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In 'My Octopus Teacher,' Craig Foster becomes fascinated with an octopus and visits her for hundreds of days in a row. Netflix

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.

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A "trash tsunami" has washed ashore on the beaches of Honduras, endangering both wildlife and the local economy.

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A Japanese ship that ran aground on a coral reef off Mauritius may have changed course to get a mobile data signal for a birthday celebration on board. imo.un / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 2.0

A Japanese ship that wrecked off the coast of Mauritius in July and sparked one of the worst environmental disasters in the country's history may have run aground because of birthday celebrations on board at the time.

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An orca jumps in the Canary Island archipelago of Spain. Mikhail Akkuratov / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Killer whales have been ramming yachts and boats off the coast of Northern Spain and researchers are puzzled by their behavior. In several attacks over the last couple of months, orcas have damaged boats and injured sailors, according to The Guardian.

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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."

Smartfins help monitor ocean warming with specific sensors. Smartfin

By Harry Kretchmer

Who better to study the sea than a surfer?

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Sharks, unlike other large fish, have skeletons made out of cartilage. Ryan Espanto / CC BY 2.0

A recent fossil discovery could overturn the way scientists think about shark evolution.

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Researchers found diverse and colorful cold-water coral communities and associated fauna at 400 m depth. Ocean Exploration Trust / Nautilus Live

International marine scientists have discovered 30 new species in the deep waters off the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador, highlighting how unique the ecosystems of the islands are as well as how little we know about the deep sea.

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A man scoops leaked oil from the Japanese-owned MV Wakashio that ran aground near Blue Bay Marine Park off the coast of Mauritius on August 8, 2020. Jean Aurelio Prudence / L'Express Maurice / AFP / Getty Images

By Seerat Chabba

Mauritius has asked Japan to pay close to 3.6 billion yen (€28.5 billion, $34 million) in order to support local fishermen whose livelihoods were adversely impacted by an oil leak last month, according to a Mauritian government document accessed by Japanese news agency Kyodo News.

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Sea Turtle Hospital at Whitney / Instagram

By David Duffy and Catherine Eastman

Plastic pollution has been found in practically every environment on the planet, with especially severe effects on ocean life. Plastic waste harms marine life in many ways – most notably, when animals become entangled in it or consume it.

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People protest against the government's response to the oil spill disaster in front of the prime minister's office in Port Louis, Mauritius on Aug. 29, 2020. FABIEN DUBESSAY / AFP via Getty Images

Protestors filled the streets of Mauritius's capital city, Port Louis, over the weekend to demand resignations of officials and an investigation into the oil spill that has jeopardized the future health of the country's marine reserves, according to Reuters. The protests were catalyzed by more than a dozen dead dolphins with traces of oil washing up on Mauritian beaches.

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Seagrass is seen here in South Pigeon Creek estuary on San Salvador Island in the Bahamas. James St. John / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 2.0

By Douglas Broom

Its waving fronds carpet the seafloor and shelter thousands of sea creatures. But seagrass is more than a haven for marine wildlife – researchers say it could play a major role in slowing climate change.

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Shark Week may be over for the summer, but the marine predators patrol the world's oceans all year long.

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