Wildlife

Poland plans to kill thousands of boars

Poland’s battle to control highly contagious African swine fever (ASF) is turning into a political problem for the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party.

Since Saturday, hunters have been out in force across the country gunning for wild boars — many of which are carriers of the deadly disease that the Polish government wants to stamp out to protect domestic pigs.

It’s the scale of the cull that’s causing the trouble. A total of some 20,000 wild boars will be killed over the next few weekends — bringing this season’s overall cull to about 190,000 — the government estimates the total wild population is about 214,000.

The plan has galvanized a coalition of environmental groups, scientists and the political opposition. Polish Facebook pages are filled with cute pictures of boar piglets while the next few days will see protests in several Polish cities.

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Wildlife

Massive Migrations

About 2 billion birds cross the Gulf of Mexico during the spring migration season, according to a new study that combined data from 11 weather radar stations and observations from citizen scientists.

Researcher Kyle Horton of Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology said that before he and his colleagues looked at the data from 1995 to 2015, “we could only guess at the overall numbers from surveys done along small portions of the shoreline.”

Horton says that while climate change has caused the earliest seasonal migrations to begin 1.5 days earlier per decade, the peak has remained at the same period between April 19 and May 7.

Wildlife

Thousands of Female Penguins Are Being Stranded in South America

Female Magellanic penguins — a mid-size species of black-and-white bird native to South America’s Patagonia region are vanishing from their nests. When not breeding in the latter part of the year, both male and female members of the species migrate north toward Uruguay and Brazil to hunt for the tasty anchovies that call those waters home. Over the last decade, however, scientists have observed an upsetting trend: some penguins are swimming too far north — sometimes hundreds of miles away from their breeding grounds — and getting stuck there.

According to a new study published today in the journal Current Biology, every year, thousands of Magellanic penguins fail to return home from their migrations. Some become stranded on the shores of Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil. Others wash up already dead, their stomachs empty or polluted with plastic waste. Strangely, about two-thirds of the stranded birds are female.

During their spring and summer migrations, male penguins tended to dive deeper and stay closer to their Patagonian breeding grounds; female penguins swam closer to the water’s surface, but migrated significantly farther north than their male counterparts.

There, in the waters near Uruguay and southern Brazil, the penguins approached known penguin-stranding hotspots. According to the researchers, these stranding sites — such as the riverfront near the city of Buenos Aires, in northern Argentina — likely trap the penguins through a mixture of strong currents that prevent smaller-bodied birds from swimming home.

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Wildlife

Aerial Assault

An invasive Asian hornet that has decimated bee populations and killed some humans across the Iberian Peninsula will now be attacked by a fleet of armed drones. Experts are teaching local firefighters how to fill drones with insecticide, then fire the payload into hornets’ nests.

The pest is native to China and has spread southward into Spain at about 20 miles per year since arriving in France two decades ago. Its territory is also expanding elsewhere across Europe.

Stings from the aggressive hornets have killed two people so far in Spain, and the numbers of honeybees and butterflies have plummeted there since 2010.

Victims of Extreme Weather

Increased episodes of severe weather are causing populations of some species around the world to fall, and have even brought on local extinctions, scientists warn.

“The growing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as cyclones, droughts and floods is causing unpredictable and immediate changes to ecosystems,” researcher Sean Maxwell of the University of Queensland said.

Writing in the journal Diversity and Distributions, Maxwell and colleagues say that birds, fish, plants and reptiles are under the greatest threat from stronger and more frequent cyclones. Mammals and amphibians are said to be among the most threatened by drought.

But the scientists point out that all kinds of plants and animals can be affected by the weather extremes.

Nature – Images

Interesting Images

Cute:

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This Mary River Turtle happens to be a tiny, green-mohawked turtle living in Australia.

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In November, NASA satellites caught a glimpse of arguably the most poignant possible symbol of Earth’s climate-hobbled future: A lone iceberg, shaped like a coffin, drifting into warm waters to die forever.

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Wildlife

Japan to Resume Commercial Whaling

Japan is withdrawing from the International Whaling Commission and will resume commercial whaling next year, a government spokesman has announced.

The move on Wednesday came more than three months after the global body for the conservation of whales rejected a Tokyo-led proposal to lift a 32-year ban on the commercial hunting of the ocean mammals.

“We have decided to withdraw from the International Whaling Commission in order to resume commercial whaling in July next year,” Yoshihide Suga, top spokesperson for the Japanese government, told reporters. Suda said commercial whaling “will be limited to Japan’s territorial waters and exclusive economic zones”.

Wildlife

Climate change strands sea turtles on Cape Cod shores

At the New England Aquarium’s sea turtle hospital in a repurposed shipyard building south of Boston, the casualties of climate change swim in tanks as they recover after being pulled stunned from the beach.

Every year, as autumn turns to winter and ocean temperatures off Massachusetts drop below 10C (50F), dead, dying and stricken sea turtles wash up on the shores of Cape Cod as those shelled reptiles that have failed to migrate south start to die in the chilly waters.

In the 1980s, the number of sea turtles stranded on the shores of Cape Cod every year averaged in the dozens. That average went up through the 1990s and 2000s, but over the past decade it has risen dramatically: 2014 saw more than 1,200 turtles make landfall. This year, more than 790 sea turtles have washed up on Cape Cod so far. Some 720 of those are Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles, a critically endangered species that nests on the shores of the much warmer Gulf of Mexico.

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Reindeer now smaller and lighter due to climate change

Reindeer herders in Finnish Lapland are concerned their prized animals are getting smaller because of climate change.

Finland’s reindeer population reaches 200,000 in the wintertime with around 1,500 herders relying on them for their livelihood, breeding Santa’s favourite animal for its meat, milk and fur. They are also a major tourist attraction with 300,000 people visiting the area annually for sleigh rides.

But climate change in the region — mean temperatures in Lapland have increased by 1.5 degrees Celsius over the past 150 years — make it harder for reindeer to graze on their food as warmer winters mean more rain. Reindeer can’t dig the lichen from the ground through the ice.

Research conducted over 20 years on Norway’s Svalbard archipelago found that although reindeer numbers had doubled, their size and weight had decreased — mostly due to greater competition for food. The survey, released in 2016 by the James Hutton Institute, found that adult reindeers born in 1994 weighed 55kg while those born in 2012, weighed 48kg.

Meanwhile, the number of caribous or wild reindeer in the Arctic region has decreased by more than 50% since the mid-1980s, according to a report released earlier this month by the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. The study found that “climate indicators accounted for 54% of the variability in vital rates.”

Wildlife

Wise Old Bird

The world’s oldest known wild bird has become a mother yet again, hatching at the approximate age of 68 what is about her 40th egg.

The Laysan albatross known as Wisdom was first banded in 1956 and has regularly nested to hatch her eggs on the remote Midway Atoll in the central Pacific.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the blessed event, saying that Wisdom spends about 90 percent of her life at sea, feeding on squid and fish eggs between hatchings.

She and her current mate, Akeakamai, have returned to the same nest site on Midway each year since 2006.

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Wildlife

Global warming, land use hit European mountain bird population

Global warming and land use change are reducing liveable habitats of European mountain birds and in turn their populations, says a study.

The researchers from the University of Helsinki found that population of mountain bird species declined by 7 per cent between 2002 and 2014, which is similar to the declining rate in common birds in Europe. But, the mountain-specialist birds showed a significant reduction — 10 per cent decline in population.

Other than population, the study also found distribution shifts of species towards mountaintops.

The study, which was published in the journal Global Change Biology, examined the population trends of 44 bird species in the mountain and fell regions of Fennoscandia, Great Britain, the Alps and the Iberian Peninsula. As many as 14 of the observed species’ population had decreased, while eight of them had increased.

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Wildlife

Biggest coral reseeding project launches on Great Barrier Reef

Scientists have launched the largest-ever attempt to regenerate coral on the endangered Great Barrier Reef by harvesting millions of the creatures’ eggs and sperm during their annual spawning.

The researchers said Wednesday they plan to grow coral larvae from the harvested eggs and return these to areas of the reef which have been badly damaged by climate-related coral bleaching.

“Our team will be restoring hundreds of square meters with the goal of getting to square kilometres in the future, a scale not attempted previously,” the researchers said.

The “Larval Restoration Project” launch was timed to coincide with the annual coral spawn on the reef, which began earlier this week and will last only about 48 to 72 hours.

“Our approach to reef restoration aims to buy time for coral populations to survive and evolve until emissions are capped and our climate stabilises.”

The scientists hope that coral which have survived bleaching have a greater tolerance to rising temperatures so that a breeding population produced from this year’s spawn will grow into coral better able to survive future bleaching events.

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Wildlife

145 whales die on remote New Zealand beach

Up to 145 pilot whales have died in a mass stranding on a remote part of a small New Zealand island, authorities said on Monday. The stranding was discovered by a hiker late Saturday on Stewart Island, 30 kilometres (19 miles) off the southern coast of the South Island.

Half of the whales were already dead and due to the condition of the remaining whales and the remote, difficult to access location, the decision was made to euthanise the remainder.

“Sadly, the likelihood of being able to successfully re-float the remaining whales was extremely low,” said Ren Leppens, the Department of Conservation’s operations manager on Stewart Island. “The remote location, lack of nearby personnel and the whales’ deteriorating condition meant the most humane thing to do was to euthanise.

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Wildlife

Altered Evolution

Humankind is wielding so much influence on the natural world that we are reshaping the evolution of many species.

Researcher Sarah Otto from the University of British Columbia wrote in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B that the altered evolution includes some fish growing mouths that are smaller and harder to hook by fishermen, and swallows developing smaller, more maneuverable wings to help them navigate through buildings and traffic.

“Human impacts on the world are not just local,” she said. “They are changing the course of evolutionary history for all species on the planet, and that’s a remarkable concept to ponder.” She says some mammals are becoming nocturnal to avoid conflict with humans.

Wildlife

Pollution!

A dead sperm whale had more than 100 plastic cups, plastic bags, flip flops and other pieces of plastic in its stomach when it was found rotting on a beach in Indonesia.

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Wildlife

Shorebirds in Peril

Across the planet, shorebirds are in serious trouble. In the past 50 years their well-documented North American populations are estimated to have plummeted by at least 70 percent on average, and shorebirds elsewhere are hardly doing better, if not worse.

Reasons are many—the shorelines and mudflats where the birds feed are polluted or disappearing, and many of the migrants among them struggle to find food and resting places in areas where they used to. Some are also targeted by hunters.

For a species to survive in the face of such an onslaught, a large number of healthy baby birds need to enter the population each year. Biologists have long believed this is one of the reasons many birds migrate north to breed; the challenging Arctic climate should keep them from being bothered by nest predators as frequently as birds in the tropics.

The results of a large analysis featuring data on 38,191 nests in 237 shorebird populations around the world that ornithologists have monitored during breeding seasons by looking for signs of predation such as broken egg shells, published last week in Science, are pretty clear: In the 1970s, ‘80s and early ‘90s tropical shorebird nests were indeed suffering the most predation—but since then, as nests around the world have been losing more eggs to predators, the ones in the Arctic have been especially hard-hit. The tropics did see a statistically insignificant increase, but the numbers in the Arctic are staggering: Just a few decades ago only one Arctic egg in three would be lost to predators. Today two out of three are eaten.

The researchers believe climate change is a major culprit. “Our analysis shows that the faster the annual mean temperature has increased, the higher the predation on eggs has become.

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Wildlife

As Arctic ship traffic increases, narwhals and other unique animals are at risk

More than a century ago, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen became the first European to navigate the entire Northwest Passage. Due to the short Arctic summer, it took Amundsen’s 70-foot wooden sailing ship three years to make the journey, wintering in protected harbors.

Fast-forward to summer 2016, when a cruise ship carrying more than 1,000 passengers negotiated the Northwest Passage in 32 days. The summer “open-water” period in the Arctic has now increased by more than two months in some regions. Summer sea ice cover has shrunk by over 30 percent since satellites started regular monitoring in 1979.

Arctic seas are home to a specialized group of marine mammals found nowhere else on Earth, including beluga and bowhead whales, narwhals, walruses, ringed and bearded seals and polar bears. These species are critical members of Arctic marine ecosystems, and provide traditional resources to Indigenous communities across the Arctic.

According to ecologists, all of these animals are susceptible to sea ice loss. Research at lower latitudes has also shown that marine mammals can be affected by noise from vessels because of their reliance on sound, as well as by ship strikes. These findings raise concerns about increasing vessel traffic in the Arctic.

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