Scientists Discover New Whale Species in Gulf of Mexico
The small group of whales were previously classified as a subspecies of Bryde's whale, but a paper published in Marine Mammal Science last month analyzed their DNA and skeletal shape to reveal a different story. The discovery highlights the importance of conserving this population, since around 33 remain.
"A very exciting paper!" Lori Schwacke, a chief scientist for conservation medicine at the National Marine Mammal Foundation, told The Associated Press. (Schwacke was not involved with the paper.) "It's such a small population in the Gulf of Mexico that marine scientists and managers were already focused on conservation efforts for them, particularly after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. But now confirming that these whales are indeed a previously unknown species really raises those stakes."
Scientists first determined that the whales were living in the Gulf of Mexico year-round in the 1990s, NPR reported. At the time, scientists identified them as a species of Bryde's whales, but there were signs that indicated otherwise. For one, Bryde's whales tend to roam the world's oceans, while the Gulf whales stayed close to home, The Times-Picayune / The New Orleans Advocate explained. Secondly, the Gulf whales caught fish by deep diving instead of eating fish closer to the surface.
In 2008, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) examined genetic samples and learned that the Gulf whales' were unique, NOAA reported. The clincher came in 2019, when one of the whales washed up dead in Florida. This allowed scientists to compare its skull to other whales and confirm the separate species.
"I was happy but also sad because we'd lost a whale from such a small population," Patricia Rosel, study leader and NOAA scientist, told The Times Picayune. "But it allowed us to confirm it's a different species. That's such a great scientific step forward and could help with its conservation."
The new species is called Rice's whale for biologist Dale Rice, the first to identify a population of whales living in the Gulf of Mexico. They can grow to be 42 feet long and 60,000 pounds, five times the weight of an elephant, according to NOAA. Like Bryde's, they are also a species of baleen whales. This means that instead of teeth, they have baleen plates that filter animals such as krill and small fish from sea water, Whale & Dolphin Conservation explained.
Rice's whales are critically endangered, but retain the protections they had as a subspecies under both the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, NOAA said. If the whales' new name is accepted by the Society for Marine Mammalogy Committee on Taxonomy, then NOAA will update the listing.
The main threats to the whales are vessel strikes, underwater noise, fossil fuel exploration, oil spills and fishing gear entanglements. It doesn't help that the whales congregate in DeSoto Canyon, one of the busiest shipping and drilling areas in the Gulf, The Times Picayune reported. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 killed about 17 percent of the species and likely caused lasting health and reproduction problems. More recently, relaxed rules surrounding seismic blasts for oil and gas exploration further endangers the whales.
Michael Jasny, a Natural Resources Defense Council marine mammal protection expert, told The Times Picayune that he hoped this discovery would improve their conservation efforts. He recommended measures such as slowing ship traffic, reducing drilling and halting seismic blasting.
"This whale is part of what makes the Gulf unique," Jasny said. "Hopefully naming this new species will help people recognize that there is a magnificent creature in the Gulf of Mexico, and it's worth saving."
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Wisdom the mōlī, or Laysan albatross, is the oldest wild bird known to science at the age of at least 70. She is also, as of February 1, a new mother.
<div id="dadb2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aa2ad8cb566c9b4b6d2df2693669f6f9"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1357796504740761602" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨Cute baby alert! Wisdom's chick has hatched!!! 🐣😍 Wisdom, a mōlī (Laysan albatross) and world’s oldest known, ban… https://t.co/Nco050ztBA</div> — USFWS Pacific Region (@USFWS Pacific Region)<a href="https://twitter.com/USFWSPacific/statuses/1357796504740761602">1612558888.0</a></blockquote></div>
By Hui Hu
Winter is supposed to be the best season for wind power – the winds are stronger, and since air density increases as the temperature drops, more force is pushing on the blades. But winter also comes with a problem: freezing weather.
Comparing rime ice and glaze ice shows how each changes the texture of the blade. Gao, Liu and Hu, 2021, CC BY-ND
Ice buildup changes air flow around the turbine blade, which can slow it down. The top photos show ice forming after 10 minutes at different temperatures in the Wind Research Tunnel. The lower measurements show airflow separation as ice accumulates. Icing Research Tunnel of Iowa State University, CC BY-ND
While traditional investment in the ocean technology sector has been tentative, growth in Israeli maritime innovations has been exponential in the last few years, and environmental concern has come to the forefront.
theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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