Breaching humpback whale body slams boat in Mexico

Watching a gigantic whale fly through the air as it breaches the ocean’s surface is one of the most beautiful sights in the natural world. But for the crew of one boat in Mexico, that experience quickly turned into a nightmare when they got too close to a 7-ton (6.4 metric tons) humpback whale that subsequently body slammed them, wrecking the vessel and injuring everyone on board.

The humpback — a juvenile despite its hefty size — rose out of the water and landed directly on top of a small boat. Local authorities have suggested that the “Andrea” had been harrassing the humpback whale, which may have caused the distressed cetacean to purposefully breach on top of the vessel.


Nature’s War Victims

The coastlines, forests and wetlands of southern Ukraine have suffered untold destruction and contamination by Russia’s war on the country.

The bombardments and missile attacks have inflicted damage to wildlife and the environment that will take decades to recover once the war ends, according to Yevhenia Zasiadko of the Ukrainian environmental organization Ecoaction. “We are seeing a frightening amount of landscape damage,” Zasiadko told Spain’s RTVE.

Russia’s military has targeted many of Ukraine’s mines, refineries, fuel depots and chemical plants, polluting the surrounding areas.


Collateral Damage – Dolphins

Beyond the human casualties, destruction and misery from Russia’s war on Ukraine, Turkish marine life experts say they believe the conflict is also causing a sharp rise in dolphin deaths along the Black Sea coast.

They believe underwater noise pollution from about 20 Russian navy vessels has been driving the marine mammals southward, where they are becoming stranded or caught in fishing nets.

Neighbouring Bulgaria also reports an increase in dolphin strandings. “Acoustic trauma is one of the possibilities that come to mind,” said Bayram Öztürk of the Turkish Marine Research Foundation. He adds that while the underwater noise may not directly kill the dolphins, it could cause them to head into unfamiliar territory.


South Asia Heat

Wildlife rescuers in western India’s Gujarat state say they are picking up large numbers of dehydrated and exhausted birds that have fallen from the sky as the region remains in the grip of unprecedented heat.

Birds that were still alive were treated with water injections into their mouths and fed vitamin tablets. The heat has also been responsible for the deaths of more than two dozen humans across India.

Since the country suffered its hottest March in more than 100 years, the relentless heat has caused water shortages, power cuts and widespread misery, with temperatures soaring well above 40 degrees most days.


Butterflies Tagged

Scientists have created tiny sensors that can be attached to the backs of monarch butterflies to track their migration.

Millions of the colourful and threatened monarchs migrate each autumn to a cluster of mountain peaks in central Mexico’s Michoacan state. The new wireless sensing platform called mSAIL includes a chip that weighs only 62 milligrams and measures only 4 millimetres in width.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh say the sensors store information during the migration until the butterflies arrive at specific checkpoints and their destinations, where the data can be collected wirelessly. They say the tiny devices do not interfere with the monarchs’ flying ability or other normal activities.


Reptiles in Peril

An international study of reptiles by more than 900 scientists across six continents finds that more than a fifth of all species are threatened with extinction.

“If we remove reptiles, it could change ecosystems radically, with unfortunate knock-on effects, such as increases in pest insects,” said researcher Neil Cox. While many reptiles are found in arid regions, far more live in forests, where they are threatened by climate change, logging and expanding agriculture. Hunting, especially for crocodiles and turtles, is also a major threat.


Hippo Plague

Offspring of the four hippopotamuses brought into Colombia during the 1980s by the late drug cartel boss Pablo Escobar have increased in such numbers that the country has declared them an invasive species.

About 133 descendants of the three animals that allegedly escaped into the wild are now ravaging the ecology and threatening the human population along the banks of the Magdalena River. The new invasive species declaration means Colombia can draft plans to control the hippo population, or even eradicate them.


Agriculture and Climate Change Combine to Threaten Insects

Climate change and habitat loss from big agriculture are combining to swat down global insect populations, with each problem making the other worse, a new study finds.

While insects may bug people at times, they also are key in pollinating plants to feed people, making soil more fertile and they include beautiful butterflies and fireflies. Scientists have noticed a dramatic drop both in total bug numbers and diversity of insect species, calling it a slow-motion death by 1,000 cuts. Those cuts include pesticides and light pollution.

Big single-crop agriculture that leaves less habitat and leafy food for bugs plus higher temperatures from climate change are huge problems for insects, but a new study in the journal Nature Wednesday based on more than 750,000 samples of 18,000 different species of insects says it’s not just those two threats acting on their own. It’s how habitat loss and climate change interact that really smashes bug populations.


“Spillback” Disease

While there are many documented instances of humans catching diseases such as COVID-19, bird flu and other pathogens from animals, a new study finds that humans are giving diseases to animals more frequently than previously thought.

Writing in the journal Ecology Letters, researchers say there have been nearly 100 cases where diseases “spillback” to animals both in captivity and in the wild. The latest example is COVID-19 being transmitted from people to wild white-tailed deer in North America and spreading among the population.

The majority of the spillback has been from humans to other closely related primates. Mountain gorillas in Uganda have caught several diarrhea-causing bacterial infections from people. “It brings into question which cross-species transmission events we may be missing, and what this might mean not only for public health, but for the health and conservation of the species being infected,” said lead author Anna Fagre.

Light Pollution

Some species of birds are encountering more light pollution at both ends of their migratory routes, potentially confusing them and causing them to crash into buildings, according to a new report.

Writing in the journal Ecosphere, researchers say nighttime light pollution levels are increasing from the southeastern U.S. to Mexico and Central America. It is estimated that as many as 1 billion bird deaths are caused by collisions each year, with a combination of artificial light at night and the mirrored surfaces of buildings the main causes.

Wildlife advocates are calling for new legislation to require architects to design buildings that are more bird friendly, and for cities to reduce light pollution during key migration periods.


Early Birds

A new study reveals that some birds in the American Midwest are now laying their eggs about a month earlier than they did a century ago, with a steadily warming climate pointed to as the cause.

Led by Chicago’s Field Museum, a team compared century-old eggs preserved in the museum’s unique collection with recent avian observations. Each egg is accompanied by a label, noting the kind of bird and precisely where and when it was collected. A third of the 72 species studied around Chicago now lay their eggs about 25 days earlier than they did a century ago.

The gradual shift to an earlier spring has resulted in large impacts on animal and plant life cycles. Scientists believe this is responsible for the steep decline in bird populations since the 1970s.



Australia Loses Bee Hives to Floods

Australia’s crucial crop pollination industry is experiencing a worker shortage of its own due to the widespread flood damage to thousands of beehives. It’s estimated recent floods in New South Wales and Queensland destroyed 8,500 hives and some of the hives that survived unscathed were now being attacked by small hive beetle which targets weakened hives and slimes them out.


Mass Whale Stranding – New Zealand

More than two dozen long-finned pilot whales have died after stranding at Farewell Spit, a remote beach on New Zealand’s South Island where such strandings often occur. In New Zealand, long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas) account for the majority of mass strandings, where two or more whales or dolphins strand at one time.

The most recent stranding involved 34 long-finned pilot whales, 29 of which had already perished when wildlife rangers arrived at the site on Thursday (March 17) evening. Five pilot whales were refloated of which one became stranded again and had to be euthanized.


Mass Fish Kill – New South Wales, Australia

Hundreds of thousands of fish have washed up alongs beaches and river banks along the New South Wales north coast as a result of the floods that have recently hit the area.

The reason behind the widespread fish kills across the catchment — already one of the most polluted in the country — is the lack of oxygen in the water. After a flood, accumulated detritus in the wetlands decomposes and chews up all the oxygen in the water.

The area has a flood plain that drains very quickly which leaves the fish unprepared for the massive oxygen debt in the water. All sorts of fish have been affected: juvenile fish, big fish, all the major species. Sea mullet, bream, flathead, whiting, and then all the small fish, even toadfish.


Litter Shelter

Octopuses are increasingly being observed and photographed using discarded cans, bottles and other trash as shelter, and even places to safely lay their eggs, hidden from predators.

Writing in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin, lead researcher Maira Proietti at Brazil’s Federal University of Rio Grande says her team examined hundreds of images from “citizen scientists” to see how the creatures are literally embracing such trash. “They clearly see that there’s a lot of litter around, and it can therefore act as a kind of artificial camouflage,” said Proietti. But she cautions that sheltering or laying eggs in discarded tyres, batteries, plastic containers and other man-made items could expose the octopuses to heavy metals or toxic chemicals.



Manatee Feeding

Emergency measures to provide lettuce to starving manatees in Florida’s Indian River Lagoon appear to be curbing the record number of deaths that have occurred among the sea cows during the last year.

Such unprecedented human intervention follows more than 1,100 of the manatees dying of starvation due to their usual seagrass diet being depleted because of water pollution caused by agricultural activities. The manatees initially did not eat the lettuce thrown on the surface for them because they were used to looking down as they grazed on the seagrass.

However, wildlife authorities said the mammals eventually changed their eating habits after they understood the lettuce was good food.

Mosquito Attraction

Researchers say they have found that the best way to avoid being targeted by mosquitoes is to shift your wardrobe to colours the biters are not attracted to.

Biologists from the University of Washington found that after the insects catch a whiff of carbon dioxide from human breath, they target anyone wearing the longer- wavelength colours of red, orange, black and cyan for their next blood meals. Writing in the journal Nature Communications, Jeffrey Riffell says that while the insects are attracted to human breath, sweat and skin temperature, they don’t even bat an eye at those wearing green, purple, blue and white.