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The Bristol Bay watershed supports the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery. World Wildlife Fund / YouTube

Officials from the Trump administration announced last week that a plan to open a copper and gold mine that threatens Alaska's largest salmon nursery would not pose a serious environmental threat.

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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

An elephant in Tarangire National Park, Tanzania. James Morgan / WWF-US

Human consumption has led to an unprecedented rate of decline in the world's wildlife populations, according to the Living Planet Report 2020, a biennial paper put out by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Zoological Society of London.

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A Chinese paddlefish exhibited in the Museum of Hydrobiological Sciences, Wuhan Institute of Hydrobiology of Chinese Academy of Sciences. Alneth / CC BY-SA 4.0

Scientists have concluded of the largest freshwater fish species in the world is now extinct because of human activity.

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Native American tribes oppose a plan to build dams on the Little Colorado River (right side) upstream of Grand Canyon National Park. National Parks Service

A proposal to dam four parts of a Colorado River tributary for hydropower has drawn significant opposition from Native American tribes, environmentalists and regulatory agencies, according to the AP.

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Trending

German towns like Ulrichstein, pictured, are experiencing water shortages due to wells running dry. Dirk Schmidt / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 3.0

By Wolfgang Dick

Despite the lush, verdant nature that surrounds the German town of Ulrichstein, residents here — and in the region — suffer from acute water shortages.

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New calf J57 swims vigorously alongside its mother J35, giving researchers and whale enthusiasts hope. Katie Jones / Center for Whale Research

Two years ago, J35, a Southern Resident killer whale (SRKW) nicknamed Tahlequah, broke hearts around the world when she carried her dead calf over 1,000 miles over 17 days of apparent mourning. Now, she's given birth to a "robust and lively" calf that researchers are calling a ray of hope for the endangered population, reported The New York Times.

The killer whales, also called orcas, stay off the coast of the Pacific Northwest, near Washington State, Oregon and British Columbia. According to the Marine Mammal Commission, the SRKW population may have historically numbered more than 200 animals prior to the 20th century. Their numbers plummeted due to loss of prey, opportunistic hunting prior to the 1960s and the live capture of nearly 70 Resident and Transient killer whales for marine parks from 1967 to 1971, the commission found. There were only 88 of the iconic whales left when they were listed as endangered in 2005, The New York Times reported, and the population has continued to dwindle since. The birth of the newest orca, called J57, brings the population to 73.

"It's a bit of a nail-biter right now," whale researcher Dr. Deborah Giles from the Center for Conservation Biology told The New York Times. "I can't help but be thrilled that she had this baby and this baby didn't die right away. Everybody is worried and on pins and needles, wondering if this calf is going to make it."

"With such a small population … every successful birth is hugely important for recovery," said a blog post from SR3, the marine conservation group that used drone footage to confirm J35's pregnancy in July and monitor her condition.

Several factors have hurt the population's chances of rebounding, including food scarcity, toxic pollutants that bioaccumulate, and noise pollution, the news report said.

The whales are "essentially starving," reported Smithsonian Magazine. Eighty percent of the SRKW's diet consists of Chinook salmon, the Center for Whale Research wrote. The salmon have declined "significantly" due to commercial fishing and widespread habitat destruction, according to the Marine Mammal Commission.

Government reports also found that agricultural pesticides jeopardize the survival of the salmon. Then, when the orcas eat polluted fish, the chemicals and pesticides eventually end up stored in the whales' fat, suppressing their immune systems, leaving them vulnerable to disease and affecting females' ability to reproduce, reported Smithsonian Magazine.

Additionally, according to the Georgia Straight Alliance, noise disrupts the whales' echolocation and prevents them from hunting, navigating and communicating.

"Both the physical presence of vessels and associated underwater noise hinders Southern Residents' ability to perform basic life activities," the Alliance reported.

To make matters worse, many of the population's pregnancies fail, and around 40% of calves die within their first year, The New York Times reported. Recent scientific findings suggest that these reproductive failures and high calf mortality rates are linked to malnutrition and lack of their preferred salmon prey, reported the Marine Mammal Commission.

With nothing to eat and nowhere to live, the Southern Resident orcas have thus become a symbol for animals on the brink of extinction. J35 became the poster child for her population during her 17-day "tour of grief," catalyzing many groups to call for new protections for the endangered whales.

According to the Center for Whale Research, J52, another two-and-a-half-year-old calf from the J-pod, died presumably from malnutrition one ear earlier.

After the 2018 loss of J35's previous calf, Ken Balcomb, founder of the Center for Whale Research, estimated that the SRKW population only had about five years to rebound or face irreversible decline.

"We've got at most five more years of reproductive life in this population to make it happen"— meaning, to have viable offspring — "but if we don't do it in those five years it isn't going to happen," he told National Geographic in 2018.

That's why, with the birth of J57, researchers are cautiously optimistic.

The encounter report from the Center for Whale Research announcing J57's birth said, "Her new calf appeared healthy and precocious, swimming vigorously alongside its mother in its second day of free-swimming life … We hope this calf is a success story."

Balcom said, "The baby looked very robust and lively, so I have good expectations for this one surviving," reported The New York Times.

He told The New York Times he hoped that recent efforts such as the removal of a dam on the Elwah River would bring back more robust runs of Chinook salmon and issue a turning point for the orcas.

"This new birth brings new hope – for Tahlequah and for all of us," wildlife photographer Alena Ebeling-Schuld told The Guardian. "I am wishing Tahlequah and her new little one the very best with all of my being."

Beijing's Forbidden City is seen here covered by smog. Yinan Chen / Wikimedia Commons / CC0

By Hao Tan, Elizabeth Thurbon, John Mathews, Sung-Young Kim

China's President Xi Jinping surprised the global community recently by committing his country to net-zero emissions by 2060. Prior to this announcement, the prospect of becoming "carbon neutral" barely rated a mention in China's national policies.

Read More Show Less
The United Nations Development Program is piloting an insurance scheme to protect and boost the Meso-American reef in Mexico as a natural defense, and as a source of income for coastal populations. vlad61 / Getty Images

By Andrea Willige

More than half of the world's population lives in cities, and most future population growth is predicted to happen in urban areas. But the concentration of large numbers of people and the ecosystems built around their lives has also been a driver of climate change.

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Trending

Eureka Sound on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic taken by NASA's Operation IceBridge in 2014. NASA / Michael Studinger / Flickr / CC by 2.0

A 4,000-year-old ice shelf in the Canadian Arctic has collapsed into the sea, leaving Canada without any fully intact ice shelves, Reuters reported. The Milne Ice Shelf lost more than 40 percent of its area in just two days at the end of July, said researchers who monitored its collapse.

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Shrimp fishing along the coast of Nayarit, Mexico. Tomas Castelazo / Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

By Paula Ezcurra and Octavio Aburto

Thousands of hydroelectric dams are under construction around the world, mainly in developing countries. These enormous structures are one of the world's largest sources of renewable energy, but they also cause environmental problems.

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Honduran Lenca women take part in a protest demanding justice in the murder of Honduran activist Berta Caceres on the second anniversary of her death on March 2, 2018 in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. ORLANDO SIERRA / AFP / Getty Images

By Rachel Ramirez

Adán Vez Lira, a prominent defender of an ecological reserve in Mexico, was shot while riding his motorcycle in April. Four years earlier, the renowned activist Berta Cáceres was shot dead in her home in Honduras by assailants taking direction from executives responsible for a dam she had opposed. Four years before that, Cambodian forest and land activist Chut Wutty was killed during a brawl with the country's military police while investigating illegal logging.

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A sadhu—a common term for a mystic, an ascetic, practitioner of yoga—rowing a boat on the holy Ganges River.

hadynyah / E+ / Getty Images

By Johnny Wood

The Ganges is a lifeline for the people of India, spiritually and economically. On its journey from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal, it supports fishermen, farmers and an abundance of wildlife.

The river and its tributaries touch the lives of roughly 500 million people. But having flowed for millennia, today it is reaching its capacity for human and industrial waste, while simultaneously being drained for agriculture and municipal use.

Here are some of the challenges the river faces.

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Demonstrators march down Pennsylvania Avenue near the Trump International Hotel during a protest against police brutality and the death of George Floyd on June 3, 2020 in Washington, DC. Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images

By John R. Platt

This year has brought us some brutal lessons so far, chief among them the fact that systemic racism drives or amplifies nearly all our societal and environmental ills.

Now is the time to listen to the people affected most by those problems of environmental justice and racism — and the activists working to solve them.

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Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

The Bristol Bay watershed supports the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery. World Wildlife Fund / YouTube

Officials from the Trump administration announced last week that a plan to open a copper and gold mine that threatens Alaska's largest salmon nursery would not pose a serious environmental threat.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

An elephant in Tarangire National Park, Tanzania. James Morgan / WWF-US

Human consumption has led to an unprecedented rate of decline in the world's wildlife populations, according to the Living Planet Report 2020, a biennial paper put out by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Zoological Society of London.

Read More Show Less
A Chinese paddlefish exhibited in the Museum of Hydrobiological Sciences, Wuhan Institute of Hydrobiology of Chinese Academy of Sciences. Alneth / CC BY-SA 4.0

Scientists have concluded of the largest freshwater fish species in the world is now extinct because of human activity.

Read More Show Less

Support Ecowatch

Native American tribes oppose a plan to build dams on the Little Colorado River (right side) upstream of Grand Canyon National Park. National Parks Service

A proposal to dam four parts of a Colorado River tributary for hydropower has drawn significant opposition from Native American tribes, environmentalists and regulatory agencies, according to the AP.

Read More Show Less

Trending

German towns like Ulrichstein, pictured, are experiencing water shortages due to wells running dry. Dirk Schmidt / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 3.0

By Wolfgang Dick

Despite the lush, verdant nature that surrounds the German town of Ulrichstein, residents here — and in the region — suffer from acute water shortages.

Read More Show Less
New calf J57 swims vigorously alongside its mother J35, giving researchers and whale enthusiasts hope. Katie Jones / Center for Whale Research

Two years ago, J35, a Southern Resident killer whale (SRKW) nicknamed Tahlequah, broke hearts around the world when she carried her dead calf over 1,000 miles over 17 days of apparent mourning. Now, she's given birth to a "robust and lively" calf that researchers are calling a ray of hope for the endangered population, reported The New York Times.

The killer whales, also called orcas, stay off the coast of the Pacific Northwest, near Washington State, Oregon and British Columbia. According to the Marine Mammal Commission, the SRKW population may have historically numbered more than 200 animals prior to the 20th century. Their numbers plummeted due to loss of prey, opportunistic hunting prior to the 1960s and the live capture of nearly 70 Resident and Transient killer whales for marine parks from 1967 to 1971, the commission found. There were only 88 of the iconic whales left when they were listed as endangered in 2005, The New York Times reported, and the population has continued to dwindle since. The birth of the newest orca, called J57, brings the population to 73.

"It's a bit of a nail-biter right now," whale researcher Dr. Deborah Giles from the Center for Conservation Biology told The New York Times. "I can't help but be thrilled that she had this baby and this baby didn't die right away. Everybody is worried and on pins and needles, wondering if this calf is going to make it."

"With such a small population … every successful birth is hugely important for recovery," said a blog post from SR3, the marine conservation group that used drone footage to confirm J35's pregnancy in July and monitor her condition.

Several factors have hurt the population's chances of rebounding, including food scarcity, toxic pollutants that bioaccumulate, and noise pollution, the news report said.

The whales are "essentially starving," reported Smithsonian Magazine. Eighty percent of the SRKW's diet consists of Chinook salmon, the Center for Whale Research wrote. The salmon have declined "significantly" due to commercial fishing and widespread habitat destruction, according to the Marine Mammal Commission.

Government reports also found that agricultural pesticides jeopardize the survival of the salmon. Then, when the orcas eat polluted fish, the chemicals and pesticides eventually end up stored in the whales' fat, suppressing their immune systems, leaving them vulnerable to disease and affecting females' ability to reproduce, reported Smithsonian Magazine.

Additionally, according to the Georgia Straight Alliance, noise disrupts the whales' echolocation and prevents them from hunting, navigating and communicating.

"Both the physical presence of vessels and associated underwater noise hinders Southern Residents' ability to perform basic life activities," the Alliance reported.

To make matters worse, many of the population's pregnancies fail, and around 40% of calves die within their first year, The New York Times reported. Recent scientific findings suggest that these reproductive failures and high calf mortality rates are linked to malnutrition and lack of their preferred salmon prey, reported the Marine Mammal Commission.

With nothing to eat and nowhere to live, the Southern Resident orcas have thus become a symbol for animals on the brink of extinction. J35 became the poster child for her population during her 17-day "tour of grief," catalyzing many groups to call for new protections for the endangered whales.

According to the Center for Whale Research, J52, another two-and-a-half-year-old calf from the J-pod, died presumably from malnutrition one ear earlier.

After the 2018 loss of J35's previous calf, Ken Balcomb, founder of the Center for Whale Research, estimated that the SRKW population only had about five years to rebound or face irreversible decline.

"We've got at most five more years of reproductive life in this population to make it happen"— meaning, to have viable offspring — "but if we don't do it in those five years it isn't going to happen," he told National Geographic in 2018.

That's why, with the birth of J57, researchers are cautiously optimistic.

The encounter report from the Center for Whale Research announcing J57's birth said, "Her new calf appeared healthy and precocious, swimming vigorously alongside its mother in its second day of free-swimming life … We hope this calf is a success story."

Balcom said, "The baby looked very robust and lively, so I have good expectations for this one surviving," reported The New York Times.

He told The New York Times he hoped that recent efforts such as the removal of a dam on the Elwah River would bring back more robust runs of Chinook salmon and issue a turning point for the orcas.

"This new birth brings new hope – for Tahlequah and for all of us," wildlife photographer Alena Ebeling-Schuld told The Guardian. "I am wishing Tahlequah and her new little one the very best with all of my being."

Beijing's Forbidden City is seen here covered by smog. Yinan Chen / Wikimedia Commons / CC0

By Hao Tan, Elizabeth Thurbon, John Mathews, Sung-Young Kim

China's President Xi Jinping surprised the global community recently by committing his country to net-zero emissions by 2060. Prior to this announcement, the prospect of becoming "carbon neutral" barely rated a mention in China's national policies.

Read More Show Less
The United Nations Development Program is piloting an insurance scheme to protect and boost the Meso-American reef in Mexico as a natural defense, and as a source of income for coastal populations. vlad61 / Getty Images

By Andrea Willige

More than half of the world's population lives in cities, and most future population growth is predicted to happen in urban areas. But the concentration of large numbers of people and the ecosystems built around their lives has also been a driver of climate change.

Read More Show Less

Trending