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Study Finds Proximity to Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling Rigs Threaten Humpback Whales
By Rob Jordan
When you are 50 feet long and weigh more than 40 tons—the maximum allowed weight on most U.S. highways—you need a lot of space to move around.
Humpback whales, still recovering from whaling that wiped out as much as 90 percent of their global population, are confronted with new challenges caused by hydrocarbon extraction, shipping routes and ocean-based pollutants, according to a study co-authored by Sara Maxwell, a biology postdoctoral scholar affiliated with the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.
The study, published last week in the journal Conservation Biology, finds that humpback whales migrating from breeding grounds off the coast of Africa must navigate past offshore oil and gas rigs, vessels in shipping lanes and encounter the potentially harmful toxicants that accompany them.
"Knowing not just where animals are going, but what kind of human activities and potential threats they are facing gives us insight into how we can effectively help them while still maintaining the services that we as humans rely on in the ocean," said Maxwell, who works at Stanford's Hopkins Marine Station.
Using satellite tags, the researchers tracked 15 whales’ massive journeys, some more than 4,970 miles, between sub-Antarctic feeding grounds and African near-shore breeding grounds, among other areas.
The whales spent the most time in the national waters of Cameroon, Gabon, Nigeria and Angola, areas overlapped with offshore hydrocarbon operations and major shipping lanes. Overall, the whales spent an estimated 41.4 percent of the study period near oil and gas platforms. They spent nearly 76 percent of their time within 200 miles of the coast, a zone in which individual countries have rights granted by international law over the exploration and use of marine resources, including energy production.
Data on certain impacts on whales in this region is limited, but there is extensive evidence of ships striking whales off the California coast, where numerous programs have been put in place to mitigate the problem, Maxwell said.
“There are indications that oil production in these coastal regions has and will increase in the coming years,” said study lead author Howard Rosenbaum, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Ocean Giants program. “So gaining a better understanding of the movements of whales and quantifying the degree of overlap with anthropogenic activities will help assess the potential risks to this population, and identify mitigation strategies that should be considered to better protect whales.”
The satellite data contained some surprising results: while several whales predictably remained in the offshore waters of Gabon or traveled south, nearly half of the tagged group (including two females with calves) moved north into a previously unknown part of the breeding range for humpbacks off the coast of Gabon.
While migration patterns of humpbacks have been the subject of extensive study in other ocean basins and regions, the direct movements of humpbacks along the western African coast in the eastern South Atlantic have only recently come to light.
The study’s discovery prompted Maxwell to say, “We are still in an age of discovery when it comes to these ocean giants."
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Daisy Brickhill
Each morning, men living in fishing communities along Ghana's coastline push off in search of the day's catch. But when the boats come back to shore, it's the women who take over.
By Sam Nickerson
Links between excess sugar in your diet and disease have been well-documented, but new research by Harvard's School of Public Health might make you even more wary of that next soda: it could increase your risk of an early death.
The study, published this week in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation, found that drinking one or two sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) each day — like sodas or sports drinks — increases risk of an early death by 14 percent.
Tyson Foods Recalls Nearly 70,000 Pounds of Chicken Strips After Customers Find ‘Fragments of Metal’
Tyson Foods is recalling approximately 69,093 pounds of frozen chicken strips because they may have been contaminated with pieces of metal, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced Thursday.
The affected products were fully-cooked "Buffalo Style" and "Crispy" chicken strips with a "use by" date of Nov. 30, 2019 and an establishment number of "P-7221" on the back of the package.
"FSIS is concerned that some product may be in consumers' freezers," the recall notice said. "Consumers who have purchased these products are urged not to consume them. These products should be thrown away or returned to the place of purchase."
Environmental exposure to pesticides, both before birth and during the first year of life, has been linked to an increased risk of developing autism spectrum disorder, according to the largest epidemiological study to date on the connection.
The study, published Wednesday in BMJ, found that pregnant women who lived within 2,000 meters (approximately 1.2 miles) of a highly-sprayed agricultural area in California had children who were 10 to 16 percent more likely to develop autism and 30 percent more likely to develop severe autism that impacted their intellectual ability. If the children were exposed to pesticides during their first year of life, the risk they would develop autism went up to 50 percent.
ExxonMobil could be the second company after Monsanto to lose lobbying access to members of European Parliament after it failed to turn up to a hearing Thursday into whether or not the oil giant knowingly spread false information about climate change.
The call to ban the company was submitted by Green Member of European Parliament (MEP) Molly Scott Cato and should be decided in a vote in late April, The Guardian reported.
Bernie Sanders has become the first contender in the crowded 2020 Democratic presidential primary field to pledge to offset all of the greenhouse gas emissions released by campaign travel, The Huffington Post reported Thursday.