“The Pacific Ocean is Broken”

The following is a report received from a sailor, Ivan MacFayden sailing the Pacific.

“After we left Japan, it felt as if the ocean itself was dead,” Australian yachtsman Ivan Macfadyen said.

“We hardly saw any living things. We saw one whale, sort of rolling helplessly on the surface with what looked like a big tumour on its head. It was pretty sickening.

I’ve done a lot of miles on the ocean in my life and I’m used to seeing turtles, dolphins, sharks and big flurries of feeding birds. But this time, for 3000 nautical miles there was nothing alive to be seen.”

In place of the missing life was garbage in astounding volumes

And something else. The boat’s vivid yellow paint job, never faded by sun or sea in years gone past, reacted with something in the water off Japan, losing its sheen in a strange and unprecedented way.”

There have been several similar reports about wildlife [or lack thereof] around the Pacific.


Disappearing North American Moose Alarm Scientists

The sharp and sudden decline in moose populations across North America has researchers concerned over what’s killing the iconic members of the continent’s ecosystem.

One of Minnesota’s two distinct populations of the lumbering animals has dropped from about 4,000 to 100 since the 1990s.

The other population is down to fewer than 3,000 from 8,000 over the same period.

Wildlife experts say manmade climate change appears to be behind most of the declines.

They point to the increased number of winter ticks in New Hampshire that have thrived due to a longer fall and less snow on average.

“You can get 100,000 ticks on a moose,” state biologist Kristine Rines told The New York Times.

Brain worms and liver flukes, which thrive in moist environments, have ravaged the moose populations in Minnesota.

And the loss of forest cover in British Columbia due to an epidemic of pine bark beetles, which thrive in warmer weather, has left the moose exposed to hunters and other predators.

Since moose shape the landscape as they graze, even sometimes creating habitat for nesting birds, wildlife officials fear their loss could have a ripple effect through the environment.



Diver finds creature from the deep

A marine science instructor snorkelling off the Southern California coast spotted something out of a fantasy novel: the silvery carcass of a five-metre-long serpent-like oarfish.

Jasmine Santana of the Catalina Island Marine Institute needed more than 15 helpers to drag the giant sea creature to shore on Sunday.

Staffers at the institute are calling it the discovery of a lifetime.

Because oarfish dive more than 900m deep, sightings of the creatures are rare and they are largely unstudied, according to CIMI.

The obscure fish apparently died of natural causes.

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Japan’s Infamous Dolphin Slaughter Town Wants ‘Marine Park’

The Japanese fishing town notorious for its savage slaughter of dolphins each year now says it wants to open a marine park that will also feature whale cutlet burgers and dolphin meat as snacks for visitors.

Taiji and its bloody dolphin kill were highlighted in the 2009 documentary “The Cove,” which won an Oscar for best documentary the following year.

Organizers there want to fence off a portion of the cove to create the park in which people can swim and kayak alongside small whales and dolphins.

Town official Masaki Wada assures critics that the dolphin slaughter, carried out by stabbing the marine mammals with stakes, will continue.

“Our town will proceed with the concept that there is food culture, as well as tourism, when it comes to whales,” Wada told The Australian.

“We are not doing anything wrong, and we do not aim to cease our legitimate business because of criticism from outside.”

Wada says proceeds from the new marine park will help endow the fishing fleet, which carries out the slaughter, as well as the capture of dolphins sold to marine parks around the world.

The town caught 1,277 dolphins in 2012 and has license to capture 2,026 this season, which began in September.

Scene from “The Cove” in which so many dolphins are slaughtered that the surrounding water turns red.


Starfish ‘Melting’ Off Vancouver, BC

Experts at Canada’s Vancouver Aquarium say they are puzzled by what is causing thousands of sunflower starfish, or sea stars, to die in the waters of Vancouver Harbor and Howe Sound.

What is even more startling is the way the creatures perish — by quickly dissolving in a phenomenon the aquarium has dubbed Sea Star Wasting Syndrome.

“They have disintegrated, and now there is just goo left,” says research diver and taxonomist Donna Gibbs.

But she says that young starfish have been seen in the same area that look healthy, providing hope that the population could rebound.

Aquarium staff say they have had trouble gathering specimens for testing since some starfish that looked healthy in the ocean were goo by the time they reached the lab.

A similar string of starfish deaths was reported in July in the North Atlantic from New Jersey to Maine.

In both the British Columbia and Atlantic areas affected by the die off, there had been a population bloom of the creatures in recent years.

“We think it is disease. It is overpopulation and pestilence,” Gibbs told Global News. “The numbers grew so out of control and then a disease hit them and just wiped them out. That is what we think. We are not sure yet, but that is the first thought.”

A dying sea star photographed off Vancouver, British Columbia, on September 2, 2013.



Koalas in Danger as Aussie Temperatures Soar

Australia’s native koala could face a wipeout from increasing temperatures unless “urgent” action is taken to plant trees for shelter as well as eucalypts to eat, a study found Thursday.

Lead researcher Mathew Crowther from the University of Sydney said the three-year study tracked 40 koalas by satellite in north-western New South Wales to examine their nesting and feeding habits.

It was the first research to compare where the tree-dwelling marsupials spent their days against their nights and found that large, mature trees with dense leaves were critical to their survival, particularly during extreme weather events like bushfires and heatwaves.

“Our research confirmed koalas shelter during the day in different types of trees to the eucalypts they feed on at night,” said Crowther. “We found the hotter it is during the day the more koalas will tend to seek out bigger trees with denser foliage to try to escape those temperatures.”

According to the non-profit Climate Council think tank, this September was the hottest ever recorded in Australia, with national average temperatures 2.75 degrees higher than the long-term average.

In a report published Thursday on the latest Bureau of Meteorology data, the council said 2013 was on track to become Australia’s hottest year on record, surpassing the previous mark set in 2005.

Thought to number in excess of 10 million before British settlers arrived in 1788, there are now believed to be as few as 43,000 left in the wild, though their existence high in the treetops makes them difficult to count.

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Jellyfish Jam Swedish Nuclear Reactor Cooling

One of the world’s largest nuclear power reactors was forced to shut down after masses of jellyfish clogged pipes carrying seawater that cools the plant’s three reactors and turbine generators.

Officials at Sweden’s Oskarshamn nuclear power station scrambled to shut down reactor No. 3 after tons of the common moon jellyfish became caught in the pipes.

Oskarshamn spokesman Anders Osterberg said the jellyfish entered the pipes at about 60 feet below the surface of the Baltic Sea.

But he said they had not gotten through the plant’s filters or come anywhere near the reactor.

All of Oskarshamn’s reactors are boiling-water types, like those at Japan’s crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant, which suffered meltdowns following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster.

Nuclear power plants are typically built next to large bodies of water because they require a steady flow of cool water.


Global Warming

Walrus come ashore in Alaska as global warming decimates sea ice

For the Pacific walrus, global warming is undeniable.

An estimated 10,000 walrus have come ashore on Alaska’s northwest coast, the National Marine Fisheries Service reported, as the sea ice the animals normally rely on to rest continues to melt at alarming rates.

Since 2007, government scientists have tracked numerous large walrus “haulouts” in Alaska and this one began last week.

Walrus typically use ice in the Chukchi Sea upon which to rest, and feed on clams and other prey. Over the past decade, however, they have been forced to come ashore more frequently as global temperatures have continued to rise.

As of September 2012, sea ice reached its lowest square area since measurements began in 1979, Physics Today reported, and represented 55% less coverage than was measured in 1980.

According to the Fisheries Service, that’s very bad news for the walrus, whose shift in habitat “will expose all individuals, but especially calves, juveniles and females, to increased levels of stress from depletion of prey, increased energetic costs to obtain prey, trampling injuries and mortalities, and predation.”



Swarms of hornets in northwest China

A rash of deadly hornet attacks in northwestern China has killed 42 people and injured more than 1,600, local officials said Thursday.

The attacks began in July and have centred on three cities in China’s Shaanxi province: Ankang, Hanzhong and Shangluo. Local authorities believe a particularly venomous species, known as the Asian giant hornet, is behind the attacks.

They say the hornets, which can grow up to 2 inches long, are most active in September and October, when they breed and migrate. But experts quoted by the state-run New China News Agency offered different reasons for the unusual number of attacks this year.

Huang Rongyao, an insect control expert in the worst-hit city, Ankang, said increased vegetation growth was attracting hornets to the area while warmer than usual temperatures were making the insects more active.

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Migrating Monarch Butterflies Disappearing

Clusters of colourful monarch butterflies are now in the midst of their marathon migration southward across a broad swath of North America, but observers warn their numbers have plummeted again this year.

This year’s reports indicate that the decline in monarch numbers over the past 10 to 15 years appears to have been much steeper this summer.

Biologist Jeremy Kerr told the Ottawa Citizen that he thinks numbers are now down by as much as 90 percent.

Loss of habitat and pesticide use due to expanding agriculture is mainly to blame, according to experts.

Last summer’s extreme drought in the U.S. corn belt wiped out huge numbers of milkweeds, which the monarchs need to breed and feed.

Elizabeth Howard of Journey North says that was a fatal blow to many of the iconic fliers.

Monarchs typically live only four to five weeks, except for the generation that emerges in late summer. That’s the one that migrates the entire way southward to the species’ wintering grounds in the Mexican state of Michoacan.

The small number of southward migrants this autumn has caused even more concerns over the long-term future of the world’s longest-migrating butterflies.



Report Reveals Cause of Massive Madagascar Whale Stranding

Sometimes good science takes time. This week, more than five years after the fact, a report was released about a mysterious mass stranding of whales that made international news in its day, but has since been all but forgotten.

Few will be surprised to learn that the cause was manmade ocean noise, which has now been implicated in a succession of mass whale deaths. And yet the findings were completely unexpected — and raise yet more questions about the sufficiency of existing law to address this growing international problem.

In May-June of 2008, the Wildlife Conservation Society led an international stranding response team to a mass stranding of approximately 100 melon-headed whales in the coastal mangroves of northeastern Madagascar.

On May 30, 2008, a pod of some 100 to 200 melon-headed whales turned up in Loza Lagoon, a large mangrove estuary on the northwest end of Madagascar. The lagoon was, needless to say, an inappropriate place for pelagic whales that tend to spend their lives in deep water. Despite intensive rescue efforts by both local authorities and experts from around the world, including my colleagues at the International Fund for Animal Welfare and Wildlife Conservation Society, the vast majority of the whales in Loza proceeded to suffer, starve and die.

The whole episode bore an uncanny resemblance to a mass stranding of the same species in Hawaii, during a major U.S. Navy exercise in 2004. In that case, an intrepid group of locals managed to lead the whales out of the lagoon using traditional methods — strands of woven vines gently pulled along the water’s surface — but Madagascar was the darker flipside of that event. In Hawaii only a single whale, a calf, is known to have died. In Madagascar, it was a true catastrophe.

But what was the cause? At the time, attention immediately turned to Exxon, which was running exploration activities in the area. The high-powered airguns that companies use to find offshore reservoirs of oil and gas have the power to disrupt marine life on a massive scale, and have raised enormous concern among scientists and conservationists the world over. Yet Exxon hadn’t deployed airguns off Madagascar. Nor was it using any of the other intense human sources of sound that biologists have identified as an environmental threat.

What the report demonstrates is that our understanding of the threat from underwater noise is too narrow. As it turns out, the “plausible and likely” cause of the Madagascar strandings was a seemingly innocuous acoustic device called a multibeam echosounder, which uses fans of sound to produce high-resolution maps of the sea floor.

No one thought to worry about echosounders before now. For years, regulators have focused on industrial and military sounds of lower frequencies, on the assumption that higher-frequency sounds are more quickly absorbed by seawater and do not pose the large-scale threat of an industrial airgun or naval sonar system. And echosounders, which are widely used by fishermen and oceanographers as well as by industry, typically use frequencies so high as to be completely undetectable to any marine mammal.

The echosounder that Exxon employed off Madagascar was, unfortunately, a very different animal. It produces sounds almost as powerful as the Navy sonar systems that have precipitated mass whale strandings and mortalities around the globe; and the sounds it generates are of similar, if higher, frequencies. Perhaps its only saving grace is that, unlike Navy sonar, echosounders are directed downwards towards the ocean bottom rather than directly out to sea, where the noise can spread even further. Even so, the report concluded that the Madagascar device would have ensonified the coast at levels known to disrupt whale behaviour for close to 30 kilometres in all directions.

How widely are these systems used? That remains a mystery. But if there’s anything one can say about ocean noise, it’s that people are constantly underestimating the scale and scope of the problem.

NOAA melon headed whale


80 Elephants Poisoned With Cyanide in Zimbabwe Park

The accelerated pace of wildlife poaching across Africa in recent months has resulted in the gruesome slaughter of more than 80 elephants that died of cyanide poisoning in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park.

According to authorities, a well-coordinated poaching syndicate, targeting the animals’ ivory tusks, laced water and salt licks with the poison at main drinking sites for the elephants.

While the mass killing of the elephants in such a cruel manner is tragic, wildlife advocates say such a poisoning technique threatens many other animals in the park.

“The repercussions are just so big. All the carnivores in the park like your lions, your leopards, the birds, they will all have perished too from eating the elephant meat.” Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force chairman Johnny Rodrigues told SW Radio Africa.

Police say nine suspected members of the poaching syndicate have been arrested since the first elephant carcasses were discovered late last month.



Ecological Armageddon

A new study has found that mammals vanish entirely from forest fragments after 25 years.

As tropical forests worldwide are increasingly cut into smaller and smaller fragments, mammal extinctions may not be far behind, according to a new study. “Our results should be a warning. This is the trend that the world is going in.”

In 1987, the government of Thailand launched a huge, unplanned experiment. They built a dam across the Khlong Saeng river, creating a 60-square-mile reservoir. As the Chiew Larn reservoir rose, it drowned the river valley, transforming 150 forested hilltops into islands, each with its own isolated menagerie of wildlife. Conservation biologists have long known that fragmenting wilderness can put species at risk of extinction. But it’s been hard to gauge how long it takes for those species to disappear. Chiew Larn has given biologists the opportunity to measure the speed of mammal extinctions.

Tropical forests are regularly cleared for logging, farming and cities. In most cases, the only original tree cover is reduced to isolated patches. Many of the original species of plants and animals may still survive in those fragments, but they experience new stresses. The edges of the fragments are no longer dim and humid, for example. The small size of the surviving populations also creates problems. Over the course of a few generations, a small population can accumulate harmful mutations that make them less fertile or more vulnerable to diseases.

Scientists have hypothesized that many species will gradually decline in forest fragments until they become extinct. Reducing a vast carpet of jungle to isolated patches thus creates a so-called “extinction debt” that nature will sooner or later collect.

Just five years after the dam was built, they could see a difference. Several species were more rare on the islands than on the mainland. Researchers returned to the same 12 islands in 2012 and repeated the survey. The first survey had found seven species of mammals. Traps on the island found only a single species: the Malayan field rat. This was a startling find for two reasons. One was the drastic crash in diversity. The other was that the Malayan field rat wasn’t on the islands when they first formed.

Malayan field rats thrive around villages and farms and other disturbed habitats. The rats trapped must have come from the surrounding rain forests, where they still remain scarce. When they swam to the islands, they found fragmented forests that they could dominate. “I thought, ‘Wow, what if this trend holds?’ And it did.” On most of the islands, all the native species were gone, replaced by the rats. Only on a few islands did some species still cling to existence. All the islands were suffering massive extinctions in about 20 years. “No one expected to see such rapid extinctions.”

“This study confirms for mammals what we’ve long known for birds.” Records of birds from forest fragments in the Amazon show species going extinct at a comparable rate. The fast pace of extinction in forest fragments gives an urgency to conserving the large swaths of tropical forest that still remain. “Our study shows we may need to do that very quickly.”

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Honolulu Molasses Spill

Tens of thousands of fish died in Honolulu Harbour after 1,400 tons of molasses spilled from a leaky pipe as the sugary substance was being moved from storage tanks to a ship. The Hawaii Department of Health said that no endangered species have been identified among the more than 26,000 dead fish, shellfish and other marine life that have been collected.

Officials said the spill was one of the worst man-made disasters to strike Hawaii in recent memory.

“There’s nothing you can do to clean up molasses,” said Jeff Hull, a spokesman for Matson Inc., the shipping company responsible for the leak. “It’s sunk to the bottom of the harbor. Unlike oil, which can be cleaned from the surface, molasses sinks.”

Matson said it would pay for the entire cleanup costs without passing the charges onto taxpayers or its clients.



Bees Reintroduced in Britain

A species of bee reintroduced to the UK after becoming extinct has nested for the first time in a quarter of a century. The short-haired bumblebee started dying out in Britain in the 1980s and officially became extinct in 2000. A reintroduction project saw queen bees brought over from Sweden.

After two releases of queens at the RSPB’s Dungeness reserve in Kent, offspring worker bees have been recorded there for the first time. Short-haired bumblebees were once widespread across the south of England but declined as their wildflower rich grasslands disappeared. “This is a milestone for the project and a real victory for conservation. We now have proof that this bumblebee has nested and hatched young and we hope it is on the way to become a self-supporting wild species in the UK. It’s been a long journey to get here, from creating the right habitat for them, collecting queens in the Swedish countryside, scanning them for diseases and then eventually releasing them at Dungeness. Seeing worker bees for the first time is a fantastic reward for all that hard work but we still have a long way to go to ensure this population is safe and viable.”

A first generation of queens, which were released last year, struggled in the summer’s cold, wet conditions. But a second release of queens from Sweden bolstered the colony. The reintroduction project has involved work with farmers to create flower-rich meadows in Dungeness and Romney Marsh which have also boosted the numbers of other threatened bumblebees. Further releases are planned to help build the population at Dungeness.


Hyena Terror Grips Eastern Zimbabwe

Hyenas in parts of Zimbabwe are turning from their usual prey to attack humans moving into their habitat

Whereas the animals had previously gone after only livestock, attacks by rabid hyenas in eastern Zimbabwe are forcing residents to remain indoors at night and leaving many too afraid to collect food even during the day.

But an expanding population and development are now bringing humans into contact with the mainly nocturnal predators.

“We used to hear hyenas laughing from a distance, and everyone knew that they would not travel all that way to attack humans,” local man Charles Mukanwa told a Harare-based daily.

“But now the situation is different. We have people who are building their houses where the wild animals used to dominate,” Mukanwe said.

A recent attack took villagers by surprise as one of the apparently rabid animals attacked people sitting in their huts.


Proposed Antarctic Ocean Reserve Downsized

A proposal to create a marine protected area in Antarctica’s Ross Sea that would cover some 875,000 square miles (2.3 million square kilometres) has been revised to reduce the reserve’s size by about 40 percent. The revisions came after China, Norway, Russia and other countries that are members of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources questioned the legality of creating the reserve and balked at blocking off so much of the productive region to commercial fishing.

The original proposal was made by the United States and New Zealand, and environmentalists have accused the two countries of caving to pressures from other nations, the New York Times reported. A coalition of environmental groups called the Antarctic Ocean Alliance called the new proposal a “tactical mistake and a significant retreat for Southern Ocean protection,” the paper reported.

The proposal, along with a separate one to create a network of seven reserves in the eastern Antarctic, will be discussed at a meeting of the commission in Hobart, Australia, next month.

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