Oceana’s blog about the latest ocean news, policy and science.
This morning the government announced a decision, long in the making, to designate 739 miles of Atlantic and Gulf coastline as critical habitat for threatened loggerhead sea turtles.
Loggerheads face threats from all sides, including from pollution, degradation of foraging areas, and serious injury and death from entanglement in fishing gear. They’re also faced with the loss of their nesting habitat due to coastal development as well as sea level rise.
Loggerheads, which make some of the longest journeys of any sea turtle—across entire ocean basins—nest on beaches from Texas to Virginia, but 90 percent of U.S. loggerhead nesting occurs in Florida. This new protection means that any new beachside hotels, homes or commercial construction built on protected beaches that require federal permits would need to be reviewed to prevent harm to nesting areas.
Oceana marine scientist Amanda Keledjian explained why the protections are crucial:
“Turtles are often caught in fishing gear, struck by moving vessels, or risk ingesting debris such as plastic bags. The National Marine Fisheries Service must follow up on this action and designate off-shore areas as well as waters directly adjacent to nesting beaches if they want these vulnerable populations to recover.”
The new protections came about as a result of a lawsuit filed earlier this year by the Center for Biological Diversity, Oceana, and Turtle Island Restoration Network, after the government failed to respond to previous petitions filed by the groups dating back to 2007. In 2011, loggerhead sea turtles worldwide were protected as nine separate populations under the Endangered Species Act, triggering the requirement to designate critical habitat.
The government will now accept public comments about the proposal and the protections are expected to take effect in 2014. Stay tuned to hear about ways that you can help ensure that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does not withdraw many of these proposed beaches when these protections are finalized.
American photographer Doug Perrine, 60, captured this priceless image of a false killer whale mid-grin off the coast of Kona, Hawaii.
Less commonly known than the killer whale (or orca), the false killer whale is the third largest member of the oceanic dolphin family. Growing to 1,500 pounds and up to 20 feet long, the false killer whale looks like no dolphin you’ve seen before. Its small conical head lacks the “beak” we expect in common dolphins, and its flippers have a distinctive hump along the front edge.
False killer whales were first discovered by their fossils in 1843, and were assumed to be extinct. In fact, the species wasn’t discovered alive until fifteen years after the discovery of their fossils. Like the gregarious-looking fellow captured in the photo, false killer whales are intensely social, forming strong social bonds in groups of ten to twenty that belong to larger groups of up to 40 individuals in Hawaii or as many as 100 elsewhere. False killer whales travel and hunt together in broad bands that can be up to several miles wide, and they even share their food with other group members.
Unfortunately, the false killer whale’s population numbers in Hawaii are nothing to smile at – these social creatures have suffered major decline in the last 25 years. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, aerial surveys showed about 400 false killer whales in 1989. More recent studies suggest the number today is closer to 150. As of November 2012, false killer whales were listed as endangered in Hawaii, due in large part to the creature’s vulnerability to be caught as bycatch by tuna and swordfish fisheries. The false killer whales become hooked or entangled in longlines when they take bait off of longline fishing hooks set for Hawaiian swordfish and tuna, a dangerous mistake that often turns deadly.
The future for false killer whales is in danger, but with education, advocacy, and increased respect and protections for these social and gregarious sea creatures, we can give the false killer whale something to smile about.
Just a few weeks ago, an international campaign to stop the annual gruesome slaughter of dolphins in Japan was initiated by one Scottish woman hoping to make a difference. Shona Lewendon started a petition to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) requesting that Japan be denied the right to host the 2020 Olympic Games until they ban the annual slaughter of dolphins in the cove of Taiji, a tradition that has been occurring for a long time.
Within just five days of posting her petition online, she received 10,000 signatures. Since then, the petition has continued to grow, gaining more and more support from people all around the world. Her campaign has even won the support of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.
Over the last two months, 180 manatees have been found dead along the coasts of Florida. The friendly and well-loved creatures of Florida’s waters are currently being threatened by an outbreak of red tide, an algal bloom which has proved to be toxic to the species.
A harmful toxin in the algae enters the nervous system of the manatees and prevents them from being able to breathe, which then causes them to drown. Some studies show that the algae may be linked to climate change and increasing global atmospheric temperatures because the algae blooms in warm temperatures. This detrimental algae has led to a record number of manatee deaths in the last two months and will likely continue to do so for the next several months. Many scientists and veterinarians are making valiant efforts to help prevent further manatee deaths, but not all of the creatures can be saved.
There are less than 5,000 Florida manatees inhabiting U.S. waters, and this number is shrinking every day. Manatees are endangered in the U.S. and protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act. Despite this, their numbers continue to decline.
With the growing threat of extinction, it is becoming increasingly important to rescue and protect as many of these creatures as possible. These large mammals are also being threatened by various types of human activity including fishing vessel activity and recreational boating, with as many as 80 animals being killed every year in boat collisions. It is extremely important to protect this species in order to maintain the biodiversity of the oceans and the earth. We must take steps to further the protection of these creatures as well as the many other sea animals that are facing population declines and possible extinction.
Today we release our new science report, Important Ecological Areas: Seafloor Habitat Expedition off the Southern Oregon Coast. The report completes our June 2011 expedition aboard the R/V Miss Linda, which set out on the cold Pacific Ocean waters off Oregon to survey deep unchartered ocean habitats. In places too deep or too rugged for SCUBA gear, we executed 17 dives with a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) mounted with a high definition camera. What we saw was thrilling!
As the lights of the ROV flashed on the dark seafloor, brightly colored cold-water corals came into focus and large sponge mounds lit up with small shrimp clinging to their sides. We encountered plant-like bryozoans, alien-looking basket stars, and schools of rockfish hovering over the reefs and under the branches of fern-like feather stars called crinoids. On one dive we witnessed over five hundred widow rockfish, once an overfished species, and we also saw juvenile yelloweye rockfish that are still overfished and are not likely to recover for the next 70 years.
The report documents the cold-water corals, sponges, and physical habitat features in areas previously unseen. It also describes the managed fish species and their associations with these habitats. Importantly, many of these areas are not protected in any type of marine protected area. Oceana submitted this report today to the federal Pacific Fishery Management Council and we will be calling for these areas to be protected from the impacts of activities like bottom trawling. The nearshore reefs at Cape Arago have also been an area of interest for a marine reserve and we hope this new science bolsters the call to protect these ocean treasures.
We’re excited to share these deep sea findings and can’t wait to get back on the water!
Earlier this year Oceana made a splash with its National Seafood Fraud Report, a landmark investigation which found that a third of the seafood it tested nationwide had been mislabeled. While we encourage you to read the report in full, for those of you on the go this infographic (click to enlarge) boils it down to its most shocking findings.
Learn more about seafood fraud.
After a 60-day review of what could charitably be described as a disastrous Arctic drilling season, the Department of the Interior has released a critical assessment of Shell's offshore activities in the far north. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Tommy Beaudreau acknowledged that the company was unprepared for work in such an unforgiving environment:
“Shell simply did not maintain strong, direct oversight of some of its key contractors. Working in the Arctic requires thorough advance planning and preparation, rigorous management focus, a close watch over contractors, and reliance on experienced, specialized operators who are familiar with the uniquely challenging conditions of the Alaskan offshore. In some areas Shell performed well, but in other areas they did not, and Alaska’s harsh environment was unforgiving.”
Oceana Deputy Vice President, Pacific, Susan Murray responded to the DOI's review. While echoing the criticism of Shell, she argued that the government must reassess its own role in allowing such an unprepared organization flirt with environmental catastrophe:
“By and large, the review told us two things we already knew—companies are woefully unprepared for the remote and unforgiving Alaskan waters, and our government improperly awarded Shell approvals to operate there. The Arctic Ocean is unique and important. Americans deserve better care and stewardship than oil companies or the government have provided.
Shell’s lack of respect and lack of attention to detail repeatedly put lives and our oceans at risk; and the company has violated the most basic protections for clean air and clean water. Holding Shell accountable is necessary, but it is not sufficient.
Somehow this video escaped our notice a few months back, but it's never too late to share with you the Mystery of the Mangled Mola, which comes to us courtesy of the precocious students of Mrs. Osorio's second grade class at Carmel River school in Carmel, California.
In the video above, these sleuthing, future marine biologists investigate the unusual number of mola (or mola-mola or sunfish) that have been washing ashore on their beaches in Monetery Bay and its environs, without fins and often with their eyes gouged out. The video also includes a Kinks-inspired ode to the mola as well as a mola-inspired hand dance that is sure to become a craze. Great work guys!
Special thanks to the NOAA National Marine Sanctuary System for bringing this video to our attention.
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.