The Beacon: Ariel Kagan's blog

Toronto and Taiwan Make Strides for Sharks

shark fins

Shark fins drying in the sun. © Oceana/LX

The good news just keeps rolling in for sharks – this time from Toronto and Taiwan.

Yesterday the Toronto City Council voted to ban the sale and use of shark fins in the city; the ban will take effect in September 2012.

Meanwhile, Taiwan has announced its intention to ban the practice of shark finning starting next year, a step forward in promoting the sustainable fishing and humane treatment of sharks. Shark finning is the practice of cutting the valuable fins off of sharks, and throwing the dead or dying body back in the ocean. Shark fins are used to make shark fin soup, a popular and expensive dish that is served primarily in China and Taiwan.

While the new regulation won’t stop the catching of sharks, it will mean that boats have to bring the whole shark in to port. This means that the species and size of the caught sharks can be monitored, and therefore can help assess the trends in populations.

While this is a step in the right direction, it is important to reduce the demand for shark fins as well. Up to 73 million sharks are killed each year for the global shark fin trade, and according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, about 20 percent of all sharks are threatened with extinction.

That’s why Oceana works to save sharks from overfishing. You can help by supporting our work to protect sharks!


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It's Sweater Weather - for Penguins

penguins in sweaters

(Photo credit: Toby Zerna/Newspix/Rex USA)

Ah, sweater weather. To a New Englander, the cool, crisp fall mornings of October bring to mind the crunching of leaves underfoot, the smell of hot coffee, and the delightful promise of eating only pumpkin flavored things for the next few weeks.

But to penguins in New Zealand, sweater weather means something a little different.

After 350 tons of oil leaked from a stranded cargo ship off the coast of New Zealand, cleanup efforts were directed at the native blue penguins that were soaked in oil. Oil contamination degrades the quality of the penguins’ feathers that help them to stay warm. In response to these concerns, a knitting shop in New Zealand, Skeinz, designed a pattern for knitters to create tiny penguin sized sweaters.

The result is adorable. The sweaters range in style and design—some with cable knits and others with stripes or collars. And the end result is a lot of healthy, clean penguins to be released once their habitat is cleaned up.

Penguin sweaters are great, though it would be better if we didn't need them at all. That’s why Oceana works to stop offshore oil drilling and protect our coasts from oil contamination


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Melting Ice Beckons Ships, Oil Drills to Arctic

© Oceana

The Arctic’s Northeast Passage is home to walruses, beluga whales, narwhals, and many other marine animals, most of whom have probably never seen an oil tanker or shipping vessel. Unfortunately, thanks to global climate change, that could soon change.

As the planet continues to warm, the coveted Northeast Passage has become ice-free and thus open to cargo ships, oil drillers, and fishing vessels for the first time.

There’s huge incentive for commerce and industry to use the Northeast Passage. The New York Times writes that the opening of the Passage shortens the travel time and reduces costs for shipping between Northern Europe and Asian markets. Companies like Exxon Mobil are attracted to the potential of oil and minerals in the Arctic seabed. And the elusive Arctic “Donut Hole,” a patch of international and unregulated waters in the center of the Ocean, is full of valuable fish including overfished Atlantic cod stocks. 

Offshore drilling, increased shipping traffic, and fishing vessels in the Northeast Passage threatens one of the great patches of marine wilderness in the world. Drilling in the Arctic could mean a spill in a place as remote as Northern Russia, which would make the Gulf of Mexico oil spill cleanup look like a cinch, primarily because cleanup mechanisms such as booms don’t work properly in icy waters.

We’ve been campaigning against offshore oil drilling to protect vulnerable Arctic habitats. We'll continue working with local native communities to ensure that future generations will see a healthy and vibrant Arctic. You can help by supporting our work to fight oil drilling in the Arctic.


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Video: What Happens When a Whale Falls?

The deep sea floor can be a hard place to find a good meal, so when a 40-ton whale carcass drops from the heavens, it’s a veritable harvest festival for deep sea scavengers.

The fascinating, if morbid, process is illustrated by this excellent animated video by Sweet Fern Productions, a visual complement to a recent episode of RadioLab:

Whale Fall (after life of a whale) from Sharon Shattuck on Vimeo.

So what happens when a whale falls to the seafloor?

Large animals, like sleeper sharks and hagfish are the first to the scene, and tear into the fatty tissue with delight. Depending on the size of the whale, this “mobile scavenger” phase can last up to two years.

The next to arrive are the mussels, clams, and other opportunists who ferociously devour the leftover tissue and clean the carcass down to the bone. The sulfophillic stage begins once the skeleton is all that’s left and the bigger creatures have moved on. Special bacteria that can break down whale bones settle in for a 50 year banquet.

Whale falls create opportunities for critters big and small, and can act as stepping stones between ecosystems in the deep sea. An oasis for animals, mollusks, and bacteria, these whale fall sites support life in the deep sea for up to 75 years.

Pretty neat, huh?

Ariel Kagan is an intern for Oceana's Seafood Fraud campaign.


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