Wildlife

More Whales Bringing More Collisions With Ships

A bumper population of whales feeding off the coast of New England appears to be responsible for the unusually high incidence of ships striking the marine mammals during recent weeks.

Of the three strikes during May, one involved a cruise ship hitting a sei whale and inadvertently dragging it into the Hudson River.

The attached dead animal was not discovered until the ship reached port.

The U.S. agency NOAA said another sei was found dead and attached to a container ship that was docking near Philadelphia three days later.

NOAA believes the whales may be following food sources unusually close to shore when they haplessly swim into shipping lanes.

Operators of whale-watching excursions in coastal waters off Boston report 20 to 30 whales are being spotted on every cruise — 10 times the usual number.

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Extinction Rates Soar to 1,000 Times Normal

Species on Earth are going extinct at least 1,000 times faster than they would be without human influence, new research finds. But there’s still time to save the world from this biodiversity disaster.

Between 100 and 1,000 species per million go extinct every year, according to the new analysis. Before humans came on the scene, the typical extinction rate was likely one extinction per every 10 million each year, said study researcher Stuart Pimm, a Duke University biologist.

These numbers are a big increase from the previous estimates, which held that species were going extinct 100 times faster than usual, not 1,000 times faster or more. But despite the bad news, the research is “optimistic.” New technology and citizen scientists are allowing conservationists to target their efforts better than ever before.

Pimm and his colleagues have long worked to understand the effect of humanity on the rest of the species that share the planet. In the history of life on Earth, five mass extinctions have wiped out more than half of life on the planet. Today, scientists debate whether humanity is causing the sixth mass extinction.

This question is trickier than it may seem. Certainly, humans have driven species from the dodo to the Tasmanian tiger to the passenger pigeon to extinction. There’s no doubt that continuing deforestation and climate change will destroy even more species, including some humanity will never get the chance to discover. But researchers don’t even know for sure how many species exist on the planet. About 1.9 million species have been described by science, but estimates as to how many are out there range from 5 million to 11 million.

“People often say that we are in the middle of the sixth mass extinction,” Pimm said. “We’re not in the middle of it — we’re on the verge of it. And now we have to tools to prevent it.”

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