The Beacon: Andy Sharpless's blog

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 [email protected].

....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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Possible New Species Discovered

Scientists encountered what may be a new species of seed shrimp, a translucent crustacean that swims at a depth of 50 to 200 meters. On a seamount in the Northern Atlantic, remote operated vehicles shed light on what one researcher referred to as an underwater "continent."

Clutching to the rocky cliffs was a menagerie of corals and sponges, as well as brittle stars and starfish, sea cucumbers and worms. Some of the creatures are quite rare, not found anywhere else in the world - all the more reason to be mindful of the brilliant life thriving below the surface.


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A Day Late and a Dollar Short

In the last few weeks, the U.S. has been kicking itself for not thinking to place a flag on the sea floor at the North Pole. But Russia is not the only country to have laid claim to the oil-rich area; other competitors include Canada, Denmark, and a pack of Siberian huskies that have been peeing there for ages.



However, all of them are certainly in for a disappointment, because on Friday the U.S. struck back, by sending out a team of scientists to map the area. Just as Lewis and Clark did before, the U.S. hopes to use the survey data as a foundation for political and economic expansion into the explored regions. Rock beats scissors, map beats flag.



Of course, the U.S. Senate has not ratified the UN Law of the Sea Convention treaty, which took force in 1994 (despite years of urging from Presidents Clinton and Bush). So technically the U.S. doesn't have a seat at the table as critical decisions are made on how to divvy up the ocean bottom.



As Grist reported, U.S. State Department spokesperson Tom Casey scoffed, "I'm not sure of whether they've put a metal flag, a rubber flag, or a bed sheet on the ocean floor. Either way, it doesn't have any legal standing or effect on this claim." Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay went on to add, "You can't go around the world these days dropping a flag somewhere -- this isn't the 14th or 15th century."



No kidding. When was the last time that happened?


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Protect Our Sharks, Protect Our Oceans

Humans kill something like 100 million sharks annually.  More humans are killed annually by dogs and by falling coconuts than are killed by sharks.  At such levels, humanity will certainly survive its encounter with dogs and coconuts.  The same cannot be confidently said of sharks and people.  

The U.S. Shark Finning Prohibition Act is, unfortunately, another law whose name overpromises.  The law carries a loophole that makes enforcement difficult.  Sharks are allowed to be landed after their fins have been cut off.  It's time to shut down that loophole and require that fishing companies prove that they are only killing the legal number and types of sharks for their fins by landing the creatures fully intact.

Sharks help to maintain an essential balance beneath the water's surface. Removing them from the ocean creates booms in prey species further down the food chain which in turn can create terribly destructive cascading effects on countless ocean creatures.


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One Small Step for Oceana, One Giant Leap for the Environment

Five down, four to go. ...

We told you a few months back about a meeting the Chlorine Institute held in which top-level executives discussed how best to deal with Oceana, since we'd been pressuring a number of chlorine-alkali plants to invest in mercury-free technology.

As it turns out, the best way to handle a tenacious conservation organization is to simply take their advice. Take ERCO Worldwide, for example, the most recent to announce it'll make the switch to mercury-free technology.

The largest mercury polluter in Wisconsin has agreed to convert to modern mercury-free technology, another big step in the effort to transition all chlorine-alkali factories to 21st century standards.


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Too Many Boats Fishing For Too Few Fish

Here's a remarkable fact: Global fishery collapse is being financed with tax money.



You already know that many nations are failing to enforce the laws that are essential to keeping our oceans healthy and abundant forever. Instead, they are presiding over a global ocean collapse. According to a report in Science, 29 percent of the world's commercial fisheries have already collapsed.



This is terrible news for the billion people who turn to the ocean for protein, the hundreds of millions of people who need the sea for a livelihood and the countless extraordinary marine creatures that don't deserve to go the way of the buffalo.



What you will be surprised to learn is that massive over-capacity in the world's fishing fleet is being paid for by taxes. A study by the University of British Columbia recently revealed that $30 to $40 billion in taxpayer subsidies are paid to the commercial fishing industry worldwide - $20 billion of which directly promotes the increase of fishing capacity. And the value of the world's catch at dockside is only $80 to $90 billion.


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