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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Humanity faced its hottest month in at least 140 years in July, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said on Thursday. The finding confirms similar analysis provided by its EU counterparts.
Turning Up the Heat<p>The agency tracks global temperatures on land and in the oceans. According to its experts, the period between January and July was the hottest to date in parts of North and South America, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and the southern half of Africa.</p><p>Globally, the current year seems set to tie with 2017 as second-hottest on record. While very warm, 2019 is unlikely to surpass the all-time heat record set by 2016.</p><p>Last month, however, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/july-equaled-if-not-surpassed-hottest-month-ever-un/a-49857050" target="_blank">narrowly beat the record</a> set in July 2016, which was cooler by 0.03 degrees Celsius. The average global temperature in July 2019 was 0.95 degrees Celsius (1.71 Fahrenheit) higher than the 20th century average for this month.<br></p><p>It follows record-breaking heat in June, which was also the warmest June ever recorded.</p>
Ice, Ice Maybe<p>The agency notes that nine out of the 10 hottest Julys ever recorded all happened since 2005. The last five years have all ranked in the top five. July 2019 was also the 415th consecutive month with above-average temperatures.</p><p>The Arctic Sea ice coverage shrank by 19.8% compared with average values, beating a previous historic low in July 2012. Antarctic ice coverage was also the smallest on record.</p><p>The heating trend is likely to continue due to global climate change.</p>
Many fish, marine mammals and seabirds that inhabit the world's oceans are critically endangered, but few are as close to the brink as the North Atlantic right whale ( Eubalaena glacialis). Only about 411 of these whales exist today, and at their current rate of decline, they could become extinct within our lifetimes.
From 1980 through about 2010, conservation efforts focused mainly on protecting whales from being struck by ships. Federal regulations helped reduce vessel collisions and supported a slight rebound in right whale numbers.
Deadly Encounters<p>Whalers pursued right whales for centuries because this species swam relatively slowly and floated when dead, so it was easier to kill and retrieve than other whales. By the mid-20th century, scientists assumed they had been hunted to extinction. But in 1980, researchers from the New England Aquarium who were studying marine mammal distribution in the Bay of Fundy off eastern Canada were stunned when they <a href="https://www.canadianwhaleinstitute.ca/habitats" target="_blank">sighted 26 right whales</a>.</p><p>Conservation efforts led to the enactment of regulations that required commercial ships to <a href="https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/endangered-species-conservation/reducing-ship-strikes-north-atlantic-right-whales" target="_blank">slow down</a> in zones along the U.S. Atlantic coast where they were highly likely to encounter whales, reducing boat strikes. But this victory has been offset by rising numbers of entanglements.</p><p>Adult right whales can produce up to an estimated <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/mms.12230" target="_blank">8,000 pounds of force</a> with a single stroke of their flukes. When they become tangled in fishing gear, they often break it and swim off trailing ropes and sometimes crab or lobster traps.</p><p>Lines and gear can wrap around a whale's body, flukes, flippers and mouth. They impede swimming and feeding, and cause chronic infection, emaciation and damage to blubber, muscle and bone. Ultimately these injuries weaken the animal until it dies, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1093/icesjms/fsu008" target="_blank">which can take months to years</a>.</p><img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTU1NjEyMi9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDE3OTAyNH0.W5agEwKjibM2AyhELkXhzKSssFMYXh-ubMFKApinqp0/img.png?width=980" id="9ab7d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1c03b11cfd3e2ef2603f1ea300ec75d4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Fishing rope furrowed into the lip of Bayla, right whale #3911.
Michael Moore / NMFS Permit 932-1905-00 / MA-009526 / CC BY-ND
Solutions for Whales and Fishermen<p>The greatest entanglement risk is from ropes that lobster and crab fishermen use to attach buoys to traps they set on the ocean floor. Humpback and minke whales and leatherback sea turtles, all of which are federally protected, also become entangled.</p><p>Conservationists are looking for ways to modify or eliminate these ropes. Rock lobster fishermen in Australia already use <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WeeieRr7sTw" target="_blank">pop-up buoys</a> that ascend when they receive sound signals from fishing boats. The buoys trail out ropes as they rise, which fishermen retrieve and use to pull up their traps.</p><p>Other technologies are <a href="https://www.wnpr.org/post/innovations-fishing-gear-could-change-lobster-industry-help-endangered-right-whale" target="_blank">in development</a>, including systems that <a href="https://ropeless.org/november-6th-2018-presentations/" target="_blank">acoustically identify traps on the seafloor</a> and mark them with "virtual buoys" on fishermen's chart plotters, eliminating the need for surface buoys. Fishermen also routinely use a customized hook on the end of a rope to catch the line between traps and haul them to the surface when the buoy line goes missing.</p><span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0ea6135b2648717554e2de7efd027ca9"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/ylQ5q7Ivs2o?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
A Rebound is Possible<p>The <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/laws-policies/" target="_blank">Endangered Species Act</a> and <a href="https://www.fws.gov/international/laws-treaties-agreements/us-conservation-laws/marine-mammal-protection-act.html" target="_blank">Marine Mammal Protection Act</a> require the U.S. government to conserve endangered species. In Congress, the pending <a href="https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/1568/text?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22H.R.+3729%22%5D%7D" target="_blank">SAVE Right Whales Act of 2019</a> would provide $5 million annually for collaborative research into preventing mortalities caused by the fishing and shipping industries. And an advisory committee to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently recommended <a href="https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/feature-story/team-reaches-nearly-unanimous-consensus-right-whale-survival-measures" target="_blank">significant fishing protections</a>, focused primarily on reducing the number of ropes in the water column and the strength of the remaining lines.</p><p>Consumers can also help. Public outcry over dolphin bycatch in tuna fisheries spurred passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and led to <a href="https://swfsc.noaa.gov/textblock.aspx?Division=PRD&ParentMenuId=228&id=1408" target="_blank">dolphin-safe tuna labeling</a>, which ultimately reduced dolphin mortalities from half a million to about 1,000 animals annually. Choosing lobster and crab products <a href="https://doi.org/10.1093/icesjms/fsy194" target="_blank">caught without endangering whales</a> could accelerate a similar transition.</p><img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTU1NjEyNS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMzkyOTY5NX0.8G1DWmV8X9s37jlPBPxbY2X99EwZ8hdzxupVLrjghDc/img.png?width=980" id="e380d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b95b1987283f474ecab6e95fabe1093d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Population trends in the North Atlantic and southern right whale species (estimates for North Atlantic species prior to 1990 are unavailable; southern estimates prior to 1990 on decadal scale). Illegal whaling caused a downturn in the southern species in the 1960s.
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A sea star once "as common as a robin" off the Pacific coast of the U.S. is now considered an endangered species in the southern part of its range, and new research suggests climate change might be partly to blame.
Since 2013, a sea star wasting disease has devastated around 20 sea star species between Mexico and Alaska. While some species have begun to recover, the vitally important predatory sunflower star has not, a paper published Wednesday in Science Advances found. In fact, its population has decreased by 80 to 100 percent across a 3,0000 kilometer (approximately 1,864 miles) range between California and Canada.
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A number of websites for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are currently unavailable for public access due to a "lapse in appropriations" from the ongoing government shutdown, an agency spokesperson told The Hill.
For instance, the website for the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI)—a vast and significant archive of historical climate, oceanic, atmospheric and geophysical data—redirects to https://governmentshutdown.noaa.gov/.
A partial government shutdown continued for a third day Monday as legislators left the capital for the holidays, CNBC reported Monday. The shutdown is due to an impasse between President Donald Trump and Congress over $5 billion in funding for Trump's border wall, a construction project that would have devastating consequences for wildlife in the region.
It's a sad Christmas for the world's reindeer—the antlered Arctic grazers associated with all things Santa Claus. Their numbers have fallen by more than half in the past 20 years, and climate change is likely to blame.
The latest numbers come from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's 2018 Arctic Report Card, which listed the increasing impacts of global warming on the earth's northernmost region, as EcoWatch has already reported. But the loss of Rangifer tarandus—called caribou in North America and Greenland and reindeer in Siberia and Europe—is of note because it threatens to further throw Arctic ecosystems and cultures out of whack. Reindeer are important prey for wolves and biting flies, and a key source of food and clothing for indigenous groups.
The Arctic is still warming at twice the rate of anywhere else on Earth, and the region's air temperatures in the past five years between 2014-2018 have exceeded all previous records since 1900, according to a peer-reviewed report released by the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on Tuesday.
The agency's 13th annual Arctic Report Card also concluded that 2018 was second only to 2016 in terms of the region's overall warmth.
The U.S. government will release a major climate report on Friday afternoon that could be very inconvenient for President Trump, who seems as clueless as ever about the global phenomenon and continues to push coal and other planet-warming fossil fuels.
But environmentalists, climate experts and others have pointed out that the critical warning from 13 federal agencies will be softened by the country's post-Thanksgiving haze and Black Friday shopping rush.