Ninth Gray Whale in Two Months Washes Up Dead in Bay Area
The whale was found on Ocean Beach and reported to the Marine Mammal Center at 6:30 a.m. Monday, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Scientists at the center will conduct a necropsy Tuesday to determine the cause of death.
"The death of nine gray whales in the San Francisco Bay Area this year is a cause for serious concern and reinforces the need to continue to perform and share the results of these type of investigations with key decision-makers," the center's lead research pathologist Dr. Padraig Duignan said in a statement.
1/2: The Marine Mammal Center confirms a dead gray whale washed ashore early this morning at Ocean Beach in San Francisco. Our scientists & partners plan to perform a necropsy, or animal autopsy, tomorrow in an attempt to determine the cause of death. 📸 Credit Sarah Maria Curran pic.twitter.com/6sDhSnhz8H— The Marine Mammal Center (@TMMC) May 6, 2019
The scientists do not yet know the age, sex or length of the whale found Monday. Eight other gray whales have washed up in the Bay Area in the past two months: three of them died after collisions with ships and four died of malnutrition, the center has concluded so far.
"Their skeleton seems to stick out more and more," Duignan told the told the Los Angeles Times earlier this month of the whales that died of starvation.
Duignan said that the center usually sees only two or three dead gray whales a year. But the problem isn't limited to the Bay Area. More gray whales this year appear to be suffering from malnutrition as they migrate up the Pacific Coast from Mexico to the Arctic. Thirty-one dead whales have been found along the entire Pacific Coast, 21 in all of California. Living whales show signs of poor nutrition, and there are markedly fewer mother and calf pairs, the Los Angeles Times reported.
This year has seen the most dead gray whales for this time of year since 2000, when 86 died. University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine research associate Frances Gulland told the Los Angeles Times that the number could rise to 60 or 70 by the end of the migration period.
"If this continues at this pace through May, we would be alarmed," she said.
Scientists don't yet know why the whales appear to be suffering more this year. In addition to the deaths, marine biologist Steven Swartz said 23 percent of the whales he had observed without calves were skinny, more than three times the normal number. However, other species of whale have not been impacted.
Researchers think the gray whales did not get enough to eat while feeding in the Arctic last summer, and NOAA's Alaska Fisheries Science Center plans to study the whales' Arctic feeding habits to better understand what might be happening.
One hypothesis is that the loss of sea ice might have rendered prey more scarce. Another possibility is that a marine heat wave discovered off the Gulf of Alaska in 2013 might have impacted the surrounding ecosystem.
Gray whales were removed from the endangered species list in 1994 after an international agreement to stop hunting the 90,000 pound creatures in 1946 helped their population to recover, CNN explained. There are now around 27,000 gray whales in the world, so this year's deaths do not threaten the species on a population level. But Duignan told the Los Angeles Times that it's important to understand any changes with the whales. "We are concerned because whales are an indicator species for the health of the ocean," he said. "We use them to tell us what's happening out there."
Washington state biologist John Calambokidis agreed.
"It's not like we're ringing the alarm bell that this population is threatened or at risk," he said. "As a researcher, I feel that you want to at least understand what is going on."
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By Ajit Niranjan
World leaders and businesses are not putting enough money into adapting to dangerous changes in the climate and must "urgently step up action," according to a report published Thursday by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).
Adaptation Has a Long Way to Go<p>The Adaptation Gap Report, now in its 5th year, finds "huge gaps" between what world leaders agreed to do under the 2015 <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/5-years-paris-climate-agreement/a-55901139" target="_blank">Paris Agreement</a> and what they need to do to keep their citizens safe from climate change.</p><p>A review by the Global Adaptation Mapping Initiative of almost 1,700 examples of climate adaptation found that a third were in the early stages of implementation — and only 3% had reached the point of reducing risks.</p><p>Disasters like storms and droughts have grown stronger than they should be because people have warmed the planet by burning fossil fuels and chopping down rainforests. The world has heated by more than 1.1 degrees Celsius since the Industrial Revolution and is on track to warm by about 3°C by the end of the century.</p><p>If world leaders <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/climate-change-performance-index-how-far-have-we-come/a-55846406" target="_blank">deliver on recent pledges</a> to bring emissions to <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/joe-bidens-climate-pledges-are-they-realistic/a-56173821" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">net-zero</a> by the middle of the century, they could almost limit warming to 2°C. The target of the Paris Agreement, however, is to reach a target well below that — ideally 1.5°C. </p><p>There are two ways, scientists say, to lessen the pain that warming will bring: mitigating climate change by cutting carbon pollution and adapting to the hotter, less stable world it brings.</p>
The Cost of Climate Adaptation<p>About three-quarters of the world's countries have national plans to adapt to climate change, according to the report, but most lack the regulations, incentives and funding to make them work.</p><p>More than a decade ago, rich countries most responsible for climate change pledged to mobilize $100 billion a year by 2020 in climate finance for poorer countries. UNEP says it is "impossible to answer" whether that goal has been met, while an OECD study published in November found that between 2013 and 2018, the target sum had not once been achieved. Even in 2018, which recorded the highest level of contributions, rich countries were still $20 billion short.</p><p>The yearly adaptation costs for developing countries alone are estimated at $70 billion. This figure is expected to at least double by the end of the decade as temperatures rise, and will hit $280-500 billion by 2050, according to the report.</p><p>But failing to adapt is even more expensive.</p><p>When powerful storms like cyclones Fani and Bulbul struck South Asia, early-warning systems allowed governments to move millions of people out of danger at short notice. Storms of similar strength that have hit East Africa, like <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/zimbabwe-after-cyclone-idai-building-climate-friendly-practices/a-54251885" target="_blank">cyclones Idai</a> and Kenneth, have proved more deadly because fewer people were evacuated before disaster struck.</p><p>The Global Commission on Adaptation estimated in 2019 that a $1.8 trillion investment in early warning systems, buildings, agriculture, mangroves and water resources could reap $7.1 trillion in benefits from economic activity and avoided costs when disasters strike.</p>
Exploring Nature-Based Solutions<p>The report also highlights how restoring nature can protect people from climate change while benefiting local communities and ecology.</p><p><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/climate-fires-risk-climate-change-bushfires-australia-california-extreme-weather-firefighters/a-54817927" target="_blank">Wildfires</a>, for instance, could be made less punishing by restoring grasslands and regularly burning the land in controlled settings. Indigenous communities from Australia to Canada have done this for millennia in a way that encourages plant growth while reducing the risk of uncontrolled wildfires. Reforestation, meanwhile, can stop soil erosion and flooding during heavy rainfall while trapping carbon and protecting wildlife.</p><p>In countries like Brazil and Malaysia, governments could better protect coastal homes from floods and storms by restoring <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/mudflats-mangroves-and-marshes-the-great-coastal-protectors/a-50628747" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mangroves</a> — tangled trees that grow in tropical swamps. As well as anchoring sediments and absorbing the crash of waves, mangroves can store carbon, help fish populations grow and boost local economies through tourism. </p><p>While nature-based solutions are often cheaper than building hard infrastructure, their funding makes up a "tiny fraction" of adaptation finance, the report authors wrote. An analysis of four global climate funds that spent $94 billion on adaptation projects found that just $12 billion went to nature-based solutions and little of this was spent implementing projects on the ground.</p><p>But little is known about their long-term effectiveness. At higher temperatures, the effects of climate change may be so great that they overwhelm natural defenses like mangroves.</p><p>By 2050, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/rising-sea-levels-should-we-let-the-ocean-in-a-50704953/a-50704953" target="_blank">coastal floods</a> that used to hit once a century will strike many cities every year, according to a 2019 report on oceans by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the gold standard on climate science. This could force dense cities on low-lying coasts to build higher sea walls, like in Indonesia and South Korea, or evacuate entire communities from sinking islands, like in Fiji.</p><p>It's not a case of replacing infrastructure, said Matthias Garschagen, a geographer at Ludwig Maximilian University in Germany and IPCC author, who was not involved in the UNEP report. "The case for nature-based solutions is often misinterpreted as a battle... but they're part of a toolkit that we've ignored for too long."</p>
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