The official number of moose in Yellowstone National Park is 200. Unofficially, rangers told me that it could be as few as 80 animals. In other parts of the country, Minnesota has seen a dramatic decline in their moose population of 70 percent from 2006 to 2013, while in New Hampshire, 3,800 animals remain of the 7,500 present in the late 1990s.
One of only 80 moose in Yellowstone, struggling through winter.Photo credit: Dan Zukowski
There's no question about the cause. Warmer winters have increased ticks in the North Woods, which can weaken moose. Some animals are carrying as many as 120,000 ticks. They are so highly infected that they become anemic from blood loss as the ticks engorge themselves on their hosts.
Other moose rub so vigorously against the forest trees to remove ticks that they lose much of their characteristic dark brown coat. They're known as "ghost moose" for the pale skin that's revealed. That makes them more visible to predators and less able to cope with the cold winters in their environs.
Moose calf mortality is high, too. In New Hampshire, 75 percent of moose calves died from ticks over the winter of 2015-2016, while Maine's mortality rate was 60 percent.
Parasites, including brainworms (Parelaphostrogylus tenuis), are also taking a toll. Liver flukes (Fascioloides magna) and tapeworms have also been found in necropsies of moose in Minnesota. The tapeworms, which are carried by wolves, can fatally clog the lungs of a moose.
"Moose are under a firing line of things that are affecting their population," said Dr. Seth Moore, director of biology and environment for the Greater Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. "And I think ultimately that all these different things that are affecting the moose population are driven by climate change."
Speaking on a CBC documentary produced in 2015, Moore predicted that Minnesota moose could be gone in 50 years.
The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) also links the plight of moose to climate change.
"Heat affects moose directly, as summer heat stress leads to dropping weights, a fall in pregnancy rates, and increased vulnerability to disease," the NWF explains. "When it gets too warm, moose typically seek shelter rather than foraging for nutritious foods needed to keep them healthy."
Referencing New England's now-shorter winters, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department wistfully says, "The best ways to reduce the impacts of winter ticks would be to add back the three weeks of winter."
Moose populations are now a managed resource in most states. According to the NWF, 56,000 people hunt in New Hampshire and 630,000 enjoy wildlife watching. There is often a conflict between those who want to hunt moose and those who simply want to watch them. As a result of the decline in moose in Minnesota, hunting was suspended indefinitely in the state beginning in 2013.
Current range of moose in North America.Credit: Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
Overhunting decimated populations in the lower 48 states by the late 1800s, but conservation efforts enabled them to recover. Moose are listed as a species of least concern on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. They cite a 2011 population of about 1 million in North America. However, other sources differ. There are no standardized national or international monitoring programs. Populations in any one area can change dynamically due to local conditions such as forest fires, unusually warm or cold winters, introduction of predators or new infestations.
In Maine, where I live, there's a healthy population of 60-70,000 moose—the largest in the lower 48 states. The state will issue 2,160 hunting permits this year, for a one-week season in late October.
The Penobscot Nation, who hosted me on their tribal lands last week, have a traditional story about a giant monster moose in a large lake. The Creator, Glooksap, slays the moose and eats it. He turns his kettle over and leaves it by the lake, where it turns into stone and is now the place known as Mount Kineo, in Moosehead Lake. The story points Penobscot hunters to a place were moose are abundant—even today—enabling them to feed their families. It was with this knowledge that I partook of the warm moose stew they fed me on a raw September evening along the Penobscot River. For the Penobscot, nothing is taken from the land without thanking Mother Earth.
Moose is an Algonquin term for "eater of twigs." An adult moose can consume 40 to 60 pounds of leaves, twigs and buds each day. In summer, they frequent ponds and lakes to feed on sodium-rich aquatic plants. Winter can be harsh, particularly where deep snow makes movement difficult. Average lifespan in the wild is 10 to 12 years. Black bears, along with mountain lions and wolves, where present, are predators, and coyotes may take some young calves.
Forest fires can benefit moose in certain circumstances. By creating open burned areas, more edge habitat is available for foraging. Moose may return to burned areas several months after a fire, leading to population density increases of five or six fold. Populations in a post-burn area will peak 10 to 30 years following the fire.
However, large fires may be followed by changes in the vegetation that replants the affected areas.
"Some burns produce a grassland stage; others come back in pure spruce; many produce aspen with little birch or willow which are the most palatable and productive browse plants," says a 2010 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"Where can I see a moose?" is an oft-asked question by tourists to Alaska, Yellowstone, Northern New England and other areas where they can be found. Encountering one of these large, long-legged mammals in the wild is an event not soon forgotten. Future encounters may be fewer due to the risks created by climate change.
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The U.S. reported more than 55,000 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, in a sign that the outbreak is not letting up as the Fourth of July weekend kicks off.
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By Jason Bruck
Human actions have taken a steep toll on whales and dolphins. Some studies estimate that small whale abundance, which includes dolphins, has fallen 87% since 1980 and thousands of whales die from rope entanglement annually. But humans also cause less obvious harm. Researchers have found changes in the stress levels, reproductive health and respiratory health of these animals, but this valuable data is extremely hard to collect.
Researchers work with trained dolphins to learn more about their sensory abilities, seen here testing a dolphin's hearing. Jason Bruck / CC BY-ND
A Lot to Learn From Hormones<p>When sampling the blow, we are looking for hormones in mucus as these can be used to gauge psychological and physiological health. We are specifically interested in <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0114062" target="_blank">hormones like cortisol</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ygcen.2018.04.003" target="_blank">progesterone</a>, which indicate stress levels and reproductive ability respectively, but can also help determine overall health.</p><p>Additionally, blow samples can detect <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1128%2FmSystems.00119-17" target="_blank">respiratory pathogens</a> in the lungs or nasal passages - blowholes evolved from noses after all.</p><p>This health analysis is especially important in areas with oil spills as the chemicals can cause hormonal problems that harm <a href="https://www.carmmha.org/investigating-how-oil-spills-affect-dolphins-and-whales/" target="_blank">development, metabolism and reproduction</a> in dolphins.</p><p>Hormone samples can provide scientists with valuable data, but collecting them from intelligent and unpredictable animals is challenging.</p>
Cetacean Collaborators<p>To build a drone that can stealthily collect spray from moving dolphins, we needed more data on their eyesight and hearing, and this is data that couldn't be collected in the wild nor simulated in a lab.</p><p>We worked with dolphins at facilities like Dolphin Quest in Bermuda, which provides guests opportunities to learn about dolphins while allowing <a href="https://dolphinquest.com/about-us/our-story/" target="_blank">scientists access to animals for noninvasive research</a>. Here the dolphins can swim away if they choose not to work with us, so we had to design the study like a game; the way a kindergarten teacher entertains a class. If the dolphins aren't interested, we don't get to do the science.</p><p>Over the course of hundreds of sessions, we sought to answer two questions: What can dolphins hear and what can they see around their heads?</p><p>To test dolphin hearing, we set up microphones and cameras to record dolphin behavior as we played drone noise in the air. We analyzed the responses to each noise – such as how many dolphins looked at the speaker – and used these as a proxy for their ability to hear the sounds.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5f31daf07a652b8d64a093b993ee4e96"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UjmQeH3vXHI?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Robodolphin doesn't look like a real dolphin, but it doesn't need to in order to train our drone pilots. C.J. Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND<p>To build robodolphin, we worked with dolphins trained to "chuff" or sneeze on command to measure spray characteristics. We used high-speed photography to see the dolphins' breath as it moved through the air. Then we conducted high resolution CT scans of a dolphin head and 3D-printed a replica of a nasal passage.</p><p>Now, we have a complete robodolphin and are tweaking its sprays to be nearly identical to the real thing. This will allow us to determine how close we need to get to collect the samples, and therefore, how quiet our drone needs to be.</p>
The replica dolphin blowhole was designed from a scan of a real blowhole passage, and the spray it produces closely matches the real thing. Alvin Ngo, Mitch Ford and CJ Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND
A Bit of Practice, Then Into the Wild<p>In the next few months, we will test flights over robodolphin with existing drones to determine the timing and strategy for collection. From there, we will fabricate a low-noise drone that can fly fast enough and with sufficient maneuverability to capture samples from wild dolphins. Like a video game, we will use the visual field data to develop approach trajectories to stay in the visual blindspots.</p><p>We plan to test our drones on a truck-mounted robodolphin moving down a runway, then using a boat to simulate realistic conditions. The next steps will involve ocean testing with dolphins trained for open ocean swimming. These tests will determine if our devices can catch and hold the hormones as the drone flies back to a researcher's boat.</p><p>Finally, we will deploy the system to collect data on wild dolphins. Our first goal is to test resident dolphins – animals that live on the coasts and deal directly with boat and oil industry noise – which will allow us to learn more about stress resulting from human impacts.</p><p>Those samples are a way off, but if all goes well we will have a specially built drone capable of flying long distances and capturing samples undetected in a few years. The samples collected will allow researchers to do better science with impact on the animals they study.</p>
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On July 29, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law a controversial bill prohibiting local governments from banning certain types of sunscreens.
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By Kelli McGrane
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Fireworks have taken a lot of heat recently. In South Dakota, fire experts have said President Trump's plan to hold a fireworks show is dangerous and public health experts have criticized the lack of plans to enforce mask wearing or social distancing. Now, a new study shows that shooting off fireworks at home may expose you and your family to dangerous levels of lead, copper and other toxins.
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By Ashutosh Pandey
Billions worth of valuable metals such as gold, silver and copper were dumped or burned last year as electronic waste produced globally jumped to a record 53.6 million tons (Mt), or 7.3 kilogram per person, a UN report showed on Thursday.
Environmental and Health Hazard<p>Experts say e-waste, which is now the world's fastest-growing domestic waste stream, poses serious environmental and health risks.</p><p>Simply throwing away electronic items without ensuring they get properly recycled leads to the loss of key materials such as iron, copper and gold, which can otherwise be recovered and used as primary raw materials to make new equipment, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions from extraction and refinement of raw materials.</p><p>Refrigerants found in electronic equipment such as fridge and air conditioners also contribute to global warming. A total of 98 Mt of CO2-equivalents, or about 0.3% of global energy-related emissions, were released into the atmosphere in 2019 from discarded refrigerators and ACs that were not recycled properly, the report said.</p><p>E-waste contains several toxic additives or hazardous substances, such as mercury and brominated flame retardants (BFR), and simply burning it or throwing it away could lead to serious health issues. Several studies have linked unregulated recycling of e-waste to adverse birth outcomes like stillbirth and premature birth, damages to the human brain or nervous system and in some cases hearing loss and heart troubles.</p><p>"Informal and improper e-waste recycling is a major emerging hazard silently affecting our health and that of future generations. One in four children are dying from avoidable environmental exposures," said Maria Neira, director of the Environment, Climate Change and Health Department at the World Health Organization. "One in four children could be saved, if we take action to protect their health and ensure a safe environment."</p>
Europe Leads the Way<p>While most of the e-waste was generated in Asia (24.9 Mt) in 2019, Europe led the charts on a per person basis with 16.2 kg per capita, the report said.</p><p>But the continent also recorded the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/the-eu-declares-war-on-e-waste/a-51108790" target="_blank">highest documented formal e-waste collection and recycling</a> rate at 42.5%, still below its target of 65%. Europe was well ahead of the others on this front. Asia ranked second with 11.7%.</p><p>The authors said while more that 70% of the world's population was covered by some form of e-waste policy or laws, not much was being done toward implementation and enforcement of the regulations to encourage the take-up of a collection and recycling infrastructure due to lack of investment and political motivation.</p><p>"You have to think about new economic systems," said Kühr.</p><p>One approach could be that consumers no longer buy the products, but only the service they offer. The device would remain the property of the maker, who would then have an interest in offering his customers the best service and the necessary equipment. The maker would also be interested in designing his products in such a way that they are easier to repair and easier to recycle, Kühr said.</p>
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