Deep Sea Harbingers

The sudden appearances of giant oarfish, which typically live deep in the ocean near the seafloor, have sparked fears in parts of the Philippines that the fish are warning signs of an impending large earthquake.

Three have been found off the northern coast of Mindanao since Feb. 8, with the first appearing just two days before a 6.7 magnitude temblor rocked the island.

The fish can weigh up to 600 pounds and are known in Japan as “Messengers from the Sea God’s Palace.”

Ocean Suffocation

Earth’s oceans have lost more than 2 percent of their oxygen during the past 57 years in a trend scientists warn could threaten the future of marine life.

A study at Germany’s Geomar Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research confirmed earlier predictions that if climate change and the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for it continue unabated, ocean oxygen loss will accelerate and reach up to 7 percent on average by the year 2100.

“Since large fish in particular avoid or do not survive in areas with low oxygen content, these changes can have far-reaching biological consequences,” said lead researcher Sunke Schmidtko.


Polar Bears – Good News

Polar bear populations are growing despite global warming, according to new research.

The new population estimates from the 2016 Scientific Working Group are somewhere between 22,633 to 32,257 bears, which is a net increase from the 2015 number of 22,000 to 31,000. The current population numbers are a sharp increase from 2005’s, which stated only 20,000 to 25,000 bears remained — those numbers were a major increase from estimates that only 8,000 to 10,000 bears remained in the late 1960s.

Until the new study, bear subpopulations in the Baffin Bay and Kane Basin (KB) were thought to be in decline due to over-hunting and global warming. The new report indicates this is not the case.

Scientists are increasingly realizing that polar bears are much more resilient to changing levels of sea ice than environmentalists previously believed, and numerous healthy populations are thriving.

Winged Extinction

The buzzing wings of crickets and grasshoppers could fall silent across the European landscape if action isn’t taken to protect the insects’ habitats, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The grassland inhabitants are an important food source for birds and reptiles, but more than a quarter of their species have been driven to extinction in recent decades. The disappearance has mainly been due to loss of habitat to wildfires, intensive agriculture and tourism development, according to the conservation group.

Monarch Losses

The number of monarch butterflies has dropped by 27 percent during recent months at the insects’ winter home in western Mexico. The plunge followed last year’s apparent recovery from the historically low numbers two years ago. Experts at the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Michoacán state say some of the decline could be due to storms late last winter that felled more than 100 acres of forests where the colourful butterflies winter. The monarchs also suffered a high level of mortality due to the same cold, wet and windy storms.


Climate Threat to Wildlife May Have Been Massively Underreported

More than 700 of the world’s threatened and endangered animal species may be directly affected by climate change, according to a new study — vastly more than the number of animal species scientists initially thought would face risks from global warming.

Scientists had previously determined that only 7 percent of mammals and 4 percent of birds on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) “Red List” of threatened species are affected by climate change. However, a new study finds that the threat from climate change may have been massively underreported.

In a comprehensive analysis of 130 previous studies on the subject, researchers found that nearly half of the world’s threatened and endangered mammals and nearly a quarter of birds are already seriously impacted — more than 700 species total.

Most climate change studies focus on impacts in the future, but the researchers said the effects of global warming are being felt “here and now.” And research on present threats were focused on specific species and were spread across numerous journals, according to study co-author James Watson, director of the Science and Research Initiative at the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Primates, in particular, are threatened because they have specialized diets and their tropical homes are vulnerable to extreme weather events caused by climate change. In some cases, species can adapt to the changes, but others are facing dire consequences.

For instance, mountain gorillas live on top of mountains — they’ve got nowhere else to go if the climate changes,” Watson said. “They’re stuck on top of these mountains, so they might not survive climate change because they can’t move anywhere else.”

Though birds can fly from mountaintop homes, the researchers found that species that live at higher altitudes and experience little seasonal temperature changes are negatively affected by climate change. Animals that dwell in aquatic environments also face even higher risks because these ecosystems are among the most vulnerable to global warming, according to the scientists.

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More Whales Stand in New Zealand

The mass stranding of whales on a remote beach in New Zealand has taken a turn for the worse as 240 more arrived. Earlier on Saturday, volunteers had refloated some 100 of the more than 400 pilot whales which beached on Thursday. But a human chain, with volunteers wading neck-deep into the water, failed to prevent a fresh pod making landfall.

The whale stranding, at Farewell Spit at the top of South Island, is one of the worst ever in New Zealand. Dozens of volunteers turned out to help. More than 300 of the 400 original arrivals died while medics and members of the public tried to keep survivors alive by cooling them with water.

It is not clear why the whales continue to arrive on the 5km-long (three mile-long) beach next to Golden Bay. One theory is that they may have been driven on to land by sharks, after bite marks were found on one of the dead whales. Sometimes the whales are old and sick, injured, or make navigational errors particularly along gentle sloping beaches. Whales that become beached will send out distress signals attracting other members of their pod, who then also get stranded by a receding tide.

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Massive Whale Standing in New Zealand

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Rescuers were engaged in a race against time on Friday to save the lives of a large group of whales, after more than 400 of the animals swam aground along a remote beach in New Zealand.

About 275 of the pilot whales were already dead when Cheree Morrison and two colleagues found them on Farewell Spit at the tip of the South Island. Within hours, hundreds of farmers, tourists and teenagers engaged in a group effort to keep the surviving 140 or so whales alive in one of the worst whale strandings in the nation’s history.

Getting the large animals back out to sea proved to be a major challenge. As many as half of the 100 refloated whales managed to strand themselves again, the New Zealand Herald reported.

The adult and baby whale carcasses were strewn three or four deep in places for hundreds of yards, often rolled over on the sand with their tail fins still up in the air.

Morrison’s group alerted officials, and volunteers soon began arriving in wetsuits and carrying buckets. Dressed in her jeans and sandshoes, Morrison waded into the water and did what she could to try to maneuver the surviving whales upright so they could breathe more easily.

New Zealand has one of the highest rates of whale strandings in the world, and Friday’s event is the nation’s third-biggest recorded stranding.

The largest was in 1918, when about 1,000 pilot whales came ashore on the Chatham Islands. In 1985 about 450 whales stranded in Auckland.

Endangered penguins hunting for fish in wrong place

Endangered penguins are hunting for fish in the wrong place because climate change has prompted sardines and other prey to move to another part of the ocean, researchers have discovered.

The plight of the African penguin – found in Namibia and South Africa – highlights the dangers to wildlife of the sudden rise in temperature caused by human-induced global warming.

For the penguins have learned to look for places with lower sea temperatures and large amounts of a type of chlorophyll. These are tell-tale signs of plankton and, in turn, the fish that feed on them.

These once sure-fire ways to find large shoals are now leading the penguins into an “ecological trap” that is pushing them closer to extinction.

And the situation has been made worse by industrial-scale fishing and a raft of other problems, mostly caused by humans.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), there are about 80,000 adult African penguins left. But oil slicks in 1994 and 2000 killed some 30,000 birds and the death toll “may increase” if planned harbour developments go ahead, the IUCN says.

In the new study, researchers from Exeter and Cape Town universities tagged 54 juvenile birds from eight different colonies to find out where they go to look for fish.

The areas they chose were once rich hunting grounds for sardines and anchovies.

But changes in water temperature and salt content have prompted the fish to move hundreds of kilometres away.

The problems in finding food have produced low survival rates among juvenile African penguins, previously known as jackass penguins.

It is thought breeding numbers are about 50 per cent lower than they would be if the birds were able to find enough to eat.



Whale found dying off coast of Norway with 30 plastic bags in its stomach

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Scientists in Norway found more than 30 plastic bags and other plastic waste inside the stomach of a whale stranded off the coast. Wardens had put the whale down after realising it wasn’t going to live, and had clearly consumed a large amount of non-biodegradable waste.

Despite the huge volume of plastic clogging up the whale’s stomach, the fact it died from ingesting the waste was “not surprising”, said researchers, as the volume of plastic in our seas continues to grow.

The Cuvier’s beaked whale was found stranded in shallow waters off the island of Sotra, and was in such poor condition the wardens decided to put it down. The creature had very little blubber and was emaciated, suggesting the plastic had lead it to become malnourished.

Dr Terje Lislevand, a zoologist who studied the whale, said: “The whale’s stomach was full of plastic bags and packaging with labels in Danish and English.” He also said the intestines were probably blocked up with plastic, causing severe pain.

Mexico’s vaquita porpoise close to extinction, 30 left

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Mexico’s vaquita marina is edging closer to extinction as scientists warned Wednesday that only 30 were left despite navy efforts to intercept illegal fishing nets killing the world’s smallest porpoise. At the current rate of loss, the vaquita will likely decline to extinction by 2022, unless the current gillnet ban is maintained and effectively enforced.

An analysis of acoustic data from the upper Gulf of California in northwestern Mexico found that, as of November, only about 30 vaquitas likely remained in their habitat, the report said.

A previous census between September and December 2015 had found around 60 vaquitas. There were 200 of them in 2012 and 100 in 2014.

Authorities say the vaquitas have been dying for years in gillnets that are meant to illegally catch another endangered specie, a large fish called the totoaba. Smugglers ship the totoaba’s dried swim bladder to China, where it fetches tens of thousands of dollars and is eaten in soup.

Known as the “panda of the sea” because of the dark rings around its eyes, the 1.5-meter (five-foot) cetacean has rarely been seen alive.

In a possibly last-ditch effort to save the vaquita, scientists plan, after getting government approval, to capture specimens and put them in an enclosure in the Gulf of California where they can reproduce.

Shark Fin Fast

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Indonesia cautions that there is an urgent need for shark fin soup enthusiasts to refrain from serving or eating the dish as some of the shark species in the archipelago are nearing extinction.

WWF says about 110,000 tons of shark fins are taken from Indonesian waters each year, leading to the sharp decline in shark populations.

“Indonesia largely depends on fisheries, so this is about food security too — if all the sharks are gone, we would have to start eating plankton soup,” said WWF leader Imam Musthofa Zainudin.


Yellow Fever Taking Heavy Toll on Monkeys in Brazil’s Rainforest

The worst yellow fever outbreak in decades is not just killing Brazilians, it threatens to wipe out monkeys in the Atlantic rainforest that are already close to extinction, experts warned on Tuesday.

So far 400 monkeys have been found dead in the state of Espirito Santo where the fever outbreak has spread from neighbouring Minas Gerais.

At greatest risk is the muriqui monkey, Brazil’s largest primate and one of the planet’s 25 most-endangered species of primates, said biologist Roberto Cabral at the Brazilian environmental agency Ibama.

“The monkeys are vulnerable to yellow fever just like humans but we have vaccines to protect us, they don’t,” Cabral said. “They are being decimated.”

Farmers first alerted authorities about the dying animals when they realized that the forest had gone silent and the monkeys had disappeared.


Lions Killed for their Paws and Heads

Three lions have been killed for their paws and heads at a farm outside Polokwane, South Africa.

Officials say they are concerned about the rising killing of the animals in the province, with a total of 9 lions being found dead in the last few months in Tzaneen, Hoedspruit and Mara areas.

Police say a preliminary investigation suggests that the wild cats were poisoned.

Canned hunting – or officially “the hunting of captive bred lions” – remains legal in South Africa.

Recently, at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature World Conservation Congress, a motion was adopted to terminate captive-bred hunting of lions and other predators, as well as breeding them in captivity for commercial, non-conservation purposes.

South Africa has shown little regard for this overwhelming response by the key global conservation leaders who voted 82% in favour of Motion 009.

Captive-bred predators fell through the “legislative cracks” in South Africa, and there was little doubt that the legalisation of trade in domestic lion body parts would grow the demand for wild lion bones.



Vampire Bats get Human Appetite

Vampire bats in northeastern Brazil have been feasting on the blood of humans at night in a significant shift of diet away from the flying mammal’s typical menu of blood from birds.

DNA analysis of vampire bat excrement collected around Catimbau National Park revealed traces of blood from both humans and domestic chickens.

Encroachment by humans into vampire bat habitats, and the destruction of bird habitats through deforestation, could be causing a rapid evolutionary change that is driving the bats to feed on humans to survive.

Dolphin Deaths

At least 82 dolphins known as false killer whales died after mysteriously becoming stranded along the coast of South Florida, USA. Thirteen others are missing after being spotted off Everglades National Park.

It was the largest number of fatalities for the species ever observed between Key West and Tampa Bay.


Over half of primates now facing extinction

A new report reveals that primates are facing an impending “extinction crisis,” with 60% of all primates now at risk of extinction.

The research, published in the journal Science Advances, assessed the conservation status of 504 species of nonhuman primates and found that three-quarters of the world’s primate species are undergoing an “alarming” population decline.

The primates are a diverse order that include apes — our closest biological relatives — as well as monkeys, lemurs, lorises and tarsiers.

All of the current threats to primates, including habitat loss, bushmeat hunting and the illegal pet trade, are being driven by human activity, researchers said. The destruction of habitat extinguishes resources such as shelter, food and water, divides social groups, and also leaves primates open to the risk of predation and contamination from pathogens. Activities such as mining, industrial agriculture, cattle ranching, oil drilling and logging are all responsible for dramatic deforestation in the tropical forests inhabited by primates.

There are several primate species already on the precipice of extinction. The Miss Waldron’s red colobus, which resides in southern Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, has not been seen by primatologists in 25 years. The Javan slow loris is another leader in the current race to extinction, due largely to illegal trade. The same applies many langurs in Asia, lemurs in Madagascar, orangutans in Southeast Asia and gorillas and chimpanzees in Africa. The Sumatran orangutan population has also slid dramatically over the last 10 years, with only 14,500 now remaining. The swampy forests that they inhabit are increasingly being cut and drained for palm oil production, one of the most damaging practices currently affecting primate habitat around the world.

Primates are a key indicator of the overall health of the ecosystems in which they reside. Their decline is a red flag not only for other animals, but also for humans.

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Feline Invasion – Australia

Feral cats now roam more than 99.8 percent of Australia’s land area, where they are devastating wildlife and otherwise causing a major impact on the country’s ecology, according to a new comprehensive study.

Australia is the only continent on the planet other than Antarctica where native species evolved without cats. This makes its indigenous animals extremely vulnerable to felines, according to Australia’s threatened species commissioner.

The invasive cats, initially brought in by European colonists, have already driven at least 20 Australian mammals to extinction.


Ruby Seadragons – First Sighting in the Wild

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An elusive ruby seadragon that was previously known only from museum specimens has been spotted alive in its natural habitat for the first time.

The scarlet-colored fish (Phyllopteryx dewysea) was first discovered as a distinct species in 2015, when researchers uncovered a misidentified preserved specimen while studying the two known species of seadragons — the orange-tinted leafy seadragon and the yellow-and-purple common seadragon.

Beyond its distinctive red color, the ruby seadragon differs from the other two types of seadragons because it lacks leaf-like appendages. Before witnessing the fish in the wild, researchers were unsure if the ruby seadragon specimens in museums had lost their appendages over time while in collection.

Given that the ruby seadragon’s habitat is deeper and more barren than that of its cousins’, the ruby seadragon likely lost its leaf-like appendages through evolution, according to the researchers. Its ruby colour is probably an evolutionary trait, as camouflage in the deeper, dimly lit waters, they added.

The scientists also discovered that the fish has a prehensile, or curled tail, similar to that of the seahorse and unlike the other seadragon species.

EPA’s bee decisions sting Environmentalists

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency backed away from tough restrictions on how pesticides can be used while honeybees are pollinating crops, and it declared that three of the pesticides most closely associated with bee deaths are safe in most applications.

The assessments, released late Thursday, conclude that clothianidin, thiamethoxam and dinotefuran can kill bees and their larvae individually, but that in “most approved uses” they “do not pose significant risks to bee colonies” at the exposure levels expected to be found on fields.

Those conclusions are likely to allow growers to keep using the chemicals — which are ingredients in dozens of products — to protect millions of acres of soybeans, corn, cotton, vegetables, fruit and nuts, including 439,000 acres in California.

But the documents were a double disappointment to environmentalists, who say scientific studies support bans or at least enforceable restrictions on the chemicals’ use.

These decisions came as the EPA prepares for its transition to the Trump administration where the EPA expects to be headed by a rabid anti-environmentalist.


Rusty Patched Bumblebee Declared Endangered

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The rusty patched bumblebee (Bombus affinis) is now the first bumblebee species to receive protections under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

The listing of the bee species was finalized Jan. 12 after a five-year campaign by environmental groups.

The rusty patched bumblebee is a North American native that was once found in grasslands across the eastern and midwestern United States, with a habitat covering 28 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS). Since 2000, however, habitat loss due to agriculture has restricted the bee to 13 states and one Canadian province. Overall, abundance of the bees has dropped by 87 percent since the late 1990s.

A 2016 report by the agency found that the bees populate only 8 percent of their former habitat, and that many of the populations that are left are under threat by at least one stressor, such as continuing habitat loss or declining genetic diversity because the populations are so small.

Farming threatens bees both by limiting the amount of vegetation available and exposing bees to pesticides that may affect their health or mortality.

The Sekiseishoko coral reef in Japan is 70 percent percent dead

Up to 70.1 percent of Japan’s largest coral reef is dead due to bleaching caused by global warming, according to a Japanese Environment Ministry report based on an extensive study that examined conditions at 35 locations in a 20-by-15 kilometre area.

Bleaching is a process when coral’s symbiont algae, crucial for the survival of the animals, dies. According to the ministry’s Ishigaki Ranger Office in Okinawa, an inflow of red soil into the ocean as well as seawater contamination can cause bleaching but, according to research, the primary reason is global warming. Ocean temperatures in 2016 were about two degrees higher than normal, and this was enough for the algae to start dying. Scientist also point out that any sudden change of temperature, light and nutrients can contribute to bleaching.

According to the Ministry of Environment survey, 91.4 percent of the coral in the surveyed locations is at least partly bleached, and 70 percent of coral reefs in the area are now completely dead. In comparison, an earlier survey conducted between September and October 2016 determined that 97 percent of the coral underwent bleaching and 56 percent was dead. As temperatures fell in winter, some corals rebounded, but scientists remain unsure whether the reef can fully recover.



Plan to Save Polar Bears

US wildlife authorities released on Monday, 9 December, a broad plan to try to save Arctic polar bears from going extinct, as global warming melts away their icy habitat at an increasing pace.

With just 22,000 to 31,000 polar bears estimated to be left in the world, the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Polar Bear Conservation Management Plan calls for a series of actions to save these iconic creatures.

Above all, it calls for reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, which arise from the burning of fossil fuels and contribute to a warming climate. The plan also calls for reducing conflicts between humans and bears, along with protecting their habitat and minimising the risk of contamination from oil spills.

Close management is urged for polar bear hunting, or a practice known as “subsistence harvest” that is legal for indigenous people and involves killing less than 4% of the bear’s total population per year.

Polar bears were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2008 because of the loss of sea-ice habitat. Since then, conditions in the Arctic have deteriorated due to global warming. The area of the Arctic covered by sea ice in October and November 2016 was the lowest on record for that period.

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Race to save the cheetah as study reveals extinction threat

A major survey released last week revealed that just 7,100 adult cheetahs remain in the wild, and that the species faces extinction without urgent new protection measures.

At the De Wildt Cheetah Centre outside Pretoria, South Africa, about 100 cheetahs are kept in large enclosures where they roam through a scrubby bushveld landscape.

The fastest land animal on Earth is critically vulnerable to the loss of its natural habitat—the major cause of numbers dropping from about 100,000 over the last 100 years.

Cheetahs have lost 90 percent of their habitat due to growing human populations, according to the study, which produced comprehensive new data on the elusive species.

Forced into contact with people, cheetahs are shot by farmers to protect livestock, accidentally caught in snares set for edible bushmeat or their cubs are illegally traded to the Gulf states as exotic pets.

Cheetahs adapt poorly to living in protected areas such as wildlife reserves as they range over huge distances, struggle with a shortage of prey and their young are easy targets for eagles, lions and hyenas.

Of the cheetahs still alive in the wild, all are in Africa except for fewer than 50 in Iran, with the others mainly in Namibia, Angola, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana and Mozambique.