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News articles on marine mammals
Mongabay.com news articles on marine mammals in blog format. Updated regularly.
(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.
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.
African manatee hanging on in Cameroon
(09/30/2013) In the Lower Basin of the Sanaga River in Cameroon, near Lake Ossa and the Douala-Edea National Parks, manatees swim and float about like round, potato-shaped mermaids. This region is home to the West African manatee (Trichechus senegalensis), an aquatic mammal facing a decline in population. Classed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List, the West African manatee is threatened by excessive kills, habitat loss, and habitat degradation. Given this, and the dearth of information about manatees, a group of Cameroon scientists have taken an ethnobiological approach (i.e. the interaction between people and wildlife) by employing skilled, knowledgable locals to collect data on the manatees.
Sonar used by oil company caused mass whale stranding in Madagascar
(09/25/2013) An oil company's use of a high-frequency mapping sonar system was responsible for a mass whale stranding in northwest Madagascar in 2008, finds a new report.
Climate change killing harp seal pups
(08/20/2013) As sea ice levels continue to decline in the northern hemisphere, scientists are observing an unsettling trend in harp seal young mortalities regardless of juvenile fitness. While a recent study found that in harp seal breeding regions ice cover decreased by up to 6% a decade from 1979 on, a follow-up study in PLoS ONE compared the rate of harp seal strandings to total ice cover from 1992 to 2010.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Japan killed record low number of whales
(04/05/2013) Japan blamed environmental activists for a "record low" take during this year's whaling season in the Southern Ocean, reports Kyodo News.
Photo: Pod of 100,000 dolphins spotted off California coast
(02/21/2013) A 'super mega-pod' of some 100,000 dolphins was spotted off the coast of San Diego last week, according to a report from NBC San Diego.
From the brink of extinction: elephant seals stage remarkable comeback
(01/23/2013) In the 19th century the Northern Pacific Elephant was thought to be extinct until a small population was discovered on an island of Baja California in 1892. Since then, the species has staged a remarkable comeback which was greatly accelerated by protective measures adopted by the U.S. and Mexican governments. The recovery is especially evident on the beaches of California's Año Nuevo State Park. Until the 1950s so individuals were observed in the park. In the 1960s pups started to be born on Año Nuevo's sandy shores. By the 1990s thousands of pups where born each year, capping the elephant seal's turnaround. 'Beachmaster', a new film by Christopher Gervais and Stan Minasian, tells the conservation success story of their recovery.
Save Lolita: new film urges release of captive killer whale
(01/22/2013) Through his new 90-second PSA, Save Lolita, filmmaker Daniel Azarian wanted to connect people to the plight of Lolita on a deeply human level; the only problem: Lolita is an orca, also known as a killer whale. But the stark, moving PSA succeeds, given the sociability of an individual—human or orca—who was stolen from her family and held in captivity for the past 42 years at Miami's Seaquarium.
Reduction in snow threatens Arctic seals
(11/28/2012) Arctic snowfall accumulation plays a critical role in ringed seal breeding, but may be at risk due to climate change, according to a new study in Geophysical Research Letters. Sea ice, which is disappearing at an alarming rate, provides a crucial platform for the deep snow seals need to reproduce. Ringed seals (Phoca hispida) require snow depths of at least 20 centimeters (8 inches): deep enough to form drifts that seals use as birth chambers.
Photos: Mozambique creates Africa's biggest marine protected area
(11/13/2012) Last week, the East African nation of Mozambique announced it was protecting 10,411 square kilometers (4,020 square miles) of coastal marine waters, making the new Marine Protected Area (MPA) the biggest on the continent. The protected area, dubbed the Primeiras and Segundas Archipelago ("First" and "Second" islands), includes ten islands as well as mangrove forests, rich coral reefs, and seagrass ecosystems.
Whale only known from bones washes up on beach in New Zealand
(11/05/2012) In 2010, a whale mother and male calf were found dead on Opape Beach in New Zealand. Although clearly in the beaked whale family—the most mysterious marine mammal family—scientists thought the pair were relatively well-known Gray's beaked whales (Mesoplodon grayi). That is until DNA findings told a shocking story: the mother and calf were actually spade-toothed beaked whales (Mesoplodon traversii), a species no one had ever seen before as anything more than a pile of bones.
By imitating human voices, beluga whale may have been attempting to communicate
(10/23/2012) Five years after the death of a captive beluga whale named NOC, researchers have discovered that the marine mammal may have been trying to communicate with people by mimicking humans voices at the National Marine Mammal Foundation in San Diego. Analyzing tapes of human-like speech from the young male beluga whale, scientists writing in Current Biology note that while there have been reports of beluga whales making human like sounds before, this is the first time evidence has been captured on tape and analyzed.
Photos: emperor penguins take first place in renowned wildlife photo contest
(10/18/2012) Photographer, Paul Nicklen, says he'll never forget the moment when a slew of emperor penguins burst by him in the frigid Ross Sea; he'd waited in the cold water, using a snorkel, to capture this image. Now, Nicklen has won the much-coveted Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition for the antic, bubbling photograph. Owned by the Natural History Museum and BBC Worldwide, this is the 48th year of the Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year, which hands out awards to 100 notable wildlife and environment photos.
Cute animal picture of the day: baby walruses on the mend
(10/11/2012) Two walrus male calves were discovered over the summer near Barrow, Alaska, dehydrated and ill, after their separate mothers perished. The calves have been receiving care at the Alaska SeaLife Center, but one will soon be moved to the Wildlife Conservation Society's (WCS) New York Aquarium and the other to the Indianapolis Zoo.
Maui's dolphins still in danger of extinction despite New Zealand's protective measures
(08/07/2012) The New Zealand government's recent efforts to protect the world’s smallest dolphin have come under scrutiny from various conservation organizations at the 64th meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC). There are only 55 Maui dolphins (Cephalorhynchus hectori maui) now found on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island, less than half the 2005 population with numbers continuing to decline. Less than 20 of the remaining Maui’s are breeding females and their slow reproductive rates make it difficult to increase their numbers when faced with an even bigger danger: fishing nets.
Humpback whales delaying migration due to Antarctic changes
(07/30/2012) Humpback whales in the Antarctic are delaying their migration to feed on krill that are staying later due to reduced extent of sea ice, a possible consequence of climate change, reports a study published in the journal Endangered Species Research.
Deepwater Horizon oil spill may have played role in dolphin deaths
(07/22/2012) In the first four months of 2011, 186 bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) were found dead in the Gulf of Mexico, nearly half of them dolphin calves many of whom were perinatal, or near birth. Researchers now believe a number of factors may have killed the animals. Writing in the open-access journal PLoS ONE, scientists theorize that the dolphins died a sudden influx of freshwater from snowmelt after being stressed and weakened by an abnormally cold winter and the impacts of the BP oil spill.
Cute animal picture of the day: stranded sea lion finds new home
(07/11/2012) A young female California sea lion (Zalophus californianus) , who had stranded herself three times, has found a new home at the Bronx Zoo. After her most recent escapade of showing up at a beachside bar in California, experts decided she was too habituated to humans to re-release back into the ocean for a third time. She was transferred to the Wildlife Conservation Society's Bronx Zoo.
Just how far can a polar bear swim?
(05/03/2012) Polar bears (Ursus maritimus) are capable of swimming incredible distances, according to a new study published in Zoology, which recorded polar bears regularly swimming over 30 miles (48 kilometers) and, in one case, as far as 220 miles (354 kilometers). The researchers believe the ability of polar bears to tackle such long-distance swims may help them survive as seasonal sea ice vanishes due to climate change.
Over 30 Yangtze porpoises found dead in China as population nears extinction
(05/01/2012) Six years after the Yangtze river dolphin (Lipotes vexillifer), or baiji, was declared "functionally extinct" by scientists, another marine mammal appears on the edge of extinction in China's hugely degraded Yangtze River. In less than two months, 32 Yangtze finless porpoises (Neophocaena asiaeorientalis asiaeorientalis), a subspecies of the finless porpoise, have been dead found in Dongting and Poyang Lakes in the Yangtze, reports the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).
Video: All white killer whale spotted in Russia
(04/27/2012) Scientists in Russia have captured the first-known video footage of an all-white killer whale.
BP Deepwater Horizon deformities: eyeless shrimp, clawless crabs
(04/24/2012) Two years after the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing eleven and causing an oil spill that lasted three months, scientists say the impacts on the Gulf ecosystem are only beginning to come to light and the discoveries aren't pretty.
World's smallest dolphin: only 55 left, but continue to drown in nets
(03/22/2012) The world's smallest dolphin is also the closest to extinction. New Zealand government figures show that Maui's dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori maui) are down to just 55 mature individuals, falling from 111 in 2005. The small cetaceans, measuring up to 1.7 meters (5.5 feet), are imperiled due to drowning in gillnets with the most recent death by a fisherman's net occurring in January.
Featured video: scientists capture first footage of Shepherd's beaked whale
(02/27/2012) Scientists have captured what is believed to be the world's first footage of the cryptic Shepherd's beaked whale (Tasmacetus shepherdi), one of a number of beaked whale species about which scientists know almost nothing.
Amazon.com stops selling whale meat
(02/22/2012) Amazon Japan, a subsidiary of Amazon.com, pulled all whale meat products (and possibly dolphin meat) from its site after a new report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and the Humane Society International highlighted the issue. Last December the organizations recorded 147 whale products on sale at Amazon Japan despite an international whaling moratorium since 1986. Japan, along with Iceland and Norway, continues to industrially hunt whales. Japan says their whale hunt is for scientific purposes only, but environmentalists dispute this.
New sanctuaries declared for Asia's freshwater dolphins
(02/15/2012) Bangladesh has declared three new sanctuaries to help protect the south Asian river dolphin (Platanista gangetica) in the Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove forest. Split into two subspecies, the Ganges River dolphin (Platanista gangetica gangetica) and the Irrawaddy River dolphin (Platanista gangetica minor), the new sanctuaries will benefit both. Listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List, the south Asian freshwater dolphin has disappeared from much of its habitat. Already Asia has its other freshwater dolphin species: the baiji (Lipotes vexillifer) was declared functionally extinct into 2006 after a survey of the Yangtze River failed to find a single individual.
87 marine mammals still eaten by people
(01/24/2012) Threats to marine mammals usually include climate change, drowning as by-catch, pollution, depletion of prey, but what about eating marine mammals? A new study in Biological Conservation finds that a surprising 87 marine mammals—including polar bears, small whales, and dolphins—have been eaten as food since 1990 in at least 114 countries.
Photos: program devoted to world's strangest, most neglected animals celebrates five years
(01/16/2012) What do Attenborough's echidna, the bumblebee bat, and the purple frog have in common? They have all received conservation attention from a unique program by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) called EDGE. Five years old this week, the program focuses on the world's most unique and imperiled animal species or, as they put it, the most Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) species. In the past five years the program has achieved notable successes from confirming the existence of long unseen species (Attenborough's echidna) to taking the first photos and video of a number of targeted animals (the purple frog).
Featured video: tuna industry bycatch includes sea turtles, dolphins, whales
(01/16/2012) A Greenpeace video, using footage from a whistleblower, shows disturbing images of the tuna industry operating in the unregulated waters of the Pacific Ocean. Using fish aggregation devices (FADs) and purse seine nets, the industry is not only able to catch entire schools of tuna, including juvenile, but also whatever else is in the area of the net.
How much is the life of a whale worth?
(01/16/2012) How do you end a decades-long conflict between culture and conservation? How do you stop a conflict where both sides are dug in? A new paper in Nature proposes a way to end the long and bitter battle over whaling: environmentalists could pay whalers not to whale.
Cute animal picture of the day: pygmy killer whale saved after stranding
(01/12/2012) On Tuesday a female pygmy killer whale (Feresa attenuata) was found stranded on Tanjung Aru beach, in the Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo. After being moved to a swimming enclosure at a local resort for recuperation, the whale was released back into the wild with aid from the Sabah Wildlife Department, marine biologist Lindsay Porter, the local NGO LEAP, and WWF Malaysia.
Seals, birds, and alpine plants suffer under climate change
(01/11/2012) The number of species identified by scientists as vulnerable to climate change continues to rise along with the Earth's temperature. Recent studies have found that a warmer world is leading to premature deaths of harp seal pups (Pagophilus groenlandicus) in the Arctic, a decline of some duck species in Canada, shrinking alpine meadows in Europe, and indirect pressure on mountain songbirds and plants in the U.S. Scientists have long known that climate change will upend ecosystems worldwide, creating climate winners and losers, and likely leading to waves of extinction. While the impacts of climate change on polar bears and coral reefs have been well-documented, every year scientists add new species to the list of those already threatened by anthropogenic climate change.
Critically Endangered Hawaiian monk seals bludgeoned to death
(01/08/2012) To date three Hawaiian monk seals (Monachus schauinslandi), and possibly a fourth mortality under investigation, have been found bludgeoned to death by an as yet undiscovered assailant, reports the Associated Press. Authorities believe the seals may have been killed by local fishermen who fear new regulations meant to save the species from extinction. The seal is currently down to 1,100 individuals.
Small marine fish need protection too
(10/25/2011) It has long been known that overfishing has decimated some populations of tuna, shark, cod, as well as other big predatory fish; however two recent studies have pointed out that overfishing is also threatening small fish such as anchovies, sardines, mackerel, herring, menhaden, and krill. Although tiny, these species are vital to marine ecosystems since many species higher up on the food chain—from seabirds to marine mammals to big fish—wholly depend on them for survival.
Photo surprise: Antarctic seal shows up on rainforest beach in Gabon, Central Africa
(10/23/2011) A male sub-antarctic fur seal on the beach between Louri and Tassi in Loango National Park, Gabon on September 1, 2011.
Photos: satellite tracking of the unicorn of the sea
(10/19/2011) A new program aims to track one of the ocean's most enigmatic creatures: the narwhal (Monodon monoceros). Tagging nine narwhales in August, researchers plan to track the species in order to gain new insights about how the little-known toothed whale will withstand a rapidly melting Arctic due to climate change. "[This] is a chance to better understand these animals while their world changes around them. We know narwhals are often associated with sea ice, and we know the sea ice is shrinking. WWF is trying to understand how narwhals, as well as all other ice associated animals in the arctic can adapt to a changing environment," says Peter Ewins with WWF-Canada.
Photos: New Zealand oil disaster kills over 1200 birds to date
(10/16/2011) According to the New Zealand government an oil spill from a grounded container ship in the Bay of Plenty has killed 1,250 seabirds with hundreds of others in rescue centers. However, conservationists say the avian death-toll is far higher with most contaminated birds simply vanishing in the sea. "The number of birds being found washed up on the beaches will be a very small proportion of the birds being affected," explained Karen Baird, Seabird Conservation Advocate with NGO Forest & Bird.
Deepwater spill 'meets the Titanic': groups sue to stop Arctic drilling
(09/29/2011) Following the Obama administration's approval of Royal Dutch Shell to drill in the Arctic's Beaufort Sea, a wide-swathe of environmental have filed a lawsuit to stop the drilling, which could begin as early as next summer. Those filing the lawsuit today blasted Shell for what they perceived as a pathetic oil spill response plan, and the Obama administration for acquiescing to the big oil company.
New species of bottlenose discovered in Australia (PHOTO)
(09/15/2011) Researchers have discovered a new species of dolphin in Australia, reports ABC News.
Sowing the seeds to save the Patagonian Sea
(09/07/2011) With wild waters and shores, the Patagonia Sea is home to a great menagerie of marine animals: from penguins to elephants seals, albatrosses to squid, and sea lions to southern right whales. The sea lies at crossroads between more northern latitudes and the cold bitter water of the Southern Ocean, which surround Antarctica. However the region is also a heavy fishing ground, putting pressure on a number of species and imperiling the very ecosystem that supplies the industry. Conservation efforts, spearheaded by marine conservationist Claudio Campagna and colleagues with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), are in the early stages. Campagna, who often writes about the importance of language in the fight for preservation, has pushed to rename the area to focus on its stunning wildlife.
Mass walrus haul-outs, polar bear cub mortality linked to climate change
(09/01/2011) Recent, unprecedented walrus haul-outs and increased instances of long-distance swims by polar bears show the direct impacts on wildlife of dwindling Arctic sea ice from climate change. These threatened species also face the prospect of offshore drilling in the Arctic after the Obama Administration recently approved a number of plans to move forward on oil exploration. At least 8,000 walruses hauled out on an Alaskan beach along the Chukchi Sea on August 17. Only a day before, the U.S. Geological Survey announced it would begin tagging walruses near Point Lay, Alaska to study how a lack of sea ice is affecting the species.
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