Four gray whales have washed up dead near San Francisco within nine days, and at least one cause of death has been attributed to a ship strike.
More whales than usual have been washing up dead since 2019, and the West Coast gray whale population continues to suffer from an unusual mortality event, defined by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as "a stranding that is unexpected; involves a significant die-off of any marine mammal population; and demands immediate response."
"It's alarming to respond to four dead gray whales in just over a week because it really puts into perspective the current challenges faced by this species," Dr. Pádraig Duignan, director of pathology at the Marine Mammal Center, said in a press release.
As the world's largest marine mammal hospital, the Sausalito-based center has been investigating the recent spate of deaths. The first involved a 41-foot female who washed up dead at San Francisco's Crissy Field on March 31, SFGate reported. The cause of death remains a mystery, as the whale was in good condition with a full stomach. The second, another female, washed up on April 3 at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve on Moss Beach.
"That animal's cause of death, we suspect, was ship strike," the Marine Mammal Center's Giancarlo Rulli told SFGate. "Our plan is to eventually head back out to that whale and take more samples."
The third whale washed up April 7 near Berkeley Marina, The AP reported. The center determined it was a 37-foot male in average condition, with no evidence of illness or injury.
A 41-foot female turned up the next day on Marin County's Muir Beach. She suffered bruising and hemorrhaging around the jaw and neck vertebrae, indicating a vessel strike.
Vessel strikes are one of the leading causes of death for gray whales examined by the Marine Mammal Center, along with entanglements in fishing gear and malnutrition. While the species is not endangered, the population has declined by 25 percent since last assessed in 2016, CNN reported.
West Coast gray whales travel 10,000 miles every year between Mexico and the Arctic, according to The AP. They spend the winter breeding off of Baja California, and feed along the California coast in spring and summer on their way back north. The Marine Mammal Center began noticing a problem for the migrating whales in 2019.
"Our team hasn't responded to this number of dead gray whales in such a short span since 2019 when we performed a startling 13 necropsies in the San Francisco Bay Area," Dr. Duignan said in the press release.
The 2019 deaths led NOAA to declare an unusual mortality event for West Coast gray whales. It is similar to another event that happened from 1999 to 2000, after which the whales' numbers rebounded to even higher levels. This suggests population dips and rises may not be uncommon for the species. However, it is also possible that the climate crisis is playing a role. The 2019 deaths were linked to malnutrition, and warmer waters can reduce the amount of food whales have to eat in the Arctic, giving them less energy for their migration, CNN explained. Overfishing can also play a role in depriving whales of food, the Marine Mammal Center said.
Dr. Jeff Boehm, Marine Mammal Center CEO and veterinarian, told CNN that he had observed an uptick in shipping traffic after the pandemic caused a slowdown. At the same time, the center is less able to conduct research because of COVID-19 safety precautions. And even in the best of times, only around 10 percent of dead whales wash up on shore, The AP reported.
"This many dead whales in a week is shocking, especially because these animals are the tip of the iceberg," Kristen Monsell, legal director of the Center for Biological Diversity's Oceans program, told The AP.
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The coronavirus has isolated many of us in our homes this year. We've been forced to slow down a little, maybe looking out our windows, becoming more in tune with the rhythms of our yards. Perhaps we've begun to notice more, like the birds hopping around in the bushes out back, wondering (maybe for the first time) what they are.
When COVID-19 hit, I too found myself spending much more time in my apartment. Living in New York City during a pandemic presented fewer opportunities to safely get out into nature – an unfortunate struggle for myself and many other outdoorsy urbanites.
Yet, when I began birding, I found myself paying more attention to the nature that was, in fact, all around me. I noticed the European starlings perching in the holes of London planetrees, red-tailed hawks circling above the park, and a persistent red-bellied woodpecker with a penchant for the wooden post in my backyard. Looking for birds was a way to appreciate and acknowledge nature wherever I was; I could be excited about spotting birds anywhere – even outside my Brooklyn apartment, when I was forced to slow down and look around.
Spring is an excellent time to begin bird watching in earnest. While many common birds we come to recognize are "permanent residents" – such as starlings, mockingbirds, juncos, house sparrows, and black-capped chickadees – springtime might bring some new feathered friends into view as populations travel back north for the season. There are different types of migration, but birds generally travel north-south in North America (northbound in the spring, southbound in the fall), primarily in search of nesting locations or food.
A Coeligena helianthea hummingbird is photographed during a birdwatching trail at the Monserrate hill in Bogota on November 11, 2020. Colombia is the country with the largest bird diversity in the world, home to about 1,934 different bird species, a fifth of the total known. JUAN BARRETO / AFP / Getty Images
About 40% of birds are migratory, so whatever flyway you live within, there will be plenty of new species to look out for. The Atlantic Flyway alone (covering much of the east coast) sees 500 migratory species every year. Unless you live very far North, from February through mid-April, you should see migrating birds passing through as they head for their breeding areas.
Birding is unique in its accessibility and universality; no matter where you live – whether a bustling city, a rural town, or the South Pole – there will always be birds to learn about and look for. If you've never birded before, here are some things to keep in mind as you get started.
1. Choosing the Right Binoculars
Binoculars are a relatively indispensable tool for most birders – but, for those just starting out, it might not yet be worth the several-hundred-dollar investment. If you aren't able to scour the attics of friends or borrow a pair from a fellow bird watcher, some local birding and naturalist groups have binocular loaning programs for members, allowing you to plan ahead for a day (or week) of birding.
When you're ready to take the plunge, choosing a pair or binoculars should take some careful deliberation based on your needs and preferences; some major considerations might include size, ease of use, magnification, and price. While professional binoculars can easily run north of $1,000, there are plenty of perfectly suitable entry-level binoculars under $200. You might not get the perfect precision and clarity of more elite models, but a less expensive pair will allow you to strengthen your birding skills while deciding if you're interested in investing in a premium pair.
For a budget-friendly option, check out resale options on eBay, Facebook marketplace, or neighborhood yard sales: you might find a nicer pair whose retail price isn't within your budget.
2. Know What Birds Are in Your Area
When I began to pay more attention to the birds just outside my apartment building, I started to learn what species have always been around me: European starlings, house sparrows, blue jays, black capped chickadees, and the occasional red-bellied woodpecker. They had always been there, but I hadn't ever taken the time to identify them. Once you learn to recognize common birds in your area, you'll be able to identify the typical species right outside your window and in your community. Of course, permanent residential birds in your neighborhood will vary by region, as will those migrating through it.
3. Get Out and Explore
Venturing elsewhere might allow you to spot some different species beyond those frequenting your backyard. Anywhere with water or greenery offers a place for birding; as an urbanite myself, I've found that even small- and mid-sized parks in New York City allow me to find more elusive birds (although Central Park takes the crown for an afternoon of urban birding).
If you are able to travel a bit further from home, national wildlife refuges and state/national parks are excellent places to explore bird habitats and perhaps log some less-common sightings. The American Birding Association also lists birding trails by state, and Audubon and BirdLife International identify Important Bird Areas (IBAs) across the country – important bird habitats and iconic places that activists are fighting to protect – where birders can spot birds of significance.
4. Finding a Bird: Stop, Look, Listen, Repeat
The National Audubon Society recommends the "stop, look, listen, repeat" mantra when seeking and identifying birds.
First and foremost, spotting birds requires attention. Stopping – getting out of the car, pausing on the sidewalk, trail, or in the backyard to look up – is the most important step.
When looking for birds, try to avoid gazing wildly around; rather, scan your surroundings, focusing on any odd shapes or shadows, trying to think about where a bird might perch (power lines, fence posts, branches), or keep an eye on the sky for flying eagles and hawks. In open areas like fields and beaches, you might have a more panoramic view, and can take in different sections of the landscape at a time. Look around with the naked eye before reaching for the binoculars to hone in.
While it can be hard to sift through the noise, listening for birds is perhaps an even more important element of bird watching than looking. Once you spend more time in the field, you'll be able to parse apart the racket and identify specific species, especially aided by Audubon's Bird Guide app or by learning from their Birding by Ear series.
Repeat this pattern as you continue on your way, stopping to look and listen for birds as you go, rather than waiting for them to come to you.
When you head out for a day of bird watching – especially when you're hoping to spot some new species – you'll want to be armed with the tools to identify what you see. Major considerations when identifying birds are their group (such as owls, hawks, or sparrow-like birds), size and shape, behavior, voice, field marks, season, and habitat.
The Sibley Guide to Birds and the Peterson Field Guide are widely considered the best books for identifying birds in North America, although many specialized guides focus on specific species or regions as well.
Plenty of bird identification apps have popped up in recent years – including National Geographic Birds, Sibley eGuide to Birds, iNaturalist, Merlin Bird ID, and Birdsnap – which are basically a field guide in your pocket. I'm partial to the Audubon Bird Guide, which allows users to filter by common identifiers, including a bird's habitat, color, activity, tail shape, and general type, adding them all to a personal map to view your sightings.
6. Recording Your Sightings
As you deepen your commitment to birding, you might join the community of birders that track and quantify their sightings, building their life list.
While a standard notebook noting the date, species name, habitat, vocalizations, or any other data you wish to include will suffice, some birders opt for a more structured birder's journal with pre-determined fields to record your encounters, take notes, draw sketches, etc.
Many birders also choose to record their sightings online and in shared databases (which include many of the field guide apps), often pinpointing them on a map for others to view. Launched by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Audubon, eBird is one of the largest databases and citizen science projects around birding, where hundreds of thousands of birders enter their sightings, and users can explore birds in regions and hotspots around the world. Users can also record their sightings on the eBird app.
7. Attracting Birds to Your Own Yard
Feeding birds is a common phenomenon: more than 40% of Americans maintain a birdfeeder to attract birds and watch them feast.
Not all birdfeed is created equal, however. Many commercial varieties are mostly made with "fillers" (oats, red millet, etc.) that birds will largely leave untouched. After researching what birds to expect in your area – and which ones you want to attract – you can create your own birdfeed with seeds that will appeal to them.
Beyond filling a birdfeeder, transforming your yard into an eco-friendly oasis is by far the best way to attract birds. Choosing to forgo mowing your lawn, planting native flowers and grasses, and ditching the pesticides will bring back the bugs that birds feed on, and provide a safe haven in which birds can happily live and eat.
While it's widely considered acceptable – and even beneficial – to feed birds with appropriate seeds, communal birdfeeders often foster unlikely interactions between different species, who can then transmit harmful diseases and parasites to one another. Maintaining several bird feeders with different types of seeds might keep different species from coming into contact, and feeders can be cleaned to prevent the spread of infection.
8. Inclusivity and Anti-Racism in the Birding Community
Like all outdoor activities and areas of scientific study, birding communities are subject to racist and discriminatory ideologies. Black birders have long experienced discrimination and underrepresentation in outdoor spaces. The work of organizations like the Black & Latinx Birders Fund, Birdability, and Feminist Bird Club highlight the contributions and importance of birders of color, birders with disabilities, and women and LGBTQ+ birders to the birding community, as do activists and naturalists like Corina Newsome and Tykee James. The work of Christian Cooper, Camille Dungy (read her poem Frequently Asked Questions: 10), and J. Drew Lanham – including his essay "Birding While Black" – are a great place to start.
Getting involved in birding means educating ourselves on these issues and taking meaningful action; the work of Christian Cooper and J. Drew Lanham – including his essay "Birding While Black" – are a great place to start. Just as birders are activists for protecting habitats and natural areas, we must also be active and aware of inclusivity in these spaces.
9. Get Involved
To learn from and enjoy the company of other birders, check out local birding groups in your area to join. Many Audubon chapters host trips, meetings, and bird walks for members. The American Birding Association even maintains a directory of birding festivals across the country.
Volunteering for birds is also a great way to meet other birders and take action for birds in your community; local organizations might have opportunities for assisting with habitat restoration or helping at birding centers.
Like all wildlife, climate change and habitat destruction threaten the livelihood of birds, eliminating their breeding grounds and food sources. A 2019 report released by the National Audubon Society found that two-thirds of North American birds may face extinction if global temperatures rise 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. Staying informed about and taking action for legislation designed to protect birds and our climate – such as the recent Migratory Bird Protection Act – is important for ensuring a livable future for wildlife and humans alike.
Linnea graduated from Skidmore College in 2019 with a Bachelor's degree in English and Environmental Studies, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York. Most recently, Linnea worked at Hunger Free America, and has interned with WHYY in Philadelphia, Saratoga Living Magazine, and the Sierra Club in Washington, DC. Linnea enjoys hiking and spending time outdoors, reading, practicing her German, and volunteering on farms and gardens and for environmental justice efforts in her community. Along with journalism, she is also an essayist and writer of creative nonfiction.
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Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
Who says you can't go home again?
A brown pelican rescued from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 and relocated to Georgia has made the 700-mile trek back to Louisiana 11 years later.
"It's truly impressive that it made its way back from Georgia,'' Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) Biologist Casey Wright said in a press release.
There's no place like home. After the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, this brown pelican was rehabilitated and re… https://t.co/VTN96fzUYZ— LaWildlife&Fisheries (@LaWildlife&Fisheries)1617907817.0
The pelican was found covered in oil on June 14, 2010, on a rock jetty off of Bataria Bay, located on Louisiana's Queen Bess Island, WBRZ reported. The bird, tagged "Red 33Z" by its rescuers, was first taken to a triage facility, then a rehabilitation facility in Louisiana. However, it couldn't be released near its home due to oil contamination. Instead, the pelican was flown to the U.S. Coast Guard station in Brunswick, Georgia, and released there on July 1, 2010.
It isn't known exactly when Red 33Z made it back home, but Wright spotted and photographed the bird on a Bataria Bay rock jetty in March. This isn't unheard of behavior for pelicans.
"Brown pelicans, like most seabirds, are thought to be hard-wired, genetically, to return to their birth colony to breed, despite moving long distances during the non-breeding season," LDWF Non-Game Ornithologist Robert Dobbs said in the press release. "That may be an overly simplistic generalization, but re-sighting data of banded pelicans often support that pattern.''
Other birds released in Georgia, Texas and Florida after the spill have also been spotted back in Louisiana.
It is thanks to careful restoration work that Red 33Z could return home. Queen Bess Island is an important nesting colony for sea birds and 15 to 20 percent of the state's brown pelicans are hatched there. But heavy damage from the spill left only five habitable acres. However, a restoration project raised that number to 36 acres by February 2020.
"Queen Bess is one of Louisiana's best redemptive wildlife stories," LDWF Secretary Jack Montoucet said in a statement announcing the completed restoration. "It was on this very island in 1968 that we began the process of bringing back the Brown Pelican after pesticides nearly wiped the species from the Louisiana landscape. Now we celebrate the birth of a healthy home for Brown Pelicans and many other bird species because of the marriage of science, wise planning, and the determination of state and federal governments to do the right thing."However, not all birds had such a happy ending after the 2010 oil spill. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that 65,000 to 102,000 birds died in the disaster, The Associated Press reported. Still, bird populations in the area have recovered their pre-spill numbers.
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In celebration of Earth Day, a star-studded cast is giving fans a rare glimpse into the secret lives of some of the planet's most majestic animals: whales. In "Secrets of the Whales," a four-part documentary series by renowned National Geographic Photographer and Explorer Brian Skerry and Executive Producer James Cameron, viewers plunge deep into the lives and worlds of five different whale species.
"The title refers to the latest and greatest science, which reveals that whales are a lot more like us than we first thought," Skerry told EcoWatch. "Science is clinical and studied. Traditionally, [we were] afraid to anthropomorphize whales. But now, science shows us they're very complex — with societies, families, emotions and cultures."
Following orcas, humpbacks, belugas, narwhals and sperm whales, Skerry takes viewers on a journey into the underwater world to experience whales like never before — watching them make lifelong friendships, teach their young specific traditions and grieve the loss of family. This is whale culture, Skerry explained, and these social bonds are the secret to their success.
Skerry explained how Shane Gero, his friend and sperm whale researcher, helped him frame whale culture in human terms. "There's a difference between behavior and culture," Skerry quoted Gero. "Behavior is what we do; culture is how we do it. For example, we eat food. That is behavior. But whether we eat it with a fork or chopsticks, that is culture."
Using this lens, Skerry shows how orcas around the world have developed distinct cultures around food. While New Zealand's orcas hunt hidden stingrays in the shallows, Patagonia's whales catch sea lions off the beach, and Norway's whales slap herring schools with their tails to stun them. These unique customs are also passed down to each generation. In the first episode, viewers follow five orca matriarchs as they teach their young the family's unique hunting legacy. The skills are not innate traits, but learned techniques adapted for survival in the local environment. Skerry explained how, without this ancient passage of knowledge, specific ways of life would die out.
Herring are a primary food source for Norway's orcas. Luis Lamar / National Geographic for Disney+
"This is the whales teaching their young," Skerry said. "This is generational, teaching the young how to survive, but also cultural — teaching them what matters to their family."
The episode also shows how external forces, such as humans fishing for herring in Norway, have changed whale culture in the area. When Skerry first visited the Arctic years ago, local orcas would corral fish to hunt. Now, with the advent of commercial fishing boats, they've learned to approach the ships and eat the fish that escape.
"I think of this as takeout," Skerry joked to EcoWatch. "If this behavior lasts a long time, maybe it will become culture. Maybe it already is."
For many, the series may be the first time seeing how different populations of whales have developed different customs based on where they are from, just like humans. Skerry explained, "Whales have dialects and they isolate. Sperm whales won't intermix with genetically identical animals that don't speak the same dialect. I think of this like the neighborhoods of New York, separated in enclaves by language. That's what the whales are doing."
Belugas are extremely social creatures with a varied vocal range. Peter Kragh / National Geographic for Disney+
Filmed during three years in 24 locations and narrated by Conservationist and Actress Sigourney Weaver, the National Geographic series showcases many never-before-recorded moments, such as belugas giving themselves names and humpbacks communicating through breaching. Throughout, the underlying messages are the same: whales have cultures that differ based on where they are from; they live in complex societies framed by tradition, survival and emotions; and, they're just like us.
"Whales have preferences for food, parenting technique, singing competitions. In this way, they mirror humans," Skerry emphasized.
In conjunction, Skerry has released a photography book with the same name that shares more secrets from the world's largest mammals. Plus, National Geographic's May magazine, dubbed "The Ocean Issue," aligns with the four-part series and Skerry's book, and will feature four related stories. The issue will publish April 15 and be available at natgeo.com/planetpossible.
Skerry believes the grand presentation of this new whale world will move people. He hopes viewers and readers will come to understand the complexity and connectivity between humans and the other "societies of beings" that we share the planet with. "We are visual creatures. We respond emotionally, viscerally to powerful imagery — it touches a part of our soul. Great science and storytelling that incorporates art checks all the boxes to move that needle," Skerry said.
He added, "On Earth Day, this is a good way to celebrate... this is a new view of the world. This changes our perception: no longer are we apart from nature or above it — we are intimately connected to it."
All four episodes of "Secrets of the Whales" will start streaming on Disney+ on Earth Day, Thursday, April 22nd.
A Southern Right whales is pictured in the accompanying book, "Secrets of the Whales." Brian Skerry / National Geographic
By Charan Saunders
Last year the world reacted in shock when Namibia announced plans to auction off 170 live elephants to the highest bidder.
Despite criticism, the plans have continued to move forward — and that may just be the start. Tucked away in a Feb. 1 press release justifying the auction was a rehash of the country's oft-repeated desire to also sell ivory. The Namibian Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism's stated:
"Namibia has major stockpiles of valuable wildlife products including ivory which it can produce sustainably and regulate properly, and which if traded internationally could support our elephant conservation and management for decades to come."
Namibia is not alone in this desire to capitalize on its wildlife. In Zimbabwe's national assembly last year, the minister of environment valued the country's stockpile of 130 metric tonnes (143 tons) of ivory and 5 tonnes (5.5 tons) of rhino horn at $600 million in U.S. dollars. This figure, which would value ivory at more than $4,200 per kilogram, has since been seized upon by commentators seeking to justify the reintroduction of the ivory trade.
I'm an environmental accountant dedicated to ethical conservation, so I wanted to understand these numbers and how they motivate countries. In truth, I found not even full black-market value comes close to arriving at this figure.
Black-market values are, of course, often invisible to the general public, but the most recent data from criminal justice experts finds that unworked (or raw) elephant ivory sells for about $92/kg on the black market in Africa, while rhino horn is currently selling for $8,683/kg.
Therefore, a more realistic valuation of Zimbabwe's ivory stockpiles, using an optimistic wholesale price of $150/kg, would give a potential income of only $19.5 million in U.S. dollars.
This is a 30th of Zimbabwe's estimate.
And even then, those numbers fail to account for the disaster that would happen if ivory sales return — as we saw in the all-too-recent past.
The One-Off Sales
International trade in ivory has been banned since 1989, following a 10-year period in which African elephant numbers declined by 50%, from 1.3 million to 600,000. However, in 1999 and 2008 CITES allowed "one-off sales" of stockpiled ivory, to disastrous effect. The selling prices achieved then were only $100/kg and $157/kg, in U.S. dollars respectively, due to collusion by official Chinese and Japanese buyers.
Illegal ivory. Gavin Shire / USFWS
The intention of CITES in approving the one-off ivory sales was to introduce a controlled and steady supply of stockpiled ivory into the market. The legal supply, coupled with effective systems of control, aimed to satisfy demand and reduce prices. This in turn should have reduced the profitability of (and the demand for) illegal ivory. Poaching should have followed suit and decreased.
Instead, the sales led to an increase in demand and, consequently, an increase in elephant poaching. The 2008 ivory sale was accompanied by a 66% increase in illegally traded ivory and a 71% increase in ivory smuggling. An investigation in 2010 by the Environmental Investigation Agency documented that 90% of the ivory being sold in China came from illegal sources.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) comparison of elephant poaching figures for the five years preceding and five years following the sale showed an "abrupt, significant, permanent, robust and geographically widespread increase" in poaching.
The problem has not faded away. Most recently the two African elephant species (savanna and forest) were declared endangered and critically endangered due to their continued poaching threat.
Regina Hart / CC BY 2.0
Still, some African nations look fondly at the 2008 sale and have long hoped to repeat it. The Zimbabwe Ministry's 2020 statement follows yet another proposal to the 18th CITES Conference of the Parties (COP18) by Namibia, Zimbabwe and Botswana to trade in live elephants and their body parts, including ivory. The proposal was not accepted by the parties.
Why Didn't Ivory Sales Work?
The one-off sales of ivory removed the stigma associated with its purchase, stimulated the market demand, and increased prices.
The ivory that China purchased in 2008 for $157/kg was drip-fed by the authorities to traders at prices ranging between $800 and $1,500 per kilogram. This meant that the bulk of the profits went to filling Chinese government coffers — not to African nations — and in doing so, created a large illegal market which drove prices even higher.
Raw ivory prices in China increased from $750/kg in 2010 to $2,100/kg in 2014. The market had been stimulated, prices increased and the volume of legal ivory available was insufficient to meet demand as the Chinese government gradually fed its stockpile into the market.
Japan, the other participant in the one-off sales, has systematically failed to comply with CITES regulations, meaning that there were (and still are) no controls over ivory being sold, allowing the illegal markets to function in parallel to the legal one.
In a very short space of time, criminals ramped up poaching and elephant numbers plummeted.
What Has Happened to the Price of Ivory Since Then?
With no recent legal international sales, combined with the significant U.S., Chinese and United Kingdom domestic ivory sales bans, the price for raw ivory paid by craftsmen in China fell from $2,100/kg in 2014 to $730/kg in 2017. That's when China closed all of its official ivory carving outlets and theoretically stopped all official ivory trade.
The price currently paid for raw ivory in Asia, according to an investigation by the Wildlife Justice Commission, is currently between $597/kg and $689/kg, in U.S. dollars. Ivory sourced in Africa and sold in Asia has additional costs such as transportation, taxes and broker commissions. The prices paid for raw ivory in Africa have decreased correspondingly from $208/kg to $92/kg in 2020.
Those numbers pale in comparison to a living elephant. A 2014 study found that live elephants are each worth an estimated $1.6 million in ecotourism opportunities.
One half-truth is that the money earned from the legal sale will be used to effectively fund conservation.
One of the CITES conditions of the 2008 sale was that funds were to go to the conservation of elephants. South Africa placed a substantial portion of the income from its share of the pie in the Mpumalanga Problem Animal Fund — which, it turns out, was well-named. An internal investigation found the fund had "no proper controls" and that "tens of millions" of rand (the official currency of South Africa) had bypassed the normal procurement processes.
Ironically, proceeds were also partly used for the refurbishment of the Skukuza abattoir, where most of the 14,629 elephant carcasses from culling operations between 1967 and 1997 were processed.
All the while, Africa's elephant populations continued to decline.
How to Stop Poaching
In light of these deficiencies — and in light of elephants' recently declared endangered status — the very reverse of actual conservation can be expected if any nation is again allowed to sell its ivory stockpiles. The cost of increased anti-poaching efforts required from the consequent increase in poaching will outweigh the benefit of any income from the sale of ivory stockpiles.
To stop poaching, all international and local trade must be stopped.
John Culley / CC BY 2.0
Repeating this failed experiment will send a message that it is acceptable to trade in ivory. Ivory carving outlets in China will re-open and demand for ivory will be stimulated. The demand for ivory in an increasingly wealthy and better-connected Asia will quickly outstrip legal supply and poaching will increase.
Meanwhile, the management of a legal ivory trade requires strong systems of control at every point in the commodity chain to ensure that illegal ivory is not laundered into the legal market. With recalcitrant Japan continuing to ignore CITES, "untransparent" Namibia "losing tolerance" with CITES, and Zimbabwe ranking 157 out of 179 on the corruption perceptions index, not even the basics for controlled trade are in place.
Therefore, aside from the strong theoretical economic arguments against renewed one-off sales, the practical arguments are perhaps even stronger: If international ivory and rhino horn sales ever again become legal, the cost to protect elephants will skyrocket and these culturally valuable animals will plunge into decline — and possibly extinction.
Charan Saunders grew up in Cape Town and studied genetics and microbiology and then went on to qualify as a chartered accountant. She has worked in London in the forensic science field and was the chief financial officer of a major vaccine manufacturer for six years. She now serves as a financial director in the field of conservation.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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By Larry Brand
Millions of gallons of water laced with fertilizer ingredients are being pumped into Florida's Tampa Bay from a leaking reservoir at an abandoned phosphate plant at Piney Point. As the water spreads into the bay, it carries phosphorus and nitrogen – nutrients that under the right conditions can fuel dangerous algae blooms that can suffocate sea grass beds and kill fish, dolphins and manatees.
It's the kind of risk no one wants to see, but officials believed the other options were worse.
About 300 homes sit downstream from the 480-million-gallon reservoir, which began leaking in late March 2021. State officials determined that pumping out the water was the only way to prevent the reservoir's walls from collapsing. They decided the safest location for all that water would be out through Port Manatee and into the bay.
Florida's coast is dotted with fragile marine sanctuaries and sea grass beds that help nurture the state's thriving marine and tourism economy. Those near Port Manatee now face a risk of algal blooms over the next few weeks. Once algae blooms get started, little can be done to clean them up.
The phosphate mining industry around Tampa is just one source of nutrients that can fuel dangerous algae blooms, which I study as a marine biologist. The sugarcane industry, cattle ranches, dairy farms and citrus groves all release nutrients that often flow into rivers and eventually into bays and the ocean. Sewage is another problem – Miami and Fort Lauderdale, for example, have old sewage treatment systems with frequent pipe breaks that leak sewage into canals and coastal waters.
Red tide in recent years has killed large numbers of Florida's manatees, a threatened species. David Hinkel/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The Problem With Algae Blooms
Just down the coast from Port Manatee, the next three counties to the south have had algae blooms in recent weeks, including red tide, which produces a neurotoxin that feels like pepper spray if you breathe it in. Karenia brevis, a dinoflagellate, is the organism in red tide and produces the toxin.
This part of Florida's Gulf Coast is a hot spot for red tide, often fueled by agricultural runoff. A persistent red tide in 2017 and 2018 killed at least 177 manatees and left a trail of dead fish along the coast and into Tampa Bay. If the coastal currents carry today's red tide father north and into Tampa Bay, the toxic algae could thrive on the nutrients from Piney Point.
A map shows red tide reports just south of Tampa Bay. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Even blooms that are not toxic are still dangerous to ecosystems. They cloud the water, cutting off light and killing the plants below. A large enough bloom can also reduce oxygen in the water. A lack of oxygen can kill off everything in the water, including the fish.
This part of Florida has extensive sea grass meadows, about 2.2 million acres (8.9 billion square meters) in all, which are important habitat for lots of species and serve as nurseries for shrimp, crabs and fish. Scientists have argued that sea grass is also a major carbon sink – the grass sucks up carbon and pumps it down into the sediments.
Once the nutrients are in a large body of water, there isn't much that can be done to stop algae growth. Killing the algae would only release the nutrients again, putting the bay back where it started. Algae blooms can remain a problem for years, finally declining when a predator population develops to eats them, a viral disease spreads through the bloom or strong currents and mixing disperse the bloom.
Agriculture Runoff Poses Risks to Marine Life
The phosphate mining industry around Tampa is a large source of nutrient-rich waste. On average, more than 5 tons of phosphogypsum waste are produced for every ton of phosphoric acid created for fertilizer. In Florida, that adds up to over 1 billion tons of radioactive waste material that can't be used, so it's stacked up and turned into reservoirs like the one now leaking at Piney Point.
The reservoirs are obvious in satellite photos of the region, and they can be highly acidic. To get the phosphate out of the minerals, the industry uses sulfuric acid, and it leaves behind a highly acid wastewater. There have been at least two cases where it ate through the limestone below a reservoir, creating huge sinkholes hundreds of feet deep and draining wastewater into the aquifer.
Since saltwater had previously been pumped into the Piney Point reservoir, acidity is less of an issue. That's because the seawater would buffer the pH. There is some radioactivity, but only slightly above regulatory standards, according to state Department of Environmental Protection, and probably not much of a health hazard.
But the nutrients are a risk. In 2004, water releases from the Piney Point reservoir contributed to an algae bloom in Bishop Harbor, just south of the current release site. In 2011, it released over 170 million gallons into Bishop Harbor again after a liner broke.
Piney Point: Florida's Leaking Reservoir
Map: The Conversation/CC-BY-ND
Another significant source of algae-feeding nutrients is agriculture, particularly cattle ranching and the sugarcane industry. Nutrient runoff from cattle ranches and dairy farms north of Lake Okeechobee end up in the lake. South of the lake, much of the northern third of the Everglades was converted to sugarcane farms, and those fields back-pumped runoff into the lake for decades until the state started cracking down in the 1980s. Their legacy nutrients are still in the lake.
The nutrient-rich water in the lake then pours down the Caloosahatchee River and into the Gulf of Mexico near Fort Myers, south of Tampa. That's likely feeding the current red tide off the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River.
When water from the Everglades region's agriculture is pumped south instead, huge blooms tend to appear in Florida Bay at the southern tip of the state. Some scientists believe it may be damaging coral reefs there, though there's debate about it. During times that flow of water from the farms increased, reefs throughout the Florida Keys have been harmed. Those reefs have become overgrown with algae.
With the current red tide, the coastal currents have carried it north as far as Sarasota already. If they carry it farther north, it will run into the Piney Point area.
Larry Brand is a Professor of Marine Biology and Ecology, University of Miami.
Disclosure statement: Larry Brand has received funding from the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, National Park Service, Department of Energy, Office of Naval Research, Army Corps of Engineers, Florida Department of Health, Dade County Department of Environmental Resources Management, Cove Point Foundation, and Hoover Foundation.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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A grizzly bear searches for salmon. Scott Suriano / Moment / Getty Images
A flurry of bills has recently been introduced to Montana's state legislature that reduces restrictions on the killing of grizzly bears and wolves — two predators which have historically struggled to survive in the state.
One such bill is SB 98, put forward by Republican Sen. Bruce Gillespie, which would expand the state law allowance for killing grizzly bears. Currently, Montanans can kill grizzly bears if they are caught in the act of killing their livestock, according to CBS News. But the new bill — which has already passed the state Senate — would mean grizzly bears could be killed if they were "believed to be 'threatening' a person or livestock." The bill also states that grizzly populations have "recovered" and should be taken off the federal endangered species list.
Other bills include SB 314, which would allow all but 15 breeding pairs of wolves to be killed, and HB 224, which would legalize the use of neck snares to hunt wolves.
With Montana's first Republican governor in 16 years, Greg Gianforte, and a Republican-controlled legislature, the bills represent "a political sentiment," according to Rep. Tom France, a Democrat and retired regional executive director for the National Wildlife Federation, The New York Times reported, adding that Montana's State Legislature is now saying, "We don't live by federal laws and aren't going to pay attention to them."
Proponents of bills like the ones aimed at limiting wolf numbers feel they have "no voice" when it comes to keeping the predators away from eliminating their game, like elk and deer, State Senator Bob Brown, a Republican who introduced one of the bills, said at a hearing, according to The New York Times.
"We can't sit by and allow our game — the thing that feeds so many families — to be taken off the table," he added.
Activists and wildlife advocates have opposed the bills, calling them a series of "bad bills" that "declare war on wolves, bears and other carnivores," according to a statement by Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. "These bills — all put forward by just three lawmakers, Rep. Paul Fielder, Sen. Bob Brown, and Sen. Bruce Gillespie — also seek to usurp biologists, including the state's wildlife agency," Block wrote.
In 1975, the grizzly bear was listed on the Endangered Species Act when only about 800 to 1,000 of remained, The New York Times reported. Today there are an estimated 1,800 in the Lower 48 — a successful recovery attributed to restrictions on hunting and poaching.
Sen. Gillespie, however, said the state's grizzly management is currently "stuck in a time capsule," according to the Montana Free Press. "They long ago hit the target of 300 [grizzlies]... That means there are many times more conflicts [and] attacks — life-and-death conflicts," he added.
Despite popular conception, fatal grizzly bear attacks are extremely rare — only one person dies on average every three years in the lower 48, according to National Geographic. But as human and grizzly bear populations continue to expand, things might get "interesting," James Jonkel, a biologist for Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks who manages bears in and around Missoula, told National Geographic.
According to biologists, the problem will not be a lack of space across Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and even California, but rather of "social acceptance," National Geographic reported.
A new survey of Montana residents by Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks (FWP) and the Human Dimensions Lab at the University of Montana shows that Montana residents "overwhelmingly hold positive attitudes toward grizzly bears," the Sierra Club wrote in a statement. Eighty-five percent agree that grizzly bears "are part of what makes Montana special" and 81 percent enjoy knowing grizzly bears exist in the state, even if they never see one.
The survey, however, also shows that this acceptance declines when surveying people who live and work on agricultural-ranching landscapes. "Survey responses reveal remaining public misconceptions about the role of hunting in preventing conflicts between bears and people," the Sierra Club wrote. These misconceptions include the knowledge that hunting could resolve human-and-bear conflict or scare the bears away — both claims that have been refuted by grizzly bear experts.
Instead, experts recommend prevention measures like electric fencing, carcass removal and removing food and items that may attract bears in order to avoid future conflict and achieve a "'self-sustaining grizzly population' that Montanans favor," the Sierra Club concluded.
By Muntasir Akash
The smallest of the planet's 13 otter species finds its habitat shrinking every day. We know little about these mustelids — especially in Bangladesh, where I conduct my research — but they face a horde of threats.
Species Name and Description:
The Asian small-clawed otter (Aonyx cinereus) has a typical otter build with webbed digits, dark brown to blackish upper parts, and a pale vent. It can be distinguished from other otter species by its blunter muzzle, acutely arched back and a white neck devoid of any spots or streaks. Its claws are noticeably short and even often absent — a feature of its genus, Aonyx.
Where It's Found:
These otters live in the Himalayan foothills, Ganges Delta, Northeast India, Indochina, South China and Philippines, with isolated population in southern India. Their habitats range from forests and wetlands to coasts and mangroves. In Bangladesh they're thought to be confined to the Sundarbans mangrove.
A small-clawed otter in Bangladesh. Via iNaturalist and © Guenther Eichhorn, some rights reserved (CC-BY-NC)
IUCN Red List Status:
Vulnerable, with a globally decreasing population trend; endangered in Bangladesh
Poaching for fur and extraction to supply a recently spiked demand in pet trade is the number one threat to Asia's most trafficked otter species. Habitat destruction, conflict with fishers, drying up streams, decreasing food supply and attacks by feral dogs are also affecting its already sharply plummeting population.
Otter pelts in India. © Ashwin Viswanathan, some rights reserved (CC-BY). Via iNaturalist
In Bangladesh there exists no study on the species outside the Sundarbans, its known habitat in the country. Even there, only a handful of research has been undertaken to date.
Notable Conservation Programs or Legal Protections:
In 2019 the species shifted to CITES Appendix I from Appendix II to plug the illegal trade and trafficking.
The IUCN Otter Specialist Group and International Otter Survival Fund are the strongest voices for the species. Although the animals are protected by law, there is no conservation scheme so far in Bangladesh.
My Favorite Experience:
Watching camera-trap footage of not one, not two, but multiple otter families is unforgettable. Hearing the cooing of otter pups on screen was heart-melting and one of those now-I-can-die-in-peace moments. And all these images were from a region that has long been deprioritized in conservation, without any prior systematic study.
The small-clawed otter, a globally vulnerable small carnivore, can still be found in certain protected areas of northeastern Bangladesh. This is the first camera-trap image from the region. Muntasir Akash / Northeast Bangladesh Carnivore Conservation Initiative
However, the joy comes with a caveat. In all existing anecdotes, northeastern forests are described as the home of the larger Eurasian and smooth-coated otters. Otters showed up, true. But to my extreme surprise, it was a species that has always been attributed to the Sundarbans — a forest hundreds of miles away from the study site. Although finding the Asian small-clawed otter here has sparked hope for the region, the apparent absence of the other two expected species has left me with an uneasy feeling: Do the larger otters really roam these forests? Or is the Eurasian otter, the rarest of the three, to become the next extinct carnivore in Bangladesh?
What Else Do We Need to Understand or Do to Protect This Species?
We need extensive studies on ecology and threats to the species in both known and newly discovered habitats in Bangladesh. Connecting otters with the exceptionally rich ichthyodiversity of riparian streams and mangrove creeks can strengthen conservation practices in the country.
Muntasir Akash is a lecturer at the Department of Zoology, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. He is focusing his career on the conservation of lesser-known carnivorous mammals, leading camera-trapping work in northeastern Bangladesh funded by the Conservation Leadership Programme, a partnership between BirdLife International, Fauna & Flora International and WCS.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
That word for the phenomenon was coined by Dana Point Whale Watching, who posted a Youtube video of hundreds to thousands of common dolphins swimming in one direction March 19.
"This is pretty phenomenal," a voice can be heard exclaiming in the footage.
The tour company, which has operated out of the Orange County city that gives it its name for the last 50 years, kept pace with the massing dolphins for around four hours, HuffPost reported.
"The dolphins take off so fast they turn up the water making it white water," the tour company wrote in the video description. "You can hear them swimming through the rushing water. They are so graceful even in the frenzied behavior and we are so amazed to see them right of[f] our coast."
A large group of dolphins is actually known as a super or mega pod, according to HuffPost. The marine mammals usually travel in pods of 200 or fewer. But sometimes, they merge when food concentrates in a single area.
This isn't the first time the phenomenon has been recorded. One of the most spectacular instances was in 2013, when as many as 100,000 dolphins were spotted off the San Diego coast, as NBC 7 San Diego reported at the time. The superpod covered a five by seven mile stretch of ocean.
"They're definitely social animals, they stick together in small groups," Marine mammal expert Sarah Wilkin told NBC7 San Diego at the time. "But sometimes, the schools come together."
What is unique to Dana Point Whale Watching is their word choice. Some commenters objected to the term dolphin stampede.
"'Stampede' is a poor description," one Youtube commenter wrote. "It implies that this is a panicked, clumsy mass movement of animals. I have driven in a boat through a super-pod such as this, and these animals are anything but that. They are graceful and controlled. It's a beautiful thing to see."
However, most internet users were just grateful for the sight. The video went "viral" with around 25,000 views and more than 400 likes as of Monday, The Hill reported. As of Tuesday, the number of views had nearly doubled to 45,625.
As the tour company wrote on Instagram, "Who doesn't love a dolphin stampede!"
Endangered North Atlantic right whales gave birth in greater numbers this winter compared to the past six years — a promising sign for a species that's been driven to the brink of extinction due to human activity.
From December through March, an aerial survey team reported 17 calves swimming with their mothers between Florida and North Carolina, AP News reported. This overall calf count is equal to the total number of births for the past three years and is a hopeful sign compared to 2018, when no right whale births were recorded.
North Atlantic right whales — which can grow to be 52-feet long, weigh up to 140,000 pounds and live about 70 years — each have unique callus patterns on their backs, helping scientists to track and identify individual whales and estimate total populations, according to NOAA Fisheries. But after being decimated by human hunting by the 1890s, right whales continue to be threatened by human activity, making them one of the most endangered large whale species in the world, with less than 400 individuals remaining.
"What we are seeing is what we hope will be the beginning of an upward climb in calving that's going to continue for the next few years," Clay George, a wildlife biologist who oversees right whale surveys for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, told AP News about this year's higher birth rates. "They need to be producing about two dozen calves per year for the population to stabilize and continue to grow again."
According to scientists, the right whale's rebound could be attributed to shifting to a habitat where zooplankton food sources are more plentiful, Yale Environment 360 reported. "It's a somewhat hopeful sign that they are starting to adjust to this new regime where females are in good enough condition to give birth," Philip Hamilton, a right whale researcher at the New England Aquarium in Boston, told AP News.
But scientists warn that the hopeful news shouldn't distract from the leading causes of right whale deaths: entanglement in fishing gear and boat and ship collisions.
Since 2017, these threats have killed about 34 to 49 right whales, Yale Environment 360 reported. Research has also shown that entanglements caused 72 percent of diagnosed right whale mortalities between 2010-2018, according to The Conversation. Right whales that get tangled in lines and gear will often suffer for months or even years, slowly becoming emaciated and debilitated, the authors wrote.
"The greatest entanglement risk is from ropes that lobster and crab fishermen use to attach buoys to traps they set on the ocean floor. Humpback and minke whales and leatherback sea turtles, all of which are federally protected, also become entangled," explained Michael Moore, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and Hannah Myers, a guest investigator with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
But recent proposals to reduce fishing activity that could harm right whales haven't gone without criticism. For example, Maine Gov. Janet Mills said the rules, which include reducing the number of vertical lines in the water, would be "devastating for the lobster fishery," AP News reported. "If this comes to pass, it is not only fishermen and their crew who will be impacted, gear suppliers, trap builders, rope manufacturers — all these businesses face a deeply uncertain future," Mills said in a letter to NOAA, AP News reported.
But for some conservationists, the solution is simple. "North Atlantic right whales can still thrive if humans make it possible," Moore and Myers wrote in The Conversation, pointing to the closely related southern right whales, which have recovered from just 300 individuals in the early 20th century to an estimated 15,000 in 2010, due to decreased human threats.
"If we reduced or eliminated the human-caused death rate, their birth rate would be fine," Hamilton told AP News. "The onus should not be on them to reproduce at a rate that can sustain the rate at which we kill them. The onus should be in us to stop killing."
By Andrea Germanos
Despite lower applied amounts of pesticides in U.S. agriculture, their toxicity to non-target species including honeybees more than doubled in a decade, according to a new study.
The findings by a team of researchers from Germany's University Koblenz-Landau were published Friday in the journal Science.
"We have taken a large body of pesticide use data from the U.S. and have expressed changes of amounts applied in agriculture over time as changes in total applied pesticide toxicity," explained lead author Ralf Schulz, professor for environmental sciences in Landau, in a statement.
"This provides a new view on the potential consequences that pesticide use in agriculture has on biodiversity and ecosystems," he said.
The researchers looked at changes in the use of 381 pesticides from 1992 to 2016 and analyzed toxicity impacts on eight non-target species groups, drawing data from the U.S. Geological Survey and Environmental Protection Agency. They used the EPA's threshold values to determine "total applied pesticide toxicity."
Lower amounts of pesticides have been applied, which brought decreased impacts on vertebrates, the scientists noted. But the same can't be said for non-target species including aquatic invertebrates like crustaceans and pollinators like bees, who faced a doubling in toxicity between 2005 and 2015 — a shift the authors put on increases in the use of pesticides called pyrethroids and neonicotinoids.
Also troubling is that an increase in herbicide toxicity has been on the rise as well, the scientists said, with the biggest impact seen on terrestrial plants. The study pointed to increased toxicity in the widely cultivated genetically modified crops in the U.S. of corn and soybean.
Schulz said the findings "challenge the claims of decreasing environmental impact of chemical pesticides in both conventional and GM crops and call for action to reduce the pesticide toxicity applied in agriculture worldwide."
The study was released amid continued concerns, both nationally and international, about wide-ranging adverse ecological impacts of neonicotinoids, or neonics, as they're sometimes called, especially amid a global decline in insect numbers that threatens humanity's future.
As Philip Donkersley, a senior research associate in entomology at Lancaster University, wrote this month at The Conversation:
Since their introduction in the late 1980s, robust scientific evidence has emerged to suggest these chemicals impair learning and memory, foraging behavior, and pollination in bees. The E.U. banned neonicotinoids in 2019, and while the U.K. government pledged to follow suit, it granted a special exemption for sugar beet farmers to use the neonicotinoid thiamethoxam in January 2021. Thankfully, it wasn't used.
Because honeybees don't spend much time on the ground, environmental risk assessments for neonicotinoids often neglect to consider how exposure to these chemicals in the soil affects all pollinators. But in a landmark study published in Nature, researchers have shown how neonicotinoids affect bees not just by accumulating in the plants pollinators visit, but in the ground where most wild bees build their nests.
Evidence suggests neonics' impacts go well beyond bees, including possibly to mammals like deer who inadvertently consume them.
As Civil Eats reported last month, the concerns are prompting continued demands for U.S. regulators to take action to curb or ban use of neonics.
Daniel Raichel, a staff attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told the outlet: "It's a bee issue for sure, but really, it's an ecosystem issue. It's an everything issue."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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Move over, Tyrannosaurus rex! There's a new top dinosaur in town.
Scientists have discovered a new species from the abelisauridae family of predatory dinosaurs in Argentina and named it the "one who causes fear."
"This is a particularly important discovery because it suggests that the diversity and abundance of abelisaurids were remarkable, not only across Patagonia, but also in more local areas during the dinosaurs' twilight period," lead author and National University of San Luis, Argentina paleontologist Dr. Federico Gianechini said in a press release.
Abelisaurids were a dinosaur family that lived throughout contemporary South America, Africa, India, Australia and Antarctica around 80 million years ago. They were similar in appearance to T. Rex, with the same infamously short arms. However, they had unique skulls that were both short and deep, with crests, bumps and horns.
The new dinosaur had an especially remarkable skull, and that is reflected in its name: Llukalkan aliocranianus. While Llukalkan means "one who causes fear" in the language of Patagonia's Indigenous Mapuche community, aliocranianus means "different skull" in Latin, according to a write-up of the discovery published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology Tuesday.
The new dinosaur would have been about as long as an elephant, with sharp teeth, a powerful bite and large claws on its feet, according to the press release. However, its different skull shape would have made it an even more fearsome predator. It had an air-filled sinus in its middle ear zone that would have given it different, and probably superior, hearing to other abelisaurids.
"A peculiarity of this dinosaur is that it has cavities in the ear area that other abelisaurids did not have, which could have given this species different auditory capacities, possibly a greater hearing range. This, together with its keen sense of smell, would have given great capabilities as a predator to this species," Gianechini told CNN.
Its hearing would have been about as good as today's crocodiles, the researchers thought.
The new dinosaur was discovered by accident in 2015. Researchers were working in La Invernada, near the city of Rincón de los Sauces in Argentina's Patagonia to unearth a plant-eating sauropod dinosaur and noticed the predator's bones sticking out towards the end of their dig. It was also discovered 700 meters (approximately 2,296 feet) from another abelisaurid called Viavenator exxoni, HuffPost reported.
There are now nearly 10 known species of abelisaurid, according to the press release, but the researchers said that there are likely more waiting to be unearthed. And they were thriving until dinosaurs were wiped out 67 million years ago, CNN noted.
"These dinosaurs were still trying out new evolutionary pathways and rapidly diversifying right before they died out completely," co-author Dr. Ariel Mendez from the Patagonian Institute of Geology and Palaeontology, Argentina said in the press statement.
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