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News articles on marine mammals
Mongabay.com news articles on marine mammals in blog format. Updated regularly.
(11/17/2010) A shark sanctuary has been declared around the Raja Ampat islands in Indonesia. Larger than Denmark, the new sanctuary covers 17,760 square miles (46,000 square kilometers) of one of the world's richest marine biodiverse region, the Coral Triangle. Protections not only cover sharks, but dugongs, marine turtles, mobulas, and manta rays as well. In addition, reef bombing and fishing for the aquarium trade are banned.
What do wolves and sharks have in common?
(11/15/2010) Sharks dwell in the ocean, wolves on land; sharks are a type of fish, wolves are a mammal; sharks go back some 400 million years, wolves only some 2 million years. So, these animals should have little in common, right? However, a new study in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment points to surprising similarities among these disparate animals. As top predators, both wolves and sharks impact their prey and other species in similar ways.
Sustainably certified fishery kills over 250 fur seals in one season
(11/10/2010) The New Zealand Ministry of Fisheries estimates that from 2007-2008, 273 New Zealand fur seals (Arctocephalus forsteri) were killed by offshore trawling hoki fisheries, an increase of over 75 seals since the previous year. New Zealand's hoki fishery has been certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council since 2001 and re-certified in 2007. Hoki is commonly used for ubiquitous fried fish sandwiches, such as those served at McDonald's.
Japanese making themselves sick with dolphin hunt
(11/01/2010) Japan's dolphin hunt of Dall's porpoise (Phocoenoides dalli) could be making people sick, according to a new study by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Campaign Whale. The controversial hunt, which kills some 15,000 dolphins annually, produces cheap meat-for-consumption that on average contains over double Japan's limit on mercury contamination. "We are very concerned that people in Japan are threatening their health and possibly that of their children by unwittingly eating Dall’s porpoise meat that is dangerously contaminated with poisons such as mercury and PCBs," Andy Ottaway, Director of Campaign Whale, said in a press release.
Island nation announces Ukraine-sized sanctuary for whales and dolphins
(10/24/2010) Dolphins, whales, and dugongs will be safe from hunting in the waters surrounding the Pacific nation of Palau. At the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Nagoya, Japan, Palau's Minister of the Environment, Natural Resources and Tourism, Harry Fritz, announced the establishment of a marine mammal sanctuary covering over 230,000 square miles (60,000 square kilometers) of the nation's waters, an area the size of Mongolia.
Cold snap may have killed millions of fish in Bolivia, poisoning rivers
(08/31/2010) Although the last few months have been some of the warmest worldwide on record, including 17 countries reaching or breaking all-time highs, temperatures have not been above average everywhere. Cold air from Antarctica has brought chilling temperatures to parts of South America, including Bolivia where millions of fish and thousands of caimans, turtles, and river dolphins have perished according to Nature Communications.
Scientists condemn current development plan in Kalimantan
(08/02/2010) Scientists with the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) have released a resolution opposing the current development plan for a road and bridge crossing Balikpapan Bay in the Indonesian state of Kalimantan. The resolution states that the plan threatens not only the fragile ecosystems within the bay, but of the nearby mangroves as well as the Sungai Wain forest and its watershed, vital for local industry and people. According to ATBC, the plan could be easily remedied by officials picking an alternate route, which is also favored by locals since it would be 80 kilometers shorter.
Who's really accountable for the BP oil spill?
(07/25/2010) Reading articles in the newspapers recently and online, I find the media's focus is on scrutinizing BP's way of paying for the damage done when an estimated 76,934,000 gallons of their oil leaked out into the Gulf of Mexico after the explosion of their Deepwater Horizon rig in April. It is not that they are being criticised for not standing up and taking full responsibility for their recklessness that caused the spill, but instead they are being accused of not paying enough money for its clean-up. Taxpayers are outraged that they may pick-up the tab and are demanding to know why they should be held accountable when the disaster wasn’t their fault. Yet, do we not all have a part to play in this catastrophe?
Oil disaster threatens Gulf of Mexico's deep water titans
(07/19/2010) As I discovered in the course of researching my book, No Rain in the Amazon: How South America’s Climate Change Affects the Entire Planet (Palgrave, 2010), the oil industry has had a poor record when it comes to protecting aquatic sea life. Take for example the manatee, which has been put at risk from the Amazon to the Gulf of Mexico as a result of the oil industry. One of the most outlandish creatures on the planet, the shy and retiring manatee, which gets its name from an American Indian word meaning “Lady of the Water,” was first described as a cross between a seal and hippo. The creature has a wonderfully round body, mostly black skin the texture of vinyl, a bright pink belly, a diamond-shaped tail and a cleft lip.
Conservation photography: on shooting and saving the world's largest temperate rainforest, an interview with Amy Gulick
(07/11/2010) Most of the US's large ecosystems are but shadows of their former selves. The old-growth deciduous forests that once covered nearly all of the east and mid-west continental US are gone, reduced to a few fragmented patches that are still being lost. The tall grassy plains that once stretched further than any eye could see have been almost wholly replaced by agriculture and increasing suburbs. Habitats, from deserts to western forests, are largely carved by roads and under heavy impact from resource exploitation to invasive species. Coastal marine systems, once super abundant, have partially collapsed in many places due to overfishing, as well as pollution and development. Despite this, there are still places in the US where the 'wild' in wilderness remains largely true, and one of those is the Tongass temperate rainforest of Southeast Alaska.
In the midst of marine collapse will we save our last ocean?
(07/05/2010) Imagine an ocean untouched by oil spills: a sea free of pollution, invasive species, dead zones, and over-exploitation; waters where marine animals exist in natural abundance and play ecological roles undimmed by mankind. Such a place may sound impossible in today's largely depleted oceans, but it exists: only discovered in 1841, the Ross Sea spreads over nearly a million kilometers adjacent to the Antarctic continent. Here killer whales, penguins, sea birds, whales, and giant fish all thrive. However, even with its status as the world's 'last ocean', the Ross Sea has not escaped human impact. Over the last 15 years commercial fisheries have begun to catch one of its most important species in the ecosystem to serve them up on the dinner plates of the wealthy.
Whaling talks break down: ban stays in place, yet whaling will continue
(06/23/2010) The International Whaling Commission (IWC), which was supposed to decide a way forward for whales over the next decade has ended without an agreement. Talks broke down, according to participants, because countries opposed to whaling and those that continue hunting and killing whales despite a ban on commercial whaling—i.e. Japan, Norway, and Iceland—have been unable to find enough common ground to pound out an agreement.
To whale or not to whale?: nations, environmental groups do some soul-searching
(06/22/2010) There are two ways forward on whaling according to visions being put forward at the International Whaling Commission this week. One way is to uphold the 24-year-long ban on hunting and killing whales. While this road sends a strong pro-conservation message, it also means that Japan, Norway, and Iceland will continue whaling as they have over the past couple decades, killing an average of 2,000 whales annually. These three countries employ a variety of excuses for their whaling—Iceland and Norway simply state that they do not recognize the whaling ban while Japan claims its whaling is only done for 'scientific purposes'—but it is clear that they will not end whaling and, to date, there is no punishment for their dismissal of the international treaty.
The penguin crisis: over 60 percent of the world's penguins threatened with extinction
(06/10/2010) Everyone loves penguins. With their characteristic black-and-white 'tuxedo' markings, upright waddle, and childlike stature, penguins seem at once exotic and familiar: exotic because they live far from most human habitations, familiar because they appear in innumerable books and movies. From Mr. Popper's Penguins to Happy Feet, and from March of the Penguins to And Tango Makes Three, penguins pop-up everywhere. The flightless birds have even provided the name and symbol to one of the world's most successful publishing houses. Yet despite their popularity amid the human kingdom, few people seem aware that penguins worldwide are facing an extinction crisis.
Will we ever know the full wildlife toll of the BP oil spill?
(06/08/2010) Will we ever know the full wildlife toll of the BP oil spill? The short answer: no. The gruesome photos that are making the media rounds over the last week of oiled birds, fish, and crustaceans are according to experts only a small symbol of the ecological catastrophe that is likely occurring both in shallow and deep waters. Due to the photos, birds, especially the brown pelican, have become the symbol of the spill to date. But while dozens of birds have been brought to rescue stations covered in oil, the vast majority will die out at sea far from human eyes and snapping cameras, according to Sharon Taylor a vet with the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
BP and the Perilous Voyage of Bama the Manatee
(05/23/2010) To the degree that Americans are paying attention to the environmental plight of marine wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico, they may focus most upon dolphins and whales. However, the U.S. public is much less familiar with another marine mammal, the manatee, which could also be placed in jeopardy as a result of the BP oil spill. One of the most outlandish creatures on the planet, the shy and retiring manatee, which gets its name from an American Indian word meaning "Lady of the Water", is one of my favorite animals.
Wildlife death toll from BP oil spill likely includes dolphins
(05/13/2010) The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is taking its toll on the region's wildlife: brown pelicans, sea turtles, several species of fish, and now dolphins have been found dead. The National Marine Fisheries Service reported today finding six dead dolphins in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama since May 2nd. Officials are saying the deaths could be related to the oil spill or may be due to natural deaths from calving. They are currently testing tissue samples to determine if oil pollution was a cause of death. Dolphins have been observed swimming in oil-stained waters off of Louisiana.
Killer whales split into three separate species
(04/25/2010) Using genetic evidence scientists have discovered that the world’s killer whales, also known as orcas (Orcinus orca), likely represent at least three separate species.
New report finds millions of marine turtles killed by fisheries, not thousands
(04/06/2010) Humankind's appetite for seafood has had a bigger impact on the world's marine turtles than long thought. A new report by Conservation International (CI) in partnership with Duke University’s Project GloBAL (Global By-catch Assessment of Long-lived Species) finds that in the past eighteen years it is likely millions of marine turtles have been killed as bycatch by the world's fisheries.
Polar bears are newcomers on the world stage
(03/01/2010) One of the most well-known animals, the polar bear, is a newcomer on the world stage, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. By studying the DNA of an ancient polar bear jawbone uncovered in 2004 in Norway scientists have for the first time pinpointed the time when the polar bear split from its closest relative, the brown bear. "Our results confirm that the polar bear is an evolutionarily young species that split off from brown bears some 150,000 years ago and evolved extremely rapidly during the late Pleistocene, perhaps adapting to the opening of new habitats and food sources in response to climate changes just before the last interglacial period."
Galapagos fur seals exploit warmer waters to establish colony off Peru
(02/25/2010) As suggested by their name, the Galapagos fur seals were once endemic to the Galapagos island chain off the coast of Ecuador. But in a warming world species are on the move, and the Galapagos fur seal is no exception. According to a recent story in Reuters the Galapagos fur seals have established what appears to be a permanent colony off the coast of Peru, 900 miles from their home.
Extinct animals are quickly forgotten: the baiji and shifting baselines
(02/23/2010) In 2006 a survey in China to locate the endangered Yangtze River dolphin, known as the baiji, found no evidence of its survival. Despondent, researchers declared that the baiji was likely extinct. Four years later and the large charismatic marine mammal is not only 'likely extinct', but in danger of being forgotten, according to a surprising new study 'Rapidly Shifting Baselines in Yangtze Fishing Communities and Local Memory of Extinct Species' in Conservation Biology. Lead author of the study, Dr. Samuel Turvey, was a member of the original expedition in 2006. He returned to the Yangtze in 2008 to interview locals about their knowledge of the baiji and other vanishing megafauna in the river, including the Chinese paddlefish, one of the world's largest freshwater fish. In these interviews Turvey and his team found clear evidence of 'shifting baselines': where humans lose track of even large changes to their environment, such as the loss of a top predator like the baiji.
Expedition to photograph world's rarest cetacean threatened by lack of funding
(02/11/2010) Little known beyond the waters of the Gulf of California, the world's smallest cetacean (a group including whales, dolphins, and porpoises) is hanging on by a thread. The vaquita—which in Spanish means 'little cow'—has recently gained the dubious distinction of not only being the world's smallest cetacean, but the also the world's rarest. In 2006 it was announced that the Yangtze river dolphin, or baiji, was likely extinct, and conservationists fear the Critically Endangered 'little cow' is next. An expedition for this year is set to identify vaquita individuals, but even this is threatened by lack of funding.
86 percent of dolphins and whales threatened by fishing nets
(02/07/2010) A new report from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) finds that almost 9 out of 10 toothed whales—including dolphins and porpoises—are threatened by entanglement and subsequent drowning from large-scale fishing operations equipment, such as gillnets, traps, longlines, and trawls. These operations threaten the highest percentage (86 percent) of the world's toothed whales.
Why top predators matter: an in-depth look at new research
(02/02/2010) Few species have faced such vitriolic hatred from humans as the world's top predators. Considered by many as pests—often as dangerous—they have been gunned down, poisoned, speared, 'finned', and decimated across their habitats. Even where large areas of habitat are protected, the one thing that is often missing are top predators. However, new research over the past few decades is showing just how vital these predators are to ecosystems. Biologists have long known that predators control populations of prey animals, but new studies show that they may do much more. From controlling smaller predators to protecting river banks from erosion to providing nutrient hotspots, it appears that top predators are indispensible to a working ecosystem. Top predators sit at the apex of an ecosystem's food chain. Wolves in Alaska, tigers in Siberia, lions in Kenya, white sharks in the Pacific are all examples of top predators.
Russian police raid environmental group working to protect Lake Baikal
(02/01/2010) Russian police have raided the Baikal Environmental Wave organization reports the Moscow Times. Police seized several computers, citing the reason for the raid to uncover the use of unlicensed software.
Giant guano outcroppings win protection as bird habitat in Peru
(01/25/2010) The Peruvian government has moved to protect 33 guano sites—both islands and peninsulas—as well as surrounding waters in a bid to save declining bird populations.
Gone: a look at extinction over the past decade
(01/03/2010) No one can say with any certainty how many species went extinct from 2000-2009. Because no one knows if the world's species number 3 million or 30 million, it is impossible to guess how many known species—let alone unknown—may have vanished recently. Species in tropical forests and the world's oceans are notoriously under-surveyed leaving gaping holes where species can vanish taking all of their secrets—even knowledge of their existence—with them.
Uninhabited tropical island paradise seeks REDD funding to save it from loggers
(12/17/2009) Tetepare may be one of the last tropical island paradises left on earth. Headhunting and a mysterious illness drove its original inhabitants from the island two hundred years ago, making Tetepare today the largest uninhabited island in the tropical Pacific. The 120 square kilometer island (46 square miles), long untouched by industry or agriculture, is currently threatened by logging interests. However, the island is not without champions: in 2002 descendents of the original inhabitants of Tetepare formed the Tetepare Descendents Association (TDA) to preserve the island. Recently they have teamed up with the Solomon Islands Government and the Solomon Islands Community Conservation Partnership to develop financing through REDD.
Photos: ten beloved species threatened by global warming
(12/14/2009) The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has released a list of ten species that are likely to be among the hardest hit by climate change, including beloved species such as the leatherback sea turtle, the koala, the emperor penguin, the clownfish, and the beluga whale. The timing of the list coincides with the negotiations by world leaders at the UN Climate Change Conference to come up with an international agreement to combat climate change.
The Yangtze River may have lost another inhabitant: the Chinese paddlefish
(10/22/2009) In December of 2006 it was announced that the Yangtze River dolphin, commonly known as the baiji, had succumbed to extinction. The dolphin had survived on earth for 20 million years, but the species couldn't survive the combined onslaught of pollution, habitat loss, boat traffic, entanglement in fishing hooks, death from illegal electric fishing, and the construction of several massive dams. Now, another flagship species of the Yangtze River appears to have vanished.
No killing yet as season begins for dolphin slaughter made famous by The Cove
(09/02/2009) Due to the new documentary The Cove, the town of Taiji, Japan is suddenly famous, or perhaps more aptly, infamous. Winner of the documentary award at the Sundance Film Festival, the film uncovers a cove in Taiji where over two thousand dolphins are slaughtered every year due to the billion dollar dolphin entertainment industry. Their dolphin's meat is then labeled as fish and given to children for school lunches, even though as top level predators the meat is heavily tainted with mercury.
Study refutes criticism of polar bear listing under the Endangered Species Act
(05/20/2009) In May 2008 the Bush Administration listed the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The listing immediately received allegations of being politically biased and not based on sound science. However, a new paper addresses the allegations point by point and concludes that the decision to add the polar bear under the ESA was not only scientifically sound, but right.
Blue whales return to migration pattern used before commercial whaling
(05/13/2009) The blue whale may be returning to a migration route that it abandoned during commercial whaling. Researchers have discovered whales migrating from California to the coastlines of British Columbia and the Gulf of Alaska for the first time since 1965. Fifteen different cases of whales have been recorded in the north Pacific; four of the whales were individuals who had been viewed off the coast of California, as well.
New Australian dolphin spits at food
(04/13/2009) Only recognized as a new species in 2005, the snubfin dolphin has been observed spitting jet streams of water at schools of fish. Spitting at the fish helps the dolphins round them up into groups where they are easier to catch.
Study confirms that sonar can cause deafness in dolphins
(04/08/2009) A new study in Biology Lettersconfirms what marine biologists have long suspected: loud sonar can cause temporary deafness in dolphins, possibly explaining some mass strandings. The study, using a captive dolphin in a controlled experiment, found that sonar at high prolonged levels could even lead to slight behavioral changes.
Marine Protected Areas too small for whales and dolphins
(04/07/2009) Current Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are too small to adequately serve whales and dolphins according to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS). The international organization is calling for a global network of MPAs to save the ocean's most beloved inhabitants. "A worldwide effort must be made urgently to identify and define whale and dolphin critical habitats and hot spots,” said WDCS Research Fellow, Erich Hoyt.
Massive population of rare Irrawaddy dolphins discovered in Bangladesh
(03/31/2009) The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has discovered an unknown population of the rare Irrawaddy dolphin in Bangladesh numbering 6,000 individuals. The dolphins were found in the freshwater areas of the Sundarbans mangrove forest. Prior to this discovery, the largest known populations of Irrawaddy dolphins numbered only in the hundreds.
Harbor seals return to New York
(03/26/2009) More than a hundred years passed, and the Hudson River and Atlantic Ocean estuary was cleaned up—enough to support the comeback of the harbor seal. In spring of 2006, kayakers and recreational boaters who frequent the waters around the Verrazano Bridge, took note of what appeared to be marine mammals that had not been there before. Were there harbor seals, again in this urban estuary? The boaters notified the Kingsborough Community College for Maritime Studies and the New York Aquarium, who teamed up to investigate, and thus, began the first annual harbor seal survey.
Infant blue whale filmed underwater
(03/06/2009) Off the waters of Costa Rica in January 2008 scientists and photographers with National Geographic filmed an infant blue whale swimming near its mother. They believe this is the first time a baby blue whale has been filmed underwater.
Iceland reaffirms whaling targets for 2009
(02/19/2009) Iceland's interim government will allow whaling to continue through 2009 but left in question whether it would be permitted in the future, reports Reuters.
Fishermen - not whales as claimed by Japan - are the cause of fisheries depletion
(02/12/2009) Fishermen calling for a resumption of whaling to restore commercial fish stocks are taking the wrong approach, argue researchers writing in the journal Science. Analyzing data on fish catch and whale abundance off the coast of northwestern Africa and the Caribbean, Leah R. Gerber and colleagues show that fishermen remove far more fish than whales consume, undermining the agreement by whaling nations that whales are driving depletion of fisheries.
Iceland raises whale killing quota to 150 fin whales, 100 minkes per year
(01/28/2009) The outgoing administration in Iceland has substantially raised the country's whaling quota, reports the BBC.
Neither slow nor stupid, manatees are killed by boats because they can't hear them
(12/12/2008) Last year 73 manatees were killed by boats in Florida, despite two decades of manatee-related protections. In fact, manatee deaths due to boat collisions have only increased since protections were implanted. A recent study at the Florida Atlantic University has finally revealed why boats are so dangerous to manatees: the manatee cannot run from what it does not hear.
Manatees become conservation symbol for communities in Mexico
(12/01/2008) Local conservation efforts are helping protect endangered manatees in Chiapas, Mexico, report researchers writing in the December issue of Tropical Conservation Science.
A new reason to ban whaling: your health
(11/28/2008) Health officials have recommended a ban on the eating of pilot whales, a traditional food source, in the Faroe Islands, reports New Scientist. The build-up of toxins — which bioaccumulate up the food chain as predators feed on tainted organisms — have rendered whale meat harmful to humans.
Caspian seal numbers plummet 90%
(11/12/2008) Caspian Seal populations have declined 90% in the past 100 years, prompting the IUCN to switch their designation from Vulnerable to Endangered.
Supreme Court lifts ban on sonar testing, whales lose
(11/12/2008) A Supreme Court decision will allow the Navy to continue its of sonar in training exercises off the coast of California, a defeat for environmental groups who say sonar is harmful to whales, reports the Associated Press.
U.S., Mexico, Canada pledge to save the vaquita from extinction
(10/30/2008) The United States, Mexico, and Canada will work together to conserve the vaquita, the world's smallest, and most endangered, species of cetacean.
Argentina bans fishing, trawling in eco-rich area
(10/09/2008) The government of Argentina has banned commercial fishing along Burdwood Bank, an 1,800 square kilometer (694 square mile) submerged island off its southern coast, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
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