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.
Scientists Can Now Watch Whales Feed Underwater (Photo credit: Mike Baird)
NGOs, animal welfare charities and a host of other stakeholders have urged Mattilsynet, the Norwegian Food Safety Authority, to reverse its approval of an experiment on captured minke whales that they claim amounts to nothing more than torture.
The experiment is designed to see how whales’ brains respond to ocean noise. During the experiment, juvenile migrating minke whales will be trapped using a net and herded into a small enclosure. Once inside, they will be subjected to a host of noises, from naval sonar to the sounds emanating from oil and gas exploration. The experiment will last for up to four days, and up to 12 whales will be subjected to this.
According to Dr. Siri Martinsen, a veterinarian with NOAH, Norway’s largest NGO for animals:
“This research project is alarming for several reasons. We are very concerned for the welfare of the involved whales, as these circumstances are very likely to cause them stress and may even impact their health. There is a significant risk that the whales will panic once they are trapped, causing them to thrash or flail about, which could lead to serious injuries as they attempt to flee.”
You can help the whales by contacting the Norwegian government with your objection here.
Sam Helmyhttps://www.deeperblue.comSam Helmy is a TDI/SDI Instructor Trainer, and PADI Staff and Trimix Instructor. Diving for 28 years, a dive pro for 14, I have traveled extensively chasing my passion for diving. I am passionate about everything diving, with a keen interest in exploration, Sharks and big stuff, Photography and Decompression theory. Diving is definitely the one and only passion that has stayed with me my whole life!
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
Taiji: A pod of approximately 15 Risso’s dolphins including a mother with a juvenile by her side were driven from their home in the open ocean into the Cove. The dolphins fought hard for over 3 hours but were eventually forced under tarps where all were slaughtered. pic.twitter.com/aM7kYRr5jl
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…
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!
The Olive Ridley turtles floated to shore at Cox’s Bazar with a huge mass of plastic bottles, fishing nets, buoys and other debris
About 160 sea turtles, many of them injured after getting entangled in plastic waste, have been rescued after washing up on one of the world’s longest beaches in Bangladesh, an official and conservationists said Wednesday.
The Olive Ridley turtles began floating to shore at Cox’s Bazar with a huge mass of plastic bottles, fishing nets, buoys and other debris at the weekend.
Survivors were released back into the Bay of Bengal, but some were returning to the beach that stretches 120 kilometres (75 miles).
About 30 had died and were buried in the sand.
“This is the first time we have seen such a large-scale death and washing up of injured turtles on the beach. It is unprecedented,” said Nazmul Huda, deputy director of the local environment department.
“Around 160 turtles have been rescued alive… but after their release in the sea, some of these turtles have come back to the beach. I think they are too weak to stay in the sea.”
Many of the turtles sustained injuries from being caught in the estimated 50 tonnes of waste floating in a 10-kilometre stretch along the coast.
“Some of the turtles did not have legs or heads,” said Asaduzzaman Sayem from local conservation group Darianagar Green Boys.
“We rescued a 40-kilogramme (88-pound) turtle alive. It was entangled in plastic nets and it did not have legs.” Many of the turtles washed up on the beach in Bangladesh sustained injuries from being caught in the estimated 50 tonnes of waste floating off the coast.
Leading Bangladesh turtle and tortoise expert Shahriar Caesar Rahman of the NGO Creative Conservation Alliance said the creatures were “heavily stressed” and may not survive even after being freed from the waste.
“Local volunteers are trying their best to release them in the sea. But considering the injuries of these turtles it is unlikely they will survive,” he told AFP.
“So the best long-term solution will be to establish a rescue and rehabilitation facility for these turtles in Cox’s Bazar.”
The government is investigating why the turtles came ashore and sent two carcasses to a state-run university to be examined.
But Rahman said he believed the turtles may have become stuck in a massive plastic garbage patch floating in the sea.
“In the long term if we don’t manage pollution in the Bay of Bengal, many of these marine species will face similar fate,” he said.
Olive Ridleys are the most abundant of all sea turtles around the world, according to conservationists.
But their numbers have been declining and the species is recognised as vulnerable by the IUCN Red list.
Endangered marine life will soon be massacred with dynamite in Brazil in the name of economic progress. Not only is the Amazon river basin home to countless species, but it is also a food source for locals. Demand that this heinous plan be shut down.
70 Magellanic penguins were discovered on two neighbouring beaches in Brazil
R3 Animal Association found the birds on the Santinho and Mocambique beaches
One penguin was discovered alive and was taken to a centre for rehabilitation
The bodies of 70 penguins have been discovered on two neighbouring beaches in Brazil after apparently getting caught in fishing nets.
The horrific scene was discovered by the R3 Animal Association on the Santinho and Mocambique beaches in the city of Florianopolis in south-eastern Brazil.
R3 Animal Association are one of the institutions which carry out the Monitoring Project of the Santos Basin Beaches. 70 dead Magellanic penguins were discovered washed up on two neighbouring beaches, Santinho and Mocambique, in south-eastern Brazil The horrific scene was discovered by the R3 Animal Association which carry out the Monitoring Project of the Santos Basin Beaches
They said: ‘We monitor the beaches on the island [of Santa Catarina where Florianopolis is located] in search of dead or weak marine animals.
‘The dead animals undergo examination to determine the cause of death, and the living animals are rehabilitated before being released.’
The beach monitoring is monitored because of an environmental requirement enforced when licensing was given for the exploration of possible oil and gas reserves in the Santos Basin.
Marks on the flippers of some of the Magellanic penguins and the fragment of a fishing net still attached to one of the penguins led to the belief that the birds were killed after getting caught in the netting.A member of the R3 Animal Association walks up to the body of a penguin in BrazilThe dead penguins are carefully photo-documentedIt is believed that marks on the flippers indicate the penguins were caught in fishing netsOther signs indicating that the penguins may have been caught in fishing nets are a lack of feathers on the flippers
All 70 birds have been taken to the Centre of research, Rehabilitations and Depetrolisation of Marine Animals for an autopsy.
Vet Janaina Rocha Lorenco said that preliminary analysis shows a lack of feathers on the birds’ flippers, generalised congestion and other signs point to the penguins potentially having been trapped in fishing nets and trying to free themselves.
One penguin was discovered by a team on Mocambique beach and has been taken to a centre for rehabilitation.
Magellanic penguins are often seen in the area at this time of year as they migrate from Patagonia in southern Argentina.
All 70 birds have been taken to the Centre of research, Rehabilitations and Depetrolisation of Marine Animals for an autopsy
Even the most optimistic lovers of unmolested wildlife, unpolluted oceans, un-degraded habitats, unextinguished species and understanding humans will be beginning to lose heart. Even as reports increase of resurgent wildlife during these Covid months, so it is gradually becoming clear that once humans are unlocked again, the only way will be down.
Here are just a few magnificent marine mammals to admire. All were photographed from the BMMRO research vessel in Abaco or adjacent waters. They are protected, recorded, researched, and watched over in their natural element.
Pantropical spotted dolphins
Today we contemplate our oceans at a time when the humans species is having to confront a sudden and indiscriminate destructive force. Maybe the impact will lead to a recalibration of the ways we treat other species and their environment. We have contaminated the world’s oceans, perhaps irreparably, in a…
A crab swims above a waving seagrass bed in the Chesapeake Bay.Photograph by Jay Fleming
When scientist Wen Jun Cai and his colleagues boated across the pea-soup-like waters of the upper Chesapeake Bay in the summer of 2016, water sampling kits and pH sensors in hand, they didn’t expect to find chemical magic at play.
The scientists were taking stock of a looming problem facing the 200-mile-long bay: the acidification of its waters, a human-caused phenomenon that threatens the health of the crabs, oysters, and fish iconic to the large estuary.
They started collecting their samples in the recently restored, vibrant underwater grass beds of the Susquehanna Flats near the top of the bay, and motored their way some 60 miles downstream to the deep central channel.
When they rounded up their hundreds of data points and analyzed them, they found evidence of something surprising and encouraging: Gently waving seagrasses in the bay are performing a magnificent chemical trick. As they photosynthesize in the beating sunshine, they produce tiny granules of a carbon-based mineral that acts like a miniature antacid tablet.
And those acid-neutralizing “micro-Tums” don’t stay put. They’re swept miles down the length of the bay, eventually dissolving into the deepest waters, which have long been soured by acidification caused by human sources like agricultural runoff and untreated waste.
“It’s like the seagrasses are producing antacids that counter the indigestion of the bay,” says Jeremy Testa, a marine ecologist at the University of Maryland and an author of the paper in Nature Geoscience describing the newly discovered phenomenon.
Without this acid-neutralizing trick, the bay’s waters and shelled creatures would be even more vulnerable to the human-caused threats, he says.
Acid waters run deep
The Chesapeake gets its name from the Algonquin word for “great shellfish bay.” For thousands of years, its rich ecology depended on the ways its shellfish, grasses, fish, and other species interacted; each influenced the chemistry and biology of the others, in a delicate biological dance.
Seagrasses and other underwater plants packed the bay’s shallows, stilling and smoothing the surrounding water, leaving it clear and clean for baby fish, crabs, and shellfish to populate. Vegetation stabilized the muddy bottom during storms. And it absorbed the brunt of wind and waves, protecting shorelines against erosion.
But as more and more people populated the land around the bay, the grasses took hit after hit. A steady flow of nitrogen-rich pollutants overloaded the waters; the grasses and other underwater plants died off en masse. Between the 1950s and 1980s, vegetation coverage across the bay plummeted. Only 10 percent of sites in the upper bay had vegetation when they were surveyed in 1980.
The nutrient overload also spurred enormous, suffocating algal blooms at the water’s surface. When such blooms happen, the algae die off and sink to deeper water, where they’re eaten by bacteria that use up any oxygen in the water and breathe out carbon-rich acid waste, creating “dead zones.” Almost nothing can survive in such corrosive waters. Worse, during strong winds or at certain times of the year, currents can sweep that deep, super-acidic water into places populated by creatures like oysters and crabs, potentially eroding their ability to maintain their calcium-carbonate based shells.
“Acidified waters can be really challenging for oysters, especially in their larval stage,” says Allison Colden, a biologist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
In other coastal regions, particularly along the U.S. West Coast, acidification has already damaged shellfish populations, thinning their shells and messing with their offspring’s ability to mature. But scientists aren’t totally sure if those same effects have hit the East Coast. In estuaries like the Chesapeake, natural acid levels vary a lot, so shell-forming creatures have a built-in ability to deal with some amount of ups and downs. The worry, for some scientists, is that there might be a tipping point beyond which the iconic species of the bay might not be able to adjust.
“We don’t have enough data anywhere in the world to tell us exactly how those creatures are going to meet the thresholds of acidification,” says Doug Myers, a scientist also with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
They’re particularly concerned because there’s another force, besides nutrient overloading, that’s making the bay’s water more acidic: human-caused burning of fossil fuels. That leads to the buildup of carbon dioxide in the air, which gets pulled into the surface waters as ocean and air make their way toward equilibrium, where it dissolves and makes the water more acidic.
During the early 2000s, states bordering the bay collaborated to rein in polluting runoff, putting the bay a “nutrient diet—” and in response, it began to heal. Old seagrass seeds, long buried in the gooey sediments, started to sprout as the water above them cleared. By the mid-2010s, underwater vegetation covered expanded over an extra 65 square miles of the Bay, more than 300 percent more area than was covered in the 1980s.
Those grasses, like the ones in the Susquehanna Flats, can offset some of the acidity. But they’ll have to work harder and harder as carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere grow.
“This is one of the big questions for us all,” says Emily Rivest, a biologist at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. “What’s going to happen to our oysters, our blue crabs, all the things that live in our waters, as the waters get more acidic?”
Grasses to the rescue
It’s obvious just from looking at the Susquehanna Flats that they’re doing something special, Testa says. Outside the beds, the water often looks pea-green. But inside, it’s crystal clear and much warmer than the water outside the Flats. When they looked closely, they found that even the chemistry was different.
As they photosynthesize, seagrasses and other vegetation pull particular forms of carbon out of the surrounding water, making that water less acidic. They use some of that carbon to build their plant bodies, but turn some of it into tiny crystals of calcium carbonate, a chemical variant on the material that shells are made of. The plants hoard these crystals—which are essentially tiny antacids—both inside and on the surface of their leaves.
The crystals are big enough to feel with your fingers, like a fine grit coating the leaves, says Myers. When a grass dies, it disintegrates, releasing the built-up crystals from its inside as well as out.
The crystals make a big difference for the water chemistry and biology up near the Susquehanna Flats. But they also make a big difference far downstream, demonstrating with unusual clarity how interconnected the ecology of the bay can be. In total, the team calculated, the seagrass-sourced crystals reduced the acidity of the down-bay waters, some 60 miles away, by about 0.6 pH units. They reduced the acidity of the water by four times than it otherwise might have been (because the pH scale is logarithmic, small changes in the numbers on the pH scale mean big changes in terms of acidity).
“If not for the dissolution [of the tiny crystals], the pH downstream would be even lower,” says Cai (a lower value of pH signifies a more acidic environment). “So the vegetation upstream provides a more stable environment for what’s living down the bay.”
Seagrasses and other vegetation do this chemical trick elsewhere, as well, and scientists have seen similar local chemistry shifts in places where grasses have been restored, like the estuaries fringing the Loire River and Tampa Bay. But they haven’t seen this long-range effect before.
It’s not yet clear exactly what impact the seagrass-driven help has on the blue crabs or the oysters. But it does seem clear to many scientists that the whole bay can benefit from the effect as the grasses spread their little acid-neutralizing crystals far and wide—also serving as building material for the shell-growers downstream.
“The dissolving of last year’s grass beds is helping to feed this year’s oysters [to help them build their shells],” says Myers.
The new discovery makes a strong case for restoring even more of the seagrasses in the bay, says Jonathan Lefcheck, an ecologist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Maryland. “You just see so clearly that there are these knock-on effects [from the seagrass restoration],” he says.
“Everything is connected. Something that was happening under our noses—this big unintended benefit, this added value—it turns out we’re solving two problems by attacking just one.”
While common dolphins tend to travel in groups in the hundreds, they have been known to gather in large schools containing thousands of dolphins, dubbed megapods or superpods. Some of the largest contain more than 10,000 individuals. Within these congregations, there are a number of sub-groups, each consisting of 20 to 30 individuals who are connected through relation or factors such as age and sex.
“Super pods of common dolphins are spectacular but not rare. If the conditions are suitable, they can occur anywhere in the world,” Danny Groves, a spokesperson for marine charity Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), told Newsweek, noting they have been spotted off the U.S., Scotland, South Africa and many other places.
Large pods like these often form for a short period of time during courtship or in response to prey. Take, for example, the gathering that aggregated near Monterey Bay, California, on Labor Day last year. According to Monterey Bay Aquarium, hundreds of common dolphins came together “hot on the tails of billions of baitfish.” Something similar appears to be occurring here—according to Newport Coastal Adventure, the dolphins were spotted chasing fish.
“I would say we see this phenomena a few dozen times a year. Sometimes we go months without seeing it. Other times we will see it a few times in one week,” said Lawler. “Common dolphins often travel and live in groups of 20-200 here, but if there is enough food around they will form a super pod such as this one for a small amount of time to take advantage of the strength in numbers in pursuing their prey, anchovies.”
“If prey are plentiful, then hunting in big pods can be beneficial. Likewise if there is a predator threat to the dolphins, then being in a large group provides security,” said Groves. “If they are just being sociable, then we might expect dolphins to get similar benefits that humans get from getting together in large groups—a sense of community and enjoyment, ironically something they are able to do right now whilst we are isolating.”
Groves added: “Whilst we humans are locked down, the seas are quieter and less polluted, and nature seems to be reclaiming its territory.” A pod of common dolphins surf the bow wake of a boat on July 16, 2008 near Long Beach, California. Footage taken last week shows a superpod of “at least” 1,000 common dolphins near Laguna Beach. David McNew/Getty
It is not clear from the video what type of common dolphin is being filmed. Though initially considered a single species, since 1994 it has been split into the long-beaked common dolphin and the short-beaked common dolphin.
According to WDC, advances in science suggest the initial classification was correct and the short-beaked and long-beaked dolphins are variations of the same species, which can be identified by their different sized beaks and their coloring.
Hippocampus nalu, also known as the African pygmy seahorse, is about the size of a rice grain, and was found living well camouflaged among algae and sand in Sodwana Bay, South Africa.Photograph by Richard Smith
In rough, boulder-strewn waters off eastern South Africa, researchers have found a new species: a pygmy seahorse about the size of a grain of rice. null
The finding shocked them because all seven species of pygmy seahorse, except for one in Japan, inhabit the Coral Triangle, a biodiverse region of more than two million square miles in the southwestern Pacific. This one lives 5,000 miles away, the first pygmy seahorse seen in all of the Indian Ocean and the continent of Africa.
“It’s like finding a kangaroo in Norway,” says Richard Smith, a marine biologist based in the United Kingdom and co-author of a new study on the species, known as the African or Sodwana Bay pygmy seahorse. The second name refers to the location where it was found, a popular scuba-diving spot close to the Mozambique border.
The new species looks somewhat similar to other pygmy seahorses, except that it has one set of spines on its back that have sharp, incisor-like points on the tips, says co-author Graham Short, an ichthyologist at the California Academy of Sciences and the Australian Museum in Sydney. In contrast, the other similar pygmy seahorses have flat-tipped spines.
“We really don’t know what these spines are used for,” Short says. “Many species of seahorses in general are spiny, so their presence could be possibly due to sexual selection—the females may prefer spinier males.” (Related: Strange mating habits of the seahorse.)
The surprising discovery, described in a study published May 19 in the journal ZooKeys, shows how little we know about the ocean, particularly when it comes to tiny creatures, the authors say—and that there are likely many more pygmy seahorse species to be identified. null
“A gift from the sea”
Dive instructor Savannah Nalu Olivier first stumbled upon the creature in Sodwana Bay in 2017, while examining bits of algae on the seafloor. The bay is known for having many species of rare fish, sharks, and sea turtles.
She shared photographs of the fish with her colleagues, and in 2018 they made their way to Smith, who, with colleague Louw Claassens, collected several specimens of the animal at depths of 40 to 55 feet. null
The researchers have named the new seahorse Hippocampus nalu, after Olivier, whose nickname is appropriately “Fish.” (She’s also a Pisces.) In the South African languages Xhosa and Zulu, “nalu” roughly translates to “here it is.”
“I told her that this was a gift from the sea,” says Louis Olivier, Savannah’s father, who owns a scuba diving outfit called Pisces Diving Sodwana Bay. He adds he’s “super stoked about her discovery.”
Smith sent several specimens of the new species to Short, who analyzed their genetics and body structures using a CT scanner.
His research revealed that, like other pygmy seahorses, the newly found animal has two wing-like structures on its back, rather than one, as in larger seahorses. These “wings” in general serve an unknown purpose for seahorses.
Also like other pygmy seahorses, the African species has only one gill slit on its upper back, instead of two below each side of the head, like larger seahorses—another mystery. null
That would be “like having a nose on the back of your neck,” Short says.
But the new seahorse is unique from its tiny kin in that it was found living in turf-like algae, amid boulders and sand. Sodwana Bay has large swells, and the little seahorses appear to be comfortable being swept about, says Smith, who observed a pygmy seahorse get covered in sand and then wriggle its way out.
“They regularly get sand-blasted,” Smith says. Other pygmy seahorses, which stick to the calmer waters around coral reefs, “are more dainty. But this [species] is built of sturdier stuff.” null
Like other pygmy seahorses, the African version is thought to eat tiny copepods and crustaceans. It also is well camouflaged to match its surroundings.
This finding “demonstrates that there are still many discoveries to be made in the oceans, even in shallow waters near the coast,” says Thomas Trnski, head of natural sciences at the Auckland Museum in New Zealand, who wasn’t involved in the study. Almost all pygmy seahorses have been discovered in just the last 20 years, he adds.
The only pygmy seahorse found outside the Coral Triangle is the Japanese pygmy seahorse, also known as the “Japan pig,” first described in August 2018.
Although populations of regular seahorses have fallen in many areas because of harvesting for use in traditional Chinese medicine and the aquarium trade, that’s not an issue for pygmy seahorses because they are difficult to find, Short says. That being said, some of these species have very low population densities, and there’s not enough data to get a good sense of how many there are, Smith adds.
These fish can spread only very short distances via the current. The study suggests that Hippocampus nalu diverged from the ancestors of all known pygmy seahorses species more than 12 million years ago.
“This means that it is extremely likely that there are many more species of pygmy seahorses yet to be discovered in the western Indian Ocean” and beyond, Short says.
Shark fins are considered a delicacy in some parts of the world, including China. But because sharks are endangered thanks to human behavior, we cannot afford to kill any more of them. Yet, people are still trafficking in shark fins. In fact, in April and May of 2020, officials in Hong Kong seized 26 tons of shark fins from over 38,500 endangered sharks in two different cases. Luckily, they have a suspect in custody for one of the seizures. But still no word on the other seizure or any official charges on the first suspect.
It’s critical we keep the pressure on to make sure they hold everyone involved with this massive slaughter accountable. Sign now!
The main way sharks are consumed is in a dish called shark fin soup. That means traffickers don’t even care about the rest of the shark’s body. In fact, they often slice off a shark’s fin and toss it back to the ocean to drown and die a slow and painful death. Fins from over 73 million sharks are used in this “delicacy” every single year.
The seized shark fins in Hong Kong were largely from thresher and silky sharks, both of which are endangered. Sharks are predators, playing a crucial role in maintaining sea biodiversity. Losing an entire predatory species would have dire consequences for our planet’s ecosystem. That’s why it’s so tragic to learn of 38,500 ruthlessly slaughtered sharks.
The good news is that this particular crime carries a fine of $10 million and imprisonment for 10 years. We need to demand anyone involved in this horrible act gets that punishment. Please sign on to demand justice for all these poor sharks!moreSHARE6.5KTWEETEMAILEMBED
“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