In many animal societies, if a member of a group is gravely wounded or born with disabling deformities, that animal becomes an unsustainable burden on the others, and is often left behind at the mercy of predators, hunger and disease. Continue reading
There are any number of paths to an environmental epiphany: For many people it was the first time they heard the recorded song of the humpback whale.
After a three-year “walkabout” in Baja California, an artist and software designer named Mark Fischer became fascinated by cetacean acoustics. As a trained computer engineer, he soon realized that the visual representations of whale song had not advanced much Continue reading
Feces, specifically from outdoor cats and wild possums, are the culprit in some severe and unusual marine mammal deaths.
Despite the continued online popularity of the videoed interaction between a nuzzling cat and curious dolphin, scientists are pointing out that the intersection between the two species could be having a catastrophic effect on the marine mammals.
A disturbing trend was found in a six-year study that monitored marine mammals in the Pacific Northwest. More than 5,000 dead marine mammals (dolphins, porpoises, sea otters, seals, sea lions and three species of whale) were observed, many of them suffering from encephalitis (brain swelling) long associated with Toxoplasma gondii, a single-celled parasite. The study was published by the National Institutes of Health in 2011.
The issue at hand is the feces from outdoor cats. The waste product contains T. gondii, a parasite that live its entire life cycle inside a cat. T. gondii also is happy enough in other animals, including humans and, as noted, marine mammals.
According to Scientific American, up to one-quarter of people in the U.S. house the parasite, and it is the reason why women are warned against cleaning cat litter boxes while pregnant (the parasite can cause birth defects).
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T. gondii is entering the marine environment through a number of channels, including cat owners flushing cat feces down the toilet and feces being washed from soil into waterways that then flow to the ocean.
“Chlorination does not kill T. gondii, but filtration eliminates them from the water supply,” notes Dr. Michael Grigg, lead researcher of the study. “The public health message here is that people can easily avoid the parasites by filtering or boiling untreated water. Limiting serious disease in marine mammals, however, will require larger conservation efforts to block these land pathogens from flowing into our coastal waters.”
Although the T. gondii parasite has been a known factor in the environment for many years, it has been made more lethal by teaming up with another parasite found typically in Virginia opossums, Sarcocyctis neurona. The opossums, displaced from their native homes by humans in the 1900s, thrived along the Pacific coast all the way up into British Columbia.
With opossums shedding the S. neurona parasite in their scat, and a few good winter storms washing topsoil into waterways, the two related parasites set up a perfect storm of disease transmission for unsuspecting marine wildlife. Researchers found that while the T. gondii often cause long-term, low-grade infection alone, coupled with S. neurona, the result is likely more lethal.
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Unfortunately, this leap is becoming more common — enough to have been officially named as “pollutagens” by scientists. The term refers specifically to the crossing of bacteria, fungi and parasites from earth to sea, and the havoc they are wreaking upon the sea creatures.
T. gondii is present in about 70 percent of sea otters along the California coast, according to Melissa A. Miller, a researcher at the Marine Wildlife Care and Research Center in Santa Cruz, Calif.
In addition, according to Scientific American, other pollutagens, such as a strain of Salmonella Newport, were found in a dead newborn orca on the shores of Ventura County, Calif., in 2010. The Atlantic bottlenose dolphins in South Carolina have been shown to have Staphylococcus aureus, the dreaded superbug MRSA that is so common in hospitals.
A rare and endangered blue whale, one of at least four feeding 11 miles off Long Beach Harbor in the Catalina Channel, spouts near offshore oil rigs after a long dive in 2008.
By Julie Watson, The Associated Press
SAN DIEGO — The California Coastal Commission on Friday rejected a Navy explosives and sonar training program off the Southern California coast that critics said could harm endangered blue whales and other sea life.
Commissioners meeting in San Diego ruled unanimously that the Navy lacked enough information to back up its argument that the threat to marine mammals would be negligible.
The program had been scheduled to begin in January. Commission staffers had recommended that the panel require additional wildlife protections before endorsing it.
The panel and the Navy could now seek mediation to iron out their differences — or the Navy could simply choose to proceed with the training, as it did in 2007 and 2009. That probably would prompt the commission to sue in an effort to block the program, as it has in the past.
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Before the vote Alex Stone, who directs the training program, told commissioners that the Navy opposed additional conditions that could make the training less realistic and reduce its scope.
Stone also said he believed the program has sufficient protections for sea life — an argument disputed by environmentalists who packed the meeting.
The Navy has estimated that the proposed training program would kill 130 marine mammals and cause hearing loss in 1,600 over five years.
“We think these are underestimates,” Michael Jasny with the Natural Resources Defense Council told the commissioners.
The Navy’s testing area encompasses 120,000 nautical square miles of the Pacific off the Southern California coast and includes a corridor between the state and Hawaii, among other areas.
The commission’s staff had recommended that approval be contingent on a list of conditions. They included requiring that the Navy create safety zones that would guarantee no high-intensity sonar activity near marine sanctuaries and protected areas and in spots that experience a high concentration of blue, fin and gray whales seasonally.
The staff also said a kilometer from shore should also be off-limits to protect bottlenose dolphins.
The commission set out similar conditions to the Navy in 2007 and 2009, but the Navy refused to accept them both times.
The commission sued the Navy over the matter, leading to a preliminary injunction in 2008, though then-President George W. Bush gave an exemption for the training. The U.S. Supreme Court later overturned the lower court’s decision.
Jasny’s organization and three dozen others say they want the Navy to avoid important habitat for vulnerable species, including endangered blue and fin whales, beaked whales, and migrating gray whales. They also want the Navy to not use sonar training and underwater detonations at night, when marine mammals are extremely hard to detect. And they want the Navy to be required to use its own acoustic monitoring network to help detect marine mammals.
They also say that from May through October ships should slow to 10 knots in areas with baleen whales, to avoid hitting them.
Scientists say there is still much to be learned about how much sonar activity affects marine animals.
The dolphin drive hunts in Taiji do not just end in the killing of the dolphins. Taiji is “ground zero” for international trade in live dolphins. There is money – big money – in the captive dolphin entertainment industry.
The Institute of Cetacean Research, sounds like a benign pro-whale-protection research outfit, but the inapt name is that of the Japanese whalers. Now all that the toxic emitting oil refineries have to do is call themselves, Air Quality Analysers. Continue reading
Over the past three days, there has been a tangible sense of despair lingering around the town of Taiji. Over the past three days, a family of over 100 Pilot Whales was completely torn apart. Continue reading
People power wins! Super trawler banned. A ground breaking announcement just in…
On a small island 100 miles from Tokyo islanders, mostly fishermen, have declared resident dolphins to be citizens, fully protected while in the island’s waters Continue reading