The Interior Department announced it is moving forward with seismic surveys in the Atlantic Ocean following President Donald Trump's executive order last month to aggressively expand offshore drilling in protected areas off the Arctic and Atlantic oceans.
On Feb. 25, while patrolling the waters of the Gulf of California for Operation Milagro III, the M/V Sam Simon sailed through a megapod of dolphins with numbers estimated to be more than 1,000 individuals.
The elation and joy of this sight comes with the realization that many of these dolphins' lives will be cut short due to illegal gill nets. Sea Shepherd will stay in the Gulf of California until we pull out every last illegal gill net, ensuring the safety of the inhabitants who call these waters home.
By Raffaella Tolicetti
With reproductive instincts pushing them towards the Colorado River Delta, thousands of corvina fish are currently swimming with the tide along the coastal waters of the Pacific Ocean. Making their way to the estuaries, where fresh water mixes with the saline components of the seas, these corvina are unaware that many of them will not even get the chance to lay their eggs in the very particular habitat they depend on to reproduce.
By Claire Douglass
The Obama administration formally denied today all pending permits to conduct seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic Ocean. Seismic airgun blasting, an extremely loud and dangerous process used to search for oil and gas deposits deep below the ocean's surface, was originally proposed in an area twice the size of California, stretching from Delaware to Florida.
This announcement follows several recent historic moves by the Obama administration to decrease America's dependence on dirty fossil fuels, including the removal of the Atlantic and Arctic oceans from the five year program (from 2017-2022) for oil and gas development on the Outer Continental Shelf and the permanent protection of important areas of the Atlantic and Arctic from future offshore drilling.
We thank the Obama administration for finishing the job in protecting the Atlantic Ocean from offshore drilling activities.
East Coast communities can finally take a well-deserved sigh of relief knowing that their ocean and economies are currently spared from dangerous seismic airgun blasting.
With offshore drilling off the table for the near future, there was absolutely no reason to risk the damage that would be caused by seismic airgun blasting in the region.
President Obama and Director Hopper should be revered for their leadership in transitioning the U.S. away from expanded offshore drilling and toward a cleaner energy economy, including the development of renewable energy sources such as offshore wind.
Over the last few years, Hopper and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management have made it a priority to listen to all stakeholders, from the interests of the oil and gas industry to the East Coast fishing and tourism economies.
As of today, more than 120 East Coast municipalities, more than 1,200 elected officials and an alliance representing more than 35,000 businesses and 500,000 fishing families have publicly opposed offshore drilling and/or seismic airgun blasting. These individuals and groups understand that nearly 1.4 million jobs and more than $95 billion in gross domestic product are at risk if dangerous oil activities occur in the Atlantic Ocean.
We know that seismic airgun blasting is dangerous. Seismic airguns create one of the loudest manmade sounds in the ocean, firing intense blasts of compressed air every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day, for weeks to months on end. The noise from these blasts is so loud that it can be heard up to 2,500 miles from the source, which is approximately the distance from Washington, DC to Las Vegas.
In addition to being extremely loud, these blasts are of special concern to marine life, including fish, turtles and whales, which depend on sound for communication and survival. Numerous studies demonstrate the negative impacts that seismic airgun noise has on ocean ecosystems, including reduced catch rates of commercially valuable fish and silencing bowhead whales.
The government's own estimates state that seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic could injure as many as 138,000 marine mammals like dolphins and whales, while disturbing the vital activities of millions more.
In 2015, 75 leading marine scientists sent a letter to President Obama on the impacts of seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic Ocean, stating that "the magnitude of the proposed seismic activity is likely to have significant, long-lasting, and widespread impacts on the reproduction and survival of fish and marine mammal populations in the region, including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, of which approximately only 500 remain."
Today's decision comes from a visionary president dedicated to preserving the marine environment and furthering a legacy of action against climate change. We applaud the Obama administration for protecting the Atlantic Ocean for generations to come.
A controversial, last-ditch plan to round up the last remaining vaquitas—a critically endangered porpoise found only in the Sea of Cortez—may get underway this spring with the aid of U.S. Navy-trained bottlenose dolphins. The vaquitas would be placed in a protected enclosure while efforts are made to get illegal fishing in the area under control.
Their numbers have dropped dramatically in the last 20 years. There were 567 individuals in 1997, 245 in 2008 and just under 100 in 2014. The report puts a high probability on extinction within five years.
Vaquita refuge established in 2005 where gillnet fishing is prohibited.National Geographic
The Mexican government has been working with local fishermen to save the species. In 2005, Mexico established a refuge off San Felipe in the Gulf of California. Gillnet fishing was banned in the refuge. The government is spending $74 million to compensate fishermen and encourage them to use safer fishing methods.
For a time, it worked. Although the population continued to decline, it did so at a slower rate. Scientists hoped it would soon turn around and begin to recover.
But they didn't count on China.
The country's newly-minted millionaires stimulated a demand for dried fish bladders. Called fish maw, they are alleged to possess medicinal properties including the ability to increase fertility. The source of those fish bladders: the Mexican totoaba, a critically endangered fish found in the same waters as the vaquita.
Totoaba bladders are worth up to $5,000 per kilogram and can command as much as $100,000 on the black market in China, according to a 2016 report by the Environmental Investigation Agency. They can be found at retailers in major Chinese cities as well as online sites such as Alibaba. Poachers often take their boats out at night, and use gillnets under the cover of darkness to round up as many totoaba as they can. The vaquita are merely bycatch, caught up in the nets where they often drown or die from stress.
Fish maw wholesaler in Shantou, China (c) EIAEnvironmental Investigation Agency
Details of the plan to save the vaquita are still being worked out.
Plans may involve using dolphins from the Navy Marine Mammal Program, which has studied, trained and deployed these highly intelligent animals since the 1950s. Dolphins would be used to help locate vaquitas. They would then be coaxed into lightweight surface gillnets. It's never been done before with vaquitas, but harbor porpoises in Greenland have been captured safely in a similar manner.
Ropes and bouys entangle a young, endangered right whale bear the U.S./Canada border in the Gulf of Maine.Campobello Whale Rescue
A study by the New England Aquarium in Boston, released earlier this month, revealed that the critically-endangered whales are threatened by a dramatic increase in lethal entanglements with fishing gear. Only 500 remain in the ocean.
The North Atlantic right whale is one of three right whale species in the world's oceans, the other two being the Pacific right whale and Southern right whale. They are distinct species and do not interbreed. Like blue whales and humpbacks, right whales are baleen whales that get their food by filtering large quantities of water through plates of baleen, which act like a strainer. They can consume more than 2,600 pounds of tiny zooplankton and krill per day.
Right whales have led a hard life for the last 1,000 years. That's when the earliest hunting of whales began, and they owe their name to the notion that they were the "right whale" to hunt. They tend to stay close to the coast and they are slow swimmers. When killed, they float on the surface. As early as the 1700s, the population of right whales became so decimated that they were no longer commercially significant.
The North Atlantic right whale flirted with extinction by the early 20th century, and whaling for this species became illegal in 1935. But almost 60 years later, there were just 295 whales and the population was well below a sustainable level. In the U.S., they were first listed as an endangered species in 1970, but recovery has been slow and uneven. The most recent data from NOAA Fisheries estimates the population at 465 individuals.
As far back as 1990, ship strikes and entanglement with fishing nets were responsible for one-third of right whale deaths. Now, fishing gear is the dominant cause of death for North Atlantic right whales. The New England Aquarium study, published in Frontiers in Marine Science, reveals that from 2010 to 2015, 85 percent of right whale fatalities were due to entanglements. Ship strikes have declined as a percentage of death since shipping lanes in the Bay of Fundy were moved in 2003 and the U.S. lowered ship speed limits in right whale habitats in 2008.
However, efforts to reduce kills from fishing gear have not been successful. Many whales become entangled multiple times, often able to free themselves only to get caught up once more. Young whales become trapped more often than adults. The study's authors echoed a 2016 paper from NOAA Fisheries "that efforts made since 1997 to reduce right whale entanglement have not worked."
North Atlantic right whale.WDC/REGINA ASMUTIS-SILVIA / Whale and Dolphin Conservation
Off Provincetown, Massachusetts, last Thursday, rescuers removed 200 feet of fishing gear and buoys, freeing that one lucky right whale. Attached to one of the buoys was a U.S. fishing license. An investigation is under way.
One of the unlucky dead whales found floating near Boothbay Harbor was an 11-year old female, who was only at the very beginning of her reproductive years. She was well known to scientists, having been tracked and spotted 26 times since 2006. In her short life, her travels had taken her to the Florida waters, Cape Cod Bay, the mid-Atlantic and the Gulf of Maine. She died a long, painful death, with rope wrapped around her head, both flippers and in her mouth.
Seasonal migration of North Atlantic right whales.Credit: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Graphics
It is now about the time that most North Atlantic right whales head south for the winter. Following a spring and summer off Northern New England and the Canadian Maritime Provinces, they'll head for the warmer waters near Georgia and Florida. There, females may give birth, but do so only once every three to five years.
On Sept. 15, President Obama created the first marine national monument in the Atlantic Ocean. The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument lies to the southeast of Cape Cod, covering some right whale habitat, but at only 4,913 square miles, it protects only a small triangle of a vast ocean.
The authors of the New England Aquarium study put it plainly: "In conclusion, right whales are not yet a conservation success story."