The Beacon

Blog Tags: California

Leatherbacks Closer to Becoming CA Symbol

© NOAA

More good news for sea turtles today: The endangered leatherback sea turtle swam one lap closer today to becoming California’s official marine reptile.

The California Assembly Committee on Water, Parks, and Wildlife voted unanimously today that this ocean ambassador should be an additional state symbol. This is exciting news as the bill heads next to the Assembly floor where all 80 Assemblymembers will vote to determine if the bill moves to the state Senate.

Leatherbacks are truly an impressive species and an important part of the marine ecosystem. Once they reach maturity, leatherback sea turtles swim over 6,000 miles from their nesting beaches in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands to waters off California’s coast to feed on jellyfish.

California waters are a globally important foraging area for leatherbacks and these endangered species are an ecologically important part of the marine ecosystem. In recognition of new scientific information demonstrating the importance of California waters to the survival of Pacific leatherbacks, the National Marine Fisheries Service recently designated nearly 42,000 square miles off the US West Coast as critical habitat, including 16,910 square miles off California’s coast.

Oceana co-authored the petition and weighed in heavily during this 5 year process leading to the final designation to help ensure ensure these awe-inspiring animals are not wiped out by human impacts to their key feeding areas.

Thank you to all of you California Wavemakers who signed the letter of support to your local representative letting them know your support for this legislation. This is truly a time to celebrate the leatherback.

Stay tuned!


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Leatherback Sea Turtle May Be CA’s Newest Symbol

© NOAA

Some fun news today: The Pacific leatherback sea turtle may soon join the California poppy, coast redwood, and grizzly bear as one of California’s official symbols.

Assemblymember Paul Fong introduced legislation (Assembly Bill 1776) that would designate the Pacific leatherback as the state’s marine reptile.

This bill is a fun way for Californians to learn about and appreciate the leatherback, while enshrining the ecological importance of this ancient species into state law. Among other things, the bill will establish October 15as the state’s annual Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtle Conservation Day. It also encourages California public schools to include leatherback sea turtles into curriculum when possible and asks the state to support efforts to recover and preserve the leatherback.

The bill must receive enough votes in the Assembly and Senate before it can go to Governor Brown for him to consider signing it into law; the first vote will be in the Assembly this April.

If all goes well we will be celebrating the first Leatherback Day this October! Stay tuned.


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California’s Calamari Thanks You!

risso's dolphin

Risso's dolphins also thank you - squid is their favorite food. © NOAA

If you are one of the 3,600 ocean-loving Californians who spoke up for squid, we want to thank you!

You urged the state’s wildlife managers to maintain a healthy ocean ecosystem by not re-opening the market squid fishery after it was closed early when the maximum catch had been fished (118,000 tons or 236 million pounds).

I’m happy to report that the Fish and Game Commission listened, saying it will keep the fishery closed until next season, which opens in April. They also welcomed your request for better management of these critical fish species by adopting a policy that will guide how they manage these small fish and invertebrates into the future.

Forage species like squid, herring, and krill are the base of the ocean food pyramid, feeding everything from the charismatic humpback whale to the commercially important salmon fishery.

There is currently no state policy guiding management of forage species -- this would be the first of its kind.

This is a very exciting step forward and will ensure that fisheries managers start asking the right questions when determining how many forage fish to take out of the ocean. For example: How much squid do Risso’s dolphins need to be healthy? How much krill does the endangered blue whale eat? What’s the current population of dogfish sharks and how much herring do they need?

Also, let’s not forget that forage species are not only critical to a healthy ocean ecosystem, but to California’s economy as they bring in billions of dollars in revenue annually through coastal sectors like recreational and commercial fishing, tourism, and hospitality industries.

Without enough forage species recreational fishers will have to go elsewhere to find their sport fish, restaurants will have a more difficult time getting enough sustainably fresh and wild seafood for their menus, and whale-watching boats will have less diverse wildlife to show people who come all the way to California’s beautiful coast to see whales, seals, dolphins, and seabirds.

Stay tuned as we move toward better fishery management, and thank you again for weighing in!

Ashley Blacow is Oceana's Pacific Policy and Communications Coordinator.


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Thursday Trivia: Sea Otters

sea otter

A sea otter relaxes in Morro Bay, CA. [Image via Wikimedia Commons]

By popular demand, this week we’re discussing sea otters, the smallest marine mammal.

Native to the northern Pacific Ocean from Russia to southern California, this charismatic critter was seriously overhunted for its fur – almost to extinction. It has been protected by international law since 1911 and its population is starting to rebound, but it is still considered endangered. Now 90% of sea otters live off the coast of Alaska. Sea otters can sometimes be found in large groups of either males or females, known as rafts.

The sea otter can spend its entire life in the ocean, including sleeping anchored to kelp beds to keep from drifting away. Because it spends so much time in cold water and has no insulating fat, it relies on its fur, which is the densest of any mammal, to stay warm. It blows bubbles of air into this coat, with 100,000 hairs per square centimeter, to keep water from penetrating to its skin.

The pictures you’ve seen are probably of sea otters floating at the surface, but they are highly adapted to life in the water. Sea otters have a large tail to steer and large hind feet that act as flippers. Sea otters can swim as fast as 9 kilometers per hour and stay underwater for almost six minutes while diving.

Sea otters also eat in the water, hunting invertebrates like mussels, snails and crabs. Otters often become "specialists" in one type of prey, depending on their skills and what is available. The otter stores its prey in skin pouches under its forearms while it returns to the surface, where it uses its chest as a table and pounds frees its tasty morsel using a rock. This makes it one of only a couple of non-primate mammals known to use tools. Sea otters often keep using the same rock for multiple dives, and have been observed washing their prey. Males are known to steal food from females.

Sea otters have voracious appetites; in fact, their hunger can be crucial to maintaining healthy ecosystems. In some areas, otters act as ‘keystone species,’ which means that they keep populations of their prey, such as sea urchins, strictly under control. Without sea otters present, urchin populations could grow rapidly and eat entire kelp forests; with sea otters present, kelp can live long enough to form forests.

Threats to sea otters include oil spills, killer whale predation, which is increasing as other prey options are becoming scarcer; infectious diseases, particularly toxoplasma; and being caught as bycatch, particularly in fisheries that use gill nets.

Learn more about the sea otter and other fascinating animals at Oceana’s marine life encyclopedia.


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Victory! West Coast Shark Fin Ban Complete

oceanic whitetip shark

At last, the good news you've been waiting for: California Governor Jerry Brown has signed a bill banning the trade of shark fins.

California has joined the ranks of Washington State, Oregon and Hawaii, who have all passed similar bans. Oceana supported this legislation from the beginning, and we are thrilled that Governor Brown has passed it into law, completing a West Coast ban.

Each year, tens of millions of sharks are killed for their fins, mostly to make shark fin soup. In this wasteful and cruel practice, a shark’s fins are sliced off while at sea and the remainder of the animal is thrown back into the water to die. Without fins, sharks bleed to death, drown, or are eaten by other species. In recent decades some shark populations have declined by as much as 99%.

Removing sharks from ocean ecosystems can destabilize the ocean food web and even lead to declines in populations of other species, including commercially-caught fish and shellfish species lower in the food web. While shark finning is illegal in the U.S., current federal laws banning the practice do not address the issue of the shark fin trade, so shark fins are imported to the U.S. from countries with few or even no shark protections in place.

“Today is a landmark day for shark conservation around the globe” said Susan Murray, Oceana’s Senior Pacific Director. “The leadership shown by legislatures and governors of California, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii sends a strong message that the entire US West Coast will no longer play a role in the global practice of shark finning that is pushing many shark species to the brink of extinction.”

A huge thanks to everyone who called your legislators and Governor Brown and helped secure this enormous victory for our oceans' top predators!


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CEO Note: Victory! West Coast Shark Fin Ban Complete

I’m thrilled to report that as of this afternoon, the entire U.S. West Coast has now banned the trade of shark fins.

After months of work by Oceana and our allies, California Governor Jerry Brown has signed a bill banning the trade of shark fins, joining the ranks of a growing number of governments rallying to protect the top predators in the oceans. Washington State, Oregon and Hawaii have all passed similar bans.

As Oceana shark spokesperson January Jones and I wrote in the Huffington Post, each year, tens of millions of sharks are killed for their fins, mostly to make shark fin soup, an Asian delicacy. Shark finning is a shocking practice in which a shark's fins are sliced off at sea and the animal is thrown back in the water to bleed to death. Shark finning is illegal in U.S. waters, but that didn’t stop the shark fin trade.

According to government data, approximately 85 percent of dried shark fin imports to the United States came through California last year, making California the hub of the US shark fin market. Thanks to Governor Brown, this will no longer be the case.

Sharks have been on the planet for more than 400 million years, but populations around the world are crashing. They play a vital role in maintaining the health of ocean ecosystems, but due to their slow growth rate and low level of reproduction, sharks are especially vulnerable to fishing pressure.

We couldn’t have scored this monumental victory for sharks without you. Thanks to all of you for helping protect the oceans’ top predators.


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Marshall Islands Creates World’s Largest Shark Sanctuary

A great white shark. © Oceana/ David P. Stephens

It’s not every day that you hear about the Marshall Islands. Scattered across a swath of the Pacific Ocean, these islands are home to only about 68,000 people. But as of this week, the waters around these islands may become home to a whole lot more sharks.

That’s because the government has decided to make all of its waters—more than 750,000 square miles, or about the size of Mexico—a shark sanctuary. This move will almost double the area in which sharks are protected globally.

Within the Marshall Islands, it will now be illegal to commercially fish sharks, sell any shark products, and use wire leaders (a type of fishing gear often responsible for shark deaths). In addition, all sharks caught accidentally must be released, and fishing boats will be required to bring all their catch directly to port for inspection—an important step in combating seafood fraud.  Fines for having shark products will run the equivalent of $25,000 to $200,000.


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Californians: Tell the Governor to Protect Sharks!

shark photo

Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana.

Calling all Californians: Right now your Governor, Jerry Brown, is considering legislation that would effectively end the trade of shark fins. As you’re probably aware, trade in shark fins facilitates the practice of shark finning, which is one of the single biggest contributors to the collapse of shark populations around the globe.

The California State Senate passed a bill to end the trade in California, A.B. 376, earlier this month and we expect the governor to sign or veto the bill this week, so your rapid input is critical.


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CEO Note: Nearing A Full Shark Fin Ban on the West Coast

While in 2010 the United States banned shark finning - the act of slicing off a shark's fins at seas and throwing the bleeding torso overboard to die - it has still allowed the sale and possession of shark fins, encouraging import and a market for the fins. Shark fins are primarily used in shark fin soup.

On Tuesday, the California Senate passed a bill to ban shark fin sale, trade, and possession. It awaits the governor's signature. Oceana joined the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Humane Society of the United States and Wildaid in support of this legislation.

This legislation builds on precedent and the momentum of Oceana’s work to protect sharks around the globe, including the U.S.’s ban passed last year, and a national ban on finning in Chile passed this July. The California bill joins similar legislation passed this year in Washington and Oregon, and last year in Hawaii. This coastwide action will help to lessen the demand for shark fins, and thus help save sharks across the globe that are slaughtered by countries with few or no regulations.

Up to 73 million sharks are killed each year for their fins, including rare and endangered species. But with this legislation, we are making major progress in saving the oceans' top predator and one of the most ancient creatures in the sea.

If you're a California resident, you can help us. Place a phone call to Governor Brown's office to ask him to pass this bill, AB 376, by Oct. 9 in order to become law. You can reach Governor Brown's office at 916-445-2841.

With your support, we continue to win victories like this for our oceans. Thank you.


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Victory! California Senate Passes Shark Fin Trade Ban

Things continue to look up for sharks in the Pacific.

Last night the California Senate passed a ban on the sale, trade, possession, and distribution of shark fins in the state.  Oceana was instrumental in the passage of this bill to protect the ocean’s apex predators.

If the bill is signed into law by Governor Brown by October 9, a sweeping West Coast ban on the trade of shark fins will be complete. Washington passed similar legislation in May, followed by Oregon in early August. Hawaii, Guam and the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands have also passed similar bills.

While shark finning is illegal in the U.S., current federal laws banning the practice do not address the issue of the shark fin trade. As a result, fins are imported to the U.S. from countries with little to no shark protections in place. The only way to really address California’s contribution to the global declines in shark populations is to address the market demand for fins in the state.

The passage of this bill will help to protect global populations of at-risk shark species that are being targeted in unsustainable and unregulated fisheries worldwide.

Thanks to everyone who spoke up to help score this victory for sharks! You can see a list of the Senators who voted "aye" for the bill here.


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