Microsteps are small, incremental, science-backed actions we can take that will have both immediate and long-lasting benefits to the way we live our lives. ~ Arianna Huffington, Thrive Global
In honor of both Earth Day and Dolphin Project’s birthday (April 22), we’re looking at ways we can fine-tune our daily habits to help protect our planet. In this blog, we’re focusing on our use of plastics.
You might have read of two recent instances in March where whales washed up dead, their stomachs filled with plastics. In the Philippines, a Cuvier’s beaked whale was found with 88 pounds of plastic inside its stomach, and in Sardinia, Italy, a pregnant sperm whale was found dead with almost 50 pounds of the deadly material in its body. Amongst the items found were fishing nets and lines, tubes, rice sacks, grocery bags, garbage and other all-purpose plastic bags, tubes, banana plantation bags and a bag of washing machine liquid.
Dead female sperm whale with nearly 50 pounds of plastic in her stomach, Sardinia, Italy. Credit: SeaMe
Similar discoveries have been made in 2018 in Spain, Indonesia and Thailand. Several politicians, including Sergio Costa, the Environmental Minister of Italy is calling for a war on disposable plastics. In many locations across the world, bans have been enacted on plastic bags, cutlery, straws, stirrers and other single-use plastics. Yet despite these interventions, it is estimated that more than 8 million tonnes of plastic leak into the ocean each year, wreaking havoc on marine wildlife, fisheries and tourism. According to some estimates, by 2050, the world’s oceans will carry more single-use plastic than fish.* *Source: United Nations Environment Programme
Micro plastic, Long Beach, WA. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license; user: OceanBlueProject.org
As deadly as large plastic items are to marine life and their ecosystems, so are microplastics – small, plastic pieces less than five millimeters long. Primary microplastics are designed to be small, such as tiny beads of manufactured polyethylene found in toothpaste and other personal care items. Secondary microplastics are plastics that have degraded over time from larger pieces into progressively smaller ones. In both instances, the small particles make their way into the oceans and the Great Lakes.
Credit: One World One Ocean, MacGillivray Freeman Films
There are many simple behaviors we can partake in on a regular basis – some that can easily become daily habits – to help protect the world upon which we, and all other species live. We’ve compiled a brief list for you but we encourage you to brainstorm and create others. It’s these microsteps that when combined, can create positive, long-lasting change.
Start your morning with a cup of coffee? Use ground beans versus single coffee pods and if possible, recycle the used coffee grounds. If visiting your local coffee shop, bring your own mug – you might even get a discount for doing so!
Be a conscious consumer – Make a point of avoiding plastic packaging, excess packaging and buying individual items wrapped in plastic. Don’t be shy about asking your local grocery store to stop wrapping individual food items in plastic. Are there any businesses you can think of that make a point of using minimal packaging and if so, consider supporting them with your hard-earned dollars. Consider making bulk purchases and always bring your own reusable bags. There are also great alternatives to plastic wrap and plastic storage baggies, including glass containers, reusable storage bags and natural food wraps.
BYOB – Bring your own refillable water bottle instead of carrying around a plastic water bottle. Besides cutting down on waste, think of the money you’ll save in the long run.
Dining out? Be sure to decline plastic ware at restaurants if you’re getting food to go (most restaurants automatically toss in plastic utensils). Request minimal to-go packaging or if you’re dining out, bring your own reusable container to bring home your leftovers. Consider bringing your own kit of utensils if you’re heading out to lunch.
Make it a family affair – Support a cause you feel passionate about by shopping for eco-friendly gear such aseco-friendly totes and reusable straws. There are also great bar soaps and shampoos that don’t require a plastic bottle! They are also perfect for travel. Dolphin Project est. 1970 eco-friendly tote
Educate – Planning a birthday party or attending another event? Be sure to skip the balloons as they pose serious risks to wildlife. Be sure to tell your guests why!
Participate – Coordinate or participate in a clean-up of your local waterway. Earth Day is every day and doing something good for yourself or others is always timely!
Reduce, Reuse and Recycle – Reduce the amount of waste your family generates and consider composting. Educate yourself on local recycling laws. A large amount of recyclables are inadvertently contaminated with soiled or non-recyclable items, which leads large amounts to be trashed as waste.
Attend a council or committee meeting of your local government and ask what laws/by-laws exist regarding single-use plastics.
Don’t litter – and if you see someone else’s garbage, take a moment to pick it up and dispose of it responsibly.
Collectively, if we implement even one or two of these habits each day, not only will we help to protect marine life and their environments by reducing plastic pollution, we can contribute towards a healthier lifestyle, foster stronger community ties and enjoy a greater sense of well-being. When we do good, we feel good and this positive feedback encourages us to do more.
The organization shared on Instagram, “The Faroese eat dolphin meat and defend a tradition called ‘Grindadrap’, which allowed their ancestors to survive in a hostile climate while today, their supermarkets are full of food of all kinds and yet the hunting persists anyway. On average, 800 cetaceans are killed each year in the Faroe Islands in the name of ‘tradition’ despite less than 20 per cent of the islanders even consuming pilot whale meat and blubber anymore. Once we spread enough awareness and there is enough public outcry about this then barbaric traditions like this will stop once and for all.”
According to Sea Shepherd, 6,500 whales have been killed during the practice in the last decade. Robert Read, chief operating officer at Sea Shepherd, said in the Daily Mail, “The grindadráp is a barbaric relic of a bygone age. A needless hunt of hundreds of pilot whales and dolphins which should have ended a century ago which is not needed to feed anyone on the islands.”
Photo Credit: Mother Manatee and Calf (c) Sam Farkas/NOAA
Over 670 manatee deaths has shocked scientists and wildlife lovers alike – we must act immediately to save Florida’s state marine mammal!
This has been one of the deadliest winters ever recorded for threatened manatees. Pollution is destroying the seagrass they depend on for survival, causing hundreds of manatees to turn up dead across the central and south Atlantic coast of Florida, many with signs of starvation.
This crisis needs an immediate and powerful response. We’re calling on the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to protect manatees and their habitat to save manatees right now and to prevent similar crises from happening in the future.
Urge the FWS to protect and restore manatee habitat – click here to add your signature!
Dear U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: As a member of Defenders of Wildlife and an advocate for imperiled species, I’m asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to prioritize safeguarding and securing manatee habitat to prevent further unprecedented loss of manatees. The past few months have been some of the deadliest on record for manatees. In just three months, over 670 manatees have died, with many showing signs of starvation as the seagrass habitats they depend on for survival have disappeared, leaving them with nothing to eat. I urge you to work with the state of Florida to address excessive runoff from various sources, including agricultural,residential and industrial uses, that is polluting our waterways and leading to widespread manatee deaths. Runoff into our precious waterways is fueling algal blooms that have shaded out and killed tens of thousands of acres of seagrasses. Sediment washing into the water from agriculture and land development can also damage seagrass beds by smothering the seagrass and blocking sunlight. Waterbodies around the state, including Indian River Lagoon, the St. Lucie River estuary, Biscayne Bay, Florida Bay, Charlotte Harbor and Tampa Bay, are all experiencing devastating impacts from pollution generated by agriculture, development and industry. In addition to comprising a primary food source for manatees, seagrass meadows are one of the most productive ecosystems in Florida. They provide food and shelter to a biologically diverse community of species, from seahorses and commercially important fish, to sea turtles, marine mammals, and birds. The greatest long-term threat to the manatee is lack of warm-water habitat that they need to survive. Coastal development continues to degrade natural habitat, like rivers and springs. Manatees become susceptible to cold stress, which is often lethal, at water temperatures below ~68F. Due to habitat loss, more than 60% of the manatee population depends on warm-water outfalls at electric power plants to survive cold winter days — an unsustainable situation. Restoring natural warm water winter habitat, such as the Great Florida Riverway, is essential to ensuring the long-term recovery of the species. FWS must coordinate with Florida Power & Light to convene a meeting that focuses on establishing and securing regional networks of natural warm water where manatees can take refuge in cold weather that have healthy, adequate food sources nearby. As the number of manatee deaths continues to rise, FWS must ensure that all protections for manatees remain in place and are expanded as necessary. I’m asking you to please take urgent steps to protect manatees and their habitat before the future of this species is once again in jeopardy. Sincerely,
I need your help urgently to persuade the Norwegian government to stop plans to experiment on live minke whales. Bad weather has delayed the tests but they could start any day – we don’t have much time.
Funded by the US and Norwegian navies, as well as the oil and gas industry, the Norwegian government has approved plans to capture young minke whales to test their reaction to noise from naval sonar and seismic testing for oil and gas. The whales will be caught and forced, one by one, into a modified salmon-farming pen. Once there, each whale will be clamped between two rafts and electrodes attached under his or her skin.
The whale will be bombarded by noise at various frequencies while their brain signals are measured. They could be held like this for up to six hours.
The people carrying out these experiments claim they want to know how much noise the whales can withstand and at which frequencies. They plan to run these tests in May and June, and again next year.
It could literally scare them to death.
Whale and Dolphin Conservation have sent a letter to Norway’s prime minister signed by more than 50 leading scientists and vets. These experts say the stress could kill the whales. Even if it doesn’t, the ordeal will be dangerous and terrifying for these intelligent and highly sensitive individuals.
This appalling experiment is utterly inhumane and unnecessary. Existing research already tells us what we need to know about the effects of underwater noise on whales. We know that noise created by oil and gas exploration and military sonar scares whales and can cause them to strand and can even cause internal bleeding, organ failure and brain damage.
The charity Whale and Dolphin Conservation is supporting me with this petition and they are fighting hard behind the scenes with the Norwegian NGO, NOAH – for animal rights.
Target: Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada
Goal: Shut down businesses that willfully kill endangered species for profit.
The Kiu Yick Trading Company, based in Victoria, Canada, has been found guilty of importing shark fins from endangered species. As a penalty for importing 434 kilograms of illegal shark products, this company has been fined a measly $60,000. This fine is a pathetic amount for a company that generates over $2 million in annual sales, and which contributed to the extermination of threatened species.
Most of the fins came from silky sharks, which is considered to be near-threatened. This shark has a long gestation and gives birth to only a few young that are slow to mature, making it particularly susceptible to illegal hunting.
Such businesses should not be allowed to continue to operate. Sign this petition to urge the government to take stricter actions against such willful disregard for the natural world, and shut down these reproachable companies.
Dear Honourable Wilkinson,
Despite national and international bans, companies are still bringing illegal animal products into Canada. Recently, the Kiu Yick Trading Company from British Columbia was found guilty of importing shark fins from “near threatened” species of sharks. In response, your government has fined this company only $60,000. This is a pathetic penalty for a company that draws over $2 million dollars of revenue every year.
I urge you to consider the devastating environmental impact that illegal acts of this nature have upon the whole world. Companies that willfully commit such criminal acts should be severely penalized.
Marine scientists are calling on the EU to adopt a comprehensive plan to protect dolphins and porpoises from fisheries bycatch in European waters. To help address the bycatch issue, which is the primary global threat to dolphins and porpoises, the researchers put forward a framework to reduce bycatch levels.
The scientists have outlined a two-step approach that involves establishing a quantitative management objective for each population and implementing monitoring programs:
To ensure an accurate estimation of bycatch levels, the experts recommend using electronic monitoring systems that allow a more comprehensive and representative sampling of the fleets.
The scientists also recommend regular formal assessments of small cetacean populations, including generation of estimates of abundance and bycatch mortality. If total bycatch has been estimated to exceed the calculated biological reference point, then a mitigation strategy needs to be put in place while monitoring is continued until levels are below the reference points.
“Bycatch of small cetaceans in European fisheries is widespread, including very large numbers of common dolphins in trawl fisheries and bycatch of the critically endangered population of harbor porpoise in the Baltic Sea…The failure to effectively conserve Europe’s dolphins and porpoises is not a result of a lack of scientific knowledge or difficulties in monitoring fisheries and bycatch. Instead, it reflects a lack of political will to ensure that these iconic animals are protected from unsustainable mortality in commercial fisheries throughout European waters. We can and must do better.”
-Professor Andrew Read, Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment
Journal reference: Emer Rogan, Andrew J Read, Per Berggren. Empty promises: The European Union is failing to protect dolphins and porpoises from fisheries by‐catch. Fish and Fisheries, 2021; DOI: 10.1111/faf.12556
North Pacific loggerhead turtles’ years-long oceanic journeys remain poorly understood. Using data from satellite tracking and other techniques, scientists reveal a unique phenomenon that may explain the endangered migrants’ pathway.
“Not all those who wander are lost … ” — J.R.R. Tolkien
Known as “the lost years,” it is a little-understood journey that unfolds over thousands of miles and as much as two decades or more. Now, a Stanford-led study illuminates secrets of the North Pacific loggerhead turtles’ epic migration between their birthplace on the beaches of Japan and reemergence years later in foraging grounds off the coast of Baja California. The study, published April 8 in Frontiers in Marine Science, provides evidence for intermittent passages of warm water that allow sea turtles to cross otherwise inhospitably cold ocean barriers. The findings could help inform the design of conservation measures to protect sea turtles and other migratory sea creatures amid climatic changes that are altering their movements.
“For decades, our ability to connect the migratory dots for this endangered species has remained elusive,” said study lead author Dana Briscoe, who was a research associate at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment during the research and now works at the Cawthron Institute, New Zealand’s largest independent marine science organization. “This work builds on the backbone of exceptional research about these ‘lost years,’ and for the first time ever we are excited to provide evidence of a ‘thermal corridor’ to explain a longstanding mystery of one of the ocean’s greatest migrants.”
Satellite tracks of 231 juvenile North Pacific loggerhead sea turtles (light gray), including six (various colors) that migrated to the coastal waters of Baja, California. Credit: Dana Briscoe, et al. / Frontiers in Marine Science
Wildlife seekers thrill to the sight of sea turtles, but ship traffic, fishing nets, and other perils have been less kind. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists six of the seven sea turtle species as critically endangered, endangered, or vulnerable.
Despite scientific advancements in core habitat use, we still know precious little about the movement of turtles and other long-lived sea creatures between disparate locations. This knowledge gap makes it impossible to effectively assess and protect these species.
The researchers wanted to know how and why some loggerheads travel to the western coastline of North America while others remain in the central Pacific Ocean. How is it that some sea turtles – creatures highly sensitive to temperature – can cross a frigid zone called the Eastern Pacific Barrier between the two ocean regions that normally stops most creatures in their tracks?
To unlock that mystery, the researchers created the largest dataset on satellite-tagged loggerhead sea turtles ever compiled, employed sophisticated remote sensing oceanographic techniques and collected one of the first detailed records of sea turtle aging and stable isotope testing – a bone analysis that can be used to provide information about an animal’s life. The work relied upon decades of research by the international team of scientists.
Loggerhead sea turtle swimming. Credit: Ralph Pace
They started by looking at a 15-year study tracking the movements of more than 200 turtles tagged with satellite tracking devices. Six of the turtles caught the researchers’ attention because – unlike their peers – they made distinct movements toward the North American coast. Adding to the intrigue, the “sentinels,” as the researchers called them, made their journey during the early spring months. A look at remotely sensed ocean conditions for the time period showed that the farthest-roaming of the sentinels swam through water significantly warmer than their peers had confronted on their travels.
A bigger picture analysis involved identifying the years loggerheads arrived in Baja California by measuring stable isotope “fingerprints” in the bones of sea turtles stranded on beaches there. Because like us, turtles are what they eat, these stable isotope signatures can reveal when the turtles transitioned from the open sea to the coast. The analysis showed significantly greater annual numbers of eastward-bound sea turtles during warm ocean conditions.
The likely cause, according to the researchers: the development of a “thermal corridor” from unusually warm sea surface temperatures due to El Niño and other intermittent warming conditions that allowed the turtles to cross the Eastern Pacific Barrier to coastal foraging grounds.
The corridor was present during the late spring and summer, and was also preceded by early warming of temperatures in the months before it opened. Such anomalous conditions, especially if sustained for several months, may provide key environmental cues to sea turtles and other animals concentrated in the eastern edge of the central Pacific that the thermal corridor is opening. Studies combining data from loggerhead aerial surveys, at-sea-sightings, stranding records and tissue samples supported the hypothesis.
A dangerous trend
The phenomenon may be part of a trend. As the planet undergoes unprecedented climate changes, locations once considered impassable obstacles to species movements, like the Eastern Pacific Barrier, are being redefined. This, in turn, is shifting the distributions and migratory pathways of creatures ranging from sea birds to white sharks and presenting new conservation challenges.
For the North Pacific loggerhead, the trend could mean higher exposure to bycatch – unintentional fisheries harvest – off the Baja California coast and other potentially important North American foraging grounds, including the Southern California Bight. The study provides important insights, such as an understanding of how animal movements relate to climate variation, that could help predict when sea turtles and other protected species could be vulnerable to such threats.
The researchers caution that their multi-year dataset represents only a snapshot of an important developmental period for sea turtles. The small number of turtles that moved into the eastern North Pacific limits the ability to fully test the study’s hypothesis under varying conditions. To do that, the researchers call for more satellite tagging and stable isotope studies of turtle bones in this region.
“Understanding how and why species like the North Pacific loggerhead move among habitats is crucial to helping them navigate threats,” said study senior author Larry Crowder, the Edward Ricketts Provostial Professor at Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station. “Emerging technologies and analyses can help illuminate these journeys.”
Reference: “Dynamic Thermal Corridor May Connect Endangered Loggerhead Sea Turtles Across the Pacific Ocean” by Dana K. Briscoe, Calandra N. Turner Tomaszewicz, Jeffrey A. Seminoff, Denise M. Parker, George H. Balazs, Jeffrey J. Polovina, Masanori Kurita, Hitoshi Okamoto, Tomomi Saito, Marc R. Rice and Larry B. Crowder, 8 April 2021, Frontiers in Marine Science. DOI: 10.3389/fmars.2021.630590
Crowder is also a professor of biology in the School of Humanities and Sciences and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. Co-authors of the study include Calandra Turner Tomaszewicz and Jeffrey A. Seminoff of the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service; Denise Parker and George Balazs of Golden Honu Services of Oceania; Jeffrey Polovina of the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa; Masanori Kurita and Hitoshi Okamoto of the Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium (Japan); Tomomi Saito of Kōchi University (Japan); and Marc Rice of Hawai‘i Preparatory Academy.
Funding for this study provided by the Crowder Lab at Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the National Academy of Sciences, Stanford’s Department of Biology and the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.
Its not a good week for whales. 🐳 🇳🇴 NORWAY have hunted and killed 32 minke whales. FAROE ISLANDS have hunted and killed 10 or 12 pilot whales (dolphins) NORWAY 🇳🇴 have decided to conduct scientific tests on live juvenile whales to see the effect of Seismic blasting #OpWhalespic.twitter.com/GhnjpPGgoP
Saving dolphins and whales is more than just ending their captivity. Dolphin Project believes that ocean conservation is vital to the survival of all marine animals. Marine species are currently facing more human-caused threats than ever before.
There are many ways we can help protect them. Here are a few ideas:
1. Ditch single-use plastics
Disposable straws, cups, lids, utensils, bags, water bottles and other single use plastics make up a huge percentage of marine pollution. With an estimated 8 million tons of plastic waste entering the oceans each year, countless marine animals ingest plastics, become entangled in them, or worse, are killed by them. To minimize your impact, do a trash audit and see exactly how much you are throwing away. Think of what you could live without! Every reduction makes a difference. If every person in North America used just one fewer single use plastic item per year, there would be 579 million LESS pieces of plastic thrown away!
Plastic Garbage in Sea Pen
2. Join beach or community clean ups
Ocean conservation is vital to the survival of all marine species. In order to protect wild populations and continue to return captive dolphins and whales to the ocean, we must ensure a safe and clean habitat. Clean ups can take place anywhere – you don’t have to live near a beach to partake in one. Every piece of plastic and debris that you clean up is one fewer item of trash that will find its way into the ocean and potentially entangle and harm marine life. Cleanups can take place at a beach next to the ocean, at a park, a river, or just around your local town- or even join in our global beach clean up on July 14th!
3. Avoid items and experiences that exploit marine life
Certain products contribute to the harming of ocean habitats, which in turn affect the species that live in them. Avoid purchasing jewelry made from turtle shells or coral, and cosmetic products that contain squalene (a compound obtained for commercial use from sharks).
Experiences such as swim with dolphins programs, dolphin therapy and dolphin shows may be promoted as “educational” or “fun,” but in reality they are forms of exploitation. Not only do dolphins suffer greatly in captivity, but as long as these experiences are promoted this way it will fuel the demand for cruel wild dolphin captures to continue to fill the tanks of new marine parks around the world. Take the pledge NOT to buy a ticket!
Overcrowding at captive dolphin facility
4. Be mindful of what’s on your plate
Overfishing of the oceans is a tremendous problem on a global level. Fish populations around the world are rapidly being depleted due to seafood demand, loss of habitat, and unsustainable fishing practices. Commercial fishing methods often involve gear that entangles unintended species. Bycatch, or the incidental capture of non-target species such as dolphins, whales, pinnipeds, sharks, turtles and seabirds causes a staggering number of deaths each year.
If you consume seafood, stay informed about different fishing methods and their harmful impacts, and the health of populations that your seafood came from, so that you are able to make the meal choices with the smallest environmental impact. As an even better alternative, take a step further and avoid seafood all together!
5. Be an ocean-minded pet owner
Make sure to read the labels on your pet’s food, and to extend sustainable seafood practices to your pet’s diet. Be sure to responsibly dispose of your pet’s waste and to never flush cat litter; when owners neglect to pick up after their animals, pet waste can wash into storm drains, where it becomes a pollutant in drains and waterways, eventually ending up in the ocean. Both on land and in water, the waste left by our pets can spread harmful diseases through bacteria and parasites.
6. Contact representatives and lawmakers
Be aware of authorities and governmental figures with jurisdiction over your area. Contact them and let them know just how important the oceans are to the environment – and to us! Ask that they take action for the oceans such as banning single-use plastics, supporting renewable energy and other initiatives to ensure clean and healthy marine habitats. One urgent call to action we must continue to take now is to ask for the Snake River dams to be breached to save the Southern Resident orcas from extinction!
Southern Resident orca Scarlet/‘J50′ swimming with her mother Slick/‘J16′. Credit: NOAA Fisheries /Public Domain
7. Reduce your carbon emissions
There are many ways to reduce your carbon footprint both inside and outside your home: take a bus or bike to work, adjust your thermostat, turn off lights and electronics when you’re not using them, use cold water to wash your clothes and shop local to avoid products shipped over long distances.
8. Travel the seas responsibly
When boating or embarking on a marine eco-tour, make sure that responsible practices are used. Be a whale-wise boater and keep respectful distances from marine mammals that do not negatively affect their behavior. Make sure to contain any trash, so that it does not get blown into the water. When on the beach or in the water, be sure to use reef-safe sunscreen and keep mindful distances from animals that may be nesting on beaches.
9. Ignite change in your community
Tell family, friends, co-workers, neighbors and anyone else who will listen about why the oceans are so important. Share incredible facts about dolphins and other marine species that they may not know, and inspire them to love and protect the oceans! Present the facts about dolphin captivity to anyone who may be vacationing at or near captive facilities. Contact local restaurants about offering locally sourced produce and sustainable seafood (and more vegan options!).
Empty the Tanks Demo at Duisburg Zoo
10. Stay informed; make your voice count
Be informed of opportunities to vote on issues related to the ocean and the environment. Stay up to date on petitions, public demonstrations and opportunities for public commenting, making sure to add your voice! We often post these opportunities on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages, and additionally have ongoing petitions for several of our campaigns!
Every action we take makes a difference and collectively, the difference is huge! We must hold ourselves accountable to not only what we are comfortable doing, but capable of doing to help the environment.
Let’s all continue to care for the oceans!
Humpback whale fluke at sunset on the open ocean | Photo by Tracie Sugo
Featured image: Short beaked common dolphins frolic off the coast of Southern California, credit – Tracie Sugo
Whale and dolphin watching tours are a fantastic alternative to seeing captive dolphins under inhumane conditions in marine parks and dolphinariums. When responsibly conducted, eco-tours play a huge role in inspiring people to love and cherish wild dolphins, and in turn be inspired to help protect them. The benefits of responsible marine mammal-based ecotourism span from a better appreciation of the marine wildlife to supporting local economies, especially in developing countries in where whale and dolphin watching tours present an alternative to hunting or capturing dolphins.
It is vital to find a responsible tour operator that minimally impacts dolphins and whales, so that both you and the animals can have the best encounter. Below are tips to having the best encounters with wildlife, and letting the wildlife have the best encounter with you!
Wild orcas swimming free in Monterey Bay, California | Photo by Tracie Sugo
How do I find a responsible ecotour operator?
Responsible operators stick to local whale watching guidelines, are led by knowledgable captains and naturalists, notify the appropriate authorities when a whale is in distress and set an example of how to maneuver around marine mammals for other boaters. Oftentimes these aspects are evident on operator’s websites, or reviews of their tours posted online.
The trip should be about education, not sensation. Always remember to let whales and dolphins decide what happens; never force an interaction and keep a respectful distance appropriate for each species. Some dolphins willingly approach to surf in the pressure wave created by the bow on the front of the boat (also called “bow riding”); larger whales typically travel or forage at a distance but may occasionally approach or “mug” a vessel.
Humpback whale breaches off the coast of California | Photo by Tracie Sugo
What are some red flags to look for?
Responsible operators would never overcrowd a marine mammal; if there are too many boats around a whale or a pod of dolphins, they must be left alone. Having too many vessels around may make it difficult for the animals to travel, forage or rest; it is best not to interfere with their natural behavior.
Responsible operators would also never approach marine mammals head on, or at high speeds. Baleen whales, such as humpback, blue, minke, gray and fin whales do not have echolocation like dolphins and toothed whales do. This makes it difficult for them to anticipate a boat and put them in danger of being spooked, or worse, in danger of collision. High speeds and irresponsible driving can also potentially disturb hunting or resting pods of dolphins.
Lastly, responsible operators would never chase or harass marine mammals. If whales or dolphins do not want to be watched, they will swim away. In these cases, it is best to leave them to go as they please. Chasing them would make them expend unnecessary energy; for migrating whales who fast for long periods of time, this is quite harmful.
Is it possible to watch wild whales and dolphins from land?
In some parts of the world and during the right time of year, it is possible to see wild cetaceans from shore. Some populations either have a permanent coastal range, or come very close to land during their migration.
The growing trend for land-based whale watching is taking off big time in South Africa, Hawaii, Scotland and Norway. With zero impact on the animals, land-based whale watching is the least invasive way to watch marine wildlife. It’s also the best method for anyone who suffers from sea sickness.
The west coast of the United States has many great spots to watch gray whales as they migrate near shore from Alaska to Mexico and back again. Many areas of the world are also home to coastal populations of bottlenose dolphins that can be seen from beaches as they surf and play in breaking waves. There are many great places around the world to watch dolphins and whales from land, particularly with species that have a very coastal range.
Gray whale breach near the California coast | Photo by Tracie Sugo
Is swimming with wild dolphins a responsible alternative to captivity?
Wild spotted and bottlenose dolphins together in the Bahamas. Credit: DolphinProject.com
For some, swimming with wild dolphins can be a very attractive alternative to visiting a captive facility, but extra caution and consideration is necessary. A tour should never guarantee or promote that you can swim with dolphins, or make any physical contact with them. In fact, touching or pursuing a dolphin in the water can be considered “harassment”, which is illegal under US federal law.
In order to guarantee wild dolphin interactions, some operators have been known to feed wild pods to encourage interaction, which can be harmful to their independence, upset their digestion and health, or encourage them to approach other boats and increase the risk of a strike. Any tours that offer fish food or feeding opportunities should be avoided.
In some areas such as Hawaii, there are additional concerns that boats and tourists are disrupting sleeping pods of dolphins, which can reduce birth rates and cause additional stress. Ask a tour operator if they follow federal or local guidelines to prevent disruptions to sensitive species.
Finally, every operator should have rules of conduct and safety information regarding potential encounters of wild dolphins by swimmers. Those rules should be designed to discourage contact and protect the dolphins from unwanted interference. Wild dolphins are exactly that – wild, and they should be respected as such. Just as you would not approach a wild lion to pet it, you should treat all encounters with wild marine mammals with caution, for your safety and theirs.
Some dolphins are curious and may approach a swimmer or diver in the water, but it should always be their decision to initiate contact as well as end that encounter.
Keep in Mind Whales and Dolphins are Wild Animals
The ocean is a wild environment; we are visitors and we must respect the residents. Wildlife viewing is not always people watching wildlife; oftentimes it’s also wildlife watching people. It can bring people to tears when they make eye contact with a dolphin or whale during a close approach.
Chances are that people will always want to see dolphins and whales, and where they choose to spend their money makes a big difference. It is important to support responsible dolphin and whale watching tours because the alternative is to watch them in captivity, where cetaceans are known to suffer. As more and more people become aware of the problems of captivity, they may choose to see them wild and with that in mind, we must not overcrowd or harass marine mammals but watch them in a responsible and sustainable way. Marine mammal-based tourism, if conducted properly, can not only work, but it can work well for both people and mammals.
Marine mammals’ welfare should always remain the most important aspect of these eco-tours because, without these animals, there will be no ecotourism at all! Let’s help inspire more people to care about dolphins and help ecotourism stay responsible!
Wild common dolphin looks towards people on a whale watching boat | Photo by Tracie Sugo
Dozens of volunteers on South Padre Island are coming together to rescue cold-stunned turtles amid Texas’s deadly winter storm.
The power is out, and the water has stopped running for most of the typically warm beach town, but many residents braved the freezing temperatures to rescue the endangered sea turtles. The people ventured on foot and by boat, working tirelessly to gather as many turtles as possible.
Volunteers working with Sea Turtle, Inc. had transported over 3,500 comatose turtles by late Tuesday. The reptiles were brought to the town’s rescue center to be rehabilitated. Conservationists hope to gradually increase the turtles’ body heat as they lay them on tarps and kiddie pools indoors.
But Wendy Knight, the local rescue group’s executive director, fears that hundreds of the recovered turtles may have already succumbed to the cold.
“It’s unprecedented. A cold stun like this could have the potential to wipe out decades of hard work, and we’re going through it with no power and a unique, more catastrophic challenge to our efforts,” she told The Washington Post.
Below zero temperatures and prolonged power outages have left more than a dozen people dead around the U.S. as of early Wednesday. And it’s not just the turtles; other animals have also felt the brunt of the Arctic Chill that has ravaged Texas and other areas in the southern part of the country.
According to conservationists, it often takes days for them to know how many turtles were able to survive as the animals slowly regain warmth.
These turtles play a significant role in keeping the ecosystem balanced. Dubbed as the “lawnmowers of the ocean,” they consume the area’s thick, underwater vegetation.
However, when temperatures drop below 50 Fahrenheit—which rarely happens in South Padre Island—the low temperatures can cause them to become cold-stunned.
When this happens, a turtle’s heart rate lowers and its flippers become paralyzed. Its body will then float comatose above the water and will sometimes be washed ashore. This phenomenon can put them at risk of predators, boats, and even drowning.
In a typical year, Sea Turtle, Inc. volunteers expect to rescue anywhere from a few dozen to a few hundred cold-stunned turtles, warming them inside the group’s facility. But this time, they were already filling up the rescue center to the brim before the weekend was up.
They put out a call for help, and the community didn’t disappoint. Soon, much of the island transported the turtles to an overflow facility at the South Padre Island Convention Center. The generators and good insulation in the place could help keep the animals warm.
On Monday and Tuesday, boats went out to scoop up cold-stunned turtles from the freezing water. Other volunteers on foot scanned the beach for any reptiles and loaded them into their trunks and truck beds to bring them to the rescue center.
Gina McLellan, a 71-year-old retired professor and longtime volunteer, said this is “a huge, huge community effort.”
“We very often don’t even think about the [cold’s] impact on animals, because we’re so worried about our own electricity and water. With this kind of event, it’s a classic display of humanity toward animals,” she said.
PETITION TARGET: Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar
India’s Ganges River turned red with blood as a group of attackers beat a critically endangered and protected Gangetic dolphin to death with wooden rods and an axe.
Disturbing video footage captured by a witness shows one of the men yelling, “Hit it now, hit it now” and the attackers then holding the dolphin’s head underwater until he drowned. A local official later found the dolphin floating dead, with multiple lacerations and other wounds to its body, The Guardian reported.
The highly threatened Gangetic dolphin population is now an estimated 1,800 or less, and they are moving alarmingly closer to extinction.
Police in Uttar Pradesh arrested three suspects in connection with this horrifying act of cruelty. Several others who may have been involved in the senseless killing are reportedly still free.
Anyone who assisted in bludgeoning and suffocating this defenseless dolphin must answer for their actions.
Sign this petition urging Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar to push authorities to thoroughly investigate this appalling crime, use all available resources to find and charge any yet-unidentified suspects, and prosecute all perpetrators to the fullest extent of the law.
The Vaquita (Phocoena sinus), literally “little cow” in Spanish, is a species of porpoise endemic to the northern end of the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez, Vermilion Sea). Averaging 150 cm (for females) or 140 cm (for males) in length, it is the smallest of all living cetaceans.
Today, the species is on the brink of extinction. Recent research estimates the population at fewer than 10 individuals. The steep decline in abundance is primarily due to bycatch in gillnets from the illegal totoaba fishery. [source]
The vaquita is listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. Today, this is the most endangered marine mammal in the world. VaquitaCPR are trying to save the species but the outlook is bleak. You can learn more about their conservation efforts here.
A research team led by Florida State University found that sea turtles in the U.S. will have less suitable nesting habitat in the future because of climate change and coastal development.
Researchers found areas that will remain or become suitable for sea turtle nesting in the future because of climatic changes and sea-level rise will be exposed to increased coastal development, hindering the ability of turtles to adapt to these disturbances. Their work was published in the journal Regional Environmental Change.
“A reduction in available nesting habitat coupled with the pressures associated with coastal development could likely have detrimental impacts on the reproductive output of sea turtle nesting areas in the U.S. and population…
It probably comes as no surprise to you that plastics have been found nearly everywhere in our ocean—from the deepest reaches of the Mariana Trench to the most remote Arctic ice. Marine debris and plastic pollution pose a serious threat to our ocean and the wildlife and communities that depend on it.
Congress has taken on the issue of marine debris through the Save Our Seas 2.0 Act. The Senate passed the legislation unanimously, and now it is up to the House to pass the bill so that it can be signed into law!
Will you take action and tell your Representative to support this legislation?
Your Representatives need to hear from their constituents that the issue of marine debris and plastic pollution is a problem that you want them to tackle. The bill:
Proposes a variety of new measures to bolster international engagement and cooperation to research and address the marine debris crisis;
Commits resources to scientific research to better understand solutions to plastic pollution, both here in the U.S. and around the world; and
Proposes a host of new efforts here at home to improve our waste management systems, particularly recycling infrastructure. For example, the bill creates a loan program for states to support trash wheel and litter trap technologies.
The Senate has already taken decisive action in the fight against marine debris by passing this important legislation. It is now up to the House of Representatives to vote on this bill so that it can be passed into law.
Nevertheless, a pair of belugas, named Little Grey and Little White, are enjoying their first taste of the sea since 2011, thanks to a leviathan relocation project that has been years in the making.
After being captured at a very young age off the coast of Russiaand spending years in a Chinese aquarium, the whales are about to get used to the freedom of an 8-acre sanctuary at Klettsvik Bay in Iceland.
“It’s been quite the journey for these two,” Audrey Padgett, the Beluga Whale Sanctuary’s general manager, told CNN on a video call in front of the belugas. “It hasn’t been easy, but it’s definitely been a labor of love.”
Back in 2011, Little Grey and Little White were moved from a Russian research facility to the Changfeng Ocean World aquarium in Shanghai. The following year, the aquarium was bought by Merlin Entertainments, a company opposed to keeping whales and dolphins in captivity. And so the idea of taking the whales back to the sea was born.
The belugas’ new home, run by the Sea Life Trust charity, is a much “larger, natural environment” with lots of potential benefits, Padgett said.
More than 300 belugas are in captivity around the world, she told CNN.
“Some belugas are in cramped and unsuitable conditions,” she added. “And if what we can learn here from Little White and Little Grey can help improve welfare for other animals … that’s really the point.”
Although Padgett wasn’t involved in the logistics of transporting the whales from China, she stressed that moving two belugas was no easy task.
They each weigh a little more than a ton and consume around 110 pounds of fish per day between them.
The operation involved specially designed equipment, veterinarians and a whole lot of water and ice to keep them hosed down, Padgett said.
The belugas had bespoke “stretchers” or slings to move them overland, and the team did “practice runs” to get them used to being moved via trucks, tugboats and cranes, according to Padgett.
“If you’re trying to take your cat or your dog somewhere, you want them to have a positive association with travel … We had to make the belugas a comfortable as possible,” Padgett continued.
After their arrival in Iceland, the whales were kept in a care facility with a quarantine pool for several months,to allow them to adjust to the colder Icelandic environment.
And though the final leg of the journeyfrom the care facility to the sanctuary was a shorter one, the Covid-19 pandemic complicated it significantly.
“We’re already in a pretty remote location here in Iceland. It affected our ability to get experts here to help us with the move. It affected our ability to get supplies and just the length of time it took to do things,” Padgett told CNN.
“We also needed to protect our staff and put them into quarantine, because we need our people to take care of our animals.”
Little Grey and Little White’s odyssey isn’t quite over. They are currently in an “acclimatization space” within the sanctuarythat will allow them to adjust safely to their new home.
Padgett says, however, that they will have free rein of the sanctuary any day now.
Little Grey and Little White will be assessed around the clockas they get used to being back in the ocean environment.
And while the whales benefit from more space to explore and new kinds of seaweed, kelp and fish to enjoy, the whole operation also helps humans understand belugas better, Padgett explains.
“It’s kind of the finish line for these two,” she said, “but it’s a new chapter for belugas around the world.”
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By Lynda V. Mapes Seattle Times environment reporter
July 27, 2020 at 3:18 pm | Updated July 27, 2020 at 6:00 pm
Tahlequah is pregnant again.
The mother orca raised worldwide concern when she carried her dead calf 17 days and more than 1,000 miles, almost exactly two years ago. Now, she has another chance at motherhood, scientists have learned.
The pregnancies are not unusual, so the scientists don’t usually announce them. But Tahlequah’s pregnancy carries a special meaning for a region that grieved the loss of the calf.
The southern residents are struggling to survive, and most pregnancies for these embattled whales are not successful. Tahlequah’s baby was the first for the whales in three years. The southern residents have since had two more calves, in J pod and L pod. Both are still alive.
Tahlequah’s baby is still a long way away, and like all the orca moms-to-be, Tahlequah, or J-35, will need every chance to bring her baby into the world — and keep it alive. The gestation period for orcas is typically 18 months, and families stick together for life.
Everyone on the water all over the region can help, Fearnbach and Durban said. All boaters of every type should be careful to respect the whales’ space and give them the peace and quiet they need, they said.
Whales use sound to hunt, and boat disturbance and underwater vessel noise is one of the three main threats to their survival, in addition to lack of adequate, available salmon and pollution.
Just as important as the number of salmon in the sea — especially chinook, the southern resident orcas’ preferred food — is the salmon that southern residents can readily access in their traditional fishing areas.
“Just like human fisherman that don’t just go drop a hook in the ocean,” Durban said. “They have their favorite places.
“They are amazing societies that pass culture down from generation to generation. They are creatures of habit.”
However, right where orcas hunt — the west side of San Juan Island, Swiftsure Bank, and other salmon hot spots in the eastern end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca — right now are busy with boaters, commercial ships and fishermen.
Down to a population of just 72 whales, every baby counts for southern resident orcas. And their chances for successful pregnancies are not good. About two-thirds of all southern resident pregnancies are typically lost, researcher Sam Wasser of the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of Washington has found. Stress from hunger due to lack of salmon is linked to the whales’ poor reproductive success, according to his research.
Several of the juveniles in the pods also are looking thin, Fearnbach said, including J-35’s living offspring, J-47.
“There are stressed whales out there, critically stressed,” she emphasized.
While doing their field work this year, both scientists said they have seen a lot of boat traffic on the water, too much of it moving too fast. The faster the boat, typically the louder it is.
It’s likely that Tahlequah will once again lose her calf, given the history. She lost another calf before the baby she gave birth to two years ago, which survived only one half-hour. She carried the more than 300-pound, 6-foot-long calf day after day, refusing to let it go.
Will her next calf live?
“We are concerned if she has a calf, will she be able to look after herself and the calf and J47, too?” Durban said. “There has been a lot of talk I am not sure a lot has changed for the whales.”
In their observation of the orcas this summer, the families are quite spread out as they travel in small groups, over miles of distance, Fearnbach said.
That is a sign of working hard to find enough to eat, with less resting and socializing.
The scientists will take another set of photos of the whales this fall and hope to see Tahlequah even rounder.
“People need to appreciate these are special whales in a special place at a vulnerable time,” Durban said. “These whales deserve a chance.”
Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2515 or email@example.com; on Twitter: @LyndaVMapes. Lynda specializes in coverage of the environment, natural history, and Native American tribes.
Cook Inlet belugas are on the brink of extinction – but we can help them right now by keeping toxic waste out of their home.
These belugas are declining, and as a small population, every loss severely impacts the group’s chance of survival. Experts believe that pollution could be one of the barriers standing between these whales and recovery.
But the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, the agency responsible for issuing Clean Water Act permits, hasn’t stood in the way of toxic waste dumping in Cook Inlet. One corporation, Hilcorp, has been allowed to dump waste in Cook Inlet for years – the only place in U.S. waters where this kind of dumping is allowed.
With the survival of endangered belugas on the line, we can’t wait to act.
Send a message to the ADEC: Stop permitting toxic waste dumping in Cook Inlet that threatens marine wildlife!
Earth’s oceans, covering two-thirds of the planet, are so vast and so deep that it’s easy to take their importance for granted.
They provide us with oxygen and regulate our climate by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere — important functions for both humans and wildlife. Unfortunately, the world’s oceans — home to whales, sea otters, seals and sea lions, dolphins, manatees, seabirds, sea turtles, sharks, fish, corals, and countless other species of marine life — are in a sea of trouble. The oceans are overworked; they cannot remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere quickly enough to keep up with how much we create, leading to ever-increasing ocean acidification.
The Arctic Sea is now warming at twice the rate than in past years, reducing sea ice — a growing threat to threatened marine mammals such as polar bears and ice seals. Over a third of the Great Barrier Reef is dead, harming commercial and recreational fish stocks and impoverishing Australia’s iconic biodiversity. We are killing off marine mammals, sharks and rays, and fish stocks faster than they can replenish themselves. The health of the Earth’s oceans are indicators of our planet’s overall health; when they’re in trouble, so are we. It’s important to keep our oceans healthy not just for marine life, but also for the future health of the entire planet.
Myriad threats face our oceans and marine wildlife. Climate change causes ocean acidification, warming temperatures, changing ocean currents, sea level rise, and stronger storms. A warming planet makes it more likely for temperature-dependent species like sea turtles and manatees to face cold stress or venture past their usual habitats. Increased shipping traffic and offshore seismic blasting and drilling also increase noise pollution, threatening marine mammals and species at every level of the food chain. Shark finning, bycatch, overfishing and fisheries entanglements endanger sharks and rays, marine mammals, sea turtles, sea birds, and many other species. Contamination from pollution and plastics and the toxic effects of red tide and other harmful algal blooms caused by fertilizer runoff sicken and kill vulnerable marine species. To top it off, habitat loss and the loss of protected areas reduce the spaces already-vulnerable marine species need to forage and reproduce.
Defenders is fighting for ocean habitats and ocean protection off all our national shores and around the globe. We defend marine national monuments and national marine sanctuaries from administrative attacks. We are opposing seismic blasting and offshore drilling in the courts and in Congress.
We are working to develop best management practices for responsible wildlife-friendly offshore wind siting, construction and development. We defend the Marine Mammal Protection Act from legislative and regulatory rollbacks and work to protect individual marine species through the MMPA and the Endangered Species Act. We worked to gain international protections for sharks and rays and have worked to translate those protections into protections at the domestic level through the ESA.
In Washington State, we are actively engaged in the governor’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force, working to protect the dwindling southern resident orca population and restore the Salish Sea.
In 2017, Defenders joined forces with the National Marine Fisheries Service, state agencies, local and national organizations and hundreds of local residents to redirect community science efforts into a new program called ‘Belugas Count!’ to help monitor Cook Inlet beluga whales in Alaska.
We advocate for North Atlantic right whales and humpback whales as a conservation member of the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team, a stakeholder group under the Marine Mammal Protection Act that advises NMFS on how to implement fishery management measures to minimize or avoid the risk of deadly entanglements.
People love to live by the water. For centuries, cities like New York, Miami, Honolulu and San Francisco have attracted residents and tourists from around the world. In fact, almost half of the U.S. population lives in counties on the coast, and that percentage is growing in footprint, density, number and population, reshaping and hardening coastlines in the process.
Coasts also provide habitat for great numbers of plants and animals and are typically biodiversity hotspots. But all this coastal development is reducing the amazing biodiversity along our shorelines.
Development has also reduced our coasts’ natural ability to resist and recover from natural disasters and has removed habitat that provides shelter for wildlife and ecosystem services for humans. Traditional coastal defenses like sea walls and levees are widely used to protect communities, but these artificial coastal barriers can lead to significant erosion or unwanted sediment deposition and negatively impact water quality. They are also time-consuming to build and cost billions to construct, maintain and repair.
Increasingly, engineers and planners are starting to pay more attention to the potential of “Nature and Nature-Based Features” (NNBFs) as environmentally friendly solutions—like mangrove forests, beach dunes, coral reefs and wetlands—that fulfill the same roles as an important weapon in the fight against coastal storms and flooding.
D. Rex Miller
NNBFs include natural defenses and human-built features that mimic them. Using NNBFs in coastal development decisions can therefore mean constructing new ones or protecting existing natural ones. NNBFs are often cheaper and require less maintenance and management. They can also make communities more resilient to climate change by adapting to changes in the environment. They are part of the larger concept of “green infrastructure,” or attempting to harness nature’s resilience to solve human problems. And its not all-or-nothing – NNBFs can complement artificial coastal infrastructure.
NNBFs like wetlands are essential to protect coasts from storm surges because they can store and slow the release of floodwaters, reducing erosion and damage to buildings. One study found that salt marshes can reduce wave height by an average of 72%. Coral reefs can serve as a barrier and reduce wave height by an average of 70%. These reefs protect coastal cities near them such as Honolulu and Miami, saving lives and preventing monetary damage.
Megan Joyce/Defenders of Wildlife
When Superstorm Sandy slammed the Northeast in 2012, homes on beaches fairly near to sand dunes were protected by these natural buffers, which can blunt the force of waves and wind. In many cases, homes on beach areas where dunes had been removed (often to improve ocean views) were completely destroyed by Sandy. Removing many of the mangroves that lined Biscayne Bay in South Florida may have helped spur economic development. However, it also removed another natural barrier against storm surge. This increased vulnerability of homes and businesses to the hurricanes that frequently hit Miami. Coastal communities in Indonesia hit by the devastating 2004 tsunami that had removed their mangrove forests suffered more damage and more lost lives than areas where mangroves had been allowed to remain. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is currently working on a number of projects that look at features like mangroves and their ability to protect coasts.
Image Image Credit David Bocanegra/USFWS
Image Image Credit Lia McLaughlin/USFWS
Image Image Credit Greg Thompson/USFWS Damage from Hurricane Sandy at Cape May National Wildlife Refuge, Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, homes on the Jersey Shore
Bringing Wildlife Back
People are not the only ones who can benefit from NNBF. Restoring or protecting habitat can bring back habitat for wildlife and provide space for wildlife to live alongside coastal human communities. This includes imperiled species.
For example, coastal dunes restoration can improve habitat for threatened species like the piping plover, red knot and seabeach amaranth. Restoring mangroves can help protect species like the wood stork and American alligator, and the endangered hawksbill turtle. Protecting coral reefs can help threatened elkhorn and boulder star corals, and ensure habitat remains for the hawksbill sea turtle. People and wildlife can both have space.
Image Image Credit FWS
Image Image Credit Steve Brooks
Image Image Credit Michele Hoffman
NNBFs can also improve water quality. Much of the rainwater and flood water that goes on vegetation or sand will sink into the ground where it is cleaned. Healthy coral reefs and healthy mangroves help improve marine waters. And by avoiding artificial coastal defenses, polluted runoff can be avoided. Improving water quality can help marine imperiled species. For example, manatees in Florida have been devastated by red tide in recent years. Similarly, water quality issues can stress or kill threatened corals that need clear water for photosynthesis. Even species far offshore, like orca, can be hurt by contaminated runoff from development. Creating habitat for wildlife can even have additional economic benefits beyond coastal protection. It can offer opportunities for economic activity like kayaking, fishing and birding.
Image Image Credit Andrew S. Wright/USFWS
Image Image Credit NPS
The Future of NNBF
In recent years, the U.S. Congress has become interested in the potential of NNBFs, instructing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to incorporate NNBFs into coastal defense projects where appropriate. The Corps’ research and development center has taken a leading role in researching NNBFs. Through its engineering with nature initiative, it has developed numerous projects exploring NNBFs’ potential. However, the regional offices have made less progress in taking advantage of NNBFs in their coastal defense projects. NNBFs should be a priority for the Corps and coastal communities around the country – and the world.
Advocating for NNBFs is part of Defenders of Wildlife’s mission to protect habitat and we believe they are a strong tool for addressing the overall biodiversity crisis faced by the planet.
Senior Conservation Policy Analyst Andrew works on wildlife conservation policy at the Center for Conservation Innovation, where he researches and analyzes conservation governance strategies and emerging policy issues, and works with other CCI members to develop innovative approaches to habitat and species protection.
Previously, researchers believed that marine mammals could be so large because the buoyancy of water frees them from the constraints of gravity. Although this freedom may still be a factor, Gearty says that his results show that marine mammals need their heft to keep themselves warm in the often chilly oceans.
“These animals are big for very specific reasons. It’s not that they could be big, it’s that they must be big,” he says.
Bigger is Better?
When Gearty and colleagues created a series of computer models analyzing factors that influence size, they found two that converged to determine body size in aquatic mammals.
But larger animals need more food to support their bulk, which created the second factor in Gearty’s model. Big mammals may trap heat better, but if they can’t get enough food to fuel their metabolism, then it doesn’t matter. (See National Geographic’s amazing whale pictures.)
Body size is one of the most important traits to study in animals, according to Chris Venditti, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading in England who wasn’t involved in the new study.
“If you’re going to measure one thing in an animal, it should be body size because that one thing is related to so many others,” Venditti says. “If you know how big an animal is, you probably know something about how it moves and its metabolic rate.”
In the last five years, scientists have uncovered evidence showing that, over time, families of mammals have tended to evolve larger body sizes. Bulkier animals can better fight off rivals for mating, food, and other resources, as well as access a wider variety of foods.
Land mammals, however, are hemmed in by gravity: They need massive bones and blood vessels to support their bulk while maintaining mobility—no easy feat when you tip the scales at several tons, like an elephant. (Read how blue whales are mostly “left-handed.”)
Initially, when Gearty started studying the factors that affected body size in marine mammals, he thought that he would simply see the elimination of gravity as a constraint.
Instead, his data told him that the minimum size of aquatic mammals was a thousand times larger than the smallest terrestrial mammals. The maximum size, however, was only 25 times larger, which meant that something must be forcing marine mammals to get large.
Scientists still haven’t entirely cracked the mystery of what determines body size in animals, Venditti says, but that hasn’t stopped life from evolving an array of shapes and sizes to fill every niche.
“He that takes truth for his guide, and duty for his end, may safely trust to God’s providence to lead him aright.” - Blaise Pascal. "There is but one straight course, and that is to seek truth and pursue it steadily" – George Washington letter to Edmund Randolph — 1795. We live in a “post-truth” world. According to the dictionary, “post-truth” means, “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Simply put, we now live in a culture that seems to value experience and emotion more than truth. Truth will never go away no matter how hard one might wish. Going beyond the MSM idealogical opinion/bias and their low information tabloid reality show news with a distractional superficial focus on entertainment, sensationalism, emotionalism and activist reporting – this blogs goal is to, in some small way, put a plug in the broken dam of truth and save as many as possible from the consequences—temporal and eternal. "The further a society drifts from truth, the more it will hate those who speak it." – George Orwell “There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.” ― Soren Kierkegaard