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Federal Protection Will Be Considered for Hammerhead Sharks

Federal Protection Will Be Considered for Hammerhead Sharks

Friends of Animals

The National Marine Fisheries Service announced a positive preliminary finding on a petition WildEarth Guardians and Friends of Animals submitted to list scalloped hammerhead sharks as “threatened” or “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The agency found that the primary threat to these sharks—capture and finning—is jeopardizing the species. The agency will conduct a 12-month review of the species to determine if listing is warranted.

“This is an important first step to protection for these ‘wolves of the sea,’” said Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “More than 99 percent of plants and animals listed under the act persist today. We hope that the hammerhead can escape extinction under the strong protections of the ESA.”

The hammerhead’s name describes its characteristic elongated, flattened head, which on the scalloped hammerhead has distinctive, curved indentations along the front edge. Scalloped hammerhead sharks can live to 30 years. Adults usually travel alone or in pairs, but juveniles gather in large schools. Most sharks, including scalloped hammerheads, play an important role as apex predators in maintaining ocean bio-communities. Ecosystem stability and biodiversity, congressional priorities for the ESA, could seriously suffer from the loss of these top predators. Listing species with global distribution can both protect the species domestically, and help focus U.S. resources toward enforcement of international regulation and recovery of the species.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the scalloped hammerhead species as “endangered” on its Red List. These sharks live in coastal waters in portions of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. All scalloped hammerhead populations are threatened by fish commerce—the main cause of population declines.

Scalloped hammerhead sharks have very high commercial value. While scalloped hammerheads are especially coveted for their fins, which are used in dishes such as shark-fin soup, the shark’s flesh is also sold in various forms as food, the hides are commercially valued, and the remainder is used for vitamins and fishmeal for agribusiness use. The commercial value of the species, combined with the sharks’ slow rate of reproduction, makes them highly vulnerable to exploitation.

“Shark exploitation must be confronted if scalloped hammerheads and other sharks are to survive and thrive,” said Lee Hall, vice president of Legal Affairs for Friends of Animals.

The practice of finning is of particular concern for scalloped hammerheads and other sharks. In this practice, crews land the sharks and remove only their fins, disposing of the remainder of the animals overboard and leaving disabled sharks to drown or die of starvation. By taking only the fins, crews catch and kill many more sharks than their boats could otherwise hold—and many more than can be officially recorded as losses to the bio-community.

Hong Kong is a primary hub for the shark fin trade, and as China’s economy strengthens, demand for the expensive shark-fin soup rises. Fortunately for the sharks, international campaigns to ban the shark fin trade have begun to raise awareness of the predators’ imperilment.

For more information, click here.

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Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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