Blinding solar storms could be the cause of whale strandings

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Grey whales may be “blinded” by solar storms, according to a new study published in the journal Current Biology. The solar activity interferes with the whales’ internal magnetic navigation system, causing them to become stranded on the shore, often resulting in death.

Many species of whales have been observed undertaking mammoth seasonal migrations that take them from ocean regions rich with food to their traditional breeding grounds. Depending on the species, a whale can travel upwards of 10,000 miles (16,100 km) on a single migratory round trip, which often takes the vast marine mammals close to shorelines.

Sadly, each year seemingly healthy whales are found stranded on shorelines across the globe, where, without intervention, they inevitably die.

During a solar storm high-energy particles are ejected from our Sun’s atmosphere, and rush outward into the solar system. These particles interact with Earth’s geomagnetic field, sometimes disrupting it to such an extent that it can affect the behavior of organisms that rely on it to navigate.

The study revealed that the chance of a stranding was around twice as high on days during which spots occurred on the Sun’s surface, than on randomly selected days when they did not. This suggests that the whales rely on a form of magnetic navigation to maintain a true course during their long migrations.

The research details two ways that the solar activity could have confused the whales’ magnetic instinct.

It is possible that the whales were becoming stranded as a result of a deviation in Earth’s magnetic field brought on by an interaction with charged particles from the Sun, tricking the whales into thinking that they are in the wrong place.

Secondly, the solar particles could lead to an increase in solar radio flux, which according to the study is the “globally averaged measure of radio frequency (RF).” This radio noise has been known to interfere with several species’ magnetic navigation capabilities, and so could be “blinding” the whales’ biological sensors.

Visiting Hippo

Customers were treated to a rare sight when a big hippo dropped by a petrol garage in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa over the weekend. The animal was spotted strolling into the Engen/OK Express garage in St Lucia on the KwaZulu-Natal north coast on Sunday night and was recorded by a passerby.

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Global Warming

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef shows signs of new coral bleaching

The government agency tasked with monitoring the health of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has detected signs of heat stress in several coral regions, increasing the prospects of another major bleaching event.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority said on Thursday that a prolonged period of warmer than usual ocean currents has led to water temperatures that are 2 to 3°C above average for February, which is already the hottest month of the year on the reef.


Climate-sensitive bird hints at global warming’s lasting impact

It’s hard to be a bird these days.

Take the black-throated blue warbler. The migration patterns of this small songbird have been slowly but steadily changing over the past 50 years, according to a study published Thursday in the journal The Auk: Ornithological Advances.

The timing of the bird’s flight patterns has been advancing, with its spring migration occurring around one day earlier per decade. While the warbler isn’t facing the same risks as some of its other feathered friends, it’s the kind of small but unignorable change that ornithologists are becoming all too familiar with.

Birds are very susceptible to changes, and they are really good indicators of what’s happening around them in their physical environment. This has made birds a particularly important part of understanding the growing impact of climate change.

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Insect Invaders

Researchers say they have found different types of insects that have managed to get a foothold in Antarctica, apparently able to survive on and around the frozen continent.

It is not known if Eretmoptera murphyi, the subantarctic flightless chironomid midge, arrived by boat or plane, in the clothing of scientists or from larvae in a container of water. But scientists say it presents a potential danger to the delicate ecosystem and can’t be eradicated with insecticide.

Uruguayan polar scientists found an invasive crane fly, Trichocera maculipennis, which also threatens to expand its territory.


Climate Confusion

As one research station on the Antarctic Peninsula experienced its hottest temperature on record with a high of 64.9 degrees Fahrenheit, freak warmth in Siberia awakened badgers early from hibernation.

The animals typically remain in slumber until late February. But above-freezing temperatures 46 degrees warmer than a year ago have caused them to stir.

An unusually warm December caused similar hibernation confusion among bears in Russia and Ukraine.

Last winter, hundreds of brown bears in a southern Russian reserve didn’t hibernate at all due to the unusual warmth.


Australia’s Bushfires Brought 113 Species Closer to Extinction

On Tuesday, the Australian Department of Agriculture, Water, and the Environment released a list of 113 species with the highest urgent need for conservation action due to the damage they’ve suffered from this tragic situation. The list includes species such as the Kangaroo Island dunnart and Pugh’s frog, both of which are “at imminent risk of extinction,” per the report, because of how much habitat the fires destroyed.

These species were endangered before this year’s bushfire season kicked off. Now, things have gotten worse when they need to be getting better. Most have lost at least 30 percent of their range, but many have lost even more. The endemic red browed treecreeper, for instance, saw almost half of its range burn. This priority list features animals such as the golden-tipped bat, which likes to dwell in the forests and caves of the fire-stricken eastern coast of Australia, is among those included. This list is focusing on species with key functions in the ecosystem.

Many of the other species on the list—13 birds, 19 mammals, 20 reptiles, 17 frogs, five invertebrae, 22 crayfish, and 17 freshwater fish—also face severe habitat disruption.

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The future is looking dire for bumblebees

Bumblebees are vanishing at a rate consistent with widespread extinction, and climate change is playing a big role. The dire analysis comes from a new study published in the journal Science today. The authors found that the likelihood of a bumblebee population surviving in any given place within North America and Europe has dropped by an average of 30 percent as temperatures have risen.

Pesticides, habitat loss, and pathogens have already hit bumblebee populations hard. The new study, however, is able to isolate the effect that hotter temperatures are having on bumblebees. Sadly, bees are having a hard time adapting to a warming world.

Some bee populations are colonizing new territories that were previously too cold. But those gains are overshadowed by losses in areas where the bees once thrived but are now too hot.

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Wild Food Ban – China

A network of environmental groups from 74 countries has urged China to make permanent its new ban on the sale of wildlife for food in public markets to help prevent future animal-bourne pathogens from infecting people.

It is believed the Wuhan coronavirus made the leap from wildlife to humans in that city’s market, where the flesh from dogs, turtles, bats, snakes, giant salamanders, crocodiles, hedgehogs and marmots was sold.

Experts believe the outbreak originated from human exposure to an infected snake or bat from the market.

The Friends of the Earth and Friend of the Sea also point to the overall environmental damage that the public markets are causing through their exploitation of wildlife.


Kidnapped Lion Cub

A male baboon in the Kruger National Park in South Africa “stole” a lion cub from its pride while foraging for food and then took it up a tree to groom it. It is not known what happened to the cub, but the male baboon would not know how to raise the lion cub, which would probably have died if not reunited with its pride.



Missing Monarchs 2020

The number of wintering monarch butterflies along the coast of California has not recovered significantly from last year’s record low.

While about 4.5 million of the colourful monarchs fluttered through forest groves there in the 1980s, that number had plunged to about 27,000 last year and has risen by only 2,000 since.

The disappearance is being blamed on destruction of the milkweed they feed on along their migratory route, as well as agricultural use of pesticides and herbicides.

The western monarchs migrate from areas west of the Rockies to winter at more than 200 sites in coastal California each year.

Their eastern counterparts migrate to Mexico from summer habitats in eastern Canada and the northeastern United States.

Desert Survivous

Scientists are scrambling to save a species of critically endangered frog that lives in a tiny oasis of water and reeds in Chile’s otherwise parched Atacama Desert, the world’s driest.

Because pollution, habitat loss and an expanding nearby mining city threaten what few of the tiny, dark-spotted amphibians that have survived, 14 of the last remaining Lao River water frogs were airlifted to Santiago’s Metropolitan Zoo. Only one failed to survive the move.

Osvaldo Cabeza, the zoo’s herpetology supervisor, says a team will work to encourage the survivors to feed and reproduce in captivity as the species’ only chance of survival.

The range of Telmatobius dankoi is now limited to just 4 square miles of dried-up riverbed outside of the city of Calama.

Unique pink slug feared wiped out by Australia’s bushfires found alive and well

A bright pink slug species, found only on one mountain in Australia, has survived the devastating bushfires that ripped through much of its habitat. The unique, eye-catching creature only lives on the slopes of an isolated inactive volcano in New South Wales, Mount Kaputar, from which they take their name.

After recent rainfall, rangers from New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service found “about 60” Mount Kaputar slugs alive.

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Half a Billion Animals Killed in Australia Wildfires

Ecologists now say wildfires that have scorched huge swaths of Australia have killed half a billion animals, revising a previous estimate of more than 2 billion animals killed. Nearly a third of the continent’s koalas has been wiped out—and some other species face total extermination as high temperatures and drought fuel the blazes. “Many of the affected animals are likely to have been killed directly by the fires, with others succumbing later due to the depletion of food and shelter resources and predation from introduced feral cats and red foxes,” the team from University of Sydney said.

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Worst Locust Swarm to Hit East Africa in Decades

East Africa is facing its worst locust infestation in decades, and the climate crisis is partly to blame.

The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) said that Ethiopia and Somalia had not seen a swarm this bad in 25 years, while Kenya was facing its largest infestation in 70 years. Vulnerable families that were already dealing with food shortages now face the prospect of watching as their crops are destroyed before their eyes.

The desert locust swarm came across the Red Sea from Yemen and was encouraged by heavy rains in late 2019, according to BBC News. The UN was already warning that the infestation could spread from Ethiopia in November. Some farmers in the country’s Amhara region lost 100 percent of their crops, and a swarm forced an Ethiopian passenger plane off course in December.

Locusts can travel 93 miles a day, and each adult can eat its weight in food in the same time span. A small swarm can eat enough food to feed 35,000 people in 24 hours, The Associated Press reported, and the locusts have already infested around 172,973 acres of land in Kenya.

Rainy conditions expected in March could cause the locust swarms to grow by a factor of 500 before drier weather is expected in June, the UN said.

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Human Footprint

Around 85% of Earth’s wildlife is now being trampled by intense human pressure, which researchers say is putting some of those species into an extinction crisis.

Scientists from the University of Queensland, the Wildlife Conservation Society and other groups point to land species with small ranges as being disproportionately exposed to human competition from factors such as grazing livestock, agriculture and urban sprawl.

The study’s “Human Footprint” report also lists other influences, such as population density, transportation networks, and mining and utility corridors, for their impacts on wildlife.


Radioactive Habitat

Wildlife is thriving in the most contaminated areas around Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant, which suffered meltdowns following a devastating 2011 offshore quake and subsequent tsunami.

Photos from automatic cameras set up by the University of Georgia showed that more than 20 species are flourishing in various areas of the irradiated landscape.

They found almost three times as many species such as wild boar, hares, macaques, pheasants and fox living there than in the slightly contaminated areas where people are able to live.

The research does not address the health and welfare of the animals in the presence of such radiation.


Prolific Tortoise

A species of Galapagos giant tortoise once on the brink of extinction has been saved with the help of a half-century of tireless breeding from one of only three surviving males.

Since 1976, “Diego” has fathered 800 of the now 2,000 Chelonoidis hoodensis of Española Island. But since the species is no longer in danger and the successful captive breeding project is ending, the pressure is now off for the approximately 130-year-old Diego.

Experts say the playboy has a “big personality” and is aggressive, active and vocal while mating. Diego will be allowed to live out his golden years in leisure after finally being released back into the wild on his native Española Island, where he was captured by scientists 80 years ago.