By Sara Amundson
Every year, fins from as many as 73 million sharks circulate throughout the world in a complex international market. They are the key ingredient in shark fin soup, a luxury dish considered a status symbol in some Asian cuisines.
- The Surprise Middleman in the Illegal Shark Fin Trade: The U.S. ... ›
- Starbucks Urged to Cut Ties With Hong Kong Chain That Still Serves ... ›
- $1 Million Worth of Shark Fins Seized at Miami Port - EcoWatch ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Independence Day weekend is a busy time for coastal communities as people flock to the beaches to soak up the sun during the summer holiday. This year is different. Some of the country's most popular beach destinations in Florida and California have decided to close their beaches to stop the surge in coronavirus cases.
- The U.S. Isn't in a Second Wave of Coronavirus – The First Wave ... ›
- COVID-19 Masks Are Polluting Beaches and Oceans - EcoWatch ›
- No Social Distancing or Mask Requirement at Trump's Mt ... ›
- Trump's Fireworks Show at Mt. Rushmore Is a Dangerous Idea, Fire ... ›
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service<p>"The shipment violated the Lacey Act and included CITES listed species," Gavin Shire, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Chief of Public Affairs, told <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/04/us/shark-fins-seized-trnd/index.html" target="_blank">CNN</a>. "We are limited to what we can say about this as it is an ongoing case."</p> <p>While it is illegal in the U.S. to cut off a fin from a live shark and discard the rest of the animal, it is not illegal to traffic or trade shark fins in the U.S. </p> <p>"The recent seizure of more than 1,000 pounds of shark fins in Miami from potentially protected species demonstrates why we need a federal shark fin ban," said Ariana Spawn, an ocean advocate at the nonprofit advocacy group Oceana, as <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/04/us/shark-fins-seized-trnd/index.html" target="_blank">CNN reported</a>. She urged the Senate to pass the <a href="https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/877" target="_blank">Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act</a> (S.877), which would ban the trade of fins nationwide.</p>
- Commercial Fishing Vessel Busted in Africa for Shark Finning ... ›
- The Surprise Middleman in the Illegal Shark Fin Trade: The U.S. ... ›
In recent weeks, scientists have spotted more than a half-dozen great white sharks gathering in Atlantic waters off the coast of the southeastern seaboard.
- Cape Cod Harbormaster Warns Beachgoers to Heed 'New Norm' of ... ›
- Marine Biologists Raise Flags About Viral Great White Shark ... ›
- Cape Cod's Gray Seal and White Shark Problem Is Anything but ... ›
- Coast Guard Opens Fire as Shark Interrupts Swim Break - EcoWatch ›
Scientists have identified four new species of walking shark in the waters off Australia and New Guinea.
- Hundreds of Sharks and Rays Entangled in Plastic Debris, Study Finds ›
- How to Protect Sharks From Overfishing - EcoWatch ›
- New Study Uncovers Why These Snakes Wiggle When They Fly - EcoWatch ›
- ‘Surprising’ Fossil Discovery Could Rewrite Shark Evolution Story - EcoWatch ›
By Jake Johnson
In a move that environmentalists warned could further imperil hundreds of endangered species and a protected habitat for the sake of profit, President Donald Trump on Friday signed a proclamation rolling back an Obama-era order and opening nearly 5,000 square miles off the coast of New England to commercial fishing.
- Meet the Sturdlefish, the Hybrid of Two Endangered Species ›
- Meet the Sturdlefish, the Hybrid of Two Endangered Species - EcoWatch ›
Glitter may add sparkle to the holiday season, but its afterlife is decidedly less shiny.
By Jason Bittel
Authorities in Hong Kong intercepted some questionable cargo three years ago — a rather large shipment of shark fins that had originated in Panama. Shark fins are a hot commodity among some Asian communities for their use in soup, and most species are legally consumed in Hong Kong, but certain species are banned from international trade due to their extinction risk. And wouldn't you know it: this confiscated shipment contained nearly a ton of illegal hammerhead fins.
Silky shark. NOAA / Teachers at Sea Program<p>For instance, <a href="https://conbio.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/conl.12457" target="_blank">a study</a> of Hong Kong's market, published last year in <em>Conservation Letters</em>, found that silky sharks were the second-most commonly sold species there from 2014 to 2016. The animals are considered <a href="https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/39370/117721799" target="_blank">vulnerable to extinction</a> by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. And close behind the silkies, ranking fourth and fifth, were scalloped hammerheads (<a href="https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/39385/10190088" target="_blank">endangered</a>) and smooth hammerheads (<a href="https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/39388/10193797" target="_blank">vulnerable</a>). All <a href="https://www.cites.org/eng/prog/shark/history.php" target="_blank">three species are listed</a> under Appendix II of CITES, which strictly regulates their trade. The study also found evidence of illegal hammerhead fins in 46 out of 46 sampling events in Hong Kong.</p><p>The U.S. obviously can't control what happens in every market all over the world. But we could be doing more to watch over what's moving in and out of our own ports<em>.</em></p><p>Part of the answer is logistics, says Murdock. Better communication among agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Customs and Border Protection, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration could help. Some budgetary improvements could also be made — currently, wildlife shipments are mandated to funnel through just 17 U.S. ports that have the appropriate inspection personnel.</p><p>But honestly, a lot of the problem comes down to wording.</p>
- Sea Shepherd Uncovers Huge Shipments of Shark Fins - EcoWatch ›
- Starbucks Urged to Cut Ties With Hong Kong Chain That Still Serves ... ›
Life-sized, ultra-realistic robotic dolphins could help end animal captivity by replacing living creatures in aquariums and theme parks.
- Keeping Large Mammals Captive Damages Their Brains - EcoWatch ›
- Scientists Combine AI With Biology to Create Xenobots, the World's ... ›
- Singapore Uses 'Scary' Robot Dog to Enforce Social Distancing ... ›
In his latest documentary, My Octopus Teacher, free diver and filmmaker Craig Foster tells a unique story about his friendship and bond with an octopus in a kelp forest in Cape Town, South Africa. It's been labeled "the love story that we need right now" by The Cut.
- You're Not So Different From an Octopus: Rethinking Our ... ›
- 'Eating Animals' Drives Home Where Our Food Really Comes From ... ›
By Jen Monnier
In the summer of 2015, Laurie Weitkamp was walking on the beach near her coastal Oregon home when she saw something strange: The water was purple. A colony of tunicates, squishy cylindrical critters that rarely come to shore, had congregated in a swarm so thick that you could scoop them out of the water with your hand. "I'd never seen anything like it," she says.
Weitkamp, a research fisheries biologist with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Newport, Oregon, knew that something had been afoot in the northeast part of the Pacific Ocean since the fall of 2013, which was unusually sunny, warm and calm. A mass of warm water stretched from Mexico to Alaska and lingered through 2016, disrupting marine life. Tunicates weren't the only creature affected; sea nettle jellyfish all but disappeared, while water jellyfish populations moved north to take their place, and young salmon starved to death out at sea, according to a report by Weitkamp and colleagues. Scientists dubbed this event "The Blob."
Marine heat waves like The Blob have cropped up around the globe more and more often over the past few decades. Scientists expect climate change to make them even more common and long lasting, harming vulnerable aquatic species as well as human enterprises such as fishing that revolve around ocean ecosystems. But there's no reliable way to know when one is about to hit, which means that fishers and wildlife managers are left scrambling to reduce harm in real time.
Fisheries biologist Laurie Weitkamp is helping develop policies to reduce the threat of marine heat waves, which can devastate ocean life. Photo courtesy of Laurie Weitkamp
Now, oceanographers are trying to uncover what drives these events so that people can forecast them and so minimize the ecological and economic damage they cause.
The Blob, which lasted three years, is the longest marine heat wave on record. Before that, a heat wave that began in 2015 in the Tasman Sea lasted more than eight months, killing abalone and oysters. A 2012 heat wave off the East Coast of Canada and the U.S., the largest on record at the time, pushed lobsters northward. It beat the previous record — a 2011 marine heat wave that uprooted seaweed, fish and sharks off western Australia. Before that, a 2003 heat wave in the Mediterranean Sea clinched the record while ravaging marine life.
As Earth's climate warms, record-setting marine heat waves are becoming more frequent and severe. Map adapted from Marine Heatwaves International Working Group.
Heat waves are a natural part of ocean systems, says Eric Oliver, an assistant professor of oceanography at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada. As with temperature on land, there's an average ocean temperature on any particular day of the year: Sometimes the water will be warmer, sometimes it will be colder, and every once in a while it will be extremely warm or cold.
But greenhouse gas emissions have bumped up the average temperature. Now, temperatures that used to be considered extremely warm happen more often — and every so often, large sections of the ocean are pushed into unprecedented heat, Oliver says.
Pelagic ocean ecosystems, however, have not caught up to these hotter temperatures. Organisms may be able to survive a steady temperature rise, but a heat wave can push them over the edge.
When blue swimmer crabs started dying in western Australia's Shark Bay after the 2011 heat wave, the government shut down blue crab fishing for a year and a half. This was hard on industry at the time, says Peter Jecks, managing director of Abacus Fisheries, but it managed to save crab populations. Not all creatures were so lucky — abalone near the heat wave's epicenter still haven't recovered.
"If you don't have strong predictions [of marine heat waves], you can't be proactive. You're left to be reactive," says Thomas Wernberg, an associate professor of marine ecology at the University of Western Australia.
See Them Coming
After Wernberg saw his region's sea life devastated by the heat wave, he recruited scientists from many disciplines in 2014 to begin studying these extreme events in what became the Marine Heatwaves International Working Group. The group held their first meeting in early 2015 and has since created protocols for defining and naming marine heat waves, tracking where they happen and measuring their ecological and socioeconomic impacts.
If we could see heat waves coming, aquaculturists, fishers and wildlife managers would have a better chance at saving money and species, Wernberg says. Seafood farmers could hold off stocking their aquaculture facilities with vulnerable species. Lawmakers could enact seasonal fishing closures or temporarily expand protected areas. Scientists could store animals or seeds of vulnerable plants.
That's why scientists around the world are trying to understand what triggers extreme warming in the ocean. Oliver is one such scientist. He feeds ocean data gathered by scientists, satellites, buoys, and deep-diving robots into computer modeling software to identify the forces that drive marine heat waves.
It's a relatively new field of research for which there are still few definitive answers. But past heat waves can be broadly classified into two categories, Oliver says: those driven by the ocean and those driven by the atmosphere.
For an example of an ocean-driven heat wave, Oliver points to the 2015 Tasman Sea heat wave. An ocean current that flows south down the East Coast of Australia normally veers toward New Zealand, but in 2015 it pulsed westward toward Tasmania, bringing a wave of warm water from the tropics that lingered more than six months. "Tropical fish were seen in water that is normally almost subpolar in temperature," Oliver says.
On the other hand, a 2019 heat wave in the Pacific, the so-called "Blob 2.0," was brought down from the atmosphere, according to Dillon Amaya, a climate scientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Using computer models, Amaya found that this heat wave emerged when a weather system over the Pacific lost steam, leading to weaker-than-usual winds. Wind helps cool the ocean by evaporating surface water in the same way a breeze cools a person's sweaty skin. But stagnant air above the Pacific locked more of the sun's heat into the water that year.
The recent "Blob 2.0" heat wave bears some resemblance to "The Blob," which disrupted marine life from Mexico to Alaska over the course of three years. NOAA Coral Reef Watch
Amaya is able to simulate heat waves thanks to recent technological advances. Scientists have known for decades that marine heat waves exist, he says, but "we have just begun to recognize these events as unique and deterministic — something we can predict — in the last five to 10 years."
That understanding inspired researchers to build computer simulations capable of playing out complicated ocean processes by weaving together information about ocean and atmospheric currents, sea surface temperature and salinity. Creating these simulations helps them learn more about heat wave mechanics, which lays the groundwork for predicting future events.
Back in Oregon, Weitkamp is part of the group that manages the Pacific Salmon Treaty between the U.S. and Canada. As heat waves like The Blob and Blob 2.0 deplete fish populations, the group is trying to figure out how to create policies better suited to this new normal. Knowing when the next one might hit could help.
"These heat waves have been a good wake-up call," she says. "People are trying to figure out how they're going to adapt."
Reposted with permission from Ensia.
- Marine Heat Waves Could Threaten Dolphin Survival, Study Suggests ›
- Marine Heatwaves Destroy Ocean Ecosystems Like Wildfires ... ›
- Ocean Heat Waves Are Twice as Common as Previously Thought ›
Pilot whales, sperm whales, beaked whales and deep-sea dolphins are the marine mammals most commonly involved in mass strandings. Baleen whales, on the other hand, a group to which all big whales except the sperm whale belong, strand very rarely.
How Do Whales and Dolphins Navigate?<p>Like <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/the-science-of-migratory-birds/a-47812308" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">migratory birds,</a> some whale species travel great distances every year. In winter, whales migrate from the cold northern seas to warmer waters in the south, and whales from southern waters move to the north in the same season. Months later, they then begin to travel back home.</p><p>The smaller toothed whales, such as dolphins, have a powerful underwater sonar. They orient themselves on their journeys by emitting sound waves in the form of clicking noises. When these sound waves collide with an object, they are reflected back as echoes to the animals' ears, which in the case of whales are shielded from the skull in foam-filled chambers inside the body to enable spatial hearing. The faster the sound returns, the closer the prey, an obstacle or the coast.</p><p>However, in the case of the large baleen whales, which have horn plates (baleen) instead of teeth in their upper jaws for filtering krill, animal plankton and small fish from the water, this underwater sonar is not very highly developed.</p><p>This echolocation works very well as a rule. However, sound reflection does not function reliably in certain circumstances, particularly when there are shallow or semicircular bays, sandy underwater embankments or silt banks. These types of coasts and obstacles do not produce an unambiguous echo from any particular direction, so the warning system fails.</p>
What Influence Does the Earth's Magnetic Field Have?<p>Whales such as the pilot whale do not use just underwater sonar to orient themselves, but — again, like migratory birds — seem to rely on the lines of the earth's magnetic field, as their migration routes often run parallel to those lines. The slight fluctuations of the earth's magnetic field appear to function like a kind of map.</p><p>Magnetite crystals have been found in the skulls of these animals. The whales could be confused by disturbances of the geomagnetic field near the coast. Magnetic fields running perpendicular to the mainland are also thought to play a role in mass strandings of whales in certain coastal regions.</p><p>Every few years, solar storms and sunspots that occur amid heightened activity on the sun's surface also cause fairly large changes in the Earth's magnetic field. It is at such times that sperm whales, for example, which also use geomagnetism as a natural navigation system, get lost and become stranded in the North Sea.</p>
Why Do Whales and Dolphins Become Stranded?<p>Navigational errors are thus believed to be the main cause of whale strandings, but all the reasons have not yet been conclusively investigated.</p><p>One of them is certainly the social behavior of many whale species, which travel in groups, so-called pods, and are guided by a leader. For example, in the case of sperm whales, a male leads the way from the Arctic Ocean back into warmer waters. By contrast, when orcas are on their travels, a mother or grandmother leads the group.</p><p>If leaders lose their orientation, perhaps because they are confused or because parasites have attacked their ears, rendering them incapable of hearing the echoes of the clicking sounds that have been sent, the accompanying animals will follow them in the wrong direction. If a leader is stuck in shallow waters, the rest of the group stays with it, even if this means their certain doom.</p><p>Sometimes, as has been observed, for example, with orcas on the South African coast, this group cohesion can go so far that whales who have already been saved after a mass stranding return to the beach if another stranded whale calls for help.</p><p>But strandings can also have other natural causes. Sometimes, smaller dolphins become beached because they have taken refuge from orcas and other predators in shallower waters or because they have ventured too far into shallow areas when hunting shoals of fish.</p><p>Occasionally, individual animals are also washed ashore dead after being previously injured by collisions with ships, fishing nets or shark attacks or becoming ill from infections or parasite infestation. </p>
Which Human Influences Exacerbate the Situation?<p>In addition to natural factors, man-made underwater noise from ships, icebreakers, drilling platforms or military sonar equipment can also massively impair the orientation and communication of marine mammals. They flee the strong sound waves in a state of confusion. And since the density of water is much higher than that of air, sound propagates underwater about five times faster than in the air.</p><p>Military sonar operations employing very loud sounds have particularly drastic effects. After NATO maneuvers, for example, beaked whales have washed up dead on the coasts of Cyprus, the Canary Islands and the Bahamas. The sonars, which are louder than 200 decibels, triggered the formation of gas bubbles in the blood vessels and organs of marine mammals (as happens with diving sickness), obstructing the blood supply and leading to their death. </p>
How Can You Help Stranded Whales and Dolphins?<p>When a whale stranding is discovered, there is usually not much time left. Teams of helpers can do little more than try to cool the stranded animals, keep them moist and combine forces to get the heavy animals back into the sea as quickly and gently as possible.</p><p>In some countries, hotlines have been set up so that as many helpers as possible can be mobilized quickly. For many exhausted animals, however, even these immediate measures often come too late. </p>
- Rescuers Race to Save Stranded Whales in Indonesia - EcoWatch ›
- Hundreds of Pilot Whales Die in Devastating Mass Stranding in New ... ›
- At Least 380 Whales Die in Australia's Largest Mass Stranding ... ›
Ecuador authorities are keeping tabs on a fleet of roughly 260 fishing boats near the Galapagos Islands, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Ecuadorian boats are patrolling to try to stop the fishing boats from entering the area, according to Reuters.
- Half of World Heritage Sites at Risk From Fossil Fuel Development ... ›
- Protecting the Galapagos Islands - EcoWatch ›
- Boat Carrying 600 Gallons of Oil Sinks off the Galápagos - EcoWatch ›