Category Archives: Marine Mammals

Obama announces Atlantic Ocean’s first national monument

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Water in the designated region is projected to warm three times faster than the global average, according to National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) research, changes which will threaten species like salmon, lobster, and scallops. Recreational fishermen will still be permitted in the region, but red crab and lobster fisheries will have to end fishing in the monument area within seven years, and commercial fishermen will have two months to make the switch.

“We’re helping make oceans more resilient to climate change,” President Obama said. “And this will help fishermen better understand the changes that are taking place that will affect their livelihood, and we’re doing it in a way that respects the fishing industry’s unique role in New England’s economy and history.”

Nevertheless, New England fishermen claim the protected region will harm the fishing industry, and they feel Obama was wrong to implement the creation of protected areas under the Antiquities Act.  In August, Obama used the authorities given by this act to create the world’s largest marine national monument off the coast of Hawaii.

Said National Coalition for Fishing Communities spokesman Bob Vanasse, “We don’t normally create laws in this country by the stroke of an imperial pen. We anticipate the offshore lobster industry will be affected to the tune of about $10 million per year. On top of that, one of the most affected industries is going to be the Atlantic red crab industry. It is going to be very significantly impacted.”

However, the White House noted that NOAA will work with Congress to help New England fishermen, using programs that provide low-interest loans for ship rehabilitation, new ship acquisitions, aquaculture, shoreside fisheries, and fishing gear repair and upgrades.

Said Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council: “We need sustainable fisheries and economically sustainable communities. This monument can help bring both forward.”

Source: Dasgupta, Shreya. “Obama creates Atlantic Ocean’s first marine national monument.” Mongabay. 19 September 19 2016.

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How Humpback Whales Were Brought Back from the Brink

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Humpback whales have been hunted almost to the edge of extinction for hundreds of years. However, major efforts to protect them in the past forty years have finally paid off in significant and measurable ways, as shown in an NOAA Fisheries announcement this week reporting that 9 of 14 known humpback populations worldwide have now recovered enough to be removed from the US List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife, most of which are in the southern hemisphere. “The data behind the humpback delisting is solid,” says NOAA marine ecologist Robert Pitman, a NatGeo Society grant recipient studying these amazing creatures. “Those of us that have been on the water working with whales for the past thirty to forty years have been amazed at the recovery that we have seen.”

Marta Nammack, NOAA Fisheries’ national Endangered Species Act listing coordinator, notes that while five humpback populations are still struggling and will remain on the list, it makes sense to remove the groups that have been successful at recovering. Each of the fourteen populations that make up the estimated 100,000 total humpbacks are recognized as being genetically distinct, suggesting that the populations’ statuses and threats to their survival should be studied and assessed separately. For example, she says, lethal entanglement in fishing nets is a much greater extinction threat for the 82 humpbacks remaining in the Arabian Sea, as compared with the 10,000 whales in the Hawaiian humpback population. “We may not be able to delist the entire species,” says Nammack, “but by dividing them up the way we did, we can see substantial progress for their recovery across a good portion of the species.”

Prior to the humpbacks, distinct gray whale populations were delisted separately from one another depending on various extinction threats they faced. After a successful recovery, the Eastern North Pacific population of gray whales was removed from the Endangered Species List in 1994, but the Western North Pacific population remains an endangered group.

The delisting of several humpback populations will not mean that they will become instantly vulnerable to hunting and other manmade threats that would cause their numbers to plunge. In fact, every humpback population will remain protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which bans harassing, feeding, hunting, capturing, collecting, or killing any marine mammal in US waters. In addition, the International Whaling Commission has banned hunting humpbacks since 1982.

NOAA Fisheries reported filing two regulations that mandate whale watching and other boats keep a 100-yard distance from all humpbacks. “The decision [to delist] shows the power of the Endangered Species Act. But the job isn’t done,” says Center for Biological Diversity staff attorney Kristen Monsell. She describes the threats that climate change, ocean noise, and ship strikes will continue to pose to humpbacks, making maintenance of existing protections necessary. “We’re lucky to share our oceans with these amazing animals, and we should be doing everything we can to protect them,” she says.

Nammack and Pitman point out that the delisting is exciting news not only for humpbacks, but also for the laws and programs that helped them along the way to recovery. Concludes Pitman, “This is a win for humpbacks and the listing process. Delisting is ultimately what we are all after.”

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Source: Bittel, Jason. “The Plan to Save the Humpback Whales—and How It Succeeded.” National Geographic. 9 Sept 2016.

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First Marine Protected Area in Cambodia Announced

schooling-fish-801x600M’Pai Bai jetty with school of fish. Photo by Paul Colley / Fauna & Flora International.

Cambodia’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries recently declared a 156-square mile region of the Koh Rong Archipelago the nation’s first marine protected area. The Marine Fisheries Management Area (MFMA), located by the islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem, houses diverse species of sea turtles and seahorses and protects their fragile nursery and breeding sites.

In addition to preserving wildlife, the plan still allows for human activities in the area: “The MFMA will help to drive sustainable fishing activities of the community, protect biodiversity and promote ecotourism, all of which contribute to achieving the goal of the fisheries sector,” said Ouk Vibol, director of Cambodia’s Department of Fisheries Conservation, who pushed for creation of the protected area. “This is a good management model, as many stakeholders — including development partners, the private sector, local authorities and the local community — are working together to manage the fisheries resource for sustainable use.”

Blue-spotted-rays-902x600Blue-spotted ray. Photo by Paul Colley / Fauna & Flora International.

For the past five years, local groups such as the Song Saa Foundation and Save Cambodian Marine Life have worked alongside non-profit Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and Cambodia’s Fisheries Administration to help the MFMA come to fruition. FFI’s Coastal and Marine Project Manager Kate West said that between 60 and 80% of local communities around the archipelago rely on fishing and tourism, making it critical that the new MFMA ensured “that the waters around Koh Rong can continue to support not only marine life but also local livelihoods long into the future.”

The Song Saa Foundation has further pushed the initiative forward by providing baseline research on the health of local coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrasses. “The establishment of this MFMA is a major step towards protecting biodiversity of key marine fauna and habitats in the archipelago, as well as the communities that rely upon them for their well being,” noted Ben Thorne, a Song Saa Foundation project director. “We are hugely proud of our collaborative efforts over the past five years to establish this protected area, ensuring successful conservation of fisheries resources, whilst supporting local communities, for many years to come.”

Source: Gaworecki, Mike. “Cambodia declares first-ever marine protected area.” Mongabay. 24 June 2016.

Flabellina-nudibranchFlabellina nudibranch, a colorful sea slug. Photo by Paul Colley / Fauna & Flora International.

 

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Great Bear Rainforest

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An agreement was reached last week to protect the vast majority of Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest, one of the largest old-growth temperate rainforests left in the world.

The deal is between First Nations governments, the provincial government of British Columbia, and the forestry industry that fulfills commitments first made a decade ago as part of the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements.

With the agreement, some 3.1 million hectares (7.7 million acres) of the Great Bear Rainforest, over 85 percent of the temperate rainforest in the remote coastal region will be permanently off-limits to industrial logging. The remaining 15 percent (550,000 hectares or 1.2 million acres) of the forest will be subject to “the most stringent legal standards for commercial logging operations in North America.

The agreement requires a 40 percent reduction in logging compared with 2006 levels — or 2.5 million cubic metres (88.2 million cubic feet) per year — for the next 10 years. After that, logging will be done on a “conservation trajectory.” Logging companies will have to make annual progress reports to the public to ensure they meet the required conservation targets.

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The agreement also solidifies First Nations governments’ shared decision-making powers with the B.C. government within their traditional territories and establishes measures to improve the wellbeing of First Nations communities.

This is a  victory for the global climate, as well, as B.C.’s coastal old-growth rainforests are known to store large amounts of carbon, meaning that increased protections will result in an immediate reduction in carbon emissions from deforestation.

Just over half of the region known as the Great Bear Rainforest, which encompasses about 6.4 million hectares (15 million acres) of coastal B.C., is covered by forest ecosystems (around 3.6 million hectares, or 8.9 million acres). It is the traditional territory of 26 First Nations.

The Great Bear Rainforest provides habitat for a number of iconic species, including towering, ancient trees as well as grizzly bears, orcas, salmon, wolves, and the unique, white-furred black bear known as the Spirit bear that the rainforest is named for.

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Manatees may lose Endangered status

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The West Indian Manatee will lose their status as endangered species under a proposal announced by federal wildlife managers, who say the marine mammals have made a robust recovery since first receiving protection in 1967.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to reclassify the manatee from endangered to threatened in response to a review initiated by a petition from the Pacific Legal Foundation, a free-market legal advocacy group that represents property owners on the Gulf coast. The petition was submitted on behalf of Save Crystal River, a group of property owners concerned about boating restrictions in King’s Bay in Citrus County.

“It’s really a success story,” said Jim Valade, Florida Manatee Recovery Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, on Thursday. “They still need our attention without a doubt, but they are no longer in intensive care per se.”

The agency said the species, one of the first in the nation to be classified as endangered, has increased in numbers over the past few decades and appears robust enough to face a very low risk of going extinct. “Current population estimates are 6,350 manatees in the southeastern continental United States and 532 manatees in Puerto Rico,” the wildlife service wrote in a notice to be officially published Friday. “These numbers reflect a very low percentage chance of this animal going extinct in the next 100 years.”

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A species classified as threatened retains virtually the same protection against being killed, harmed or harassed as one classified as endangered. Government agencies must take them into account in approving construction or other activities that could affect them. No-wake zones and fines for boaters who ignore them will remain in place.

The agency said the reclassification would not affect conservation measures that it credits with the manatee’s rebound, such as the establishment of more than 50 protected areas and restrictions on the construction of docks. But the reclassification would be a step toward removing the manatee altogether from the protected list, which would cost it much of its legal protection. Threatened means the species can become endangered in

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans a public hearing and will accept public comments before announcing a final decision. The 90-day comment period begins Friday. Conservation groups denounced the decision, saying the same threats that landed manatees on the endangered species list persist today.

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Manatee’s have come a long way, but is still threatened by boat strikes, cold stress and undiagnosed mass die-offs in the Indian River Lagoon. An estimated 60% of the state’s manatees rely on artificially warm water generated by power plants to survive.

There are fines for boaters that hit manatees and while these fines would remain  who speed through a “manatee protected area” , most are never caught. 87 manatees were killed in 2015, that is 14 more than in 2014. The record number of manatees killed by boats is 95 back in 2009.

This female manatee seemed to be checking on this young male manatee and having some social interaction. She isn't the mother, but possibly the young one's mother left him up in the springs while she went to feed. He looked bored and forlorn. Is this female manatee a friend of the family?

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NO Oil Exploration in Belize Barrier Reef

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The Belize government has approved a policy that will legally ban offshore exploration in all seven areas that make up the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System World Heritage area. The decision will effectively exclude the entire World Heritage area from any future oil exploration and make the site consistent with the World Heritage Committee’s position that oil exploration is incompatible with World Heritage status.

The decision is a major first step forward in the government’s efforts to remove Belize Barrier Reef from the List of World Heritage in Danger. Following an IUCN-WHC mission to Belize last January, the government of Belize agreed on an ambitious 3-year roadmap that sets out a Desired State of Conservation for removal of the site from the List of World Heritage in Danger. A permanent ban on oil in the World Heritage area and its surrounding zones with a functional ecological connection to the property is anticipated by 31 January 2016.

_Belize Barrier Reef_

The Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest reef system in the world. In 2009, the site was inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger because of concerns on the sale, lease and development of mangrove islands and the absence of a solid regulatory framework that can ensure the conservation of its exceptional values. In 2010, the World Heritage Committee expressed serious concern about the potential for oil developments within and immediately adjacent to the iconic World Heritage site.

The World Heritage Committee has taken a very clear position that oil and mining exploration and exploitation are incompatible with World Heritage status. In recent months, a growing number of firms in the extractive sector recognize their shared responsibility in conserving the worlds’s most iconic places and subscribe to a no-go commitment in World Heritage sites.

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Injured Captive Orcas

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Recently a wildlife veterinarian, Heather Rally, who works for PETA recently visited SeaWorld’s San Antonio park. She was there to take a look at its orcas and saw severe dental trauma in the cetaceans and sea lions at risk of blindness.

One big issue was the terrible state of the orcas’ teeth. Captive orcas are already at risk for dental trauma — bored and stressed, they often begin gnawing on the edges of their tanks — but Rally said she was alarmed by the frequency and severity of the dental trauma she witnessed.

“Every single orca that I observed had significant wearing on their teeth, specifically on the lower mandible. They start chewing on their tanks, as a result and stress … as soon as they start doing that they start to traumatize their teeth.”

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The damage is much more than cosmetic. When the orcas, bored by captivity, begin to chew on the hard parts of their tanks, they fracture their teeth. The fractures expose the dental pulp, the living tissue within their teeth. Not only is this painful, but the fractures act as a “direct portal” for bacteria to enter the bloodstream — and can lead to heart problems, pneumonia, sepsis and death.

As a result, SeaWorld vets perform a “root canal” of sorts to clean out the pulp of the tooth. For the rest of their lives, the orcas have to undergo daily cleanings to keep their teeth fit, Rally said. “It’s not a pleasant experience,” she explained. “It takes a lot of time to train these animals to endure something like this.” Severe dental trauma is very rare in the wild

The cramped tanks also lead to in-fighting between whales, and sometimes gruesome injuries. In the wild, such encounters are very rare because the submissive animal can just swim away. But because SeaWorld houses its orcas in such unnaturally small quarters, tensions can quickly turn violent when they wouldn’t in the wild — leaving the whales at risk.

SeaWorld orca, Nakai with injury on chin area.
                                                SeaWorld orca, Nakai with injury on chin area.

Some of these injuries have been dire, such as in 2012 when a male named Nakai had his entire lower jaw torn off during a fight with another whale. In 1989, a female named Kandu broke her own jaw and severed an artery when she attacked another whale — she bled to death as her panicked infant calf swam circles around her.

SeaWorld drugs its whales with benzodiazepines to alleviate aggressive behavior, but the aggression does not stop. Former trainers have revealed that the park uses food deprivation to make whales perform, separates infants from mothers and pumps them full of drugs. Orcas also live shorter life spans in captivity than they do in the wild

The DODO: For the Love of Animals is an online news journal