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NOAA Launches Investigation Into Unusually High Humpback Whale Die-Offs

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced Thursday it is investigating the unusually high number of humpback whale deaths off the U.S. Atlantic Coast.

A total of 41 humpback whales died in the waters off Maine to North Carolina since January 2016, including 15 that washed up dead this year. That's about three times more than the region's annual average of just 14 humpback deaths.

"The increased numbers of mortalities have triggered the declaration of an unusual mortality event, or UME, for humpback whales along the Atlantic Coast," said Mendy Garron, stranding coordinator at the NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Region, on Thursday.

A UME is issued whenever there is an "unexpected, involves a significant dieoff of any marine mammal population, and demands immediate response," she added.

So far, NOAA has examined 20 of the whales that died last year and determined that 10 of the mammals "had evidence of blunt force trauma or pre-mortem propeller wounds" likely from marine vessels, the agency said.

The whales may be moving around in search of prey, exposing themselves to shipping traffic, researchers suggested.

"It's probably linked to resources," Greg Silber, the large-whale recovery coordinator for NOAA fisheries, told reporters. "Humpback whales follow where the prey is."

The other half of the whales that were examined had no obvious signs of what caused their demise.

"Whales tested to date have had no evidence of infectious disease," Garron said.

The scientists stressed that they are unsure about what is causing the spike in humpback deaths.

"The answer is really unknown," Silber said.

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David Suzuki: It's Time to End BC's Cruel Grizzly Bear Trophy Hunt

Grizzly bears venturing from dens in search of food this spring will face landscapes dominated by mines, roads, pipelines, clearcuts and ever-expanding towns and cities. As in years past, they'll also face the possibility of painful death at the hands of trophy hunters.

British Columbia's spring bear hunt just opened. Hunters are fanning across the province's mountains, grasslands, forests and coastline, armed with high-powered rifles and the desire to bag a grizzly bear, just to put its head on a wall or its pelt on the floor as a "trophy."

According to BC government statistics, they will kill about 300 of these majestic animals by the end of the spring and fall hunts. If this year follows previous patterns, about 30 percent of the slaughter will be females—the reproductive engines of grizzly populations.

Many grizzlies will likely be killed within BC's renowned provincial parks and protected areas, where trophy hunting is legal. Government records obtained by the David Suzuki Foundation in 2008 show trophy hunters have shot dozens of grizzly bears in places we would expect wildlife to be protected. We don't know the exact number of bears killed in BC's parks since 2008 because, in contravention of a BC's privacy commissioner's ruling, the government refuses to disclose recent spatial data showing where bears have been killed.

Much of this killing has occurred in northern wilderness parks, such as Height of the Rockies Provincial Park, Spatsizi Plateau Wilderness Park and Tatshenshini-Alsek Wilderness Park. Tatshenshini-Alsek Park forms a massive transboundary conservation zone with federal protected areas in the Yukon (Kluane National Park and Reserve) and Alaska (Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve). Trophy hunting is prohibited in most U.S. national parks and all Canadian national parks, but not in BC's provincial parks.

Wild animals don't heed political boundaries. Wide-ranging species like grizzly bears move in and out of neighboring jurisdictions. If a grizzly bear in Montana wanders a few kilometers north in search of a mate, it goes from being protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act to being a possible trophy hunter target in BC.

But now, in response to intense pressure from the trophy hunting industry, the U.S. administration wants to strip grizzly bears of federal protection. President Trump also recently signed into law rules allowing trophy hunters to target grizzly bears around bait stations and from aircraft and to kill grizzly mothers and their cubs in Alaska's national wildlife refuges, where they've been protected from these unethical hunting practices.

Grizzly bears face an ominous political climate under the Trump administration, along with growing human threats across their North American range, from trophy hunting to habitat destruction, precipitous declines in food sources like salmon and whitebark pine nuts and climate change impacts.

In parts of Canada, mainly in sparsely populated areas of northern BC and the territories, grizzly bear numbers are stable. But in the Interior and southern BC and Alberta, grizzlies have been relegated to a ragged patchwork of small, isolated and highly threatened habitats—a vestige of the forests and grasslands they once dominated. The BC government has ended grizzly hunting among highly threatened sub-populations in the Interior and southern parts of the province and, in response to pressure from local First Nations, has promised to do the same in the Great Bear Rainforest. But the slaughter of BC's great bears continues everywhere else.

That this year's spring hunt coincides with a BC election could bring hope for grizzlies, possibly catalyzing the first change in government wildlife policy in close to two decades. The May 9 election will give BC residents the opportunity to ask candidates if they will end the grizzly hunt if elected. So far, the BC New Democratic Party and Green Party say they would ban grizzly trophy hunting (but allow grizzly hunting for food), whereas the BC Liberals continue to defend and promote the trophy hunt as "well-managed," despite scientific evidence to the contrary.

The fate of BC's grizzlies is too important to be a partisan issue. All politicians should support protection. Rough-and-tumble politics this election season might finally end BC's cruel and unsustainable grizzly bear trophy hunt. It's time to stop this grisly business.

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Photo credit: Center for Biological Diversity

Earth’s Tallest Land Animal Needs Endangered Species Protection

In response to recent scientific consensus on giraffes' vulnerability to extinction, five wildlife protection groups today petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect Earth's tallest land animal under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

The legal petition, filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Humane Society International, The Humane Society of the United States, International Fund for Animal Welfare and Natural Resources Defense Council, seeks "endangered" status for the species. Facing mounting threats from habitat loss, hunting for meat and the international trade in bone carvings and trophies, Africa's giraffe population has plunged almost 40 percent in the past 30 years and now stands at just more than 97,000 individuals.

"Giraffes have been dying off silently for decades, and now we have to act quickly before they disappear forever," said Tanya Sanerib, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. "There are now fewer giraffes than elephants in Africa. It's time for the United States to step up and protect these extraordinary creatures."

New research recently prompted the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to elevate the threat level of giraffes from "least concern" to "vulnerable" on its "Red List of Threatened Species." Yet giraffes have no protection under U.S. law. Species designated as "endangered" under the U.S. Endangered Species Act receive strict protections, including a ban on most imports and sales. The U.S. plays a major role in the giraffe trade, importing more than 21,400 bone carvings, 3,000 skin pieces and 3,700 hunting trophies over the past decade. Limiting U.S. import and trade will give giraffes important protections.

"Previously, the public was largely unaware that trophy hunters were targeting these majestic animals for trophies and selfies. In the past few years, several gruesome images of trophy hunters next to slain giraffe bodies have caused outrage, bringing this senseless killing to light," said Masha Kalinina, international trade policy specialist with the wildlife department of Humane Society International.

"Currently, no U.S. or international law protects giraffes against overexploitation for trade. It is clearly time to change this. As the largest importer of trophies in the world, the role of the United States in the decline of this species is undeniable, and we must do our part to protect these animals."

Known for their six-foot-long necks, distinctive patterning and long eyelashes, giraffes have captured the human imagination for centuries. New research recently revealed that they live in complex societies, much like elephants, and have unique physiological traits, including the highest blood pressure of any land mammal.

"I was lucky enough to study giraffes in the wild in Kenya many years ago. Back then, they seemed plentiful, and we all just assumed that it would stay that way," said Jeff Flocken, North American regional director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

"Giraffes are facing a crisis. We cannot let these amazing, regal and unique creatures go extinct—it would be a dramatic loss of diversity and beauty for our planet. This listing petition is rallying the world to help save the giraffe."

The IUCN currently recognizes one species of giraffes and nine subspecies: West African, Kordofan, Nubian, reticulated, Masai, Thornicroft's, Rothchild's, Angolan and South African. Today's petition seeks an endangered listing for the whole species.

"I can't—and won't—imagine Africa's landscape without giraffes," said Elly Pepper, deputy director of NRDC's wildlife trade initiative.

"Losing one of the continent's iconic species would be an absolute travesty. Giving giraffes Endangered Species Act protections would be a giant step in the fight to save them from extinction."

The Fish and Wildlife Service has 90 days to review and respond to the petition and determine whether a listing may be warranted.

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20 Canned Tuna Brands Ranked: How Sustainable Is Your Brand?

By David Pinsky

The U.S. is the largest market for canned tuna in the world. U.S. consumers purchase countless cans and serve up thousands of tuna melts day after day.

Today's flashy labels and PR claims from supermarket and national tuna brands can be confusing and sometimes deceiving. Even worse, much of the canned tuna available in the U.S. comes from destructive fishing practices and could be linked to human rights abuses.

Greenpeace is campaigning to clean up this dirty global industry to ensure workers' rights and healthy oceans for generations to come. We collectively have the power to transform the tuna industry, and that starts by being informed. That's why today we're excited to share our brand new canned Tuna Shopping Guideen Español, too!

We evaluated 20 well-known brands on their sourcing policies, whether they avoid shark finning and destructive fishing practices, whether they can trace their products back to sea, and how they protect human rights for seafood industry workers.

Click through to see how your favorite canned tuna brand ranks.

© Greenpeace

Wild Planet and American Tuna tied for first place, followed by Whole Foods and Ocean Naturals as the best choices for conscious shoppers. Walmart (18th), H-E-B (19th), and StarKist (20th) are the worst-ranked due to their reliance on destructive fishing methods and outstanding questions about the social responsibility of their products.

The differences between those at the top and the very bottom of our ranking couldn't be more pronounced.

Among the five largest supermarket chains in the country, Albertsons (eighth; notable store banners include Safeway, Vons, Jewel-Osco), Ahold Delhaize (10th; banners include Food Lion, Hannaford, Giant), and Kroger (11th; banners include Fred Meyer, QFC, Ralphs) all passed. Kroger, second only in size nationwide to Walmart, is even rolling out new responsibly-caught pole and line canned tuna this year.

While only 55 percent of the brands we assessed passed, that's up from around 40 percent when we ranked popular brands in 2015. Only a few years ago, Whole Foods led the nation as the first retailer to offer responsibly-caught store brand canned tuna. Today, 11 of the 14 retailers we assessed carry at least one responsibly-caught store brand product. That's a big deal—you might even call it the beginning of a tuna revolution.

These changes are happening because consumers like you demanded them.

As the call grows louder for seafood that doesn't wreck the oceans or perpetuate human rights abuses, it's time for some of the biggest in the industry that are failing to show some leadership. You guessed it: Costco (13th), Walmart (18th), and the big three tuna brands—Chicken of the Sea (15th), Bumble Bee (17th), and StarKist (20th)—all failed in this year's Tuna Guide.

The largest three tuna brands, in particular, are dragging down the U.S. market in a sea of ocean destruction. Chicken of the Sea, owned by the world's largest tuna company Thai Union, has a chance to right its ship. Its parent company has made bold claims on sustainability and human rights, though it remains to be seen how that translates into real action and better tuna for customers. The company still has a chance to lead and continue moving the industry in the right direction, but we need your help to demand immediate action.

Join us! Ask Chicken of the Sea to commit to protect the oceans and seafood workers.

If you're going to buy canned tuna, the next time you look on store shelves consider how your choices will impact the oceans and seafood workers. Keep the Tuna Shopping Guide close by, share it with your friends and family, and let your grocery store manager know why they should carry responsibly-caught canned tuna.

Together, we can protect the oceans for future generations.

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Alaska Senators Introduce Bill to Expand Offshore Oil Drilling in Arctic Ocean and Cook Inlet

Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, both Republicans from Alaska, have introduced legislation to expand oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Ocean and Cook Inlet, putting fragile ecosystems and endangered wildlife at risk.

In December, President Obama permanently protected large areas of U.S. waters in the Arctic from oil and gas drilling. The new bill—Senate Bill 883—would effectively cancel these protections and force the Department of the Interior to quickly approve new oil and gas leasing.

"It's not possible to drill safely in the Arctic, as we just saw from the leaking oil and gas well on the North Slope," said Miyoko Sakashita, ocean programs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "This legislation's nothing more than a giveaway to oil companies. It'll hurt Alaska's healthy habitat and endangered wildlife."

S. 883 would require Interior to add at least three leases each in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas and one in Cook Inlet to each five-year leasing plan. The agency would be required to establish a new near-shore Beaufort planning area with annual lease sales for the next three years.

The bill would also overturn President Obama's decision to stop exploration and drilling permanently in most of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas under Section 12(a) of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. These areas are home to several endangered species, including polar bears and bowhead whales.

"If we let oil companies drill the Arctic, a catastrophic oil spill is just a matter of time," Sakashita said. "It's shameful that the Alaska congressional delegation has so little regard for the horrendous damage the oil industry could do to this fragile ecosystem and the people who live and work along this coast."

Leading climate scientists say the vast majority of untapped fossil fuels must stay in the ground to avoid catastrophic, irreversible changes to the climate. Unleased federal waters contain an estimated 75 billion barrels of crude oil, more than twice that of unleased federal lands. Stopping the expansion of new leases in federal waters would keep 61.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide out of our atmosphere and oceans.

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These Jane Goodall Quotes Will Inspire You to Save the World

By Amanda Froelich

Jane Goodall is one of the most iconic conservationists on planet Earth—and for good reason! At age 26, she left England with little more than a notebook, binoculars and a dream to live with wild chimpanzees in Africa.

Due to her efforts, present-day humans have a greater understanding of primate behavior and the need to be compassionate toward all living creatures. Whether she's debating against the inclusion of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the food supply or arguing for more ethical practices to be adopted by all, she consistently inspires people to "be the change" they desire to see and stand up for what they believe in. As One Green Planet said, "innumerable actions have been spawned by Goodall's influence."

Because it can be tiresome advocating for clean waterways, an end to animal cruelty, the importance of organic food, reducing pollution and so on so forth, we're sharing six quotes stated by Goodall that are likely to inspire you. In many instances, it only takes one person to start a movement. Take Jane, for instance; her tireless persistence and passion for better understanding primates has changed the world for the better. Don't let anything prevent you from doing the same.

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A passerby looks at a picture that is part of a campaign to save the rhino in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo credit: Michael Tatarski / Mongabay

Graffiti Campaign Inspires Protection of Endangered Rhinos

By Michael Tatarski

Throughout the month of March, a unique graffiti campaign popped up on the walls of several streets in downtown Ho Chi Minh City, the hyperactive commercial capital of Vietnam. The works differed from the usual tags and designs that adorn urban areas around the world. The graffiti pieces, 17 in all, carry a simple message: "Save the rhinos" or "Cứu tê giác" in Vietnamese.

Vietnam is home to one of the largest African rhino horn consumer bases in the world, in addition to being a key transit point for shipments to China. Users of rhino horn believe it can cure various illnesses, in addition to a number of other supposed health benefits. There is no scientific basis to back these beliefs up.

The graffiti in Ho Chi Minh City aims to educate locals on the importance of this issue. According to Nhi Thoi, program manager at the Center of Hands-on Actions and Networking for Growth and Environment (CHANGE), the street art is part of an awareness-raising campaign to inform people on the topic that began in 2013. The group specializes in initiating and developing environment and "climate change movements in Vietnam," according to their website.

"We've been running the 'stop using rhino horn campaign' for several years," Nhi said at CHANGE's office in suburban Ho Chi Minh City recently. "We produce a lot of PSAs (public service announcements) and we've invited a lot of celebrities."

A graffiti picture that is part of a campaign to save the rhino in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Michael Tatarski / Mongabay

One of these PSAs aired on television screens located next to elevators at some of the city's apartment buildings that normally show product advertisements. In the video, national celebrities explained the need to save the world's remaining rhinos, while graphic images of poached animals with their horns sheared off drove the message home.

Nhi explained that the aim is to create social pressure in order to persuade rhino horn users to change their ways.

"It's really hard to tackle the end-users, for example businessmen and high-ranking government officials, so we need to go around and talk to many other people," she said. The graffiti project began as a low-cost way to further this public conversation. "When I drove around the city I saw a lot of empty spaces, like dirty walls, and sometimes they had been vandalized. I asked myself, 'Why don't we paint our message on the walls?'"

Suby One, a French graffiti artist based in Ho Chi Minh City. Michael Tatarski / Mongabay

Suby One, a prominent French graffiti artist based in Ho Chi Minh City, has collaborated with CHANGE for three years and played a prominent role in bringing the rhino art campaign to life. "They contacted me and told me they want to change the audience," he said.

Instead of communicating through TV ads, CHANGE would bring its message to the streets in hopes of reaching the general public.

"They had celebrities before and now they want to reach the real people so that they know the rhino issue," Suby said. "They wanted it so that we could paint and people would come and talk to us while we were working."

Suby and CHANGE, in partnership with global conservation organization WildAid, invited 11 local and international artists to create designs featuring rhinos. It took months for Nhi and her team to obtain local government approval.

A graffiti picture that is part of a campaign to save the rhino in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Michael Tatarski / Mongabay

"From the beginning, I wanted our message to be very aggressive, so I wanted the artists to draw something about a dead rhino or something stunning," she said. "But since we're doing this in public, we needed approval from the authorities and they didn't want something negative."

CHANGE finally got the green light in early March and their team jumped into action, with an aim to complete the artwork in one month. The pieces, spread across a number of streets in Ho Chi Minh City's central District 1, are striking. Each portrayal is unique, but all carry the same plea: Save the rhino.

A graffiti picture that is part of a campaign to save the rhino in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Michael Tatarski / Mongabay

"I want to create love for rhinos," Nhi said. "In some images we had differences, like the rhino's horn exploding or the shadows of other rhinos that weren't actually there. We wanted to convey the message that the rhino is close to extinction and needs protection."

According to the conservation organization Save the Rhino, at the end of 2015 there were an estimated 30,000 rhinos remaining in the wild in Africa and Asia. At the start of the 20th century millions of rhinos lived in these regions. Vietnam in particular continues to be a major player in the illicit international rhino horn trade. According to TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network, in March 2017 alone there were two seizures—one in Bangkok and one in Hanoi—totaling 67 rhino horns. The Bangkok case involved a Vietnamese national, while no suspects were named in the other.

TRAFFIC used the opportunity to call on the Vietnamese government to honor its commitment to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and prosecute wildlife crimes more vigorously. According to the organization, less than 1 percent of criminals involved in such activity in the country are successfully prosecuted.

The graffiti campaign has been a bright spot, though and garnered extensive attention from the public and the media.

A graffiti picture that is part of a campaign to save the rhino in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Michael Tatarski / Mongabay

"In the beginning they [people in the neighborhoods] didn't really support us, but when they saw us clean the walls and draw beautiful pictures they warmed up and were really supportive," Nhi said. "They brought us water and cake and brought their kids to play with us and talk about rhinos."

Suby believes there has been an outpouring of support because of the role art can play in activism.

"I think graffiti is something new here and people are getting interested in it," he said. "You can reach more people with art—especially on the streets … I think touching the people and the neighbors, that's the strength of street art."

Philip Genochio, a British expat based in Ho Chi Minh City, was also involved in the campaign as an artist.

A graffiti picture that is part of a campaign to save the rhino in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Michael Tatarski / Mongabay

"For me, it goes beyond rhinos specifically," he wrote via email. "It's part of a much bigger problem of wildlife of all descriptions being killed in the name of vanity and ignorance."

His design in the campaign features the outlines of many small rhinos forming the shape of a large rhino. "I wanted something that had impact; something that would at least get people's attention," he said. "Also, I liked the idea of using vivid colors to represent happiness, joy and well-being … we should have these thoughts in our minds when thinking about wildlife."

Genochio added that he wishes to see the campaign spread an appreciation for art as well.

"On a lighter note, I hope people see the benefit that graffiti and street art brings to a city and its neighborhoods," he said. "It's uplifting, it's characterful, it's inspiring … why wouldn't you want to see this around the city?"

Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.


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Photo credit: Environmental Law & Policy Center of the Midwest

Court Orders EPA to Close Loophole, Factory Farms Required to Report Toxic Pollution

The DC Circuit Court ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Tuesday to close a loophole that has allowed hazardous substances released into the environment by concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to go unreported.

"We applaud the DC Circuit Court's clear decision to enforce this vital environmental safeguard to protect public safety," said Earthjustice attorney Jonathan Smith, who helped argue the case before the court.

"In the words of the court, the risk of air emissions from CAFOs 'isn't just theoretical; people have become seriously ill and even died' from these emissions. But the public cannot protect itself from these hazardous substances if CAFOs aren't required to report their releases to the public. The loophole also prevented reporting of these toxics to local and state responders and the court held that plainly violated the law."

CAFOs are large-scale livestock facilities that confine large numbers of animals in relatively small spaces. A large CAFO may contain upward of 1,000 cattle, 2,500 hogs or 125,000 chickens. Such facilities generate a massive amount of urine and feces, which is commonly liquefied and either stored under the facility or nearby in open-air lagoons. This waste is known to release high levels of toxic pollutants like ammonia and hydrogen sulfide into the environment.

The court's decision closes a loophole that exempted CAFOs from the same pollutant reporting required of other industries to ensure public safety. Prior to the promulgation of this loophole at the end of the Bush administration in 2008, federal law long required CAFOs, like all other industrial facilities, to notify government officials when toxic pollution levels exceeded public safety thresholds.

"Corporate agricultural operations have always been well-equipped to report on hazardous substances," said Abel Russ of the Environmental Integrity Project. "Now they will once again be required to do so."

This ruling is the latest turn in Earthjustice's advocacy on behalf of environmental and animal advocacy groups including Waterkeeper Alliance, Humane Society of the United States, Sierra Club, Center for Food Safety and Environmental Integrity Project.

"People have a right to know if CAFOs are releasing hazardous substances that can pose serious risks of illness or death into the air near their homes, schools, businesses and communities," said Kelly Foster, senior attorney for Waterkeeper Alliance.

"This ruling ensures that the public will be able to obtain this information in the future and will hopefully spur EPA to start responding when hazardous substances reach toxic levels."

Nearly three-quarters of the nation's ammonia air pollution come from CAFOs. Once emitted into the air, this ammonia then redeposits on land or water, adding to nitrogen pollution and water quality impairments in places like the Chesapeake Bay.

"CAFO waste pollutes our air and waterways and creates dangerous food pathogens. This decision forces these operations to be transparent about their environmental impact," said Paige Tomaselli of the Center for Food Safety.

CAFOs can be terrible air polluters. People who live near them often suffer from constant exposure to foul odors and the toxic effects of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide. Low levels of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide can irritate the eyes, nose and throat and high levels can be fatal.

"This safeguard isn't just about protecting the environment; it's about making entire communities safe for the people who live in them," said Sierra Club staff attorney Katie Schaefer.

Unsurprisingly, CAFO pollution also severely impacts the animals raised at the CAFO.

"Animal factories force billions of animals to suffer dangerously high levels of toxic air pollution day after day for their entire lives," said Humane Society of The United States' Chief Counsel Jonathan Lovvorn. "This ruling helps shine a light on the horrors of factory farms and the hidden costs to animals, people and the environment."

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