The Beacon: Andy Sharpless's blog

This week in ocean news

...a Hong Kong sushi restaurant owner paid a record $55,700 for a bluefin tuna at a Tokyo market, a rate of $92 per pound....

...a judge ordered the U.S. Navy to cease use of sonar within 12 nautical miles of the California coastline and whenever a marine mammal was sighted within 2,200 yards....

...fish from a Canadian salmon farm tested positive for malachite green, a carcinogenic substance. "We have no explanation as to what has happened," said the company manager...

...a study of Caribbean coral reefs found a correlation between high human population and coral loss. "It's like a cascade," said one of the researchers...

...scientists hypothesized that warming oceans would cause Australian coral reefs to migrate southward...

...manatee deaths in Florida dropped by 24 percent in 2007. The deadliest year on record was 2006, with 417 deaths. "It's not definitive that this is a trend," said a government spokesperson...

...for the first time, scientists surveyed marine mammals found in Pakistani waters. They discovered 12 species of dolphins, porpoises, and whales...

...in Denver, a Chinese man pleaded guilty to smuggling sea turtles...

...and a rare albino penguin was sighted in Antarctica. New Zealand cricket fans petitioned to sponsor its attempts to mate.


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The Sea Turtle Hurdle

Loggerhead sea turtle nesting subpopulations in the North Atlantic are on the decline, according to a new study released by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The study, a five-year status review for loggerhead sea turtles required by the Endangered Species Act, confirms what Oceana has been telling the federal government all along.

If there is to be any real chance for restoring sea turtle populations, the federal government is going to have to take major steps to protect sea turtles from commercial fishing gear that includes increased time and area closures and increased monitoring on commercial fishing fleets.


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It's Not Hot in Here, It's Just Global Warming

Reports are all over the headlines recently of creatures, particularly Arctic and Antarctic marine creatures, being threatened by extinction because the Earth is warming too fast for them or their icy environments to be able to sustain themselves.

A colony of Antarctic penguins, for one, could be extinct in as little as eight years, according to one researcher who's been documenting their population since the mid-1970s. Upward of two-thirds of the Arctic polar bears could be wiped out by 2050 because their habitat is melting, according to one study.

Sounds a little like the Science report released last fall that said commercial fisheries will effectively collapse by mid-century at the rate we fish our oceans. There's definitely a pattern here - is anyone else noticing this dismal trend?


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This Week in Ocean News ...

........the European Union closed the bluefin tuna fishing season in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean, calling the stocks "exhausted"...



..........a developer proposed dredging up 2.6 million cubic yards of sand from the ocean floor in order to build an artificial beach in Nantucket. The developer will replace the 105 acres of seabed habitat with 28,000 concrete railroad ties over 60 acres....



....A New York coastal manager told the state government that its 3,200 miles of coastline were in danger from pollution and overfishing. "New York was born on the waterfront, and its future depends on managing those resources," he said......



....Australian authorities detained 61 crew members of six illegal fishing boats. A catch of trepang, a sea slug, was found on board one of the ships. It was thrown back into the water......



...federal officials proposed dumping "cleaner materials" on top of the Mud Dump Site, a spot off the coast of New Jersey, where toxic mud was dumped throughout the 20th century. The idea is to create a muffin-shaped protective cover over what is now essentially a pollution pancake.....



.....researchers working in an undersea lab in Florida's coral reefs put up a series of webcams, allowing viewers to watch the interior of the lab or get a diver's-eye view with a camera mounted to scuba gear...



...the Pacific nation of Tuvalu appealed to the world to combat global warming. The island nation rests two meters above sea level and could disappear in the next 50 years as water levels rise...



...experts were puzzled by the second stranding of a thresher shark on a New York beach in as many weeks...



...for the first time since last year, striped bass migrated from the ocean to San Pablo Bay in California. Historically, the bass come every spring. No one knows why they are late this year....



......a 78-foot-long, 100,000 lb. blue whale carcass washed up on a beach near Ventura, California. The cause of death is unknown. The carcass will be towed to a nearby RV camping ground for inspection. "There will be some unhappy campers, as they say," a county official said.....



.....and Sen. Barbara Boxer cooed over Ted Danson's decades-long dedication to oceans advocacy. The exchange took place in a new episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm."


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A Problem of Florida-sized Proportions

A chunk of Arctic sea ice roughly the size of Florida melted in just six days, according to scientists who warn that ice in the region continues to melt at an alarming rate.

Reports are already surfacing of the detrimental effects such rapid habitat loss is having on marine mammals, such as polar bears, which use the ice to hunt and migrate. Most recently scientists have said polar bear populations could drop by 66 percent by mid-century.

Virtually every day there is news about the impacts of climate change on the oceans, from whale deaths due to lack of food, to potential coral destruction from rising temperatures and increased ocean acidity, to the disappearance of cold water species because of warming ocean temperatures.

The oceans are suffering from climate change. More than ever before we all need to do our part to step up and protect them.


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This Week in Ocean News ...

....the U.S. Geological Survey announced that the polar bear population could plummet to one-third of its current level by mid-century because Arctic ice is receding faster than predicted....

...a new 350-foot superferry designed to go 40 mph between Hawaiian islands concerned scientists, who thought it would collide with whales and dolphins despite new cetacean-avoiding technology...

......new DNA studies suggested that the historic population levels of Pacific gray whales far exceeded the 22,000 estimated, with researchers putting the number closer to 100,000....

..a six-week survey of the Yangtze River failed to turn up a single baiji, one of few dolphins species to adapt to a freshwater habitat. A survey in the 1990s turned up 13 of the dolphins.....

....an Alaskan man taped himself provoking a monk seal and her pup while vacationing in Hawaii. After he posted the video to MySpace, the man found himself under federal investigation and could receive a $25,000 fine....

...........a lake in Alaska boiled violently with methane.....

....fishermen in Maine reported seeing more herring after a trawler ban went into effect....

......Arctic ice cover was at an all-time record low, an "exclamation point," said one scientist....

....elevated levels of PCBs in the blubber of whales and seals led Inuit women to give birth to twice as many girls as boys.......

......five men were arrested for smuggling endangered animal hides across the U.S.-Mexico boarder. Investigators say the men smuggled about 700 tanned sea turtle, caiman and python hides....

...the governor of a Chinese province agreed to remove whale shark from menus at the behest of the Australian government....

....model Naomi Campbell and her ex-boyfriend planned to open a five-star hotel on an Indian beach, despite its status as a nesting sea turtle sanctuary. "The lights would confuse the turtles and send them heading off in the wrong direction," said a conservationist....

...members of the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation forum agreed to a non-binding initiative that the world needed to "slow, stop, then reverse" global warming....

....India sought to become "a world leader" in offshore caged fishing in the next ten years.....

......and Japanese researchers succeeded in getting salmon to give birth to baby trout in a lab. The ultimate goal is get mackerel to birth baby bluefin tuna, a favorite for sushi.


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Last Week in Ocean News ...

Do you wonder what's happening in the world of ocean news? Wonder no more. This week's Scanner will fill you in on the latest and most thought-provoking ocean news. Read an article you'd like to see featured here? Send it to wavemaker@oceana.org.

....a Manhattan-sized iceberg that had broken off a Canadian island came to a rest in a dead-end Arctic Ocean channel, much to the relief of cargo ships and oil rigs, which may have been threatened by the two-billion-ton berg...

.....a family out sailing in Massachusetts spied a mola mola, a bony sunfish shaped like a mix between a shark and a pancake. Usually found in warmer waters, the mola sometimes migrates north of the tropics....

...a group of scientists announced a plan to wire the Pacific floor so that landbound researchers can remotely view and study the seafloor. "This is a NASA-scale mission to enter the Inner Space," said one....

.....leaked documents suggested the Canadian government is set to announce fast-tracked economic initiatives in the Arctic later this fall...

....an international conference on penguins announced that a majority of the 17 species are headed for extinction, including the emperor penguin colony immortalized in "March of the Penguins"....

...a Belgian foundation unveiled the first prefab zero-emissions polar station in Brussels. The station is set to be dismantled and moved to the South Pole this month......

........a cruise ship company announced its intentions to build the world's largest sailing vessel. The ship will be longer than two football fields and employ 37 sails. Nearly 300 passengers will be able to enjoy its three pools....

....commercial fishermen in the Narragansett Bay say profits are gone. Two fishermen claimed that the terrorist attacks of 9/11 prompted the beginning of the end of the New England fishery....

......Japanese school children were fed dolphin meat that was contaminated by toxic levels of mercury......

...the Zoological Society of London announced that marine mammals were becoming more common in the Thames River thanks to a concerted cleanup effort....

....scientists discovered that moray eels have a second, mobile set of jaws used to drag prey into their mouths....

......a hunter in Canada's Northwest Territories killed the first walrus seen there in 15 years. "We ended up getting it after probably 10 rounds of shells or shots into it," the hunter said. He is considering making earrings from the tusks....

....and Kemp's Ridley sea turtles, once down to just a few hundred mating pairs on American shorelines, continued to make a comeback, and now number in the tens of thousands. The turtles are still far from their historic population levels.



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Who's Watching the Watchdog?

In just one year, attacks have doubled on government observers contracted to collect catch and bycatch information from commercial fishing fleets.

Observers are the only independent source of data we have for tracking catches, monitoring quotas and recording harmful activity. They're contracted under NOAA, an agency within the Department of Commerce that conducts environmental research.

But the agency has ceased collecting data on reports of harassment or interference supposedly because it lacks resources to investigate these matters.

Without observers, we truly have no way of knowing laws implemented to protect sea life and habitat are followed. So we've got observers in place to protect marine life, but who's protecting the observers?


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Everyone Loves a Happy Ending

Four hooks in the throat and belly, three hooks embedded in the skin, two feet of fishing line in the stomach - one happy ending for a lucky loggerhead sea turtle.

After months of rehabilitation, rescuers in Florida finally released a female sea turtle, estimated between 40 and 50 years of age. She took off quickly, according to witnesses, hopefully never to again to be so hooked and entangled.

That's an optimistic point of view. Trouble is all the commercial fishing gear floating in our oceans creates a sort of gauntlet for sea turtles to swim through. It's one of the main factors contributing to sea turtles' endangered status. In fact, it is estimated that half of all adult loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles in the Pacific Ocean are likely to be caught on longline fishing hooks every year.  

So while rescuers may never again encounter the sea turtle that affectionately became known as "Eve," chances are they will meet many more turtles. Maybe they'll name the next one Adam ... or better yet, how `bout Andy?

Click on the pic to watch a sea turtles video!


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Dolphins in Danger

Striped dolphins in the Spanish Mediterranean are under attack from a virus similar to measles that could kill roughly 75,000 of the creatures before the disease loses steam.

Authorities confirmed the disease, Morbillivirus, was also responsible for a plague that killed hundreds of thousands of dolphins in the early 1990s and also recently affected the Canary Island right whale population.


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