Dead Whale Washes Ashore with Shocking 88 lbs. of Plastic in Its Stomach
A young Cuvier’s beaked whale washed up dead on a beach in Compostela Valley in the Philippines, its stomach filled with 88 pounds (40 kilograms) of plastic bags.
Workers from the D’Bone Collector Museum Inc. in Davao City in the Philippines recovered the whale — a male — on Saturday (March 16) and later performed a necropsy. They found its stomach was packed with plastic bags — 16 rice sacks, four banana-plantation-style bags and some shopping bags. His stomach “had the most plastic we have ever seen in a whale”.
This isn’t the first time a whale full of plastic has washed ashore. A dead sperm whale washed up in Indonesia last November with 100 plastic cups, four plastic bottles, 25 plastic bags and even a couple of flip-flops inside its stomach. The Cuvier’s whale in the Philippines held seven times more plastic than that sperm whale
Around 8.8 million tons (8 million metric tons) of plastic get dumped into the ocean every year, according to a 2015 report by the nonprofit Ocean Conservancy. In particular, about 60 percent of it comes from China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.
US wildlife officials move to strip grey wolves of protected status
US wildlife officials want to strip grey wolves of their remaining endangered species protections and declare the species recovered following a decades-long restoration effort.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service proposal released Thursday would put wolves under state authority and allow hunting in more areas.
Critics argue the move is premature, with wolves still absent across most of their historic range.
Government officials say their goal was to protect against extinction, not restore wolves everywhere.
Trapping, poisoning and hunting exterminated wolves across most of the Lower 48 early last century. They bounced back under federal protection, and more than 6,000 now live in portions of nine states.
Increased contact with humans is causing chimpanzees across a wide range of their African habitats to lose their behavioral and cultural diversity.
Earlier studies found individual groups have unique characteristics, with behavior learned through interaction with others.
But researchers from the Max Planck Institute say that the chimps’ habitats are being lost to agriculture, plantations and human settlements. The nine-year study found that chimpanzee behavioral diversity was reduced by 88 percent when and where human impact was highest.
The illegal trade in African wildlife and poaching for human consumption of bushmeat are also threats to chimp diversity.
Global wildlife map of ‘cool-spots’ and ‘hot-spots’
A new study maps the last vestiges of wild places where the world’s threatened species can take refuge from the ravages of unregulated hunting, land clearing, and other industrial activities. But the authors warn these refuges are shrinking.
Reporting in the international journal PLOS Biology, researchers from the University of Queensland, WCS, and other groups mapped the distribution of wildlife “cool spots” where wildlife is still thriving, along with “hot spots” where species richness is threatened by human activities.
Of the 5,457 total species, 2060 are amphibians, 2120 are birds, and 1,277 are mammals. Human impacts on these species extend across 84 percent of the Earth’s terrestrial surface, and many charismatic species including lions and elephants are impacted across the vast majority of their ranges.
Some of the “cool spots” identified include parts of the Amazon rainforest, Andes Mountains, and tundra and boreal forests of Russia and North America. Top “hot spots” were dominated by areas in Southeast Asia where wildlife-rich tropical forests are increasingly threatened by expanding human impacts.
The most impacted biomes included mangroves, tropical and sub-tropical moist broadleaf forests in Southern Brazil, Malaysia, and Indonesia, and tropical and subtropical dry broadleaf forests of India, Myanmar and Thailand.
Africa’s rare carnivores face threats from disease-carrying dogs
The Ethiopian highlands, which stretch across much of central and northern Ethiopia, are home to some of Africa’s highest peaks. They’re also the last — the only — stronghold of the continent’s rarest carnivore: the Ethiopian wolf (Canis simensis).
Domestic and feral dogs are frequent carriers of rabies and distemper and can, in turn, pass these diseases on to wild animals. In the highlands, the dogs of herders are semi-feral, used more as an alarm system against leopards and spotted hyenas than as shepherds. They are not spayed or neutered, nor vaccinated, and they are left to their own devices to find food and water. That means they head out to hunt the same rodent prey as the wolves, bringing the two predators into contact with one another.
Diseases like rabies and distemper are particularly problematic for highly social species like Ethiopian wolves. If one member of a pack comes into contact with infected dogs, or with the remains of infected animals, while out hunting, it can spread the disease to the rest of the pack in a matter of days. If that pack encounters wolves from other packs, the disease can spread quickly through the entire population.
Wolf populations are always subject to cyclical crashes and recovery periods as diseases hit and packs rebound. But if another outbreak strikes before a pack has had a chance to recover, it is more likely to wipe out the pack altogether. Scientists worry that the one-two punch of a rabies outbreak immediately followed by a distemper outbreak, like the combination that occurred in both 2010 and 2015, is exactly the scenario that could lead to extinction.
Secret Group of Killer Whales Discovered in Southern Ocean
Killer whales are beautiful and majestic, but there’s very little variation in what they look like — their shape, size and coloring are pretty standard from whale to whale. So, when people started spotting killer whales with a noticeably different physique — thinner, with much smaller white eye patches and narrower, sharp dorsal fins — scientists paid attention.
In January, an international team of researchers tracked down these potential killer whale imposters and collected samples for genetic testing that will reveal whether or not the animals are a newfound, distinct species of killer whale.
Until now, the existence of this potentially newfound species was based only on stories from fishers and a handful of photographs.
The first record of these mysterious whales dates back to 1955 when 17 of the animals stranded on the coast of New Zealand. While their markings resembled known killer whales, these animals were smaller, with a blunt snout and bulbous head. The stranded whales also had narrower, pointy dorsal fins and much smaller white patches above their eyes compared with typical killer whales.
The discovery of the Type D killer whale serves as a reminder of how much we have left to learn about life in our oceans.
Namibia’s first bird flu outbreak on record has killed more than 500 endangered African penguins at one colony near Lüderitz, and scientists fear the pathogen could spread to other colonies or even other species.
The Lüderitz Maritime Research Group noted on social media that most of the fatalities, which began to emerge in mid-December, were near a muddy patch adjoining the colony.
Because the H5N8 strain of avian influenza can survive for weeks in a wet environment, officials dispatched crews to spread buckets of salt over the mud in an attempt to curb infections. Penguin carcasses are being collected and burned. It is unknown how the virus arrived in Namibia.
Party Balloons Are Killing All the Seabirds
Forget about plastic straws: The deadliest ocean garbage for seabirds is balloons.
In a recent survey of over 1,700 dead seabirds, more than a quarter of the deaths were linked to eating plastic. Four in 10 of those deaths were caused by soft debris such as balloons (which are often made of plastic), even though it made up only 5 percent of the inedible trash in the birds’ stomachs.
Seabirds frequently snap up floating litter because it looks like food; once swallowed, it can obstruct birds’ guts and cause them to starve to death. If a seabird swallows a balloon, it’s 32 times more likely to die than if it had gulped down a piece of hard plastic, researchers reported in a new study.
With an estimated 280,000 tons (250,000 tonnes) of floating marine debris worldwide, about half of all seabird species are thought to ingest plastic on a daily basis, the study authors reported. Birds are especially likely to swallow dangerous balloons because they closely resemble squid, according to the study.
Opium-Addicted Parrots Are Terrorizing Poppy Farms in India
Poppy farmers in the state of Madhya Pradesh in India have reportedly run into some trouble while cultivating this season’s crops. In addition to inconsistent rainfall putting a damper on things, flocks of persistent parrots — presumed to be addicted to opium — are rampaging through the poppy farms, sometimes making 40 visits a day to get their fix.
“One poppy flower gives around 20 to 25 grams of opium. But a large group of parrots feed on these plants around 30 to 40 times a day,” one poppy cultivator said. “This affects the produce. These opium-addicted parrots are wreaking havoc.”
Russia’s Arctic plans add to polar bears’ climate woes
Last month’s visit by roaming polar bears that put a Russian village on lockdown may be just the beginning.
For as Moscow steps up its activity in the warming Arctic, conflict with the rare species is likely to increase.
More than 50 bears approached Belyushya Guba, a village on the far northern Novaya Zemlya archipelago, in February. As many as 10 of them explored the streets and entered buildings.
Local authorities declared a state of emergency for a week and appealed for help from Moscow.
Photos of the incident went viral, with some observers blaming officials for ignoring a sprawling garbage dump nearby where the animals feasted on food waste.
But polar bear experts say the main reason the Arctic predators came so close to humans was the late freezing of the sea. It was this that kept them from hunting seals and sent them looking for alternate food sources.
And as Russia increases its footprint in the Arctic, pursuing energy projects, Northern Passage navigation and strategic military interests, experts expect more clashes between humans and bears.
Sunfish in California
Researchers were surprised when they found a dead hoodwinker sunfish on Sands Beach in Santa Barbara County on Feb. 19, so far away from the fish’s native swimming grounds in southeastern Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and perhaps Chile, the first time a sunfish has been found in the northern hemisphere. Because the sunfish is so rarely found, it took researchers a few days to identify the creature.
Mexico dispatched resources from three branches of government to fight a record plague of sargassum seaweed that has been piling up on stretches of Caribbean resort beaches.
The influx has spread across the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico to as far north as Florida since 2011.
While scientists have yet to pinpoint the exact cause, they agree that the phenomenon is not entirely natural.
Floating mats can harm marine life such as the sea turtles that struggle to surface beneath the weight of the invading plants.
Mexico is looking at ways to collect the seaweed before it reaches the shore, then transport it to facilities that dry and compress it for potential commercial use.
About 2,000 infant flamingos have been rescued in South Africa after a drought forced the parents to abandon their chicks.
The protracted dry spell combined with water mismanagement by local authorities has all but dried up a reservoir that has been one of southern Africa’s largest flamingo breeding sites.
Some conservation experts question why nature was not allowed to take its course. But Leslie Ernst of the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds told reporters: “I think we all feel very motherly toward (the flamingos).” Additionally, the crisis was partly human-caused.
The group is working to find enough room for the rescued chicks to run and exercise their legs before eventually being released back into the wild.
Conservationists are concerned over the rate at which a group of unique African and Asian scaly mammals called pangolins are being trafficked and hunted for their meat.
It’s estimated that 21 pangolins are taken out of the wild every hour and about a million have been removed from their natural habitats in the last decade.
In mid-January, Hong Kong seized more than eight tonnes of pangolin scales and nearly two tonnes of ivory. Two weeks later, Ugandan authorities seized 762 pieces of ivory and 423 kilograms of pangolin scales bound for Vietnam.
Just a few days later, a shipment of close to 30 metric tonnes of both dead and live pangolins, pangolin scales and pangolin meat was seized in Malaysia. The shipment also included two legs of a sun bear. The seizure in Hong Kong alone would have been supplied by hundreds of elephants and thousands of pangolins. All of these animals were illegally poached and trafficked by transnational organised criminal networks.
Right Whale Baby Boom
Scientists are expressing hope for the recovery of the endangered Atlantic right whale population after seven of the species’ calves were spotted off Florida this winter.
Only about 450 North Atlantic right whales are believed to remain after whaling drove the species to near extinction before hunting them was banned in 1937.
Right whale mothers typically give birth about every four years. Researcher Katie Jackson of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says about 16 to 18 calves need to be born each year just to maintain the current small population.
World’s Biggest Bee Not Extinct
You’d think that the world’s biggest bee would be hard to lose track of. But Wallace’s Giant Bee — an Indonesian species with a 2.5-inch (6.4 centimeters) wingspan and enormous mandibles — was last seen by researchers in 1981; it was feared to be extinct.
However, scientists finally spotted the rare bee in January, in the Indonesian province of North Maluku on the Maluku Islands. They detected a solitary female bee after investigating the region for five days, and a photographer captured the first-ever images of a living Wallace’s Giant Bee (Megachile pluto) at the insect’s nest in an active termite mound.
U.N. officials warned that a locust outbreak is spreading along both sides of the Red Sea from Sudan and Eritrea to Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
They report that heavy rains from two tropical cyclones in 2018 triggered the breeding of locust swarms, with the insects also spreading as far away as Iran.
“The next three months will be critical to bring the locust situation under control before the summer breeding starts,” Food and Agriculture Organization locust expert Keith Cressman said in the statement.
One small swarm of the insects can chomp through as much plant food in a single day as 35,000 people.
Monarch Realm Expands
A small, secluded colony of monarch butterflies has been found after years of searching by park rangers and conservationists.
Rumors of a possible colony around Mexico’s Nevado de Toluca volcano had spawned numerous searches. But a handful of communal landowners stumbled across the tiny colony just before Christmas.
News of the discovery came as officials announced the wintering population of monarchs in 15 acres of their main habitat in the mountains of Michoacan state had increased by 144 percent over the previous year.
The location of the newly discovered colony is being kept secret and will be patrolled by paid conservation workers.
Reindeer Cyclones Are Real
Vikings hunting reindeer in Norway were once confounded by “reindeer cyclones”; a threatened herd would literally run circles around the fierce hunters, making it nearly impossible to target a single animal.
Faced with this spinning reindeer stampede, any predator — wolf, bear or human — would have a very tough time targeting and overpowering a single reindeer, making this a formidable defense strategy.