Arctic walrus takes a nap on an iceberg, wakes up in Ireland

A walrus spotted on an Irish beach yesterday (March 14) may have floated there from the Arctic Circle after falling asleep on an iceberg.

Most walruses (Odobenus rosmarus) live near the Arctic Circle, where they hunt for shellfish in shallow water and clamber up onto the icebergs and beaches to rest. The large creatures rarely crop up along the Irish shoreline.

How does a young walrus end up in County Kerry? “I’d say what happened is, he fell asleep on an iceberg and drifted off, and then he was gone too far, out into the mid-Atlantic or down off Greenland possibly,” Kevin Flannery, a marine biologist with the Dingle Oceanworld Aquarium said.

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Another Chick for Wisdom

The world’s oldest known wild bird has hatched yet another chick at the ripe old age of at least 70.

The Laysan albatross known as Wisdom was first tagged in 1956 and is believed to have had at least 30 to 36 chicks during her lifetime. Since the species mates for life, it’s believed Wisdom has outlived previous partners before mating with Akeakamai (“lover of wisdom” in the Hawaiian language) in 2012.

Wisdom’s latest hatchling emerged in February at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the mid-Pacific, where Wisdom and Akeakamai are feeding and caring for it jointly.

Rat Recovery

The ecology of a remote Alaskan island once known as Rat Island has quickly recovered from the damage inflicted by the invasive rodents just over 10 years after a coordinated effort eradicated them.

Writing in the journal Scientific Reports, University of California San Diego researcher Carolyn Kurle reveals that native species on what is now known as Hawadax Island have since thrived and are restoring the landscape’s natural balance.

Rats were introduced there by a Japanese shipwreck sometime before 1780, and they quickly ravaged native birds and other wildlife.


Something is killing California’s songbirds

Songbirds are dying across California’s Bay Area, and officials think crowds at bird feeders are to blame, according to recent news reports.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and wildlife rehabilitation centers have been “inundated” with calls since December 2020 from California residents reporting that they found sick or dead finches at their bird feeders.

An investigation into the deaths revealed that the birds were infected by the Salmonella bacteria and had developed salmonellosis. A tale as old as (pandemic) time: large gatherings were to blame.

Finches who came into contact with food, water or objects contaminated with feces from infected birds can contract the illness, according to the statement. As more birds gather in an area such as a bird feeder or a bird bath, the risk of infection increases.

The best way to stop the birds from spreading the bacteria is to remove the bird baths and feeders so that the birds can spread out and feed on natural vegetation.


New Home for Rare Seals Discovered

The world’s rarest seals have been caught on camera in secret breeding caves in northern Cyprus. The new breeding sites provide hope for a struggling species, but the caves are now in need of protection.

Mediterranean monk seals (Monachus monachus) are the most endangered of all the pinniped species — a group that includes seals, sea lions, sea otters and walruses — with just 700 individuals left in the wild. A large number of those seals live in and around Cyprus.

Due to human pressures, such as bycatch and tourism, the monk seals have been forced to raise their pups inside cave systems, rather than their usual open beaches, on the island. A new study using camera traps, carried out by researchers from the University of Exeter in the U.K. has revealed several previously unknown breeding caves in northern Cyprus, the first to be found along the north coast of the island.



Rare Australian Bee Rediscovered

An extremely rare species of bee that hasn’t been seen for nearly a century and was thought to be extinct has been rediscovered by a lone researcher in Australia.

This rare “masked” bee, known as Pharohylaeus lactiferus, is native to Australia and is the only species in the genus Pharohylaeus. It is similar in size to the invasive European honeybee (Apis mellifera). Only six individuals have been previously identified in Australia and the last one was reported in 1923.

A recent survey revealed three geographically isolated populations of the masked bees across Australia’s eastern coast. Each population lives in patches of tropical and subtropical rainforest with a specific vegetation type. It is thought that the bees are particularly dependent on firewheel trees (Stenocarpus sinuatus) and Illawarra flame trees (Brachychiton acerifolius).

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Power Line Hazard

The electrocution of 11 giraffes from low-hanging transmission lines in a Kenyan conservation area has the country’s power company promising to raise the cables and check its entire network for safety. Conservationists demanded immediate action after three rare Rothschild’s giraffes were killed in the Soysambu Conservancy within three days. Only about 1,600 of the species, which do not have spots on their legs, roam freely in the wild. The Soysambu Conservancy currently hosts about 125 giraffes.


Wildlife Severely Affected in Texas Freeze

Bats and birds were among the wildlife pummeled during the Southern freeze. Starving and disoriented, the winged mammals tumbled to the snow-coated ground as temperatures plunged to levels rarely seen in the region. Bats are among numerous wildlife believed to have taken a beating in the South, a region unaccustomed to such a severe and prolonged cold snap. Many species migrate there for winter precisely because of its normally mild weather.

Fish kills were feared in Arkansas and Louisiana. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department said it expected casualties among exotic deer and antelope. Across the Gulf of Mexico coast as far east as Florida, naturalists worried about monarch butterflies and the milkweed plants essential to their survival as they prepare to migrate northward. Milkweed provides spots for female monarchs to lay eggs and food for their larvae. If the plants’ growth across the South is stunted, more young would not survive.

Sea turtles stunned by frigid Gulf coastal waters were still being cared for at facilities this week. More than 10,600 had been found and officials were tabulating how many died.


Beached Whales

Hundreds of people in New Zealand worked together to successfully “refloat” 40 long-finned pilot whales that stranded on a remote beach. The whales did not swim out into the deeper ocean, however, so some conservationists are worried that the animals may beach themselves a second time. The 40 whales initially stranded Monday morning (Feb. 22) on Farewell Spit, a beach on South Island, along with nine other whales that died during the stranding.


Wildlife Trafficking Driving Species into Extinction

Wildlife populations decline by an average of 62% in areas where species are traded, pushing some closer to extinction, according to a new report.

The first analysis to quantify the impact of the legal and illegal wildlife trade looked at 133 land-based species and found the most endangered – which typically have smaller populations – are most at risk, with average declines of 81%. In some cases this resulted in local disappearances, with certain populations of spider monkeys and Baird’s tapir declining by 99.9%, according to an international team of researchers led by Sheffield University.

Some estimates suggest the illegal wildlife trade could be worth as much as $23bn (£16.5bn) a year, with more than 100 million plants and animals trafficked annually.

The main drivers of wildlife trafficking are the pet industry, bushmeat (defined as wildlife traded for food consumption), traditional medicine, ivory and laboratory use. The study did not include subsistence-based bushmeat eaten by the communities that hunted it. Local wildlife trade involving the extraction or commercialisation of bushmeat supports an estimated 150 million households.

National and international trade – which were found to be more significant drivers of decline than local trade – generally involve the extraction and trade of species of high commercial value, such as ivory from African elephants, horns from Javan rhinoceros and pangolin scales from across Asia and Africa.


Ocean Noise

The racket of human activity beneath the ocean surface is drowning out the natural noises made by marine creatures, which researchers say is as harmful as overfishing, pollution and climate change.

A University of Exeter team made the conclusion after reviewing more than 500 studies on marine noise. The review says while military sonar and oil exploration blasts are obvious sources of distress and deafness in the ocean, noise from shipping has increased by 32 times in the past 50 years. The study says the din of offshore wind farms, bottom trawling and other sources are drowning out the calls many species use to communicate, spawn and migrate.


The Last Goodbye

The Last Goodbye shows ranger Joseph Wachira comforting Sudan, the last male northern white rhino left on the planet, moments before he dies at Ol Pejeta Wildlife Conservancy in northern Kenya.

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The Amazon unravels into savanna

At the beginning of the 1990s, while observing the large trees of the Amazon ceding ground to the scrub-like vegetation of the Cerrado, in a process driven by human activity, Brazilian scientist Carlos Nobre conceived of the hypothesis that a process of savannization of the world’s greatest tropical forest was underway.

The results show a bleak scenario for some of the species that have evolved to thrive in forests, which may lose up to 50% of their range by the end of the 21st century. This is especially the case in the region known as the Arc of Deforestation, a zone of agricultural expansion in the south and southwest of the Brazilian Amazon, where the rainforest abuts the Cerrado shrubland.

The only refuge for these species would be the central area of the Amazon Basin, in areas closer to the Andes Cordillera, less vulnerable to climate change and to the impact of the agricultural frontier. The expectation is that there could be an influx of up to 60 species into these untouched regions, increasing competition with endemic wildlife for resources and bringing unpredictable ecological consequences.

Conversely, species native to the Cerrado, which are also losing habitat to farmland, would see a net increase in their distribution by up to 30%, as the savannization of the Amazon (and, to a lesser extent, the Atlantic Forest) open up new areas for them that would otherwise have remained unsuitable.


China Expands Protected Wildlife List

China has added 517 new species to a list of nationally protected animals, marking the first major update of the inventory since its introduction in 1989.

The additions, which include the wolf, large-spotted civet and golden jackal, take the number of species on the List of Wildlife under Special State Protection – an adjunct to the Wildlife Protection Law – to 980. Among the other additions were the Skywalker (or Gaoligong) hoolock gibbon and Bailey’s (or hot-spring) snake, which is endemic to Tibet.Among the other additions were the Skywalker (or Gaoligong) hoolock gibbon and Bailey’s (or hot-spring) snake, which is endemic to Tibet.

‘Drastic’ Declines in Cambodia’s Endangered Wildlife

Cambodia’s last two wildlife sanctuaries have seen a drastic decline in wildlife populations. The estimated banteng population (ungulates) plummeted by 72%, from about 3,013 in 2010 to just 856 in 2020, within both sanctuaries, which have a combined area of 5,955 square kilometers – slightly larger than Brunei Darussalam. The population of red muntjacs, also known as barking deer, had declined to about 3,350 in 2020, half the number that had been found in 2010. Between the late 1960s and the early 1990s, Cambodia’s total banteng population fell by 95%, according to the WWF.

Rampant poaching and deforestation due to overseas business interests are responsible for the drop in wildlife numbers.


In a desert seared by climate change, burrowers fare better than birds

In the Mojave Desert, small mammals are weathering the hotter conditions triggered by climate change much better than birds, finds a new study. Using computer models, the study team showed that small mammals’ resilience is likely due to their ability to escape the sun in underground burrows and their tendency to be more active at night. This gives small mammals lower ‘cooling costs’ than birds, which have less capacity to escape the heat.


Square Dung

Researchers say they have finally solved the mystery of why the poop of Australia’s iconic wombats comes out in cubes rather than in rounded forms. The fecal phenomenon has long puzzled scientists.

Writing in the journal Soft Matter, a team from the U.S. and Australia found the cubes are formed within the last section of the intestines as the dung dries out in the extremely long wombat colon. The sculpting of the poop into cubes happens as stiff and flexible regions of the colon contract in tandem. “Our research found that … you really can fit a square peg through a round hole,” said Scott Carver of the University of Tasmania.


Shark – Ray Decline

A new study reveals overfishing has decimated the populations of sharks and rays in the world’s oceans, with numbers dropping more than 70% on average between 1970 and 2018. Oceanic whitetip sharks are now near extinction, dropping in numbers by 98% in 60 years.

Sharks and rays take years to reach sexual maturity and have few offspring, contributing to their dwindling numbers.

Scientists say the loss of the top predators leaves a “gaping hole” in the marine food web. Those predators have been described as the lions, tigers and bears of the sea, keeping its ecosystem in balance.


Disappearing Bees

About a quarter of all known bee species haven’t been seen since the 1990s even though efforts by scientists and amateurs to survey them have increased by about 55% since the turn of the century. Eduardo Zattara and Marcelo Aizen of Argentina’s National University of Comahue found that the decline isn’t the same for all bee populations, and the lack of sightings for those missing doesn’t mean the species have gone extinct. The researchers say it just means those bees are now rare enough that people who tend to report bee sightings aren’t coming across them. The destruction of natural habitats, heavy use of pesticides and climate change are likely to be causing the decline, according to Zattara.