Four gray whales have washed up dead near San Francisco within nine days, and at least one cause of death has been attributed to a ship strike.
More whales than usual have been washing up dead since 2019, and the West Coast gray whale population continues to suffer from an unusual mortality event, defined by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as "a stranding that is unexpected; involves a significant die-off of any marine mammal population; and demands immediate response."
"It's alarming to respond to four dead gray whales in just over a week because it really puts into perspective the current challenges faced by this species," Dr. Pádraig Duignan, director of pathology at the Marine Mammal Center, said in a press release.
As the world's largest marine mammal hospital, the Sausalito-based center has been investigating the recent spate of deaths. The first involved a 41-foot female who washed up dead at San Francisco's Crissy Field on March 31, SFGate reported. The cause of death remains a mystery, as the whale was in good condition with a full stomach. The second, another female, washed up on April 3 at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve on Moss Beach.
"That animal's cause of death, we suspect, was ship strike," the Marine Mammal Center's Giancarlo Rulli told SFGate. "Our plan is to eventually head back out to that whale and take more samples."
The third whale washed up April 7 near Berkeley Marina, The AP reported. The center determined it was a 37-foot male in average condition, with no evidence of illness or injury.
A 41-foot female turned up the next day on Marin County's Muir Beach. She suffered bruising and hemorrhaging around the jaw and neck vertebrae, indicating a vessel strike.
Vessel strikes are one of the leading causes of death for gray whales examined by the Marine Mammal Center, along with entanglements in fishing gear and malnutrition. While the species is not endangered, the population has declined by 25 percent since last assessed in 2016, CNN reported.
West Coast gray whales travel 10,000 miles every year between Mexico and the Arctic, according to The AP. They spend the winter breeding off of Baja California, and feed along the California coast in spring and summer on their way back north. The Marine Mammal Center began noticing a problem for the migrating whales in 2019.
"Our team hasn't responded to this number of dead gray whales in such a short span since 2019 when we performed a startling 13 necropsies in the San Francisco Bay Area," Dr. Duignan said in the press release.
The 2019 deaths led NOAA to declare an unusual mortality event for West Coast gray whales. It is similar to another event that happened from 1999 to 2000, after which the whales' numbers rebounded to even higher levels. This suggests population dips and rises may not be uncommon for the species. However, it is also possible that the climate crisis is playing a role. The 2019 deaths were linked to malnutrition, and warmer waters can reduce the amount of food whales have to eat in the Arctic, giving them less energy for their migration, CNN explained. Overfishing can also play a role in depriving whales of food, the Marine Mammal Center said.
Dr. Jeff Boehm, Marine Mammal Center CEO and veterinarian, told CNN that he had observed an uptick in shipping traffic after the pandemic caused a slowdown. At the same time, the center is less able to conduct research because of COVID-19 safety precautions. And even in the best of times, only around 10 percent of dead whales wash up on shore, The AP reported.
"This many dead whales in a week is shocking, especially because these animals are the tip of the iceberg," Kristen Monsell, legal director of the Center for Biological Diversity's Oceans program, told The AP.
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Who says you can't go home again?
A brown pelican rescued from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 and relocated to Georgia has made the 700-mile trek back to Louisiana 11 years later.
"It's truly impressive that it made its way back from Georgia,'' Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) Biologist Casey Wright said in a press release.
There's no place like home. After the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, this brown pelican was rehabilitated and re… https://t.co/VTN96fzUYZ— LaWildlife&Fisheries (@LaWildlife&Fisheries)1617907817.0
The pelican was found covered in oil on June 14, 2010, on a rock jetty off of Bataria Bay, located on Louisiana's Queen Bess Island, WBRZ reported. The bird, tagged "Red 33Z" by its rescuers, was first taken to a triage facility, then a rehabilitation facility in Louisiana. However, it couldn't be released near its home due to oil contamination. Instead, the pelican was flown to the U.S. Coast Guard station in Brunswick, Georgia, and released there on July 1, 2010.
It isn't known exactly when Red 33Z made it back home, but Wright spotted and photographed the bird on a Bataria Bay rock jetty in March. This isn't unheard of behavior for pelicans.
"Brown pelicans, like most seabirds, are thought to be hard-wired, genetically, to return to their birth colony to breed, despite moving long distances during the non-breeding season," LDWF Non-Game Ornithologist Robert Dobbs said in the press release. "That may be an overly simplistic generalization, but re-sighting data of banded pelicans often support that pattern.''
Other birds released in Georgia, Texas and Florida after the spill have also been spotted back in Louisiana.
It is thanks to careful restoration work that Red 33Z could return home. Queen Bess Island is an important nesting colony for sea birds and 15 to 20 percent of the state's brown pelicans are hatched there. But heavy damage from the spill left only five habitable acres. However, a restoration project raised that number to 36 acres by February 2020.
"Queen Bess is one of Louisiana's best redemptive wildlife stories," LDWF Secretary Jack Montoucet said in a statement announcing the completed restoration. "It was on this very island in 1968 that we began the process of bringing back the Brown Pelican after pesticides nearly wiped the species from the Louisiana landscape. Now we celebrate the birth of a healthy home for Brown Pelicans and many other bird species because of the marriage of science, wise planning, and the determination of state and federal governments to do the right thing."However, not all birds had such a happy ending after the 2010 oil spill. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that 65,000 to 102,000 birds died in the disaster, The Associated Press reported. Still, bird populations in the area have recovered their pre-spill numbers.
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Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
By Muntasir Akash
The smallest of the planet's 13 otter species finds its habitat shrinking every day. We know little about these mustelids — especially in Bangladesh, where I conduct my research — but they face a horde of threats.
Species Name and Description:
The Asian small-clawed otter (Aonyx cinereus) has a typical otter build with webbed digits, dark brown to blackish upper parts, and a pale vent. It can be distinguished from other otter species by its blunter muzzle, acutely arched back and a white neck devoid of any spots or streaks. Its claws are noticeably short and even often absent — a feature of its genus, Aonyx.
Where It's Found:
These otters live in the Himalayan foothills, Ganges Delta, Northeast India, Indochina, South China and Philippines, with isolated population in southern India. Their habitats range from forests and wetlands to coasts and mangroves. In Bangladesh they're thought to be confined to the Sundarbans mangrove.
A small-clawed otter in Bangladesh. Via iNaturalist and © Guenther Eichhorn, some rights reserved (CC-BY-NC)
IUCN Red List Status:
Vulnerable, with a globally decreasing population trend; endangered in Bangladesh
Poaching for fur and extraction to supply a recently spiked demand in pet trade is the number one threat to Asia's most trafficked otter species. Habitat destruction, conflict with fishers, drying up streams, decreasing food supply and attacks by feral dogs are also affecting its already sharply plummeting population.
Otter pelts in India. © Ashwin Viswanathan, some rights reserved (CC-BY). Via iNaturalist
In Bangladesh there exists no study on the species outside the Sundarbans, its known habitat in the country. Even there, only a handful of research has been undertaken to date.
Notable Conservation Programs or Legal Protections:
In 2019 the species shifted to CITES Appendix I from Appendix II to plug the illegal trade and trafficking.
The IUCN Otter Specialist Group and International Otter Survival Fund are the strongest voices for the species. Although the animals are protected by law, there is no conservation scheme so far in Bangladesh.
My Favorite Experience:
Watching camera-trap footage of not one, not two, but multiple otter families is unforgettable. Hearing the cooing of otter pups on screen was heart-melting and one of those now-I-can-die-in-peace moments. And all these images were from a region that has long been deprioritized in conservation, without any prior systematic study.
The small-clawed otter, a globally vulnerable small carnivore, can still be found in certain protected areas of northeastern Bangladesh. This is the first camera-trap image from the region. Muntasir Akash / Northeast Bangladesh Carnivore Conservation Initiative
However, the joy comes with a caveat. In all existing anecdotes, northeastern forests are described as the home of the larger Eurasian and smooth-coated otters. Otters showed up, true. But to my extreme surprise, it was a species that has always been attributed to the Sundarbans — a forest hundreds of miles away from the study site. Although finding the Asian small-clawed otter here has sparked hope for the region, the apparent absence of the other two expected species has left me with an uneasy feeling: Do the larger otters really roam these forests? Or is the Eurasian otter, the rarest of the three, to become the next extinct carnivore in Bangladesh?
What Else Do We Need to Understand or Do to Protect This Species?
We need extensive studies on ecology and threats to the species in both known and newly discovered habitats in Bangladesh. Connecting otters with the exceptionally rich ichthyodiversity of riparian streams and mangrove creeks can strengthen conservation practices in the country.
Muntasir Akash is a lecturer at the Department of Zoology, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. He is focusing his career on the conservation of lesser-known carnivorous mammals, leading camera-trapping work in northeastern Bangladesh funded by the Conservation Leadership Programme, a partnership between BirdLife International, Fauna & Flora International and WCS.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
Invasive species are causing increasingly costly damage, new research finds.
Exotic, invasive species, introduced by humans, wreak ecological and economic havoc in new habitats. In a study published in Nature, researchers found the costliest among these species are Aedes mosquitoes, rats, cats, termites and fire ants, Science News reported.
"For decades, researchers have been evaluating the significant impacts of invasive species, but the problem isn't well known by the public and policy makers," Boris Leroy, a biogeographer at the French National Museum of Natural History in Paris, told Science News. "By estimating the global cost, we hoped to raise awareness of the issue and identify the most costly species."
Researchers found that over the past four decades (1970 to 2017), invasive species have cost nearly $1.3 trillion in damages, the French National Centre for Scientific Research wrote in a statement.
The research analyzed over 1,300 estimates of damages by invasive plants and animals, The Guardian reported. And while these damages yielded an annual average of $26.8 billion, the annual bill actually tripled every decade. "In 2017 alone, it hit $162.7 billion, or 20 times the combined budgets of the WHO and the UN Secretariat that year," the French National Centre for Scientific Research wrote.
The study, which was the most comprehensive of its kind, was intentionally conservative, relying on only observed data, The Guardian reported. "But there are so many unquantifiables from a monetary perspective, like ecosystem damage and lost productivity, so it's still the tip of the iceberg," profesor Corey Bradshaw, of Flinders University in Australia, who was part of the study, told The Guardian, adding that the real costs could be 10 times higher.
The international research team said growth in global trade is to blame for the uptick in economic cost. Deforestation and agricultural expansion have also helped species move easily from habitat to habitat, Science News reported.
Coming with a heavy annual cost of about $149 billion, Aedes mosquitoes, including the Asian tiger mosquito and the yellow fever mosquito, rank as the costliest invasive species. First arriving in the U.S. around the 1980s, in used tires shipped from Asia, the Asian tiger mosquito quickly spread across 40 states and has invaded parts of Europe, South America, Africa and Australia. The yellow fever mosquito, originally from sub-Saharan Africa, has spread around the world in similar ways. Together they transmit diseases like Zika, chikungunya, yellow fever and dengue, Science News reported.
Cats also come with a costly toll, causing about $52 billion annually in damages. Originally from Europe and the Middle East, they now live on all nonfrozen continents where the majority of their cost comes from their impact on native biodiversity. A recent study found that cats kill more than one billion birds every year in the United States alone, Science News reported.
The researchers emphasize that these costs of biological invasions "remain vastly underestimated and under-reported," but "no reversal of the trend is visible on the horizon since the continued expansion of international commerce and transport generally brings with it more invasive species," according to a statement by the CNRS.
While these projections may seem dire, professor Helen Roy from the UK Centre for Ecology & Haydrology, who was not involved in the study, said there's still "some cause for optimism," The Guardian reported. Opportunities to invest in cargo inspections and other biosecurity measures to stop the spread of invasive species could help reduce costs. "It's much cheaper than waiting for the species to establish and spread widely before responding," Roy told Science News.
Several black bears appearing "friendly to the public" have been reported across the Sierra Nevada region recently, concerning biologists that a mysterious disease is causing the bears to no longer fear humans and potentially suffer an early death, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) wrote in a statement.
Over the past 12 months, veterinarians have captured several bears for similar behaviors, and all of them had encephalitis, inflammation in their brains, The Sacramento Bee reported. Scientists also discovered five new viruses in some of the bears with symptoms, but have yet to determine if they are linked to the swelling.
Normally, black bears are timid around humans, showing no interest in interacting. But in February, the CDFW received calls regarding a small black bear in Pollock Pines, El Dorado County that had appeared at a utility worksite.
The bear showed little concern over attempts to be shooed away and at one point jumped in the back of a car trunk, the CDFW reported. When a wildlife biologist began to investigate in the region, they found one small bear to be "dog-like" in its behavior, seeming not "quite right, walking oddly, dull and not responsive like a normal bear should be."
At the agency's Wildlife Investigations Laboratory, biologists found that the Pollock Pines bear weighed only 21 pounds, nearly 60 pounds under that of a healthy bear of the same age, NBC News reported. After a week of testing, it was euthanized, making it the third bear to show up in the laboratory in just 12 months and suffer from encephalitis.
So far, bears with similar symptoms have been found on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe and recently in Humboldt County in northern California. And while scientists say the bear's conditions are from encephalitis, which can come from viruses, bacteria, fungi or parasites, they have yet to pinpoint the root cause for the brain swelling, NBC News reported.
"Any time a wild animal comes into our care, the best-possible outcome is a release back to the wild," explained CDFW wildlife veterinarian Brandon Munk, in a statement. "That's just not possible for these neurologically impaired bears. At this point, we don't know what causes the encephalitis so we don't know what, if any, health risks these bears might pose to other animals."
Between 30,000 and 40,000 black bears still remain and so far the mysterious disease hasn't caused a significant decline in black bear populations, AP News reported. But in the Tahoe region, where a high density of black bears live, some biologists worry if the reports in the region are simply due to the fact that higher populations of people may come across the sickly bears.
"What wildlife managers think about a lot is, when you're in an area where animals are very charismatic, as well as having a high human population that's invested in that population, the symptoms are more likely to be seen," Jamie Sherman, a veterinarian at UC Davis' One Health Institute who has studied bear diseases, told The Sacramento Bee. Symptomatic bears in less populated regions, however, may be going unnoticed, biologists warn.
While scientists say viruses found in the bears can not threaten human health, increasing interaction between humans and bears with "neurological abnormalities" could lead to more contact. The CDFW, for example, pointed to a 2019 viral video where a black bear approached a snowboarder without fear, sniffing his leg curiously.
Today the bear, named Benji, lives at the San Diego Humane Society's Ramona Campus and has never fully recovered from encephalitis, requiring costly treatment to stay alive in captivity. In 2014, the CDFW treated another sickly young bear and placed it at the Orange County Zoo, according to state officials.
"These bears serve as something of a cautionary tale as neither fully recovered and both have required significant veterinary care, resources and treatment over time – expenses that are difficult for many wildlife facilities to absorb and limit the placement options for similarly afflicted bears in the future," the CDFW wrote in a statement.
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"How America's most endangered cat could help save Florida."
As its headline promises, National Geographic's latest feature on the endangered Florida panther explores the unspoken, symbiotic relationship between the big cats and the humans they must coexist with. The article also showcases intimate, rare photographs of the panthers, which took five years to capture.
According to the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), Florida panthers are actually a subspecies of mountain lion — the only one remaining in the Eastern U.S. They're also known as pumas and cougars. The subspecies' historic range once extended from Florida to Louisiana throughout the Gulf Coast states, and even Arkansas, NWF reported. Today, wild Florida panthers can only be found in southwestern Florida.
Hunting decimated the population, and the species was among the first to be added to the U.S. endangered species list in 1973, with fewer than 30 individuals remaining, according to the National Geographic article. Habitat loss compounded the issue. With such a small population, inbreeding, which could lead to diseases and genetic malfunctions, was of particular concern. Journalist Douglas Main wrote the feature story, and he shared in a twitter thread how many people feared that Florida's panther had gone, or would soon go extinct, during that decade.
A massive conservation effort ensued, including bringing in eight Texas mountain lions to breed with the native Florida population in order to inject fresh genetic diversity into the population, Main said.
However, the subspecies is still so critically endangered that it remains vulnerable to "just about every major threat," NWF reported. Habitat loss is the biggest obstacle.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Florida panthers require large, contiguous areas of suitable land to live on. They are solitary and roam widely in order to meet their social, reproductive and energetic needs, FWS reported. Unfortunately, they are still restricted to less than five percent of their historical range, the report noted.
As more people move to Florida, continued development threatens the little remaining open land and panther habitat. For panthers, this is a huge challenge to recovery, and has increased cat-on-cat territorial spats and car collisions — the leading causes of death, National Geographic reported. About 25 Florida panthers are killed annually by vehicles, a devastating blow to a tiny population and "a reflection of how development and road construction threaten the species at a time when roughly 900 people are moving to Florida every day," the story detailed.
The conservation efforts worked to save the panther from the brink of extinction, but they're still very much at risk, said National Geographic Explorer Carlton Ward Jr. Ward is an eighth-generation Floridian and habitat protection advocate, as well as the photographer who spent five years capturing the panther images for the feature.
A male panther leaps over a creek at Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Florida. The rarely seen cats, which number only around 200, are reclaiming territory north of the Everglades, but their habitat is threatened by encroaching suburban sprawl. Carlton Ward, Jr.
For Ward, it became an obsession to document the elusive, endangered cats, and the pictures reflect that. "The lead image for the story, a panther jumping across a log around a flooded section of swamp, that picture took two years to capture," he admitted.
For five years, Ward set up state-of-the-art camera traps throughout the Florida woods and swamps. He shared with EcoWatch what he learned about the need to continue balancing Florida's tremendous population growth with conserving the iconic species.
"We need to cultivate a culture of coexistence," Ward said. "If the panther goes extinct, I will be worried about all the other wildlife and people in Florida, because it means we will have missed the opportunity we have now to conserve enough land to ensure balance between wildlife and people."
Today, the panther population has grown to roughly 200, and Ward's photos show that the cats are moving northward to reclaim old territories. This is critical, because northward expansion is the only path for long-term survival, Main wrote in National Geographic.
"The southern tip of Florida is not enough land to sustain a genetically viable, resilient population of panthers," Ward told EcoWatch. "The cats can only continue moving north if the Florida Wildlife Corridor, a patchwork of public and private lands that run through the state, is preserved. The Florida Wildlife Corridor is the lifeline and path of recovery for panthers."
Yet this requires the participation of landowners and ranchers, who need more conservation funding to prevent their open spaces from becoming subdivisions, parking lots and roads, Main explained in the story. Conservation easements use up development rights while allowing the owners to continue farming and ranching, Main said.
"The land is still there. We have a moment right now where we can choose to conserve," Ward told EcoWatch. "Hundreds of landowners are open to conservation as an alternative to development. They're waiting for conservation easements or to sell their land for national parks. We need to meet this opportunity."
Wildlife veterinarian Lara Cusack handles more kittens belonging to FP224. These young cats were measured and given immunity boosters while their mother was hunting away from the den. When panthers have space and protected habitats, their populations can grow. Only about one in three Florida panther kittens survives to adulthood. Carlton Ward Jr. / National Geographic Society
Landowners and ranchers, who were traditionally pitted against panthers when their cattle were eaten, will also benefit from increased protections for the cats. "On the Endangered Species Act, do you see 'cowboy' or 'rancher' written on it? No, but we benefit from the protections afforded the panther," Main quoted Florida rancher Elton Langford. "Both share a common enemy: Development," Main wrote.
People with multi-generational connections to the land share something in common with a species that's lived there for 20,000 years, Ward said. Both need the land to remain intact and open.
"There is common ground and common threat and common opportunity," Ward concluded. "That's where I feel the most hope — in how much common ground there is in saving a species, helping sustain a way of life and in sustaining the headwaters of the Everglades and the water supply. The panther is a great icon for everyone to conserve all of this."
For more on this story, visit National Geographic. The story appears in print in National Geographic's April 2021 issue.
"Return of the Florida Panther" is featured in the April 2021 issue of National Geographic. National Geographic Society
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In a rare occurrence, New York's East River welcomed unexpected visitors on Tuesday — dolphins.
The dolphins were first seen near the WNYC Transmitter Park in Brooklyn around noon, ABC7 reported. Twenty-six-year-old actor and Upper West Side resident Cailin Doran shared videos of the animals on Twitter, Gothamist reported.
Doran, who is originally from California, told Patch that she was used to seeing dolphins in her old home, but not her new one.
"It's just such a bright light in everything that happened over the past year," she said.
While it is unusual to see dolphins with the New York skyline in the background, there are 90 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises that swim in the New York Bight, the estuary between Long Island and New Jersey, Gothamist noted. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation said some of these animals could be seen relatively frequently and others only rarely.
Dr. Howard Rosenbaum, director of Wildlife Conservation Society Ocean Giants Program and New York Aquarium senior scientist, told ABC7 that the dolphins appeared to be common dolphins, which would make Tuesday's East River sighting all the more unusual.
"We see these animals during our offshore surveys in the wider New York Bight — so this is not normally where they are seen," Rosenbaum told ABC7. "In the New York Harbor and surrounding estuary, we actually have detected two other species — bottlenose dolphins and harbor porpoise — from a two acoustic monitoring study we recently completed."
Rosenbaum told Gothamist that the dolphins were probably following prey. However, it can be dangerous for dolphins to enter the East River if they swim into certain areas. For example, a dolphin died in 2013 after swimming into the highly polluted Gowanus Canal and getting stuck there, Gothamist reported at the time.
"Hopefully, this is a group of animals that has been able to freely swim into this area and will freely swim out of the area and are not in distress," Rosenbaum told Gothamist.
The waterways around New York City have generally become more hospitable for marine life. ABC7 reported that humpback whales were spotted in the Hudson River in 2016 and 2020, which the Parks Department possibly credited to improved water quality and an abundance of food. A 2017 report from the NYC Department of Environmental Protection revealed that the harbor's water quality had reached the healthiest level in more than a century.
"Over the past decade, the City has invested more than $12 billion to upgrade the sewer system and wastewater treatment plants to improve the health of these critical ecosystems," Commissioner Vincent Sapienza wrote in the report. "This investment, over time, has produced many ecological successes, ushering in the return of a variety of plant and animal species to our waters — including whales!"
And, it would appear, dolphins.
A seal that had won the hearts of West London had to be put to sleep after a dog attack Sunday.
The 10-month-old harbor seal, nicknamed Freddie Mercury, was taken to the South Essex Wildlife Hospital, where staff discovered he had a fractured flipper and dislocated joint, the hospital wrote on Facebook. They also said he was not eating and had a spreading infection.
"At this stage we believe the only ethical and fair option we have is to end his suffering," the hospital wrote.
Freddie first gained public fame in February after being rescued from the Teddington Lock in Southwest London, where he got a fishing lure stuck in his mouth, The Guardian reported. He was released on the Isle of Sheppey off the Kent coast, but returned to the Teddington stretch of the Thames to Londoners' delight.
However, a dog mauled Freddie as he basked along the riverside on Sunday, The Guardian reported. Four people rushed to pry open the dog's jaws, including a vet. The dog and its owner then left, while emergency workers from the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) rushed the seal to the hospital.
In a Facebook post, BDMLR concurred that nothing more could be done for Freddie.
"Freddie was a wild seal and after the ferocious attack on Sunday he suffered a serious broken and dislocated flipper," BDMLR CEO Alan Knight wrote on Facebook. "We contacted one of the UK's leading orthopedic surgeons, and he said that unfortunately the only option was to euthanize the seal."
Both the hospital and BDMLR said the incident underscored the importance of giving wildlife the space they need.
"Sadly, Freddie is not the only seal we have had to care for that this has happened to," the hospital wrote. "Please folks do not go near seals and always, always, keep dogs on leads and under control."
"We are all absolutely gutted to hear about the extent of the injuries Freddie suffered, and highlights yet again the serious problems that can arise when humans and dogs encounter wild animals," the group wrote. "We hope that his story will go a long way to helping educate people to look up and follow the appropriate guidelines for how to behave respectfully around wild animals and not cause disturbance or worse to them."
This could be life-saving advice for the harbor seals that frequent the Thames. The Zoological Society of London's Thames Marine Mammal Survey has so far reported 117 seal sightings along the river this year, the Evening Standard reported.
"It is not unusual for seals to find their way into harbors or rivers such as the Thames and they have been known to travel inland quite some distance," a spokesperson for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals told Metro. "They are often just looking for more food and generally they find their way out to sea again."
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Despite public resistance, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted to ban the possession and breeding of 16 high-risk invasive species.
The new ruling, approved late last month, includes Burmese pythons, Argentine black and white tegus, green iguanas and 13 other high-risk, non-native snakes and lizards which "pose a threat to Florida's ecology, economy, and human health and safety," the FWC wrote in a statement.
So far, environmental groups have celebrated the decision, saying it will help protect Florida's natural ecosystems, waterways and native species, while exotic pet owners and breeders who benefit from the state's profitable animal trade have condemned it.
More than 500 non-native species have been reported in Florida, 80 percent of which have been introduced through live animal trades, the FWC wrote. When these same animals are released into the wild, they reproduce and ultimately out-compete native species.
"I'm very sensitive to the people in the pet trade and enthusiasts. But this action is a result of the invasive species that continue to get into the wild," FWC Commissioner Robert Spottswood said in a statement about the ruling. "We have so many of these species now: pythons, tegus, iguanas. These animals are doing lots of damage and we are incumbent to do something."
The public hearing lasted four hours and included more than 80 people from across the country, many of whom called in to oppose the rule, The Washington Post reported. Some exotic pet owners expressed concern over losing pets they considered family members.
"If you take them away, "I would be really messed up," said one caller who owns pythons and iguanas, according to the Washington Post.
The green iguana, first spotted in Florida in 1960 and deemed an "exotic curiosity," is now considered an environmental threat that carries salmonella, enters sewers and digs up sea walls, The Guardian reported. The FWC is now encouraging locals to humanely kill iguanas found on their property in order to prevent them from causing further ecological damage, The Guardian added.
The ban will not require current owners to get rid of their pets as long as owners meet new compliance rules. It also gives businesses three years to "get rid of their breeding stock," The Washington Post reported.
Business owner Eugene Bessette, who started his Central Florida python business, Ophiological Services, more than 40 years ago, assumes the ban will result in illegal trade. This will only accelerate the invasive species problem. "If people want something, they're going to find a way to get it," Bessette told The Washington Post.
But the ban could also stop less responsible pet owners from releasing non-native reptiles into the state, the Tampa Bay Times editorial board wrote. "While the move feels at least 20 years too late for some of the damaging reptiles like the Burmese python, it's better than nothing."
The python, which can grow to be more than 15 feet long, is responsible for wreaking ecological havoc across the Everglades, the editorial board wrote. In a 2012 study, researchers found raccoon populations had dropped 99.3 percent, opossums 98.9 percent and bobcats 87.5 percent since 1997, while marsh rabbits, cottontail rabbits and foxes had disappeared. The wildlife populations that had declined the most were also the ones most commonly found in the stomachs of Burmese pythons that had been removed from Everglades National Park, the USGS reported.
Environmental groups, including the Nature Conservancy, Audubon Florida and the Everglades Coalition, have praised the recent ban for what it could mean for Florida's communities and iconic ecosystems.
"The Nature Conservancy supports proposed rule changes to address the threat of nonnative species and looks forward to working with the FWC toward solutions that could further protect Florida's environment, human health and safety, and economy," said Greg Knecht, the Florida chapter's deputy director of the Nature Conservancy, according to the FWC.
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A cold-water mammal, harp seals rarely spend any time on land, National Geographic explained. Instead, they feed in the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, but every year return to the sea ice where they were born to give birth to their own young. But this year, the seals that usually return to the Gulf of Saint Lawrence to give birth on the ice around the Îles de la Madeleine in late February and early March were in for a shock.
"This year, there is absolutely no ice," wildlife photographer and expedition leader Mario Cyr told National Geographic. "These seals are out of options."
Instead, hundreds of pups have washed up on a beach in Blanc-Sablon, Québec, where Cyr has photographed them for the magazine. Baby seals on land don't tend to do well. They are in danger of being crushed by ice, drowned or eaten by land carnivores like coyotes.
"They're evolutionarily designed for ice. They're not designed to survive onshore... and it puts them literally in the proximity of every predator out there. So yes, they're in trouble," National Geographic contributor Jen Hayes told ABC7.
2021 is expected to be a bad year for baby harp seal mortality, and marine mammal expert Mark Hammill told National Geographic that it is unlikely the baby seals on the beach will make it.
The Gulf of St. Lawrence is usually covered by more than 90,000 square miles of ice in March, according to ABC7. But this year, the gulf is essentially ice-free. The ice extent is the lowest it has been since record-keeping began in 1969.
However, this isn't the first time that ice cover has been so low that it has impacted the seals and the community that relies on their nurseries to bring tourism to the Îles de la Madeleine, or Magdalen Islands. This is the fifth time that the seal observation season there has been canceled in the last decade.
"2010 was our rupture point," Ariane Bérubé, sales director for the Château Madelinot hotel, told The Guardian. "It was the first year we had to cancel. We had more than 350 people who had reserved and we had to try to explain to them what was happening. It was the first time since 1958 that we had no ice. Then it happened again in 2011. And again in 2016 and 2017. And now this year."
While the low ice is bad for baby seals this year, Hammill says that overall the 7.6 million harp seals in the world are doing well and will simply change their migration patterns as the planet warms and ice distribution shifts. What will end is seal tourism in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
"We need to keep in mind that seals always return to the place where they were born. So, if we skip a year, like now, nothing changes genetically for the seals. But if it goes on for three or four years in a row, during which the seals don't give birth to their pups here, then they won't come back because they will have changed their migration route," Cyr explained to The Guardian. "So for each year that we lose, that makes fewer who will return. These are the effects of climate change that are really visible."
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Reddit investors have found a way to meme for good.
The amateur investors on subreddit WallStreetBets often refer to themselves as apes and use the phrase "Apes Together Strong," BBC News reported. Now, some subreddit members have started to take this saying literally. Within days, Redditors have raised $350,000 for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund by adopting more than 3,500 gorillas, The Guardian reported.
"It's safe to say that the #investor community on @reddit is not traditionally who we think of as our supporter base. But they definitely surprised and overwhelmed us over the weekend," the conservation group tweeted.
🚨WE HAVE NEWS 🚨 It’s safe to say that the #investor community on @reddit is not traditionally who we think of as ou… https://t.co/f3Vg6e44dv— Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund (@Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund)1615827823.0
The trend began last Friday when Reddit user Pakistani_in_MURICA posted an adoption certificate for a mountain gorilla named Urungano. The post received a 92 percent upvote rate and prompted many other users to follow suit.
The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund works with mountain gorillas in Rwanda and Grauer's gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to BBC News. On Twitter, the group said that the new funds would support their work studying and monitoring gorillas, and supporting the people who live near them.
The organization told The Guardian that it usually receives 20 new gorilla adoptions a weekend, a far cry from the thousands that the Redditors initiated.
"The support that has come to our organization, as well as others, is amazing," Tara Stoinski, the fund's president, chief executive and chief scientific officer, told The Guardian. "One of the biggest challenges in conservation is just that there's not enough funding for the challenges we face on the ground."
The Redditors have also donated to other organizations and adopted other species. The Ape Cognition and Conservation Initiative, which studies endangered bonobos, said it received $4,500 from the WallStreetBets community.
Wow!! Thanks to the @Official_WSB community, we have raised $4,500 and bonobos are now featured in @Newsweek! We ar… https://t.co/mlFI4en5Y5— Ape Cognition and Conservation Initiative (@Ape Cognition and Conservation Initiative)1615996027.0
The Redditors have also moved beyond apes to adopt endangered animals such as elephants, pangolins and sea turtles, according to The Guardian. The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which runs a sanctuary for orphaned elephants in Kenya, experienced a $10,000 rise in donations over the weekend.
"It's a new supporter base for us, for sure, one that we're extremely thankful for," the trust's Amie Alden told The Guardian. "We've currently got more than 90 dependent orphaned elephants in our care and it's an expensive undertaking."
The WallStreetBets community first rose to fame in January, when they noticed that hedge funds were betting against stocks, including GameStop and AMC, and banded together to buy several stocks to boost their prices, Business Insider explained. This caused the share price of GameStop to skyrocket from less than $5 a share at the end of December to more than $450 by Jan. 28, forcing some hedge funds to close their bets at a loss. Some of the Redditors referenced the saga by making their animal donations in the name of GameStop or "Jim Cramer's Tears," The Guardian noted.
"This is the sort of thing that happens when people unaccustomed to having money suddenly get some," BBC News reported one Redditor saying.
By Ermias Kebreab and Breanna Roque
Methane is a short-lived but powerful greenhouse gas and the second-largest contributor to climate change after carbon dioxide. And the majority of human-induced methane emissions comes from livestock.
About 70% of agricultural methane comes from enteric fermentation – chemical reactions in the stomachs of cows and other grazing animals as they break down plants. The animals burp out most of this methane and pass the rest as flatulence.
There are roughly 1 billion cattle around the world, so reducing enteric methane is an effective way to reduce overall methane emissions. But most options for doing so, such as changing cows' diets to more digestible feed or adding more fat, are not cost-effective. A 2015 study suggested that using seaweed as an additive to cattle's normal feed could reduce methane production, but this research was done in a laboratory, not in live animals.
We study sustainable agriculture, focusing on livestock. In a newly published study, we show that using red seaweed (Asparagopsis) as a feed supplement can reduce both methane emissions and feed costs without affecting meat quality. If these findings can be scaled up and commercialized, they could transform cattle production into a more economically and environmentally sustainable industry.
Ruminant animals, such as cows, sheep and goats, can digest plant material that is indigestible for humans and animals with simple stomachs, such as pigs and chickens. This unique ability stems from ruminants' four-compartment stomachs – particularly the rumen compartment, which contains a host of different microbes that ferment feed and break it down into nutrients.
This process also generates byproducts that the cow's body does not take up, such as carbon dioxide and hydrogen. Methane-producing microbes, called methanogens, use these compounds to form methane, which the cow's body expels.
We first analyzed this problem in a 2019 study, the first such research that was conducted in cattle rather than in a laboratory. In that work, we showed that supplementing dairy cows' feed with about 10 ounces of seaweed a day reduced methane emissions by up to 67%. However, the cattle that ate this relatively large quantity of seaweed consumed less feed. This reduced their milk production – a clear drawback for dairy farmers.
Our new study sought to answer several questions that would be important to farmers considering whether to use seaweed supplements in their cattle. We wanted to know whether the seaweed was stable when stored for up to three years; whether microbes that produce methane in cows' stomachs could adapt to the seaweed, making it ineffective; and whether the type of diet that the cows ate changed the seaweed's effectiveness in reducing methane emissions. And we used less seaweed than in our 2019 study.
A steer eats alfalfa pellets as equipment measures his gas emissions, including methane. Breanna Roque / CC BY-ND
Better Growth With Less Feed
For the study, we added 1.5 to 3 ounces of seaweed per animal daily to 21 beef cows' food for 21 weeks. As with most new ingredients in cattle diets, it took some time for the animals to get used to the taste of seaweed, but they became accustomed to it within a few weeks.
Cattle in the study adjusted quickly to seaweed supplements in their food. Breanna Roque / CC BY-ND
As we expected, the steers released a lot more hydrogen – up to 750% more, mostly from their mouths – as their systems produced less methane. Hydrogen has minimal impact on the environment. Seaweed supplements did not affect the animals' carbon dioxide emissions.
We also found that seaweed that had been stored in a freezer for three years maintained its effectiveness, and that microbes in the cows' digestive systems did not adapt to the seaweed in ways that neutralized its effects.
We fed each of the animals three different diets during the experiment. These rations contained varying amounts of dried grasses, such as alfalfa and wheat hay, which are referred to as forage. Cattle may also consume fresh grass, grains, molasses and byproducts such as almond hull and cotton seed.
Methane production in the rumen increases with rising levels of forage in cows' diet, so we wanted to see whether forage levels also affected how well seaweed reduced overall methane formation. Methane emissions from cattle on high-forage diets decreased by 33% to 52%, depending on how much seaweed they consumed. Emissions from cattle fed low-forage diets fell by 70% to 80%. This difference may reflect lower levels of an enzyme that is involved in producing methane in the guts of cattle-fed low-fiber diets.
One important finding was that the steers in our study converted feed to body weight up to 20% more efficiently than cattle on a conventional diet. This benefit could reduce production costs for farmers, since they would need to buy less feed. For example, we calculate that a producer finishing 1,000 head of beef cattle – that is, feeding them a high-energy diet to grow and add muscle – could reduce feed costs by US$40,320 to $87,320 depending on how much seaweed the cattle consumed.
Global methane sources include fossil fuel and biomass combustion, agriculture (mainly livestock), the breakdown of waste in landfills and natural decomposition in wetlands. Jackson et al., 2020, CC BY
We don't know for certain why feeding cattle seaweed supplements helped them convert more of their diet to weight gain. However, previous research has suggested that some rumen microorganisms can use hydrogen that is no longer going into methane production to generate energy-dense nutrients that the cow can then use for added growth.
When a panel of consumers sampled meat from cattle raised in our study, they did not detect any difference in tenderness, juiciness or flavor between meat from cattle that consumed seaweed and others that did not.
Commercializing seaweed as a cattle feed additive would involve many steps. First, scientists would need to develop aquaculture techniques for producing seaweed on a large scale, either in the ocean or in tanks on land. And the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would have to approve using seaweed as a feed supplement for commercial cattle.
Farmers and ranchers could also earn money for reducing their cattle's emissions. Climate scientists would have to provide guidance on quantifying, monitoring and verifying methane emission reductions from cattle. Such rules could allow cattle farmers to earn credits from carbon offset programs around the world.
Ermias Kebreab is an Associate Dean and Professor of Animal Science. Director, World Food Center, University of California, Davis.
Breanna Roque is a Ph.D. Student in Animal Biology, University of California, Davis.
Disclosure statement: Ermias Kebreab receives funding from the Foundation for Agricultural Research, Elm Innovations, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Grantham Foundation. He advises feed additive companies such as Blue Ocean Barns and Mootral. Breanna Roque does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.