The Beacon

Cat Pathogens Found in Arctic Belugas

(Photo: Claude Robillard)

The occurrence of human diseases in marine mammals is rapidly on the rise and an alarming development for our oceans. The latest species to succumb is the canary of the sea: the beluga whale.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia recently discovered Toxoplasma gondii, a devastating parasite, in a western Arctic population of beluga whales.

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Whale Shark Slaughterhouse Discovered in China

(All photos: WildLifeRisk)

Warning: This post discusses a graphic subject, and some photos might be upsetting to readers. 

Sharks are still in danger, not just in the U.S. but around the world. WildLifeRisk, a Hong Kong-based conservation group, has recently revealed the world’s largest shark slaughterhouse, which processes hundreds of shark carcasses every year to provide oil for health and cosmetic products, meat and fins for restaurants, and skins for handbags.

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Swine Flu Discovered in Marine Mammals

Swine flu: Not just for pigs anymore Photo: Mike Baird

Scientists have recently published a paper  revealing that Northern elephant seals in California contracted swine flu (H1N1) during the epidemic that affected thousands of people in 2010.  This is the first time that this virus has been discovered in marine mammals, establishing Northern elephant seals as vectors for human pandemics and determining that this strain of influenza can travel between species.

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It's Endangered Species Day!

The Endangered Species Act protects endangered and critically endangered creatures like this loggerhead sea turtle. Still, there is much work to be done. 

May 17th is the day to show your love for endangered sea turtles, whales, dolphins, and all sorts of marine creatures.  Why? Because it’s Endangered Species Day! Today is the day to learn and share information about your favorite endangered animals and rally support around the creatures that need it most.

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The Taiji Dolphin Slaughter: A Scientific Issue


The dolphin drive hunt in Taiji, Japan has been at the center of animal activism for many years and now it has finally come to the center of science.

The dolphin drive in Taiji involves the corralling of dolphins into a cove for slaughter or to be removed and then sold to representatives from marine parks. An estimated 22,000 small whales, dolphins, and porpoises are killed in these hunts each year.

Dr. Andy Butterworth of the University of Bristol and colleagues have published a paper in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science analyzing the methods used by Taiji fishermen to kill the dolphins in the drive hunts. Through their analysis, the authors have revealed disturbing levels of physical trauma inflicted on the dolphins, and commented that these methods would not be acceptable under any international animal welfare standards.

The paper has compared the information provided by the Japanese government on the dolphin slaughter with video footage of the methodology and concludes that the current methodology leads to prolonged trauma and paralysis, which contradicts the information in the government report.

The publication of this paper has raised awareness of the dolphin slaughter within the scientific community and has elevated the issue to a peer reviewed scientific journal, raising the profile of the travesty in Taiji.  This added pressure from the scientific community, which validates the efforts of so many advocacy efforts, could be what is needed to convince the Japanese government to end these hunts for good.

Video of the slaughter is available but be prepared, it is extremely disturbing.

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NOAA declares “Unusual Mortality Event” for California Sea Lions

Sea Lions in rehab. Photo: Pacific Marine Mammal Center

Beginning in January 2013, unusually high numbers of stranded California sea lion pups have been observed on the Southern California coast. Marine mammals naturally come ashore along our beaches if they are sick, wounded, or injured. This year, pups have been washing up with obvious signs of emaciation, dehydration, and low body weight for their age class, and no one knows why.

These elevated stranding numbers have led NOAA to declare an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, which means that the California sea lion strandings meet one of the seven criteria outlined by NOAA to be considered “unusual.” The current UME is restricted to the young of year age class, pups born in the summer of 2012. Below is a graph created by NOAA to compare current stranding rates to historical stranding rates in several California counties, which clearly illustrates the marked increase in stranding rates in 2013 (the purple bars).

To follow protocol for an Unusual Mortality Event, an investigation team of independent scientists will be assembled to review data from the event and determine the next steps. In addition to extra support from the scientists and NOAA, if a stranding event is declared a UME, additional funding from the National Contingency Fund is sent to aid the investigation. There are currently no unusual stranding patterns reported in other marine mammal species that inhabit the same area. The long term analysis of the data may continue for months or even years after the UME to determine the cause and effects of these unusual strandings.

Always remember, if you see a stranded animal on the beach, do not approach it.  Instead, notify lifeguards, the stranding network, or local authorities that are all trained to handle injured and sick wildlife without causing further harm.

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Mystery of the Corkscrew Seals: Fatal Attraction

Artist's depiction of corkscrew wounds

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.

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