Wildlife

Secret population of blue whales discovered in Indian Ocean

Scientists have discovered an entirely new population of pygmy blue whales in the Indian Ocean, near the Chagos Islands which have managed to evade detection for decades despite their enormous size.

Researchers uncovered the secretive cetaceans by analyzing acoustic data collected by an underwater nuclear bomb detection array, which revealed a unique song scientists had never heard before.

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Hero Retires

A giant African pouched rat named Magawa is retiring after five years of detecting 71 landmines and 38 other unexploded ordnance. The Belgian charity APOPO says Magawa is “beginning to slow down” after a very successful assignment in Cambodia.

The organization trains the rodents in their native Tanzania to detect the chemicals in explosives. The rats are light enough to scurry across minefields without detonating the explosives, doing in just 30 minutes what a metal detector would accomplish in four days.

APOPO gave Magawa a hero’s medal and says he will retire eating his favorite treats of bananas and peanuts.

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Wildlife

Wandering Whale

A young gray whale, born in California’s coastal waters, has been wandering around the western Mediterranean in recent weeks as the first of its species to ever appear there.

Marine biologists believe it got lost while feeding in the Arctic’s Beaufort Sea and eventually wound up in the Atlantic rather than its Pacific home waters.

While apparently healthy, the whale looks unusually thin because the Mediterranean doesn’t have the kind of food it is used to. Experts hope the lost whale can make it down the Spanish coast, through the Strait of Gibraltar and into the Atlantic, where it has a better chance of survival.

Manatee Deaths

An average of seven manatee deaths have been reported each day in Florida so far this year as the U.S. government and local marine mammal experts try to find what’s behind the spike in fatalities.

About 675 manatee carcasses were found from January 1 to mid-April, compared to 637 in all of last year. Nearly half of the sea cow fatalities occurred around the Indian River Lagoon. Recent algae blooms and pollution have killed off the area’s seagrass beds, which the manatees feed on.

Development and habit loss are also adding stress to the animals, as is chronic exposure to pesticides such as glyphosate, a key ingredient in Roundup. Red tide outbreaks from the widespread use of fertilizers are also polluting manatee habitats.

Wildlife

4 dead gray whales wash up around San Francisco

Four dead gray whales have washed up on the shores of the San Francisco Bay Area in just eight days, prompting fears that the species is under threat from human activity in the area. The whales probably represent just a small fraction of the number dying in the area.

In 2019, 73 dead gray whales were found washed up along the west coast of North America during a six-month period.

Necropsies have revealed that the main causes of death for gray whales are malnutrition due to climate change, entanglement in fishing gear and trauma from ship strikes.

Wildlife

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

More Trump Administration Wildlife and Environment Abuse

The National Park Service released a management plan amendment today for Point Reyes National Seashore that would enshrine commercial cattle ranching in the California park at the expense of native wildlife and natural habitat. It also calls for the killing of native tule elk and would authorize new agricultural uses that will put other wildlife at risk.

“This is a disaster for wildlife and a stunning mismanagement of one of America’s most beautiful national parks,” said Jeff Miller at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Park Service is greenlighting the slaughter of native wildlife in Point Reyes. After the elk, the next likely victims will be birds, bobcats, foxes and coyotes. This plan is illegal and immoral, and we’re going to do everything we can to stop it.”

In today’s “final environmental impact statement,” the Park Service selected Alternative B, which extends 20-year commercial leases to 15 private dairy and beef cattle ranches on 26,100 acres of Point Reyes National Seashore and Golden Gate National Recreation Area lands in Marin County. The plan authorizes continued overgrazing and does little to address ongoing damage by cattle to water quality and habitat for endangered species and other wildlife.

Wayward Whales

Three humpback whales on their way to Antarctic waters made a wrong turn into a crocodile-infested river in far northern Australia. While two appear to have turned back, one continued swimming upstream, where wildlife experts say it has little chance of being attacked by the much smaller reptiles. But there was concern that the lone whale could get stranded in a very remote area miles upstream where rescue efforts would be impossible, and it would then become “croc bait” as it foundered.

Wildlife

Quiet Oceans

Researchers say whales are probably among the creatures benefiting from the more quiet Earth, thanks to the reduction in worldwide human activities.

A consistent drop in underwater noise at frequencies known to affect marine mammals has been measured since January. This is mainly the result of sharp and ongoing declines in ocean shipping.

Whales are known to alter their calling behavior and suffer chronic stress when exposed to ship noise, and scientists want to know how they are now responding to the diminished din.

Wildlife

Climate change forcing whales into dangerous shipping lanes

Climate change is imperilling the world’s largest animals by increasing the likelihood of fatal collisions between whales and big ships that ply the same waters.

Warming ocean temperatures are causing some species of whales in pursuit of food to stray more frequently into shipping lanes, scientists say.

The phenomenon already has increased ship strikes involving rare North Atlantic right whales on the East Coast and giant blue whales on the West Coast, researchers say.

When whales are killed in a ship collision, they often sink and don’t always wash ashore. So scientists and conservationists say fatal ship strikes are dramatically under-reported.

Vessels strikes are among the most frequent causes of accidental death in large whales, along with entanglement in fishing gear.

Scientists say the changing ocean environment and a shift in food sources with global warming is causing right whales and some other species to stray outside protected zones designed to keep them safe from ships.

Wildlife

Blinding solar storms could be the cause of whale strandings

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Grey whales may be “blinded” by solar storms, according to a new study published in the journal Current Biology. The solar activity interferes with the whales’ internal magnetic navigation system, causing them to become stranded on the shore, often resulting in death.

Many species of whales have been observed undertaking mammoth seasonal migrations that take them from ocean regions rich with food to their traditional breeding grounds. Depending on the species, a whale can travel upwards of 10,000 miles (16,100 km) on a single migratory round trip, which often takes the vast marine mammals close to shorelines.

Sadly, each year seemingly healthy whales are found stranded on shorelines across the globe, where, without intervention, they inevitably die.

During a solar storm high-energy particles are ejected from our Sun’s atmosphere, and rush outward into the solar system. These particles interact with Earth’s geomagnetic field, sometimes disrupting it to such an extent that it can affect the behavior of organisms that rely on it to navigate.

The study revealed that the chance of a stranding was around twice as high on days during which spots occurred on the Sun’s surface, than on randomly selected days when they did not. This suggests that the whales rely on a form of magnetic navigation to maintain a true course during their long migrations.

The research details two ways that the solar activity could have confused the whales’ magnetic instinct.

It is possible that the whales were becoming stranded as a result of a deviation in Earth’s magnetic field brought on by an interaction with charged particles from the Sun, tricking the whales into thinking that they are in the wrong place.

Secondly, the solar particles could lead to an increase in solar radio flux, which according to the study is the “globally averaged measure of radio frequency (RF).” This radio noise has been known to interfere with several species’ magnetic navigation capabilities, and so could be “blinding” the whales’ biological sensors.

Visiting Hippo

Customers were treated to a rare sight when a big hippo dropped by a petrol garage in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa over the weekend. The animal was spotted strolling into the Engen/OK Express garage in St Lucia on the KwaZulu-Natal north coast on Sunday night and was recorded by a passerby.

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Wildlife

‘Litter Ball’ Found Inside a Dead Sperm Whale

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When workers with a whale strandings agency in Scotland performed a necropsy on a recently beached sperm whale, they found a gruesome surprise: The animal had died with around 220 lbs. (100 kilograms) of trash in its stomach. The young male sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) washed ashore on Nov. 28 at Luskentyre beach in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides islands. It died shortly thereafter.

Fishing nets, rope bundles, tubes and an assortment of plastic garbage formed a compact mass — a so-called litter ball — inside the 20-ton whale, “and some of it it looked like it had been there for some time.

While the amount of garbage inside the whale was “horrific,” the animal appeared to be in good health and wasn’t malnourished, according to the post. It’s likely that the trash ball interfered with digestion, but SMASS experts didn’t find any signs that the ingested debris blocked the whale’s intestines.

Australia’s Extinct Species

It’s well established that unsustainable human activity is damaging the health of the planet. The way we use Earth threatens our future and that of many animals and plants. Species extinction is an inevitable end point.

It’s important that the loss of Australian nature be quantified accurately. To date, putting an exact figure on the number of extinct species has been challenging. But in the most comprehensive assessment of its kind, research has confirmed that 100 endemic Australian species living in 1788, such as the Tasman tiger, are now validly listed as extinct.

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Wildlife

Whales Using Bubble ‘Nets’ to Hunt

Some cetaceans use “nets” to catch their food. Like humpback whales. They’ll dive down and swim in a ring around their prey, blowing out bubbles as they go. That rising ring forms a column that traps fish, allowing other whales in the group to swim up from below, mouths agape, through the bubble cylinder to feast.

Wildlife

Jellyfish Population Surges

Human activities are allowing jellyfish numbers to surge in the world’s oceans, which a new U.N. report says are undergoing profound and dangerous changes.

French researchers say that the population of jellyfish is increasing because of man-made factors such as overfishing, deep-sea trawling and the heating of the oceans in the deepening climate crisis.

Overfishing is eliminating some of the jellies’ natural predators, such as tuna and sea turtles, especially those that feed on plankton, giving the jellyfish more of the plankton to feed on themselves and thrive.

Whale Stranding – South Carolina, USA

South Carolina wildlife officials say five pilot whales were found stranded on Edisto Beach Saturday morning. Beachgoers found the mammals on the shore and tried to rescue them, but four of the whales died and at least two of them were calves. Officials said one of the whales was dead before crews could get to the beach to help and some of them had to be put down because they were too sick or injured.

Wildlife

Cultural Exchange

British researchers say humpback whales have distinctive songs that are unique to where they originally came from, but the tunes can change over time.

Ellen Garland of the University of St. Andrews says those songs evolve as the marine mammals encounter others of their species while traveling through the oceans.

“We can pinpoint a population a whale has likely come from by what they are singing,” Garland says.

Writing in the journal Royal Society Open Science, Garland says the sharing of whale song is a type of cultural exchange that occurs throughout whales’ lives.

Wildlife

Whale Strandings – Georgia, USA

Beachgoers, wildlife officials and lifeguards in Georgia pitched in to help free dozens of stranded whales earlier this month. About 50 live short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus) beached themselves or came dangerous close to beaching themselves on St. Simons Island in the state’s southeast. Some of the whales continued to try swimming ashore after being freed, and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources said that at least three of the whales died. Necropsies on these whales showed mild signs of disease, but nothing out of the ordinary. Researchers are unsure why the whales stranded themselves, but it could be due to faulty echolocation signals which don’t work as well in shallow water, or due their strong pod loyalty — as one whale gets beached, the others may have tried to help out.

Wildlife

Octopus fishing halted after whale deaths in Cape

The South African government took decisive steps on Friday to temporarily stop the practice of octopus fishing after a spate of whale entanglements around the country’s ecologically sensitive coastline led to mounting public concern.

The recent whale entanglements have led to a public outcry. The City of Cape Town on Thursday joined the chorus of calls for a moratorium on octopus fishing. The City said time that three whales had become entangled in octopus fishing nets and two had died as a result of octopus fishing.

Wildlife

Gray Whale Deaths

Since January, more than 70 dead gray whales have washed up on the coasts of California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Canada. That’s the most in a single year since 2000, and scientists are concerned.

So far this year, 73 dead whales have been spotted on West Coast beaches: 37 in California; three in Oregon; 25 in Washington; three in Alaska; and five in British Columbia, Canada. Most of them were skinny and malnourished, which suggests they probably didn’t get enough to eat during their last feeding season in the Arctic.

The condition of the dead whales also suggests there are many that scientists aren’t counting because emaciated whales tend to sink. The numbers that actually wash up do represent a fraction of the true number. Some estimates suggest it’s as few as 10%.

These gentle giants were once severely threatened by whalers. There were only around 2,000 of them left in 1946, when an international agreement to stop gray whale hunting was initiated to help the population recover, according to The Marine Mammal Center, a nonprofit organization that rescues and rehabilitates marine mammals in California. Gray whales were removed from the U.S. Endangered Species List in 1994, when the population was estimated to be about 20,000. In 2016, scientists estimated there were about 27,000.

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USDA Kills Millions of Animals

The arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture known as Wildlife Services killed nearly 1.5 million native animals during 2018, according to new data released by the agency this week.

The multimillion-dollar federal wildlife-killing program targets wolves, coyotes, cougars, birds and other wild animals for destruction — primarily to benefit the agriculture industry. Of the 2.6 million animals killed last year, nearly 1.5 million were native wildlife species.

According to the latest report, the federal program last year intentionally killed 357 gray wolves; 68,186 adult coyotes, plus an unknown number of coyote pups in 361 destroyed dens; 515,915 red-winged blackbirds; 338 black bears; 375 mountain lions; 1,002 bobcats; 173 river otters plus 537 killed “unintentionally”; 3,349 foxes, plus an unknown number of fox pups in 133 dens; and 22,521 beavers.

The program also killed 17,739 prairie dogs outright, as well as an unknown number killed in more than 47,547 burrows that were destroyed or fumigated. These figures almost certainly underestimate the actual number of animals killed, as program insiders have revealed that Wildlife Services kills many more animals than it reports.

According to the new data, the wildlife-killing program unintentionally killed more than 2,700 animals last year, including bears, bobcats, foxes, muskrats, otters, porcupines, raccoons and turtles. Its killing of non-target birds included chickadees, cardinals, ducks, eagles, hawks, herons, owls and turkeys.

Dozens of domestic animals, including pets and livestock, were also killed or caught. Such data reveals the indiscriminate nature of painful leg-hold traps, strangulation snares, poisons and other methods used by federal agents.

“The barbaric, outdated tactics Wildlife Services uses to destroy America’s animals are appalling and need to end,” said Collette Adkins of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Wolves, bears and other carnivores help balance the web of life where they live. They should be protected, not persecuted.”

The wildlife-killing program contributed to the decline of gray wolves, Mexican wolves, black-footed ferrets, black-tailed prairie dogs and other imperiled species during the first half of the 1900s and continues to impede their recovery today.

4,000 live reptiles rescued

Global police forces have carried off the largest reptile trade bust to date, arresting 12 suspects and seizing more than 4,000 live reptiles at airports, breeding facilities, and pet stores across Europe, North America, and elsewhere throughout April and May.

The initiative, dubbed Operation Blizzard—a play on words referring to the deluge of activity around lizards—was coordinated by Interpol and Europol in response to the illegal trade in snakes, turtles, and other protected reptiles. Trafficking of these animals is threatening some species with extinction and also fueling disease outbreaks among humans.

The exotic reptile trade has exploded in the past two decades, with millions of the animals now imported—legally and illegally—into the European Union and United States as household pets. Some reptiles are also coveted for their skins, made into high-end fashion items such as shoes, belts, and handbags.