The race is on to develop the world’s best ocean pH sensors! A new competition just launched to improve understanding of one of the ocean’s greatest threats, ocean acidification.
XPRIZE, a non-profit that tries to solve grand challenges by incentivizing research and development through prize competitions, launched a new program called the Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health Prize, which addresses ocean acidification. The purpose is to design cheaper and better performing pH sensors that can be deployed to ocean habitats all over the world. These sensors are important because we desperately need to know more about how carbon emissions are changing the ocean’s chemistry on a local scale and how this is already harming marine life and fisheries.
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!
Between June 2008 and December 2010, more than 76 seals washed up dead on the shores of the UK: harbor and grey seals, male and female, juvenile and adult, with one similarity - an identical curvilinear skin laceration spiraling along the length of the body.
Similar sightings had been reported in Canada, and were attributed to Greenland sharks, but the lack of Greenland sharks in UK waters and additional post-mortem examinations led a team of scientists at Scotland’s Sea Mammal Research Unit to a different conclusion.
One of the tricks of paleontology is figuring out how all those fossils fit together to form a whole animal.
The placement of the puzzle pieces wasn’t so clear with the bewildering spiral jaw of one 270 million year old “ghost shark.” Scientists have known since 1899 that the six-meter long shark-like Helicoprion (which means “spiral saw”) had a whorl of fused teeth somewhere in its makeup. But the original discovery of this mysterious body part found it detached from the rest of the animal’s body, with no good indication of its location.
The Russian geologist who unearthed this first fossil theorized that it was a weapon curling up out of the Helicoprion’s mouth, like a sawfish’s saw that had spiraled upwards. Others thought it was the lower jaw, curled below the giant fish’s chin. Still others couldn’t imagine having such a monstrosity for a face, and guessed that it was located somewhere along the shark’s back—perhaps growing from its dorsal fin—or on its tail.
Less than a decade after the initial fossil was discovered, an American found an intact fossil of the toothy spiral in the creature’s mouth. But this did not settle the controversy over its attachment to the upper or lower jaw or its position inside or outside of the mouth.
The unique population of great white sharks off California has been awarded ‘candidacy’ status under the California Endangered Species Act. The Fish and Game Commission unanimously voted to advance white sharks to candidacy at their February 6 meeting in the Golden State’s capital city, Sacramento.
We are thrilled that the Commission carefully considered comments from fishermen, scientists, environmental groups, and the public to arrive at the decision that this iconic species of shark merits additional protections and that we need to know more about these amazing apex predators.
Being a candidate for protection under the California Endangered Species Act means the state will consider an array of possible management measures that can be put into place to reduce bycatch of white sharks. Possible measures include time and area closures of the fisheries where white sharks are caught, modifications to fishing gear, and strict limits on how many of the sharks may be captured incidentally as bycatch.
The Department of Fish and Wildlife will now embark on a one-year in-depth status review of the population. Once the review is complete, the Commission will vote on whether or not to officially list white sharks as threatened or endangered.
Oceana extends a special thank you to the 44,000 Wavemakers who signed the letter of support to better protect our ocean’s iconic apex predator. Your support is making a difference.
Why are California great whites unique?
New scientific studies show that great white sharks off the U.S. West Coast are genetically distinct and isolated from all other great white shark populations worldwide, and that there are estimated to be fewer than 350 adult sharks in this West Coast population. This low population alone puts these great whites at great risk of extinction from natural and human-caused impacts. Beyond that, their continued existence off our coast is further threatened by inherent vulnerability to capture, slow growth rate, and low reproductive output.
The number one threat to this unique population is bycatch in the set and drift gillnet fisheries, which together target swordfish, thresher sharks, California halibut and white seabass. The new candidacy status for these white sharks will allow state managers to begin to control this bycatch.
Have you ever wanted to learn how to speak whale? Here’s your chance!
Cornell University has recently completed digitizing its catalog of animal sounds. With audio and video recordings dating back to 1929, the archive contains over 9,000 species.
The recordings include the familiar call of the herring gull that you may have encountered threatening to steal your lunch on a New England beach and the subtle pulses of Atlantic hake. Cornell’s scientists traveled from the Antarctic to Alaska, capturing the sounds of nature’s other languages.
Once a rallying cry of environmentalists and ocean lovers, the call to “Save the Whales!” has seemingly died down in recent years. At the 2010 meeting of the International Whaling Commission, the 88 member countries even discussed lifting the ban on commercial whaling. Though whaling is nearly extinct internationally—with the notable exceptions of Japan, Norway, and Iceland—this type of complacency may be premature.
There is no doubt that the prohibition on commercial whaling has allowed whale populations to recover—some more successfully than others, but human activities continue to pose a major threat to all cetaceans: whales, purposes, and dolphins.
Our friends at the Pew Environment Group put together this extremely helpful graph that goes a long way in explaining just why taking sharks out of the ocean by the millions is a bad idea. It turns out that sharks' biological life history much more closely resembles that of marine mammals - and even grizzly bears - than that of their fishy cousins.
While some fish like swordfish and mackerel are able to reach maturity quickly and spawn by the millions several times a year, making them more resilient to higher catch rates, sharks are slow-growing, late-maturing and give birth to small litters of live young. Some sharks, like the Atlantic Ocean's dusky shark, do not mature until as late as 21 years of age and give birth to as few as three pups every three years.
A female shark that produced 10 pups every two years for 20 years would add only about 100 individuals to the population. In contrast, a female swordfish could theoretically contribute millions of offspring, and it is possible that thousands of these could survive if natural mortality from predators, disease, or starvation was low.
Every year, 70 million sharks are taken from the ocean, a rate far higher than these vulnerable creatures are able to withstand. They've been around for almost a half-billion years but now face severe threats. While the Asian appetite for shark fin soup fuels much of the shark trade, other products, from shark liver oil dietary supplements to squalene-based beauty products contribute to their dwindling populations.
Learn more about sharks and what Oceana is doing to ensure their survival.
Last May, Oceana was encouraged to hear the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) was proposing a new rule that would require all skimmer trawl fishing boats in the Gulf of Mexico to use turtle excluder devices (TEDs) to protect endangered and threatened sea turtles. Unfortunately, NMFS has just backed down on this proposal and has put the lives of thousands of sea turtles at risk.
A turtle excluder device is an opening, or escape hatch, that allows sea turtles to escape trawl nets after they have incidentally been caught in fishing gear. TEDs are already required in some shrimp fishery boats, but this rule would have made the rest of the boats follow the same precautions. When utilized correctly, TEDs can be up to 97 percent effective at saving sea turtles’ lives.
In 2011, however, reviews of compliance reports showed that as few as half of these fishermen were actually using these devices correctly. NMFS had estimated their proposed rule could have saved more than 5,500 sea turtles each year. So what happens to them now?
Skimmer trawls are not required to use TEDs, but are instead supposed to limit the amount of time they spend towing their nets in the water, since sea turtles cannot survive underwater for extended periods of time if captured. Without strict enforcement of a limited tow time policy, however, trawls can be towed for more than an hour – far longer than a turtle can hold its breath. NMFS has admitted that poor compliance with existing tow time requirements has likely resulted in many more turtle deaths than previously estimated. Clearly, requiring skimmer trawls to use the TEDs would be a better way to reduce the number of sea turtles killed each year.