Wildlife

Cultural Exchange

British researchers say humpback whales have distinctive songs that are unique to where they originally came from, but the tunes can change over time.

Ellen Garland of the University of St. Andrews says those songs evolve as the marine mammals encounter others of their species while traveling through the oceans.

“We can pinpoint a population a whale has likely come from by what they are singing,” Garland says.

Writing in the journal Royal Society Open Science, Garland says the sharing of whale song is a type of cultural exchange that occurs throughout whales’ lives.

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Wildlife

Whale Strandings – Georgia, USA

Beachgoers, wildlife officials and lifeguards in Georgia pitched in to help free dozens of stranded whales earlier this month. About 50 live short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus) beached themselves or came dangerous close to beaching themselves on St. Simons Island in the state’s southeast. Some of the whales continued to try swimming ashore after being freed, and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources said that at least three of the whales died. Necropsies on these whales showed mild signs of disease, but nothing out of the ordinary. Researchers are unsure why the whales stranded themselves, but it could be due to faulty echolocation signals which don’t work as well in shallow water, or due their strong pod loyalty — as one whale gets beached, the others may have tried to help out.

Wildlife

Octopus fishing halted after whale deaths in Cape

The South African government took decisive steps on Friday to temporarily stop the practice of octopus fishing after a spate of whale entanglements around the country’s ecologically sensitive coastline led to mounting public concern.

The recent whale entanglements have led to a public outcry. The City of Cape Town on Thursday joined the chorus of calls for a moratorium on octopus fishing. The City said time that three whales had become entangled in octopus fishing nets and two had died as a result of octopus fishing.

Wildlife

Gray Whale Deaths

Since January, more than 70 dead gray whales have washed up on the coasts of California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Canada. That’s the most in a single year since 2000, and scientists are concerned.

So far this year, 73 dead whales have been spotted on West Coast beaches: 37 in California; three in Oregon; 25 in Washington; three in Alaska; and five in British Columbia, Canada. Most of them were skinny and malnourished, which suggests they probably didn’t get enough to eat during their last feeding season in the Arctic.

The condition of the dead whales also suggests there are many that scientists aren’t counting because emaciated whales tend to sink. The numbers that actually wash up do represent a fraction of the true number. Some estimates suggest it’s as few as 10%.

These gentle giants were once severely threatened by whalers. There were only around 2,000 of them left in 1946, when an international agreement to stop gray whale hunting was initiated to help the population recover, according to The Marine Mammal Center, a nonprofit organization that rescues and rehabilitates marine mammals in California. Gray whales were removed from the U.S. Endangered Species List in 1994, when the population was estimated to be about 20,000. In 2016, scientists estimated there were about 27,000.

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USDA Kills Millions of Animals

The arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture known as Wildlife Services killed nearly 1.5 million native animals during 2018, according to new data released by the agency this week.

The multimillion-dollar federal wildlife-killing program targets wolves, coyotes, cougars, birds and other wild animals for destruction — primarily to benefit the agriculture industry. Of the 2.6 million animals killed last year, nearly 1.5 million were native wildlife species.

According to the latest report, the federal program last year intentionally killed 357 gray wolves; 68,186 adult coyotes, plus an unknown number of coyote pups in 361 destroyed dens; 515,915 red-winged blackbirds; 338 black bears; 375 mountain lions; 1,002 bobcats; 173 river otters plus 537 killed “unintentionally”; 3,349 foxes, plus an unknown number of fox pups in 133 dens; and 22,521 beavers.

The program also killed 17,739 prairie dogs outright, as well as an unknown number killed in more than 47,547 burrows that were destroyed or fumigated. These figures almost certainly underestimate the actual number of animals killed, as program insiders have revealed that Wildlife Services kills many more animals than it reports.

According to the new data, the wildlife-killing program unintentionally killed more than 2,700 animals last year, including bears, bobcats, foxes, muskrats, otters, porcupines, raccoons and turtles. Its killing of non-target birds included chickadees, cardinals, ducks, eagles, hawks, herons, owls and turkeys.

Dozens of domestic animals, including pets and livestock, were also killed or caught. Such data reveals the indiscriminate nature of painful leg-hold traps, strangulation snares, poisons and other methods used by federal agents.

“The barbaric, outdated tactics Wildlife Services uses to destroy America’s animals are appalling and need to end,” said Collette Adkins of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Wolves, bears and other carnivores help balance the web of life where they live. They should be protected, not persecuted.”

The wildlife-killing program contributed to the decline of gray wolves, Mexican wolves, black-footed ferrets, black-tailed prairie dogs and other imperiled species during the first half of the 1900s and continues to impede their recovery today.

4,000 live reptiles rescued

Global police forces have carried off the largest reptile trade bust to date, arresting 12 suspects and seizing more than 4,000 live reptiles at airports, breeding facilities, and pet stores across Europe, North America, and elsewhere throughout April and May.

The initiative, dubbed Operation Blizzard—a play on words referring to the deluge of activity around lizards—was coordinated by Interpol and Europol in response to the illegal trade in snakes, turtles, and other protected reptiles. Trafficking of these animals is threatening some species with extinction and also fueling disease outbreaks among humans.

The exotic reptile trade has exploded in the past two decades, with millions of the animals now imported—legally and illegally—into the European Union and United States as household pets. Some reptiles are also coveted for their skins, made into high-end fashion items such as shoes, belts, and handbags.

Wildlife

Birds vs Buildings

A new study finds that hundreds of millions of birds die by crashing into U.S. buildings each year during their migrations.

Songbirds are among the greatest victims at night because they emit chirps that signal other birds to follow and sometimes crash into the structures.

City lights and glass windows that appear as clear air to the birds are also threats. Chicago is said to be the most deadly city for bird crashes, with Houston and Dallas coming in second and third.

Researchers say that since half of migratory birds pass through a particular city during six nights in the spring and seven nights in the fall, cities could cut down on bird deaths by dimming their lights during those brief periods.

Whale Liberation

The Kremlin has intervened to free nearly 100 whales that have been held in small pens in Russia’s Far East following months of pressure from animal rights groups and Hollywood stars.

It is believed the whales were caught last year for sale to Chinese marine parks, which pay millions of dollars for them. Surveillance by Greenpeace and other groups revealed that the whales have suffered from hypothermia, skin lesions and flipper deterioration.

An international group of scientists, including the famed marine expert Jean-Michel Cousteau, announced that the whales will be released in phases under the new agreement with Moscow.

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Wildlife

Rare White Whale

A whale-watching guide struck white gold last month when he encountered a rare, albino gray whale breaching off the west coast of Baja California, Mexico. The sighting has drawn comparisons to Moby Dick, the white whale of literary legend described by Herman Melville in 1851. Unlike Moby, who was a gargantuan sperm whale with an appetite for New England mariner limbs, the gray whale recorded here was probably just chilling in the area for its annual mating season.

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Wildlife

Another Dead Whale Full of Plastic – This Time, in Italy

Yet another whale carcass has washed up with a stomach full of plastic. This time, it was a female sperm whale with 49 lbs. (22 kilograms) of plastic in her stomach. She washed up on a beach in Porto Cervo, a popular tourist destination in Sardinia, Italy.

She was pregnant and had almost certainly aborted before (she) beached. The fetus was in an advanced state of decomposition.

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Wildlife

Dead Whale Washes Ashore with Shocking 88 lbs. of Plastic in Its Stomach

A young Cuvier’s beaked whale washed up dead on a beach in Compostela Valley in the Philippines, its stomach filled with 88 pounds (40 kilograms) of plastic bags.

Workers from the D’Bone Collector Museum Inc. in Davao City in the Philippines recovered the whale — a male — on Saturday (March 16) and later performed a necropsy. They found its stomach was packed with plastic bags — 16 rice sacks, four banana-plantation-style bags and some shopping bags. His stomach “had the most plastic we have ever seen in a whale”.

This isn’t the first time a whale full of plastic has washed ashore. A dead sperm whale washed up in Indonesia last November with 100 plastic cups, four plastic bottles, 25 plastic bags and even a couple of flip-flops inside its stomach. The Cuvier’s whale in the Philippines held seven times more plastic than that sperm whale

Around 8.8 million tons (8 million metric tons) of plastic get dumped into the ocean every year, according to a 2015 report by the nonprofit Ocean Conservancy. In particular, about 60 percent of it comes from China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

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Global Warming

Climate change forces Arctic animals to shift feeding habits

Seals and whales in the Arctic are shifting their feeding patterns as climate change alters their habitats, and the way they do so may determine whether they survive, a new study has found.

Researchers harnessed datasets spanning two decades to examine how two species of Arctic wildlife — white whales and ringed seals — are adapting to their changing homes.

Both species traditionally hunt for food in areas with sea ice and particularly at so-called tidal glacier fronts, where glaciers meet the ocean. But with climate change melting sea ice and prompting glaciers to retreat, researchers in Norway decided to look at whether and how animals in the affected areas were adapting.

The data showed that two decades ago, both species spent around half their time foraging at glacier fronts and eating a diet dominated by polar cod.

Seals stuck with their old diet, but appeared to spend more time searching for the food at the glacier fronts. White whales meanwhile are spending less time near glacier fronts and more time in the centre of fjords.

The “flexible” response apparently shown by the whales “improves their chances of adapting to warming conditions”, the researchers added. By contrast, the apparent doubling down by the ringed seals on their traditional hunting grounds despite the shifting climate “reflects limited adaptability and resilience”. And that could be bad news for the seals in a changing world, the study warns.

Wildlife

Sonar Can Literally Scare Whales to Death, Study Finds

Naval sonar has been linked to mass strandings of otherwise-healthy whales for nearly two decades, but the precise mechanisms of how it affects whales has eluded scientists. Now, researchers have explained key details of how this disruptive signal triggers behavior in some whales that ends in death.

Previously, necropsies of beaked whales from multiple stranding incidents found nitrogen bubbles in their body tissues, a hallmark of decompression sickness, or “the bends.” This dangerous condition also affects scuba divers when they rise too rapidly from deep water; it can cause pain, paralysis and even death.

Whales are adapted for deep-sea diving, and beaked whales are the record-holders for the longest and deepest dives. But the new research explains how sonar in certain frequencies disorients and terrifies some beaked whales so much that the experience overrides an important adaptation for deep diving: a slower heartbeat. Extreme fear accelerates a whale’s heart rate, which can lead to decompression sickness; the intense pain of this condition incapacitates the whales, so they strand on beaches and eventually die.

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Wildlife

Japan to Resume Commercial Whaling

Japan is withdrawing from the International Whaling Commission and will resume commercial whaling next year, a government spokesman has announced.

The move on Wednesday came more than three months after the global body for the conservation of whales rejected a Tokyo-led proposal to lift a 32-year ban on the commercial hunting of the ocean mammals.

“We have decided to withdraw from the International Whaling Commission in order to resume commercial whaling in July next year,” Yoshihide Suga, top spokesperson for the Japanese government, told reporters. Suda said commercial whaling “will be limited to Japan’s territorial waters and exclusive economic zones”.

Wildlife

145 whales die on remote New Zealand beach

Up to 145 pilot whales have died in a mass stranding on a remote part of a small New Zealand island, authorities said on Monday. The stranding was discovered by a hiker late Saturday on Stewart Island, 30 kilometres (19 miles) off the southern coast of the South Island.

Half of the whales were already dead and due to the condition of the remaining whales and the remote, difficult to access location, the decision was made to euthanise the remainder.

“Sadly, the likelihood of being able to successfully re-float the remaining whales was extremely low,” said Ren Leppens, the Department of Conservation’s operations manager on Stewart Island. “The remote location, lack of nearby personnel and the whales’ deteriorating condition meant the most humane thing to do was to euthanise.

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Wildlife

‘Unprecedented’ Number of Dead Whales Have Washed Up in Scotland and Ireland

A total of 80 deep-water whales have been found dead on the Atlantic coasts of Scotland and Ireland since early August — more than 10 times the usual number over that time in previous years.

Marine mammal scientists say the presence of the washed-up whales suggests an “unusual mortality event,” or UME, that could have killed up to 1,000 Cuvier’sbeaked whales in the North Atlantic Ocean in recent months.

The cause of the whale deaths is unknown, but scientists fear they may be the result of warships using active sonar to hunt for enemy submarines, or naval anti-submarine exercises.

Around 26 of the carcasses were Cuvier’s beaked whales, a species that lives mainly in the deep ocean, while the rest were either Sowerby’s beaked or northern bottlenose whales.

Typically, just two or three dead beaked whales would wash up on the Irish coast each year.

A similar increase in beaked-whale deaths has been reported along the west coast of Scotland.

The sharp increase in the evidence of whale deaths washing up on the coast implied that a much greater number of whales may have been killed in the open ocean.

Scientific research has shown that Cuvier’s beaked whales are sensitive to the very loud sounds caused by anti-submarine sonar, which is used by warships hunting for enemy submarines and during naval anti-submarine exercises.

Scientists suspect the loud sonar sounds cause intense pain to beaked whales diving at extreme depths, so that they surface too quickly and die from decompression sickness.

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