Wildlife

4 dead gray whales wash up around San Francisco

Four dead gray whales have washed up on the shores of the San Francisco Bay Area in just eight days, prompting fears that the species is under threat from human activity in the area. The whales probably represent just a small fraction of the number dying in the area.

In 2019, 73 dead gray whales were found washed up along the west coast of North America during a six-month period.

Necropsies have revealed that the main causes of death for gray whales are malnutrition due to climate change, entanglement in fishing gear and trauma from ship strikes.

Wildlife

Large Sawfish

The longest sawfish ever measured washed up in Florida, not far from another large specimen.

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Wildlife

Easter Bunny Hunt

New Zealand hunters resumed their annual tradition of shooting thousands of invasive bunny rabbits over the Easter weekend after a four-year break in the slaughter. The fundraising event was launched more than 25 years ago with teams gathering from across the country.

Organizers say a total of 11,968 rabbits were shot, but they concede the cull isn’t expected to make much of a dent in the massive bunny population. The animals were brought to New Zealand in the 1800s and quickly overran the landscape, ravaging the native biodiversity and agriculture.

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Eagles Recover in USA

America’s iconic bald eagles have recovered from the brink of extinction brought on by the once-widespread use of the pesticide DDT half a century ago. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the national symbol now numbers nearly 317,000 individual birds with an estimated 74,400 nesting pairs.

Only about 417 pairs had survived by 1963 because of the eggshell-thinning phenomenon caused by the now-banned DDT. Martha Williams, deputy director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, called the recovery “one of the most well-known conservation success stories of all time.” She says she hopes all Americans get the chance to see at least one majestic bald eagle in flight.

Wildlife

Ursine Illness

California wildlife officials warn that a new unexplained neurological illness is causing some black bear cubs in the state to exhibit overly friendly “doglike” behavior with humans.

Several have been fearlessly eating and camping out in backyards as humans look on. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) says one young bear that was picked up was lethargic and underweight, displaying head tremors and a subtle head tilt.

Encephalitis, or brain inflammation, appears to be the cause. “At this point, we don’t know what causes the encephalitis, so we don’t know what, if any, health risks these bears might pose to other animals,” said CDFW wildlife veterinarian Brandon Munk.

Giraffe Disease

The Kenya Wildlife Service is investigating a mysterious skin disease that has killed more than 10 giraffes in the far northeast of the country. The illness was first reported last May, with six of the animals dying within the following five months. It eventually spreads to the mouth, where it interferes with the giraffes’ ability to eat.

The local reticulated giraffes, also known as Somali giraffes, have been recently under threat from poaching because livestock markets in the region have been closed due to the pandemic. Locals also believe the animals’ meat boosts libido, making them a target for slaughter.

Wildlife

Waste Personal Protective Equipment from Covid-19 is Killing Wildlife

Waste from lifesaving personal protective equipment is killing birds, fish and other wildlife across the globe, a study has found. Animals are fatally ingesting or becoming entangled in discarded latex gloves and disposable face masks, while others have started building their homes using the same material, researchers said.

Scientists found a fish trapped in medical latex gloves in a canal cleanup in the Dutch city of Leiden in August, which prompted researchers to explore whether there was a larger problem.

The biologists found hundreds of discarded face masks in Leiden’s historical canals over the course of a few months and soon realized a worrying picture was emerging. Those affected are not confined to small fish and birds, rather the entire animal kingdom globally will suffer from COVID-19 litter.

Wildlife

Horns Down

Wildlife experts in Africa say they have found it is safer to relocate the critically endangered black rhinoceros upside down, sedated and blindfolded by helicopter rather than by land.

It is sometimes necessary to move rhinos from local overcrowding and to make them less vulnerable to poaching. Their blood oxygen levels are higher when they are upside down, compared to lying on their side on a flatbed truck. Nearly 98% of black rhinos disappeared in the wild after the 1960s, when more than 100,000 roamed the deserts, shrublands and savannas from Kenya to Namibia.

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Wildlife

Cause of mysterious bald eagle deaths found

A mysterious neurodegenerative disease has been killing bald eagles and other animals at lakes across the United States. And after 25 years of sleuthing, researchers have finally figured out its cause. The disease, known as vacuolar myelinopathy (VM), was first discovered in 1994 when a large number of bald eagle carcasses were found near DeGray Lake in Arkansas.

Scientists eventually identified an invasive plant and later a particular species of cyanobacteria that seemed to be responsible. Now, a new study has uncovered the culprit: a neurotoxin called aetokthonotoxin that is produced under certain circumstances by the cyanobacteria living on the invasive plants.

Scientists discovered that VM was found only in lakes where an invasive plant species, Hydrilla verticillata, was also found. The Hydrilla, which is native to Central Africa, was first found in the U.S. in 1960 in Florida and has since become one of the most successful invasive plant species in history. It only takes a few fragments of the Hydrilla plant or some of its tubers to be introduced into a lake before it takes over and becomes almost impossible to remove.

It is highly unlikely that VM will ever be eradicated from U.S. lakes, but now that scientists better understand the toxin responsible for it, they can figure out ways to control the spread and manage the disease.

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Wildlife

Millions of dead jellyfish are washing up around the world

The by-the-wind sailor jellyfish (Velella velella) spends its days drifting aimlessly through the open sea, gorging itself on an endless buffet of complementary morsels.

Every year, on beaches around the world, colonies of sailor jellies become stranded by the thousands. There, they dry up and die, becoming a “crunchy carpet” of dehydrated corpses covering the sand. Sailor jelly strandings are common when seasonal winds change course, but some — like a 2006 event on the west coast of New Zealand — are on another level entirely, with the jellyfish corpses numbering not in the thousands, but in the millions. During spring months from 2015 to 2019, dead jellyfish littered more than 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) of continuous coastline

These exceptional jellyfish die-offs coincided with a massive marine heat wave known as “the blob.” Beginning in 2013, surface waters off the Pacific coast began heating up to levels never recorded before. The intense warming continued through 2016, tampering with every level of the marine food chain and resulting in mass die-offs of seabirds, baleen whales, sea lions and other creatures. According to a new study, it’s likely that the blob drove the mass die-offs of by-the-wind sailor jellyfish reported during those years.

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Wildlife

Harp seal Pups Struggle to Survive

Harp seal pups — with their beady eyes and soft, pillowy fur — are tremendously adorable. Yet new heartbreaking images show the pups in danger, stranded on beaches as sea ice failed to form after an unprecedentedly warm winter.

National Geographic traveled to Gulf of St. Lawrence, where a population of harp seals migrates south from the Canadian Arctic and Greenland to give birth on the sea ice every March.

Its team captured images of the pups struggling to climb onto ice chunks and stranded on dangerous, predator-filled beaches.

Global warming is thwarting ice formation, and sea ice cover in the gulf is at its lowest since 1969, according to NatGeo. Satellite images of the Gulf of St. Lawrence taken in 2008 are starkly different from this year’s. Normally, over 90,000 square miles of ice covers the cold body of water, but 2021 images appear to show the gulf ice-free.

As ice dissolves into slush, these pups are in danger of drowning, being crushed by large ice chunks or being eaten by predators.

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Wildlife

Quietly Disappearing

An Australian songbird is slowly fading into extinction as it loses its mating song crucial for its survival.

Scientists at the Australian National University say the young regent honeyeaters are struggling to learn mating calls because the adult birds are disappearing and not passing on the tunes. “This lack of ability to communicate with their own species is unprecedented in a wild animal,” said researcher Dejan Stojanovic. He adds that the honeyeaters are now so rare that some younger birds never find an adult male to teach them their love song.

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Wildlife

Arctic walrus takes a nap on an iceberg, wakes up in Ireland

A walrus spotted on an Irish beach yesterday (March 14) may have floated there from the Arctic Circle after falling asleep on an iceberg.

Most walruses (Odobenus rosmarus) live near the Arctic Circle, where they hunt for shellfish in shallow water and clamber up onto the icebergs and beaches to rest. The large creatures rarely crop up along the Irish shoreline.

How does a young walrus end up in County Kerry? “I’d say what happened is, he fell asleep on an iceberg and drifted off, and then he was gone too far, out into the mid-Atlantic or down off Greenland possibly,” Kevin Flannery, a marine biologist with the Dingle Oceanworld Aquarium said.

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Wildlife

Another Chick for Wisdom

The world’s oldest known wild bird has hatched yet another chick at the ripe old age of at least 70.

The Laysan albatross known as Wisdom was first tagged in 1956 and is believed to have had at least 30 to 36 chicks during her lifetime. Since the species mates for life, it’s believed Wisdom has outlived previous partners before mating with Akeakamai (“lover of wisdom” in the Hawaiian language) in 2012.

Wisdom’s latest hatchling emerged in February at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the mid-Pacific, where Wisdom and Akeakamai are feeding and caring for it jointly.

Rat Recovery

The ecology of a remote Alaskan island once known as Rat Island has quickly recovered from the damage inflicted by the invasive rodents just over 10 years after a coordinated effort eradicated them.

Writing in the journal Scientific Reports, University of California San Diego researcher Carolyn Kurle reveals that native species on what is now known as Hawadax Island have since thrived and are restoring the landscape’s natural balance.

Rats were introduced there by a Japanese shipwreck sometime before 1780, and they quickly ravaged native birds and other wildlife.

Wildlife

Something is killing California’s songbirds

Songbirds are dying across California’s Bay Area, and officials think crowds at bird feeders are to blame, according to recent news reports.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and wildlife rehabilitation centers have been “inundated” with calls since December 2020 from California residents reporting that they found sick or dead finches at their bird feeders.

An investigation into the deaths revealed that the birds were infected by the Salmonella bacteria and had developed salmonellosis. A tale as old as (pandemic) time: large gatherings were to blame.

Finches who came into contact with food, water or objects contaminated with feces from infected birds can contract the illness, according to the statement. As more birds gather in an area such as a bird feeder or a bird bath, the risk of infection increases.

The best way to stop the birds from spreading the bacteria is to remove the bird baths and feeders so that the birds can spread out and feed on natural vegetation.

Wildlife

New Home for Rare Seals Discovered

The world’s rarest seals have been caught on camera in secret breeding caves in northern Cyprus. The new breeding sites provide hope for a struggling species, but the caves are now in need of protection.

Mediterranean monk seals (Monachus monachus) are the most endangered of all the pinniped species — a group that includes seals, sea lions, sea otters and walruses — with just 700 individuals left in the wild. A large number of those seals live in and around Cyprus.

Due to human pressures, such as bycatch and tourism, the monk seals have been forced to raise their pups inside cave systems, rather than their usual open beaches, on the island. A new study using camera traps, carried out by researchers from the University of Exeter in the U.K. has revealed several previously unknown breeding caves in northern Cyprus, the first to be found along the north coast of the island.

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Wildlife

Rare Australian Bee Rediscovered

An extremely rare species of bee that hasn’t been seen for nearly a century and was thought to be extinct has been rediscovered by a lone researcher in Australia.

This rare “masked” bee, known as Pharohylaeus lactiferus, is native to Australia and is the only species in the genus Pharohylaeus. It is similar in size to the invasive European honeybee (Apis mellifera). Only six individuals have been previously identified in Australia and the last one was reported in 1923.

A recent survey revealed three geographically isolated populations of the masked bees across Australia’s eastern coast. Each population lives in patches of tropical and subtropical rainforest with a specific vegetation type. It is thought that the bees are particularly dependent on firewheel trees (Stenocarpus sinuatus) and Illawarra flame trees (Brachychiton acerifolius).

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