Seal tragedy

More than 5,000 seal mothers have aborted their pups at a key breeding colony along the coast of Namibia since early September, worrying marine scientists. Biopsies and tests have yet to determine why the miscarriages occurred on such a massive scale.

Experts from Ocean Conservation Namibia say similar events happen every few years, but never before on such a large scale. They add that the mothers often sit beside their aborted pups, or carry them around for a few days in grief. It’s believed that starvation, disease or pollution could be behind the disaster.



Climate Change Affecting Antarctic Seals

Crabeater seals have historically been quite successful. Their population ranges around 15 million, and conservationists haven’t had to worry too much about them—until now. Climate change is quickly changing the habitat of these cute Antarctic critters, and a new study shows that these seals will have to work harder for their food in a warmer world.

Despite the name, these ice-loving animals eat krill. In fact, that’s about all they eat. So the team followed seals and looked at their foraging patterns to predict krill habitat and project how that might change moving forward.

The results show that increased heat and loss of sea ice (which helps keep the sun’s heat out of the water) could reduce krill populations and push them to seek shelter farther south. That’s bad news for these seals that love to hang out near the coast on the ice where krill are typically found these days. If the krill move away from coastal waters—as the models in this study predict—the crabeater seals will need to swim farther to find them and eat.

The animals may spend more energy in search of a food source that may be less abundant. But understanding the changes here is crucial not just for the seals’ fate, but krill and other animals that rely on it as the base of the food chain.

The shift in krill habitat away from coastal waters in the north has big implications for species like penguins and fur seals, which can’t make long foraging trips because they have to come back to land to feed their offspring.


Global Warming

Climate change forces Arctic animals to shift feeding habits

Seals and whales in the Arctic are shifting their feeding patterns as climate change alters their habitats, and the way they do so may determine whether they survive, a new study has found.

Researchers harnessed datasets spanning two decades to examine how two species of Arctic wildlife — white whales and ringed seals — are adapting to their changing homes.

Both species traditionally hunt for food in areas with sea ice and particularly at so-called tidal glacier fronts, where glaciers meet the ocean. But with climate change melting sea ice and prompting glaciers to retreat, researchers in Norway decided to look at whether and how animals in the affected areas were adapting.

The data showed that two decades ago, both species spent around half their time foraging at glacier fronts and eating a diet dominated by polar cod.

Seals stuck with their old diet, but appeared to spend more time searching for the food at the glacier fronts. White whales meanwhile are spending less time near glacier fronts and more time in the centre of fjords.

The “flexible” response apparently shown by the whales “improves their chances of adapting to warming conditions”, the researchers added. By contrast, the apparent doubling down by the ringed seals on their traditional hunting grounds despite the shifting climate “reflects limited adaptability and resilience”. And that could be bad news for the seals in a changing world, the study warns.

Nature – Images

Interesting Images

Young Seals Keep Getting Eels Stuck Up Their Noses, and Nobody Knows Why

This phenomenon, eels getting stuck in seals’ noses, is rare. But weirdly, the incidence has been increasing in the past couple of years.

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Two Humpback Whales Rescue a Seal Under Attack by Killer Whales

According to a first-hand account written by Robert L. Pitman of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

At one point, the team witnessed a pod of killer whales (orcas) trying to knock a Weddell seal off an ice floe, presumably to eat the hapless seal.

The orcas teamed up and swam alongside each other, creating a wave that knocked the tasty-looking seal into the water — a typical hunting strategy used by killer whales.

“At one point, the predators succeeded in washing the seal off the floe,” the scientists wrote. “Exposed to lethal attack in the open water, the seal swam frantically toward the humpbacks, seeming to seek shelter, perhaps not even aware that they were living animals.”

Next thing they knew, one of the humpback whales rolled over, scooping up the seal onto his chest just before the killer whales reached their prey.

“Then, as the killer whales moved in closer, the humpback arched its chest, lifting the seal out of the water. The water rushing off that safe platform started to wash the seal back into the sea, but then the humpback gave the seal a gentle nudge with its flipper, back to the middle of its chest. Moments later, the seal scrambled off and swam to the safety of a nearby ice floe,” wrote the scientists.

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Mozambican poachers target SA rhinos

The depletion of elephants and rhinos in Mozambique has prompted poachers there to target rhinos in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, a report has revealed.

The report says, besides crossing into South Africa, the Mozambicans also take advantage of rhinos that stray into their country.

“Today, the only rhinos that occur in Mozambique are those that cross the border from the Kruger National Park. Rangers refer to them darkly as ‘the suicidal ones’. There are estimated to be about twenty of them wandering across every day and, on average, ten are killed by poachers on Mozambican soil every year,” the report says.

According to the report, while some conservationists are worried about rhino poaching, Mozambique’s most pressing environmental problems is illegal logging and elephant poaching.

Experts say insatiable demand for timber in China has seen trees harvested on such a scale in Mozambique that some believe the country will be stripped of its forests “in just a few years”.

A report published by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) found that 93% of logging in Mozambique in 2013 was illegal and that “without major reforms, Mozambique’s forests and forest economy are staring down the barrel of a very bleak future”.

The report, written by Global Initiative rhino investigator Julian Rademeyer, reveals that elephants in Mozambique have been slaughtered on a massive scale, with numbers falling by 48% in just five years – from more than 20 000, to just 10 300.

“The Niassa Reserve which, at 42 000 square kilometres, is twice the size of the Kruger National Park, was hardest hit. In 2012, there were an estimated 12 000 elephants there. Today only about 4 500 remain,” reads the report.

Branding Mozambique as a country in crisis, the report cites rampant corruption, a weak judiciary, an ineffectual and criminally compromised police force, and powerful criminal syndicates, as factors fuelling poaching and other transnational crimes.


Spike in Fur Seals Dying Off California Coast

Scientists are looking at ocean-warming trends to figure out why endangered Guadalupe fur seals are stranding themselves and dying in alarming numbers along the central California coast.

Approximately 80 emaciated fur seals have come ashore since January — about eight times more than normal — leading the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration this week to declare an “unusual mortality event” for the animals. The classification diverts additional resources to study the animals, which have been traditionally under-researched, officials said.

Researchers will try to determine if the die-off is a result of a disruption in the seal’s feeding patterns from a large-scale warming of the Pacific Ocean, Toby Garfield, an official with NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Centre, said Tuesday.

The so-called warm blobs occurring during a persistent high-pressure ridge have grown to cover most of the West Coast and have been previously blamed for discoveries of emaciated young sea lions off California and starving seabirds off Oregon and Washington.

Some of the fish species that fur seals usually eat may have moved farther north to escape the unusually warm waters, Garfield said during a teleconference.

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Less Ice Equals More Seal Strandings on US Coast

Harp seals mate and rear their young on the sea ice off the east coast of Canada in the spring and move north as the weather warms. But increasing numbers of seals are ending up stranded along the U.S. East Coast, as far south as the Carolinas, far away from where they should be at this time of year.

Harp seal


Starving Seal Pups Arriving at California Beaches

Unprecedented numbers of starving sea lion pups are swimming to shore in California, straining local animal care centres and puzzling marine biologists who have yet to determine what is ailing the sea mammals. According to marine biologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), more fledgling sea lions have beached themselves along the central and southern California coast in 2013 so far than in the previous five years combined.

The agency says 948 sea lion pups, many of them less than a year old, have come ashore this year between San Diego in the south and Santa Barbara in the north as of March 24. That compares to only 88 strandings in all of 2012.

The pups are being found along the beaches malnourished, severely dehydrated and without their mothers. They are being taken to local marine mammal rescue facilities, like SeaWorld in San Diego.

Some are being sent as far as Northern California as regional facilities become overwhelmed. But many of the emaciated pups do not survive.