. Now, using tiny tracking tags weighing no more than two watermelon seeds, a team has followed newborn loggerhead turtles during their first critical hours at sea, revealing how they evade predators and hitch rides on the ocean's currents.
Shark pups may not survive climate change
(12/01/2014) Fierce predatory sharks rule the oceans from the apex of the food pyramid. But climate change may be tougher than these marine hunters, a new study suggests. As oceans warm and their waters become more acidic, fewer sharks may survive their infancies.
Reeling in religious messages: how faith impacts fisheries in Fiji
(11/25/2014) Marrying religion and conservation could be key to making Fiji's fisheries sustainable. Fijians have strong religious beliefs, which were primarily introduced by Christian missionaries in the 1835, and today profoundly guide their daily lives. Fijians primarily depend on fisheries close to shore for their survival, which is the case for most small Pacific island countries.
Of bluefin and pufferfish: 310 species added to IUCN Red List
(11/17/2014) Today, 22,413 species are threatened with extinction, according to the most recent update of the IUCN Red List. This is a rise of 310 species from the last update in the summer. The update includes the Pacific bluefin tuna, the Chinese pufferfish, and Chapman's pygmy chameleon, among others.
Genetic sleuthing reveals grisly details of historic whale hunting
(11/05/2014) In 1904, Carl Anton Larsen, a Norwegian Antarctic explorer, arrived at Grytviken on the British island of South Georgia with three ships and 60 men, to establish its first commercial whaling station. The number of whaling stations soon increased, and by 1965 these had caught and processed an estimated 175,250 whales.
Russia and China blamed for blocking Antarctic marine reserve
(11/03/2014) Another year, another failed attempt to protect a significant chunk of the Ross Sea, which sits off the coast of Antarctica. According to observers, efforts to create the world's biggest marine protected area to date were shot down by Russia and China during a meeting in Hobart, Tasmania of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).
By killing off older fish, overfishing may lead to lost migratory patterns
(10/29/2014) Catching older fish may impact a school's ability to migrate from spawning grounds to feeding areas, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. The study’s scientists believe that fish schools may retain a collective memory, a communal mind map of sorts, which help these groups reach their destinations, some of which are thousands of miles away.
Saving the survivor: China scrambles to keep the finless porpoise from extinction
(10/22/2014) On the morning of July 14, 2002 Qi Qi ate breakfast as he always did. As the world’s only captive baiji – or Yangtze river dolphin – Qi Qi was something of a celebrity in China and his caretakers kept a close eye on his health. That care may explain why, after being injured by fishermen, he lived an impressive 22 years in the Freshwater Dolphin Research Center in Wuhan, China.
Saving Peru's sea turtles and marine birds: conservationists and fishermen partner to tackle bycatch
(10/07/2014) Marine conservationists often view fisheries as an enemy of sorts, vacuuming up fish with little thought to the long-term consequences and using equipment that also ends up killing other species, i.e. bycatch like sea turtles and marine birds. However, Joanna Alfaro Shigueto, the President of the Peruvian NGOProDelphinus and winner of a 2012 Whitley Award, has chosen a different tact.
Throng of 35,000 walruses is largest ever recorded on land, sign of warming arctic
(10/01/2014) A mass of thousands of walruses were spotted hauled up on land in northwest Alaska during NOAA aerial surveys earlier this week. An estimated 35,000 occupied a single beach – a record number illustrating a trend in an unnatural behavior scientists say is due to global warming.
Norway slaughters over 700 whales this season
(09/08/2014) As of late August, Norway has killed 729 northern minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) during its annual whaling season, the highest number taken since 1993.
Featured video: new Netflix documentary highlights the work of Sylvia Earle to save the oceans
(08/25/2014) Sylvia Earle is one of the ocean's staunchest defenders. A National Geographic Society Explorer in Residence and former chief scientist with NOAA, Earle has spent a lifetime documenting the rapid decline of the world's oceans and calling for more action to defend the body of water that cradles the world's continents.
Of Prawns and Men on the Bali Strait
(08/22/2014) Why is shrimp so cheap? The answer: it's not. An in depth look at the shrimp farm industry in Indonesia and the true cost of this universally enjoyed delicacy. This article by Melati Kaye first appeared in the Seashore Issue of the culinary magazine Lucky Peach and was funded under Mongabay.org's Special Reporting Initiatives program.
Demand for shark fin plunging
(08/12/2014) Shark fin demand has dropped precipitously in China in just a few years, according to a new report by WildAid. Shark fin traders in Guangzhou—the current informal capital of the shark fin trade—say their sales have fallen by 82 percent in just two years, according to WildAid.
Elephants under the sea: awkward-looking fish modify the coral-reef ecosystem in mixed ways
(08/06/2014) Bumphead parrotfish are noisy feeders. They break off large branches of corals using their powerful beaks, grind them up in their bodies to extract nutrients, and expel the undigested material in large cloudy plumes of feces. Their voracious feeding is, however, not just a loud, messy affair. During the course of their feeding, they also change the coral reef ecosystem in numerous ways.
The world's best mother: meet the octopus that guards its eggs for over four years
(07/30/2014) The ultimate goal of all species on the planet is procreation, the act of making anew. But few mothers could contend with a deep-sea octopus, known as Graneledone boreopacifica, which researchers have recently observed guarding its eggs for four-and-a-half years (53 months), before likely succumbing to starvation soon after.
Seafood apartments and other experiments in fixing Indonesia's fisheries (Part IV)
(07/25/2014) Shrimp farms, industrial plants, and one of Indonesia's busiest thoroughfares make up Java's north coast today. It's a very different scene from the fishing villages with beachfront boat parking that stood here decades earlier. Which begs the question, where will fish live in this new 'coast without mangroves, without coral, without seagrass,' asks Alan Koropitan, a marine biologist based at Bogor Agricultural University.
Over-depleted and undermanaged: can Indonesia turn around its fisheries? (Part III)
(07/22/2014) Compared to maritime ministries worldwide, Indonesia's Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF) is a teenaged neophyte. The governing body was formed a mere 13 years ago;a staggering fact for a country made up of two-thirds water where many of the 250 million people depend on fish for both protein and income. Mongabay.org's SRI Fellow Melati Kaye reports on the state of Indonesian fisheries in the third installment of a four-part series.
Boom but mostly bust: fighting over sardines in Indonesia's Bali Strait (Part II)
(07/18/2014) Fifty-five crewmen, stripped to their briefs, sing Madurese sea shanties to synchronized gestures as they haul in giant seine nets, hand-over-hand, onto the swaying wooden deck of the M/V Sinar Indah out in the middle of the Bali Strait. This morning they had offloaded a bumper haul at their homeport of Muncar: seven tons of lemuru sardines Sardinella lemuru, the local specialty, for which dockside cannery agents offered $3,500.
Fishing for coherent regulations along Fiji's coral reefs
(07/16/2014) Will Fiji implement a much-needed update to its fisheries laws before the September election? If you want to quiet a room in Fiji or feel like a lobster in a boiling pot, bring up coastal fishing rights, and ask what's happening with the plan to update the country's fisheries laws.
A tale of two fish: cyanide fishing and foreign bosses off Sulawesi's coast (Part I)
(07/08/2014) In spring and summer, after the monsoon storms have passed, the fishing boats set out again from tiny Kodingareng Island in the Spermonde Archipelago off the coast of South Sulawesi. In the afternoon heat, Abdul Wahid joins his fellow fishermen in the narrow shade of the beachfront village houses to check out the daily fish prices.
Dying for Fiji's Sea Cucumbers
(06/23/2014) Redfish, Greenfish, Blackfish. Pinkfish, Curryfish, Lollyfish. They sound like Dr. Seuss characters and certainly look like they should be. Yet these sausage-shaped, rubbery animals stippled in fleshy bumps are not fish at all, but an invertebrate in the group that includes sea stars, sea urchins and sand dollars. Sea cucumbers, referred to as 'bêche-de-mer' or 'trepang' when sold as dried food have a high value - an individual in Fiji can fetch about $80 US.
Olinguito, tinkerbell, and a dragon: meet the top 10 new species of 2013
(05/22/2014) Out of around 18,000 new species described and named last year, scientists have highlighted ten in an effort to raise awareness about the imperiled biodiversity around us. Each species—from a teddy-bear-like carnivore in the Andes to a microbe that survives clean rooms where spaceships are built—stands out from the crowd for one reason or another.
Chinese poachers caught with 555 marine turtles, most dead (PHOTOS)
(05/15/2014) On Friday, eleven Chinese fishermen were caught by Filipino police with 555 marine turtles, 378 of which were dead. Officials in the Philippines have since released the 177 living turtles. But the incident has sparked an international standoff between the Philippines and China as the Chinese nationals were arrested in disputed waters in the South China Sea.
Scientists uncover new marine mammal genus, represented by single endangered species
(05/14/2014) This is the story of three seals: the Caribbean, the Hawaiian, and the Mediterranean monk seals. Once numbering in the hundreds of thousands, the Caribbean monk seal was a hugely abundant marine mammal found across the Caribbean, and even recorded by Christopher Columbus during his second voyage, whose men killed several for food.
Underwater horrors: shells of marine life melting off the coast of the U.S.
(05/08/2014) It could be the plot of a horror movie: humans wake up one day to discover that chemical changes in the atmosphere are dissolving away parts of their bodies. But for small marine life known as sea butterflies, or pteropods, this is what's happening off the West Cost of the U.S. Increased carbon in the ocean is melting away shells of sea butterflies.
Weird and mysterious: scientists find new shark species
(04/16/2014) A long snout with teeth jutting from the sides? Check. Catfish-like barbels dangling from its chin? Got them. Gills on the side of its body? It has those, too. These are characteristics of a bizarre group of sharks known as sawsharks. And until recently, only seven species were recognized. However, a new discovery raises that number by one more.
Malaysia imperils forest reserves and sea turtle nesting ground for industrial site (photos)
(04/15/2014) Plans for an industrial site threaten one of Malaysia's only marine turtle nesting beaches and a forest home to rare trees and mammals, according to local activists. Recently, the state government of Perak approved two industrial project inside Tanjung Hantu Permanent Forest Reserve. But activists say these will not only cut into the reserve, but also scare away nesting turtles from Pasir Panjang.
Collateral damage: new findings shed light on the full impact of commercial fishing
(04/09/2014) Aside from reducing the populations of the species sought for capture, commercial fisheries are also killing thousands of nontarget creatures such as sharks, albatross, and sea turtles, collectively referred to as “bycatch.” However, the full extent of the problem is only beginning to be grasped.
3 environmental reporting prize winners to explore drivers of deforestation, community forestry, and sustainable seafood in China
(03/19/2014) Mongabay.org, the non-profit arm of environmental science web site Mongabay.com, has selected winners of three environmental reporting prizes under its Special Reporting Initiatives (SRI) program. The three prizes, which were launched in January, explore the impacts of rising human consumption on forest and marine ecosystems. The winners, selected from more than 150 applicants by a panel of issue-area experts, include Robert S. Eshelman, Ruxandra Guidi and Bear Guerra, and Dominic Bracco II and Erik Vance.
A Turtle's Tale: researchers discover baby turtles' kindergarten (photos)
(03/14/2014) Kate Mansfield, at her lab in the University of Central Florida, is holding a baby loggerhead turtle, smaller than her palm, painting manicure acrylic on its shell. When the base coat dries out, she glues on top a neoprene patch from an old wetsuit with hair extensions adhesive. Finally, she attaches a satellite tracker on top, the size of a two "party cheese" cubes, with flexible aquarium silicone, powered by a tiny solar battery. Now the little turtle is ready to be released back into the ocean.
Scientists spy on whales from space
(03/11/2014) Although whales are the biggest animals on the planet, scientists have found in difficult to count them. But a new study in PLOS ONE may change this: researchers tested the idea of counting whales using high resolution satellite imagery. Employing a single image from the WorldView2 satellite, scientists went about counting a pod of southern right whales in the Golfo Nuevo off the coast of Argentina.
Wonderful Creatures: the tiny, predatory penis-worm that lies in wait in the sand
(02/28/2014) The seabed is really where it’s at in terms of animal diversity. Of the 35 known animal lineages, representatives of all but two are found here. In contrast, the huge numbers of species that inhabit tropical rainforests represent a mere 12 lineages. One group of animals that illustrates the diversity of the seabed is the Priapulida, which also go by the unfortunate common name of "penis worms." Only 20 species of priapulid are known today, a shadow of their diverse past, which extends back for well over 500 million years. Not commonly seen, the priapulids have attracted little attention from the zoology community as a whole.
Saving sharks one sandwich at a time: conservationists target 'shark bake'
(02/28/2014) Thousands of Carnival revelers in Trinidad wouldn't think of missing the chance to go to Maracas Beach, the most famous strip of sand on the small Caribbean island off the northeast coast of Venezuela. Beachgoers might not think twice about eating a favorite food called "shark bake" either – at least, until now. But this week, conservationists launched a shark-saving campaign timed to get maximum exposure out of the celebration that will bring throngs of visitors to the island.
Plastic waste ingested by worms threatens marine food chains
(02/26/2014) Small fragments of plastic waste are damaging the health of lugworms, putting a key cog in marine ecosystems at risk. Published in Current Biology, a new study by scientists at the University of Exeter and the University of Plymouth shows the impact of microplastics on the marine worms' health and behavior.
Ocean acidifying 10 times faster than anytime in the last 55 million years, putting polar ecosystems at risk
(02/24/2014) An assessment of ocean acidification, presented at the UN Climate Change Conference in Warsaw in November 2013, starkly concluded that acidity is on track to rise 170 percent by the end of this century. As many key species are sensitive to changes in acidity, this would drastically impact ocean ecosystems, with effects especially pronounced in polar regions where the cold waters intensify acidification, and which are home to many organisms that are particularly vulnerable to acidification.
Scientists discover new whale species
(02/14/2014) Beaked whales are incredibly elusive and rare, little-known to scientists and the public alike—although some species are three times the size of an elephant. Extreme divers, beaked whales have been recorded plunging as deep as 1,800 meters (5,900 feet) for over an hour. Few of the over 20 species are well-known by researchers, but now scientists have discovered a new beaked whale to add to the already large, and cryptic, group: the pointed beaked whale (Mesoplodon hotaula).
Wonderful Creatures: the bizarre-looking marine worm with an incredibly important ecological role
(02/13/2014) Almost everyone knows what an earthworm is, but these very familiar animals are just one variation on a very rich theme that is at its most fabulously varied in the oceans. The mind-boggling appearances and lifestyles of the marine segmented worms are perfectly exemplified by this week's animal.
Incredible encounter: whales devour European eels in the darkness of the ocean depths
(02/11/2014) The Critically Endangered European eel makes one of the most astounding migrations in the wild kingdom. After spending most of its life in Europe's freshwater rivers, the eel embarks on an undersea odyssey, traveling 6,000 kilometers (3,720 miles) to the Sargasso Sea where it will spawn and die. The long-journeying eels larva than make their way back to Europe over nearly a year. Yet by tracking adult European eels (Anguilla anguilla) with electronic data loggers, scientists have discovered that some eels never make it to their spawning ground, but instead are swallowed-up in the depths by leviathans.
Scientists discover new eagle ray imperiled by Japanese pest program (photos)
(01/30/2014) Scientists have described a new species of eagle ray in the northwest Pacific Ocean, which they have named "narutobiei" (Aetobatus narutobiei) after its local name in Japan. While the new species has long been known by scientists, it was clumped together with the longheaded eagle ray (Aetobatus flagellum) for over two hundred years. Splitting the two species has large-scale conservation impacts, according to the paper describing the new species in PLOS ONE.
Wonderful Creatures: meet the animal that has evolved a cushy, worry-free life inside an octopus
(01/30/2014) The range of habitats that animals have come to occupy is nothing short of staggering. Take the dicyemids for example. They are among the simplest animals on the planet, with a tiny, worm-like adult body that consists of between 10 and 40 cells. They have no organs, body cavities or even guts—a structural simplicity which is a consequence of where and how they live. The only place you will find adult dicyemids is inside the bodies of cephalopods, typically octopuses and cuttlefish where large numbers of them cling to the inner wall of the mollusc's kidney.
The smoothtooth blacktip shark and four other species rediscovered in markets
(01/21/2014) Scientific American) magazine recently ran an article on the rediscovery of the smoothtooth blacktip shark (Carcharhinus leiodon) in a Kuwaiti fish market. Believed extinct for over 100 years, the smoothtooth had not been seen since the naturalist Wilhelm Hein returned from a trip to Yemen in 1902. With its reappearance, scientists scoured Kuwaiti markets and discovered an astounding 47 individual smoothtooth blacktips.
Global warming could upset Antarctic food chain
(01/02/2014) Resting near the bottom of the foodchain, Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) underpin much of the Southern Ocean's ecosystem. But in a rapidly warming world, these hugely-abundant crustaceans could see their habitat shrink considerably. In a recent paper in PLOS ONE, scientists predict that Antarctic krill could lose 20 percent of their growth habitat, or 1.2 million square kilometers.
Giant clams are easy to recognize, but genetics proves there is more than meets the eye
(12/21/2013) Giant clams are among the more easily spotted invertebrates of the marine realm. However, some are actually quite cryptic and distinct species are often difficult to identify, claims a study recently published in PlosOne. Much attention has been focused on charismatic species in research, but the scientists who authored the study argue that giant clams also deserve the spotlight because of the potential threats and present misunderstandings regarding their taxonimical classifications.
Top 10 HAPPY environmental stories of 2013
(12/19/2013) China begins to tackle pollution, carbon emissions: As China's environmental crisis worsens, the government has begun to unveil a series of new initiatives to curb record pollution and cut greenhouse emissions. The world's largest consumer of coal, China's growth in emissions is finally slowing and some experts believe the nation's emissions could peak within the decade. If China's emissions begin to fall, so too could the world's.
Sonar directly impacts whale behavior, according to military study
(12/13/2013) Noises from pile-driving, explosives, ship motors and other industrial activities have all been linked to adverse effects on marine wildlife. A new study, funded by the US Navy and published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, suggests that military sonar may be directly impacting whale behavior. The idea that sonar might affect the behavior of whales is not new. A number of reports in the past have linked the use of military sonar to mass stranding events of beaked whales and baleen whale species.
Top 10 Environmental Stories of 2013
(12/10/2013) 1. Carbon concentrations hit 400ppm while the IPCC sets global carbon budget: For the first time since our appearance on Earth, carbon concentrations in the atmosphere hit 400 parts per million. The last time concentrations were this high for a sustained period was 4-5 million years ago when temperatures were 10 degrees Celsius higher. Meanwhile, in the slow-moving effort to curb carbon emissions, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) crafted a global carbon budget showing that most of the world's fossil fuel reserves must be left untouched if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change.
Where have all the dugongs gone?
(12/03/2013) Legend has it that lonely sailors mistook them for beautiful, mythical mermaids. But as it turns out, the muse behind these beguiling sea nymphs was instead the dugong – a rather ungainly, gentle and mini-bus sized marine mammal, cousin to the manatees and part of the sea cow family. However, while they may have once fuelled stories for fairytales and Disney movies, their far-from-glamorous life is currently under serious threat in many parts of the world.
Animal Earth: exploring the hidden biodiversity of our planet
(12/03/2013) Most of the species on Earth we never see. In fact, we have no idea what they look like, much less how spectacular they are. In general, people can identify relatively few of their backyard species, much less those of other continents. This disconnect likely leads to an inability in the general public to relate to biodiversity and, by extension, the loss of it. One of the most remarkable books I have read is a recent release that makes serious strides to repair that disconnect and affirm the human bond with biodiversity. Animal Earth: The Amazing Diversity of Living Creatures written by Ross Piper, a zoologist with the University of Leeds, opens up the door to discovery.
Over 350 species added to the IUCN Red List's threatened categories in the last six months
(11/26/2013) The number of threatened species on the IUCN Red List has grown by 352 since this summer, according to an update released today. Currently, 21,286 species are now listed as threatened with extinction out of the 71,576 that have been evaluated. The new update comes with both good and bad news for a number of high-profile imperiled species, but only covers about 4 percent of the world's described species.
Leatherback sea turtle no longer Critically Endangered
(11/26/2013) The leatherback sea turtle—the world's largest turtle and the only member of the genus Dermochelys—received good news today. In an update of the IUCN Red List, the leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) has been moved from Critically Endangered to Vulnerable. However, conservationists warn that the species still remains hugely endangered—and in rapid decline—in many parts of its range.
Ultraviolet nets significantly reduce sea turtle bycatch
(11/11/2013) Bycatch, a side-effect of commercial fishing in which non-target species are accidentally caught, is linked to severe population declines in several species. Sea turtles are particularly impacted by small-scale coastal gillnetting practices, in which large nets are deployed and indiscriminately snag anything of a certain size that attempts to swim through them. However, that may soon change.
Seahorses on your iPad: new app allows anyone to track and document seahorses
(11/08/2013) Annually, approximately 13 million seahorses—live and dead—are traded around the globe. At this scale, the seahorse trade is potentially very destructive to a group of animals comprised of 48 species, 11 of which are listed by the International Union for Conservation and Nature (IUCN) as threatened with extinction.
DNA tests reveal new dolphin species (photos)
(10/30/2013) With the help of DNA tests, scientists have declared a new dolphin species that dwells off the coast of northern Australia. The discovery was made after a team of researchers looked at the world's humpback dolphins (in the genus Sousa), which sport telltale humps just behind their dorsal fins. While long-known to science, the new, as-yet-unnamed species was previously lumped with other humpback dolphins in the Indo-Pacific region.
Fishermen illegally killing dolphins for shark-bait in Peru (video)
(10/23/2013) Peruvian fishermen slaughtered dolphins to use as bait for shark fishing, an undercover investigation has revealed. Footage showed infant and adult dolphins being harpooned then stabbed and clubbed before, in some cases, being cut open and butchered while still alive. The slaughtered dolphins were cut up and used as bait. Dolphins are also killed for human consumption in Peru even though it is illegal.
98% of marine fish headed for the aquarium trade die within a year in the Philippines
(10/22/2013) Almost all wild caught marine fish for the aquarium trade will die within a year of capture, according to WWF. Following months of interviews with Filipino marine exporters and hobbyists, WWF-Philippines have found that roughly 80% of all marine fish die before they are sold, and those that survive long enough to be bought by hobbyists are extremely likely to be dead in under a year.
The 'dead' ocean: eyewitness says overfishing has emptied the Pacific
(10/22/2013) An Australian sailor has described parts of the Pacific Ocean as "dead" because of severe overfishing, with his vessel having to repeatedly swerve debris for thousands of kilometers on a journey from Australia to Japan. Ivan MacFadyen told of his horror at the severe lack of marine life and copious amounts of rubbish witnessed on a yacht race between Melbourne and Osaka. He recently returned from the trip, which he previously completed 10 years ago.
Governments should respond to ocean acidification 'as urgently as they do to national security threats'
(10/03/2013) The oceans are more acidic now than they have been for at least 300m years, due to carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels, and a mass extinction of key species may already be almost inevitable as a result, leading marine scientists warned on Thursday. An international audit of the health of the oceans has found that overfishing and pollution are also contributing to the crisis, in a deadly combination of destructive forces that are imperiling marine life, on which billions of people depend for their nutrition and livelihood.
New campaign celebrates the world's 'ugliest' animal
(09/16/2013) The blobfish (Psychrolutes marcidus), a species that lives at great depths and is rarely seen but resembles a marine Jabba the Hut, has been voted the world's ugliest animal.
Video: scientists discover new walking shark species in Indonesia
(09/11/2013) A species of shark that uses its fins to 'walk' along the bottom of the ocean floor has been discovered off the coast of Indonesia. The shark, Hemiscyllium halmahera, uses its fins to wiggle along the seabed and forage for small fish and crustaceans, scientists from Conservation International said on Friday.
Finding a needle in a haystack: two new species of octocorals discovered in the Pacific Ocean
(09/04/2013) The vast expanse of the Earth's oceans makes finding a new species like finding a needle in a haystack. In fact, finding a needle in a haystack may be easier than finding a new species of octocoral in the Pacific Ocean. But Gary Williams with the California Academy of Sciences has recently found not only one but two new species, including a new genus of octocoral.
Eighty sea turtles wash up dead on the coast of Guatemala
(08/27/2013) An assortment of marine animals and birds reside along the black volcanic sand beaches of Guatemala’s Pacific coast, but lately both residents and visitors on the southeast beaches of the country have observed a tragic event – the stranding of dead sea turtles. Eighty dead sea turtles have been recorded since the first week of July.
Whale shark mapping: scientists uncover global distribution for the largest fish in the world
(08/27/2013) Polka-dotted and striped. Massive but docile. That’s the whale shark for you - the largest fish and shark in the world. But despite being major tourist attractions, the lives of these awe-inspiring creatures of the ocean remain far from being demystified. However, a team of researchers from Australia may now have some answers to where these whale sharks (Rhinocodon typus) occur.
Climate change scattering marine species
(08/08/2013) Rising ocean temperatures are rearranging the biological make-up of our oceans, pushing species towards the poles by 7kms every year, as they chase the climates they can survive in, according to new research. The study, conducted by a working group of scientists from 17 different institutions, gathered data from seven different countries and found the warming oceans are causing marine species to alter their breeding, feeding and migration patterns.
Galapagos sea lions threatened by human exposure
(07/19/2013) A recent study conducted by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) on endangered Galapagos sea lions (Zalophus wollebaeki) has revealed that the animals are more susceptible to starvation as a result of their exposure to humans. Over a span of more than 18 months, conservationists tagged and monitored the behavior and physiology of two groups of 60 Galapagos sea lions, one in San Cristobal, which is inhabited by humans, and one in Santa Fe, where there are no humans, dogs, cats, mice, or rats.
Yangtze finless porpoise drops to Critically Endangered
(07/07/2013) The newest update to the IUCN Red List has downgraded the status of the Yangtze finless porpoise (Neophocaena asiaeorientalis asiaeorientalis) from Endangered to Critically Endangered, reflecting the deteriorating state of arguably the world's most degraded river system. The downgrade follows a survey last year that counted only 1,000 animals, a 50 percent decline from 2006.
Over 700 species added to the threatened categories on the IUCN Red List (photos)
(07/02/2013) In another sign of the global biodiversity crisis, the IUCN Red List has added 715 species to its threatened categories of Vulnerable, Endangered, and Critically Endangered in this year's update. Some of these species were evaluated by the IUCN Red List for the first time while others saw their conditions deteriorate, such as the the white-lipped peccary (Tayassu pecari) which is now listed as Vulnerable due to overhunting, deforestation, and possibly disease. As of this year, the Red List has evaluated 70,923 of the world's species—including almost all mammals, birds, and amphibians—of which 20,934 are deemed threatened.
San Francisco seafood restaurants go sustainable
(07/02/2013) The Seafood Watch Program, first created by Monterey Bay Aquarium in the late 1990s, is arguably the best-known guide to sustainably-caught seafood in the U.S. Listing seafood choices in three categories—green (best choices), yellow (good alternatives), and red (avoid)—the guide informs consumers of the best options. However, it's one thing to create a well-respected guide, and another issues altogether to get producers and consumers to use it. But a newer partnership, the San Francisco Seafood Watch Alliance, is working to bridge this gap. Maggie Ostdahl of Aquarium of the Bay works with the Seafood Watch Restaurant program and restaurants across San Francisco—one of the best places in the country for seafood—to source sustainable seafood. Restaurant partners avoid seafood on the guide's red list.
Australia aims to end Japan's whaling
(06/27/2013) Australia is hoping to put a permanent end to Japan's annual slaughter of hundreds of whales in the Southern Ocean, in a landmark legal challenge that begins this week. Australia, a vocal opponent of Japan's annual "scientific" hunts in the Antarctic, says it is confident that the international court of justice (ICJ) in The Hague will outlaw the hunts at the end of a highly anticipated case that is due to start on Wednesday.
Ocean acidification pushing young oysters into 'death race'
(06/11/2013) Scientists have long known that ocean acidification is leading to a decline in Pacific oyster (Crassostrea gigas) in the U.S.'s Pacific Northwest region, but a new study in the American Geophysical Union shows exactly how the change is undercutting populations of these economically-important molluscs. Caused by carbon dioxide emissions, ocean acidification changes the very chemistry of marine waters by lowering pH levels; this has a number consequences including decreasing the availability of calcium carbonate, which oysters and other molluscs use to build shells.
Costa Rican environmentalist pays ultimate price for his dedication to sea turtles
(06/10/2013) On the evening of May 30th, 26-year-old Jairo Mora Sandoval was murdered on Moin beach near Limón, Costa Rica, the very stretch of sand where he courageously monitored sea turtle nests for years even as risks from poachers rose, including threats at gunpoint. A dedicated conservationist, Sandoval was kidnapped along with four women volunteers (three Americans and one from Spain) while driving along the beach looking for nesting sea turtles. Sandoval was separated from the women—who eventually escaped their captors—but the young Costa Rican was stripped naked, bound, and viciously beaten. Police found him the next day, face-down and handcuffed in the sand; Sandoval died of asphyxiation.
Manta ray tourism worth 28 times more than killing them for Traditional Chinese Medicine
(06/03/2013) A new study in the open access journal PLoS ONE estimates that manta rays are worth $140 million a year in tourism across 23 countries, significantly outweighing the worth of manta ray gill plates, which have become the newest craze in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Whales teach each other new feeding behavior
(05/29/2013) Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), popularly known for their majestic and alluring underwater mating songs and acrobatic breaches, have shown that they can adapt to changing prey variability by passing on new hunting techniques to each other. According to new findings in the journal Science, a team of researchers have revealed the cultural spread of new hunting techniques through a population of humpback whales over the span of 27 years.
Biosphere conservation: monumental action is critical to avert global environmental crisis
(05/20/2013) Human-caused changes to our biosphere—the global total of the world's ecosystems—are now so great and alarmingly rapid that human lives and societies undoubtedly face epic challenges in the near future as our biosphere deteriorates, planetary boundaries are reached, and tipping points exceeded. We may survive, we may painfully adapt, but it is a fair bet that grave hardship, loss, and sacrifice lay ahead. The nature and extent of impacts among human populations hinges on how successfully we respond to the biosphere crisis with extraordinary leadership, balanced solutions applied at global scales, and unprecedented cooperation—or not.
Pacific islanders are the 'victims of industrial countries unable to control their carbon dioxide emissions'
(05/15/2013) With islands and atolls scattered across the ocean, the small Pacific island states are among those most exposed to the effects of global warming: increasing acidity and rising sea level, more frequent natural disasters and damage to coral reefs. These micro-states, home to about 10 million people, are already paying for the environmental irresponsibility of the great powers.
Industrialized fishing has forced seabirds to change what they eat
(05/14/2013) The bleached bones of seabirds are telling us a new story about the far-reaching impacts of industrial fisheries on today's oceans. Looking at the isotopes of 250 bones from Hawaiian petrels (Pterodroma sandwichensis), scientists have been able to reconstruct the birds' diets over the last 3,000 years. They found an unmistakable shift from big prey to small prey around 100 years ago, just when large, modern fisheries started scooping up fish at never before seen rates. The dietary shift shows that modern fisheries upended predator and prey relationships even in the ocean ocean and have possibly played a role in the decline of some seabirds.
Scientists discover that marine animals disperse seagrass
(05/09/2013) Lesser known than coral reefs, marine seagrass ecosystems are rich in biodiversity and are powerhouses when it comes to sequestering carbon dioxide. Yet, much remains unknown about the ecology of seagrass beds, including detailed information on how seagrass spread their seeds and colonize new area. Now a recent study in Marine Ecology Progress Series documents that several species of marine animal are key to dispersing seagrass, overturning the assumption that seagrass was largely dispersed by abiotic methods (such as wind and waves).
Featured video: saving sea turtles in Mexico's Magdalena Bay
(05/09/2013) A new short film, Viva la tortuga documents the struggle to save loggerhead and green sea turtles in Magdalena Bay, Mexico. Once a region for a massive sea turtle meat market, the turtles now face a new threat: bycatch. Loggerhead sea turtles are drowning in bottom-set gillnets, unable to escape from the nets once entangled. The issue has even raises threats of trade embargoes from the U.S.
Are seagulls killing whales in Patagonia?
(05/08/2013) It sounds ludicrous, but it could just be true: scientists say seagulls may be responsible for hundreds of southern right whale moralities off the Argentine coastline. Since 2003, scientists have documented the deaths of 605 southern right whales (Eubalaena australis) near Península Valdés which the whales use as a nursery. Notably, 88 percent of these were newborn calves. The death rate is so high that researchers now fear for the whales' long-term survival.
Munching on marine plastic kills sperm whale
(05/07/2013) What do children's toys, balloons, mattresses and plastic bags have in common? They can, along with more non-biodegradable pollutants, be found in the belly of a sperm whale, the topic of a new study in the Marine Pollution Bulletin. The same whale that swallowed Jonah from the Bible, Geppetto from Collodi's Pinocchio, and the crew of the Pequod from Melville's Moby-Dick is now swallowing trash from the Spanish-Mediterranean coast, and in the Strait of Gibraltar.
China 'looting' Africa of its fish
(04/24/2013) Just 9% of the millions of tonnes of fish caught by China's giant fishing fleet in African and other international waters is officially reported to the UN, say researchers using a new way to estimate the size and value of catches. Fisheries experts have long considered that the catches reported by China to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) are low but the scale of the possible deception shocked the authors.
Clownfish helps its anemone host to breathe
(04/24/2013) The sight of a clownfish wriggling through the stinging tentacles of its anemone is a familiar and seemingly well-understood one to most people—the stinging anemone provides a protective home for the clownfish who is immune to such stings, and in turn the clownfish chases away any polyp-eating sunfish eyeing the anemone's tentacles for a meal. But recent research has shown that all that clownfish wriggling significantly helps to oxygenate the anemone at night, when oxygen levels in the water are low.
Breaking the mold: Divya Karnad takes on fisheries and science journalism in India
(04/15/2013) Fishing is not a woman's domain in most countries across the globe. In parts of India there are fishing communities who believe that having a woman onboard a fishing boat brings bad luck. Despite this, Divya Karnad, a scientist who studies marine life in India, has spent several years studying fisheries and their impact on species like sharks and sea turtles. Her work forms a part of global efforts to track declining marine species and encourage more sustainable fishing.
Proposed coal plant threatens Critically Endangered Philippine cockatoo
(04/02/2013) One kilometer off the Philippine island of Palawan lies the Rasa Island Wildlife Sanctuary; here forest grows unimpeded from a coral island surrounded by mangroves and coral reefs. Although tiny, over a hundred bird species have been recorded on the island along with a major population of large flying foxes, while in the waters below swim at least 130 species of coral fish, three types of marine turtles, and that curious-looking marine mammal, dugongs. Most importantly, perhaps, the island is home to the world's largest population of Philippine cockatoos (Cacatua haematuropygia), currently listed as Critically Endangered. But, although uninhabited by people, Rasa Island may soon be altered irrevocably by human impacts.
Scientists discover new genus of crustacean
(03/27/2013) In recent journeys to Madagascar, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, the Philippines, and French Polynesia, scientists from the Centre for Advanced Studies of Blanes and the University of Barcelona have discovered not only five new crustaceous species, but also the existence of a new genus in the family.
Heavy metal shark meat: dangerous lead levels found in sharks used as fish food
(03/18/2013) A recent study published in mongabay.com’s open access journal Tropical Conservation Science raises concerns about levels of heavy metals, particularly lead (Pb), present in shark meat, as well as the decline of shark abundance due to global fishing pressures. Sharks are primarily caught as by-catch for other fishing industries. By one account, 70% of the total catch in swordfish long-line fisheries was sharks. Due to consumer demand, this by-catch is sold to Asian fish markets as fin and trunk meat. Much of the trunk and organ meat is used to make fish-meal, which is then fed to farmed fish.
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