Oceana’s blog about the latest ocean news, policy and science.
This week brought great news for shark populations that are dwindling both in U.S. waters and worldwide. Today, the Delaware House of Representatives introduced a bill prohibiting the possession, trade, sale and distribution of shark fins within the state. If passed, House Bill 41 would make Delaware the first East Coast state to pass a ban on the shark fin trade, following in the footsteps of Oregon, Washington, California, Hawaii and Illinois.
Current federal law prohibits shark finning in U.S. waters, requiring that sharks be brought into port with their fins still attached. However, this law does not prohibit the sale and trade of processed fins that are imported into the country from other regions that could have weak or even nonexistent shark protections in place.
This unsustainable catch is driven by the demand for shark fins, often used as an ingredient in shark fin soup, and kills millions of sharks every year. Delaware’s bill would close the loopholes that fuel the trade and demand for fins, and ensure that the state is not a gateway for shark products to enter into other U.S. state markets.
Not only was there great news coming out of the U.S., international shark lovers have reason to celebrate as well. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), voted this week to place stricter regulations on the trade of manta rays, three species of hammerheads, oceanic whitetip and porbeagle sharks, acknowledging that these species are in dire need of protection. When countries export these species, they are required to possess special permits that prove these species were harvested sustainably. This decision will greatly curb illegal overfishing and reduce the numbers of endangered sharks killed globally.
Rowers take your mark! This lagoon will be the site of the rowing competition at the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Summer Olympics, but yesterday this was the scene, as thousands of fish died and had to be removed after oxygen levels in the water plummeted due to heavy pollution.
Learn about what Oceana is doing to combat pollution in the ocean and what you can do to help.
On January 10, a recreational boater reported spotting the remains of an orca (killer whale) stranded on the shore. Three days later, scientists from the Canadian Ministry of Agriculture and Land and the University of Alaska-Fairbanks arrived to conduct a full necropsy to gain insight into why the creature had died.
The whale was identified as Yakat, the matriarch of the so-called A4 pod that spends most of its time in British Columbia’s Johnstone Strait. While the necropsy will not be able to provide conclusive cause of death, Yakat’s death will provide insight into what orcas choose to eat when their favorite meal—salmon—is scarce, and her very location already provides clues as to where she takes her pod in the winter months.
Yakat leaves two surviving daughters, Nahwitti (A56) and Skagit (A35), at least four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, all belonging to Skagit. She also leaves behind Springer, her grand-niece and adopted daughter who brought attention to Yakat and her family when they generously adopted the orphaned whale in 2002 after it was rescued and released from a rehabilitation facility.
We can breathe a momentary sigh of relief. This Monday, the Pacific Fishery Management Council voted unanimously to maintain protections off California and Oregon for the critically endangered population of Pacific leatherback sea turtles. However, in 2014 these federal fishery managers will consider another proposal for allowing driftnets into sea turtle habitat southwest of Monterey, California.
At the meeting a few days ago in Tacoma, Washington, the Council considered a full array of proposals to expand the use of drift gillnets off California and Oregon and into an area currently designated to protect Pacific leatherback sea turtles. But Oceana—with the help of our partners, and support of our avid Wavemakers—successfully thwarted those efforts by presenting new science on the decline of leatherback sea turtles; by revealing scientific data showing massive wasteful bycatch of large whales, dolphins, sharks, and other fish by the drift gillnet fishery; and by bringing forward the public uproar over the proposed expansion of the driftnet fishery into a currently protected area.
Mile-long drift nets hang like invisible curtains in the water column to catch swordfish, but they unselectively entangle other marine life traversing through the open ocean. To numerically paint the portrait of this wasteful fishery, for every five swordfish caught in 2011, one marine mammal was killed and six fish were tossed back dead. When it comes to whales, this fishery takes many species, but one of particular concern is the sperm whale. The largest of the toothed whales, sperm whales have the largest brain of any animal and it is estimated that 16 of these amazing endangered whales were taken in the drift gillnet fishery in 2010 alone.
Generally you should keep your distance from wild animals, especially in the case of marine mammals, as the failure to do so can result in a hefty fine. But there are those rare times when wild animals won't leave you be. In that case, having a camera rolling can make for some amazing scenes, like the above.
Sea lions and seals are pinnipeds, carnivorous mammals with fin-like flippers that come ashore to breed, give birth, and nurse their young. It's a group that also includes walruses and is more closely related to such land animals as bears, dogs, raccoons, and weasels (all belonging to the order Carnivora) than to cetaceans like whales and dolphins, which took the plunge millions of years earlier in evolutionary history.
Like all animals though, sometimes they're just looking for a free ride.
If you've ever seen a clip of a seal being ambushed by a great white you might understand why they only sleep with one half of their brain at a time. With enemies like The Man in the Gray Suit it's always advisable to maintain at least a marginal degree of 'round-the-clock alertness.
A new study led by scientists at UCLA and the University of Toronto, and published in the February Journal of Neuroscience, investigated this phenomenon of half-brain sleeping.
"Seals do something biologically amazing — they sleep with half their brain at a time. The left side of their brain can sleep while the right side stays awake. Seals sleep this way while they're in water, but they sleep like humans while on land. Our research may explain how this unique biological phenomenon happens," said Professor John Peever of the University of Toronto.
The researchers found higher levels of an important brain chemical, acetylcholine, in the waking halves of the seal brains than the sleeping halves. The discovery could aid in the understanding of human sleep disorders, the study's senior author Jerome Siegel of UCLA's Brain Research Institute claims.
"About 40% of North Americans suffer from sleep problems and understanding which brain chemicals function to keep us awake or asleep is a major scientific advance. It could help solve the mystery of how and why we sleep."
Sleep tight seals, and don't let the great white sharks bite.
In a preview of the National Geographic series Kingdom of the Oceans airing on March 10, ABC News spoke with Oceana senior vice president for North America and chief scientist Mike Hirshfield about, well, everything. In this whirlwind video, viewers whip from the deep sea to kelp forests to coral reefs and encounter creatures as varied as cuttlefish, spanish dancers and the truly bizarre blanket octopus. Mike gives both economic and intrinsic reasons for caring about the health of the oceans.
"So many economies are absolutely dependent on healthy oceans. 15 percent of the world's protein comes from fish produced by the oceans. That's a nontrivial amount of food. If you care about living creatures, the wonder and magic and beauty of the oceans are something you should care about."
The four-part National Geographic series begins March 10 on the Nat Geo Wild channel and features Oceana Senior Advisor Alexandra Cousteau as narrator. Check it out!
History was made today in Bangkok, when Parties to CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna) voted to protect five species of sharks and two species of manta rays. The seven protected species are: oceanic whitetip (Carcharhinus longimanus), porbeagle (Lamna nasus), scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini), great hammerhead (S. mokarran), smooth hammerhead (S. zygaena), oceanic manta ray (Manta birostris) and reef manta ray (M. alfredi).
All seven species are considered threatened by international trade – the sharks for their fins, and the manta rays for their gills, which are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. CITES protection is an important complement to fisheries management measures, which, for these species, have failed to safeguard their survival.
The vote was to list the animals for protection under Appendix II which does not entail a ban on the trade, but instead means that trade must be regulated. Exporting countries are required to issue export permits, and can only do so if they can ensure that they have been legally caught, and that their trade is not detrimental to the species’ survival.
All of the proposals received the two-thirds majority needed to be accepted – but the listing is not yet final. Decisions can be overturned with another vote during the final plenary session of the meeting, which wraps up on Thursday. This is what happened with porbeagle sharks in the 2010 CITES meeting in Qatar – an Appendix II listing approved by the Committee evaporated with another vote in plenary. As a result, at that meeting, none of the proposed shark species were granted protection. Now, three years later, we’re hopeful that the international community finally sees the importance of regulating the trade that puts these animals at risk.
Keep your fingers crossed!
An endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtle swims through the cold, nutrient-rich waters off California where it has made an impressive journey from its nesting beaches in Indonesia to feed on jellyfish. But, it encounters an unwelcome surprise, a mile long drift net in which its flipper becomes entangled.
Because this net sits overnight in the water column to catch its targeted commercial species, swordfish and thresher sharks, this net will not be pulled up until the following morning. In the meantime, the sea turtle is unable to surface for air and drowns. The drift gillnet fishery takes, on average, 138 marine mammals per year including sperm whales, humpback whales, pilot whales, minke whales, dolphins, seals and sea lions—not to mention thousands of sharks and other fish. The vast majority of those animals are dumped back into the ocean, dead or injured.
Due to concerns over bycatch resulting from the use of drift gillnets, Washington and Oregon have prohibited fishermen in their state from using these destructive nets off their coast. This leaves California as the only west coast state still allowing this deadly gear.
The Arctic is a fragile ecosystem sitting alone at the top of the world.
On March 12 The Economist is hosting its Arctic Summit in Oslo, where 150 interested policy-makers, CEOs and influential commentators will come together to discuss the possibilities for a responsibly governed Arctic.
At Oceana we work hard to protect the Arctic’s marine ecosystem and the subsistence life of its peoples. In order to make real progress, all of the intersecting threats—climate change, industrial fishing, shipping, pollution, and oil and gas development—need to be addressed together. You can make a difference in the Arctic by signing Oceana’s petition to stop oil and gas drilling.
We commend The Economist and all of the Arctic Summit participants for taking on such an important and critical set of issues.
Stay tuned for an update from our own Nicolas Fournier, who will be representing Oceana at the conference.
- Disabled Killer Whale Survives with Help from Its Pod Posted Tue, May 21, 2013
- Oceana CEO Andy Sharpless Discusses His New Book, The Perfect Protein Posted Wed, May 22, 2013
- Happy World Turtle Day! Posted Thu, May 23, 2013
- Washington Passes Legislation to Fight Seafood Fraud Posted Fri, May 24, 2013